Author Interview Series (21): Cazzy Zahursky

Today's author interview is with the multi-talented, award-winning author and illustrator, Cazzy Zahursky! Cazzy has published three picture books so far, with more in the works. Her most recently published book, Cardboard Rosie is absolutely beautiful and so heartwarming as well. I'm very excited to share her interview with you all!


Here's a short video introduction from Cazzy herself:



 

Hi Cazzy! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

C: My art is fueled by my passion for storytelling through various art forms. I have always been right-brain dominant. As a child, I was passionate about drawing, doodling, crafting… creating! In my younger years, I did a lot of creative writing, journalism in school and was a yearbook editor. In college, I decided to exercise the other half of my brain and pursued a degree in biotechnology. My first job was in a lab doing applied science, but I soon found myself returning to the arts, this time the performing arts, employing my skills in films, commercials and on stage for nearly two decades. I have always been a storyteller at heart. Anyone who knows me well, knows I can and will talk their ear off in animated storytelling form, just to paint the whole picture. Close friends and family members have probably heard the following words come out of my mouth, a time or two “I want to write a kids book about…(insert various story ideas). I began to dabble with programs like Photoshop, and after several years of self-instruction, developed some expertise, which led to several hired jobs. With the birth of my first daughter, I took a break from acting to be a full-time mother.

Over the years, I started to revisit my love for children’s books with my oldest daughter. There were days we would read 20 books in a day. I began to recognize everyday events in my older daughter’s life as worthy of being the focus of children’s books that would teach valuable life lessons. I began writing personalized books for my daughter and her friends as gifts. Upon the birth of my second daughter, the growing relationship between my two daughters was a very fertile area for the development of new lessons and stories, allowing opportunities to develop new plot lines. It was then that an idea for a book that I felt strongly about came to mind. Once the ball got rolling, it didn’t stop. Two years of witnessing the evolution of little girls’ subculture at birthday parties, which primarily consisted of unicorns, princesses, tea parties, and sweet treats, I was able to create a magical fantasy world that they could relate to, at the same time, teaching them the lesson of respecting others. In those two years, after a lot of story development, sleepless nights, passion, editing, drawing, re-editing, trial and error, endless research, and more re-editing, I finally published my first children’s book, Escape to Fairy Kingdom. Shortly after, I wrote and illustrated my second children’s picture book, Barnabee Believes (in Himself), which revolves around a timid drone, named Barnabee, who discovers self-confidence and courage, after setting his sights on pursuing his dreams. It’s the perfect story for children, teaching them the importance of believing in themselves, following their dreams, friendship, and kindness. It’s filled with amusing bee puns, so young readers will laugh and learn from this entertaining story.

I recently launched my third children’s picture book that I wrote and illustrated, Cardboard Rosie. Cardboard Rosie is an endearing tribute to all fathers out there. It gently touches upon themes like quality time, grief, patience, understanding, coping with disappointment, while young readers go on an emotional and imaginative journey. I am currently finishing up my fourth and fifth books, which are my own personal favorites of the one’s I’ve written and illustrated so far. I also have other book ideas in various stages. A fun fact- every first draft of each of the books I have written, have been written in the notes section of my phone!

Wow! That was quite the introduction! You are so multi-talented – from science, acting to writing and illustrating – what can't you do?


Check out the slideshow below for a closer look into the books!

I'm interested to know, what were some of your favorite books growing up?

C: I had too many favorites to name them all, but some of them include Aesop's Fables, Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, the Ramona Quimby series, and more.

Those are some wonderful books and I'm sure have given you a lot of inspiration too.


And what are some good books you have read recently which you would recommend to others?

C: Books I’d recommend for children are: The Magic Tree House series, Princess in Black Series, Whatever After Series, The Piggie and Gerald Books by Mo Willems, anything by Julia Donaldson and Peter Reynolds. Some of my favorite indie authors include Kim Ann, Y Y Chan, and Stacey Bauer. Adult books I’ve recently read that I would recommend are: Where the Crawdad’s Sing, American Dirt, The Great Alone, When Life Gives You Lululemons, Untamed, and Refugee.

