Katie Mazeika has come a long way to writing and illustrating her own children’s book.
Although the Resident Mentor and graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design has provided the visuals for books by other authors – including some in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES” series – she is responsible for all of the “Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid.
“I was a good writer; I was a good artist,” she says of growing up in Wyoming, Ohio, near Cincinnati. “In high school, I had no idea which direction to take.”
Luckily for her, a well-known illustrator, CF Paynelived near his high school and once told his class about his background.
“I looked at this and said, ‘Well, I can tell a story with pictures – you know, the best of both worlds – so I’m going to do that,'” she recalled.
Payne would become something of a counselor and eventually helped her head into CCAD after a brief stint at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he was teaching a course.
After graduating, she landed in northeast Ohio, where her mother grew up, living for periods in Willoughby and Fairport Harbor. She did some illustration work, including for what was then Lake Hospital System, she says.
However, being a mother has taken precedence over work, especially with the youngest of her two children who needs special attention. Additionally, her husband Chris’ job took them to New York State for a few years before returning to the area and settling in Mentor.
When it came time to get back to building a portfolio, she took on various gigs, including books for vanity presses, and was hired by Nomad Press, which produces books for school children.
However, her illustrated biography on Kellerman – who, after being forced to wear leg braces as a child in the late 1800s, became world famous for swimming, as well as the one-piece swimsuit pioneer for women and even continued to appear in films – was published by Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
“I met her and went down a rabbit hole,” Mazeika said, adding that she had become fascinated by her stories and photos of her. “She just had an attitude and she just… screamed that confidence.”
Mazeika found a kinship with Kellerman stemming from the fact that the illustrator, at age 3, lost an eye to cancer. She recounted Kellerman’s feeling of not knowing how to move forward at a young age, needing leg braces while she was undergoing classical training as a ballerina, Mazeika says.
“There’s a picture of her dancing as a little girl, and I really liked that,” she says. I kept coming back to it and I just (thought): “I know exactly how that kid felt.”
Mazeika’s interest in Kellerman, who found her destiny after her father took her swimming, is the result of her brainstorming ideas. She talks about it with her agent, Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank of Literary representation of Fairbankto whom she attributes the gift of knowing what will or will not please publishers.
“She wanted me to do ‘Annette’ and (said) ‘I think we need more of an illustrated biography about a woman with a disability,'” Mazeika says.
This helps explain why among the other projects Mazeika is working on is a similar book on Beulah Henry. Nicknamed “Lady Edison” for her many inventions in the early 1900s, Henry received no formal training — she attended grad school — but earned more patents than any other woman, according to Mazeika.
She is responsible for, for example, the foldable umbrella handle, says Mazeika; although Henry did not have the technical know-how to make it, she was able to explain to someone who did that she was considering a mechanism similar to that of a telescope.
“She had what’s called hyperphantasia,” she says. “She could perfectly see things in her brain. She could transform it into three dimensions and figure out how it would work.
However, Henry had to fight to be taken seriously even by those who cared about her because she was a woman, Mazeika says.
The author is also working on two historical/STEM books – one on Cleveland’s Nela Parkwhich once housed the National Electric Lamp Association, and another on the kit homes sold by Sears about a century ago. The components of the house, delivered by train, were numbered to be assembled by the buyer.
“People were getting together and building these Sears homes for family members and friends,” she says. “Even within two miles of the (Mentor) train station, there are tons of them. They are everywhere in Mentor.
The next three books will be published by Beach Lane, she says.
Mazeika says she enjoyed writing the books, adding that the typical guideline for a children’s book is 500 words for fiction, 750 for non-fiction.
“It can be very difficult to choose the 750 words (to use),” she says. “I like it a lot because it’s a different part of my brain (from the illustration). When I write, it’s like a whole other muscle. And sometimes, when I’ve been drawing and painting for a very long time, I want to stop doing that for a while and write.
“It’s a balance,” she adds. “I like to write and illustrate because I know in my mind that I have a finished image, and I know that I can use words for some of them and pictures for some of them and that’s ok. ‘to assemble.”
Through his words and images, Mazeika paints a relatively comprehensive yet easily digestible portrait of Kellerman’s extraordinary life.
What does she hope young readers will take away from it?
“From the beginning, (the goal) was for disabled kids to have a disabled hero, but also for non-disabled kids to have disabled heroes,” she says. “If you know that…you can have a disability and still do these wonderful things and be someone’s hero and someone to look up to.”
Illustrated children’s book: “Annette Feels Free: ‘The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid.’
Price cover: $18.99.
Editor: Beach Track Books/Simon and Schuster.