Carol Gordon Ekster: Katie Mazeika is in my picture book marketing group, PBrockiteers22. When I read Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid that came out September 2022 with Beach Lane Books, I had goose-bumps. Yes, it’s that good! This is Katie’s author/illustrator debut picture book and it’s amazing. I’m thrilled to be able to introduce her to all of you here at Writers’ Rumpus.
Katie, how did you come to be on this path of creating books for children?
Katie Mazeika: In high school I couldn’t decide between studying art or creative writing in college. Illustration seemed like a perfect compromise. I fell in love with children’s illustration in college (at Columbus College of Art and Design). After college I was focused on the children’s market, but also working to pay bills, and then raising kids. It was many years after college before I was finally able to fully focus again on creating kids’ books.
CGE: As I mentioned, Annette Feels Free is gorgeously written and illustrated. We want the backstory! What inspired you to tell this story?
KM: I first discovered Annette the summer of 2017 when I ran across this photo.
I had set out to do a series of illustrations of historical women and was looking for some new faces I wasn’t familiar with. Annette came up in my search and that photo had such confidence and attitude that I had to learn more. When I read about her childhood I think I related to Annette’s disability, having lost my eye as a toddler, and so I continued researching her. The following year, when I decided to look for a literary agent, I wrote her story.
CGE: Did it go through many revisions? Was this the first picture book you wrote and illustrated? Did you have a critique group? An agent?
KM: I have never had a critique group. I started writing very recently. Before then my focus had been illustration. The book did go through several revisions before it was sent out. After I wrote and revised it several times on my own, a freelance editor critiqued it. (I had won a critique with her at my local SCBWI conference the year before.) Then I posted a spread from the book (a very early version of the scene of Annette being arrested on the beach) and a pitch on #DVpit the spring of 2019. That’s how I found my fabulous agent, Sorche Fairbank. With Sorche’s help I polished the manuscript more and dummied it. I took the dummy and several spreads to my local SCBWI conference the fall of 2019. Another author/illustrator (the wonderful Jenn Harney!) was kind enough to take it home and critique it. There was another round of edits (mostly artwork-the style was updated and the color scheme brightened.) Eventually I had the dummy and a couple of spreads that ended up being the final book.
CGE: Do you write fiction as well as nonfiction? What’s coming next for you?
KM: YES! I have my first fiction book as an author/illustrator coming out Spring of 2024! I would love to tell you more, but it hasn’t been announced yet.
I also have two historical fiction books on the way. Publishing the fall of 2024 is a picture book about a community coming together to help a boy and his family build their Sears kit house. Then publishing the fall of 2025 is THE SEVEN SISTERS OF NELA PARK. This is a story based on my own Grandma Ann and her sisters who worked in the 1910’s at NELA Park, an Edison electric plant in Cleveland.
But this fall I have a second picture book biography on the way, BEULAH HAD A HUNCH: INSIDE THE COLORFUL MIND OF MASTER INVENTOR BEULAH LOUISE HENRY. This one is about Beulah Henry. She was the most prolific female inventor of the 20th century, which is incredible considering her education was limited to finishing school. She had a mind that worked differently (synesthesia and hyperphantasia), and, like Annette Kellerman, she refused to give up. All of these are with my current editor at Beach Lanes Books.
CGE: What kinds of marketing and promotion have you done to get the word out about your book besides this interview? And how do you feel about the marketing compared with the creative part of crafting picture books?
KM: I find marketing much more difficult. I am a natural introvert and am very happy in my studio working alone for hours. So, putting on my marketing hat can be hard. But one aspect of marketing I do enjoy is book fairs. I’ve done several books fairs and festivals in Ohio and Kentucky, and I really like connecting with readers and getting the chance to meet other authors and illustrators.
CGE: Can you tell us about your process and schedule?
KM: For biographies, and historical fiction there is a lot of research involved before writing even begins. And my writing always begins with a few sh**ty first drafts. But after several lousy attempts I figure it out what I want to say and start writing and rewriting. I may play around with sketches while I write.
For example, I read several interviews with Beulah Henry where they mentioned her striking auburn hair. So, I was drawing red headed girls with freckles as I was rewriting the Beulah manuscript. I am usually paginating as I write-that’s second nature because I was an illustrator first and so now when I write I’m thinking in spreads. After I have the text, I do thumbnails and then full-size sketches, and further develop the character. And then final artwork, which is all done in Photoshop on a Cintiq. As for my schedule, I am in the studio by 9:00 every morning and work until 5-6:00. Sometimes later if I have a deadline. I have ADHD so getting behind my desk at the same time every day really helps my productivity.
CGE: Can you give new writers and illustrators advice that helped you break into children’s publishing?
KM: SCBWI-first and foremost. There is so much great information, and great energy. Every SCBWI event is filled with writers and artists cheering on fellow writers and artists. Secondly, just do it, write your book, make your art. Don’t wait for perfection, you can only learn and grow if you are making something.
Connect with Katie here.
And find out more on her website.
Wow, congratulations to Katie; she’s really on a roll!
Katie, I absolutely love your last sentence. It’s so true. I’m putting it up in my office to remind me to keep making and quit worrying about perfection. Congrats to you on all your upcoming books. Can’t wait to see and read them!
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Thank you so much for writing this book, Katie, and thank you Carol, for letting us know about it. I was a racing swimmer when I was a kid, but always yearned to do synchronized swimming. Maybe Annette will motivate me to do that!
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Katie, it is so nice to meet you! I can’t wait to read these books, they sound SO fabulous.
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