Some excellent choices there! I have a few of those adult books on my TBR list, so will need to check them out soon! And thank you so much for including me among such wonderful authors too!


Do you have a favorite place to read or write?

C: My favorite place to read is anywhere cozy, like my couch or my bed. Even though I have a designated area to write in, I often find myself writing wherever I happen to be when I find a little free time, which can be anywhere like waiting for my children to pick them up at school in a car, and most of the time I write on my phone!

I find myself writing on my phone a lot too! It's funny. When I actually have time to sit in front of my computer at home, I end up procrastinating and doing other things. I really have no excuse!


It's not easy to be a self-published author. Have you encountered any difficulties or challenges on your journey, and how did you overcome them?

C: The road to publishing was not always a smooth one. Initially preparing a children’s book to be published was a daunting task. The creative process of developing a story was challenging, fulfilling—even addictive. The process is like coming up with an imaginative story idea and then piecing the hundreds of puzzle pieces together to fit within the parameters of a beginning, middle and end. Then there was the obstacle of having to learn all the technicalities of book writing, formatting, industry standards, dimensions, etc. My biggest obstacle is finding the time to do all of this while raising two very young children. When I started writing my first book, my youngest was still just an infant. All my inspiration seemed to surface serendipitously, in the wee hours of the morning, which was probably best anyway, since that’s the only free time, (or lack thereof), I really had. Many times, I have felt like every time I took a step forward, I had to take two steps back. There has been a lot of trial and error involved. Now that I’m onto my fourth book, the process seems to be getting a bit easier.

I honestly don't know how you do all that you do while raising two kids. I can't seem to find enough time to work on my books, and I don't even have kids! You do all your own illustrating and formatting too. It's truly a great accomplishment!


So, what was it like launching your first book? What did you learn from the experience? If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

C: When I launched my first book, I had no idea what I was doing. I decided to launch my first book with the help of a Kickstarter to bring awareness and raise money for the costs involved. I also saw the Kickstarter platform as an opportunity to pre-order my book. Though I had doubled my Kickstarter goal, I think had I applied the things I now know, then, I could have tripled or quadrupled my goal. I have learned so very much since launching my first book, so if I were given the chance to do things differently, I most likely would. Little things, like building more awareness prior to the launch with launch teams, reaching out to local groups and organisations I am a part of to help get involved.

Wow! Congratulations getting your Kickstarter funded, and more! And for your first book – that is amazing! I'm still too scared to try Kickstarter, but if I ever do it, I'll be sure to ask you for tips and advice!


What is something you wish someone had told you about self-publishing before you started?

C: Honestly, I wish I had been handed a step-by-step guide on how to do everything, but I now have far more appreciation for the process, having learned everything over time and on my own. I now know that patience, taking workshops and not being afraid to seek the advice of fellow authors is very helpful.

The process of self-publishing is so complicated, isn't it? I actually took a course with a step-by-step guide, but still found it rather challenging. It seems there is still so much to learn and things are always changing as well; it's so hard to keep up! But it's so worth it in the end.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you since publishing your first book?

C: I’d have to say the most rewarding experience since publishing my book has been seeing the smiling, happy faces of my little readers. Being told that someone’s child requests to read one of my books on a regular basis absolutely makes my heart sore. The children I write my stories for make my author journey worthwhile. Another unexpected and rewarding aspect of publishing is the community of like-minded and supportive authors I’ve found myself surrounded by, who happen to be both near and far.

Seeing readers enjoying your book is definitely the best feeling! And I agree that the author community is amazingly supportive. They've become like another family now!


And have you had any negative experiences or disappointing moments throughout your publishing journey? How did you handle them?

C: Fortunately, since I wear most of the hats, aside from editing and printing, I have had very few opportunities to have disputes with others. Unfortunately, since I wear most of the hats, I had to learn the ropes of each role which was very demanding and had their own learning curves. I would take a step forward and find myself taking many steps back in the process of learning things like formatting and dimensions. This has led to many frustrated, sleepless nights, but I finally managed to solve the enigma of publishing.

I’ve also learned you cannot please everyone. Art is subjective. People have different tastes. I’ve found that my readers compare my portrayal of life to their own, and resonate with one of my books more than others and vice versa.

Wearing all the hats definitely come with challenges. I recently started putting on more hats in order to save costs, and those sleepless nights have given me a new perspective and much more appreciation for book formatters and designers! There is a lesson to be learned in every experience too.


Is there any advice you would want to give other aspiring writers or authors?

C: If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, just pick up the pencil and start writing. You’ll be surprised where it might take you.

What about marketing? Do you have any tips for first time authors?

C: Sometimes I feel like marketing is one of the toughest aspects of the publishing industry. Even with all the hats I wear in the process (author, illustrator, formatter, etc.), I find that marketing is the toughest of the roles. I feel as though I’m more naturally artistically inclined, not as much of a business person, but I’m learning to get creative on the marketing front too.

That's such a good point that marketing also requires some creativity. I guess it has a lot to do with how you connect with your audience too.


Having your book out in the world for others to read is really an amazing achievement. What’s the best thing someone has said about your book? Or something they said that made you really happy.

C: Several people have told me that my books have made them cry happy tears and they struggled to choke back the tears to get through it. I guess I took that as a compliment. Others have told me that their children request that they read one of my books nightly, to the point where they are trying to encourage them to pick other books, but they refuse. Though I understand the parent’s frustration, my heart can’t help but smile.

What a joy to know that children want to read your books every night!



Oh, and I definitely choked back some tears while reading Cardboard Rosie – so beautifully done! Can you share a little bit more about this book and why you wrote it?

C: Absolutely. It’s an all too frequent occurrence in my life where my internal dialogue will say, “That would make a great children’s book story,”regarding common everyday experiences. It happens regularly!

The story of Cardboard Rosie was initially inspired by a true story of a little girl wanting to bathe her cardboard doll, which did in fact end up getting destroyed. I felt the sheer simplicity and innocence of this loving act was likely emotionally catastrophic in the eyes of this little girl. I was so moved by the innocence of this anecdote, I wanted to bottle it up in the form of a children’s book. So I got to brainstorming. Serendipitously, I thought about all the times my daughters have asked for toys that my husband and I were unable to get for them, for a variety of reasons (that toy didn’t exist due to licensing, wanting to teach a lesson on patience, or the toy itself was just plain too expensive), and we chose to turn our refusal into an artistic exercise instead, and “make” our own versions of the requested toys. Knowing the joy my daughters feel spending time with their own Daddy, combined with these other inspirational elements, led to the creation of Cardboard Rosie.

So many children’s books revolve around a mother/child relationship, when it’s equally important to praise a father/child relationship, so I wanted to pay tribute to all the hardworking and loving fathers out there.

Aww that's beautiful ! I love and adore the whole idea of the story, and learning about the inspiration and the story behind story makes it even more special! I related to it so much as well. Fathers definitely deserve to be praised as well. Thank you for writing this story!


And finally, what are your plans for the next few years?

C: I absolutely plan to write more books. As a matter of fact, I have finished writing and illustration my fourth book, completed the manuscript of my fifth book, which I will begin the illustrations for soon, as well as dabbling with a couple of other book ideas, in various stages of development.

Oh, how exciting! I can't wait to read your next books!


Thank you so much for sharing your publishing journey and experience with us, Cazzy! I've really enjoyed getting to know you more, and so appreciate your support and kindness. Wishing you lots of success for your future publications!

 

Check out the video below for a sneak peek into Cazzy's books.


You can find out more about Cazzy and her books by visiting her website or following her on social media.

Website: www.circletimebooks.com


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