By Melissa Arnold
Most people have something they dislike about their appearance at one time or another. Diane Melidosian is no exception, struggling with a stubborn cowlick for her entire life. In the spring, she released her first book for children, “Cornelius & the Cowlick,” which recounts a young boy’s efforts to tame his unruly hair. In the end, kindness from his friends and classmates allow Cornelius to embrace the things that make him unique and special.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in East Northport, but I’ve lived in Stony Brook for more than 30 years. I went to college in Michigan but returned to Long Island when I got married in 1974. I studied special ed, and when I was in undergrad, Eastern Michigan was one of the few schools in the country to offer that program, so off I went. My husband and I were both special ed teachers, but later on I became a reading specialist. We’re both retired now.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I didn’t really want to be a writer when I was a kid — I just had a very active imagination.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have a cowlick myself, and it’s always been a problem. All the things that Cornelius does to try to deal with it are things I’ve tried myself. Nothing works! To this day I struggle to keep my hair down, so that’s really where the inspiration came from — having lots of bad hair days. Somewhere along the line I decided to write a story about it.
How did you go about getting the book published?
I did self-publishing through Amazon. One day, I visited the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook, and there was a woman there doing publicity for a book she had written. I don’t remember her name now, but I spoke to her and she told me about publishing through CreateSpace, which is a part of Amazon. I went online and it looked like something I could handle. It was pretty user-friendly, too.
What made you choose the name Cornelius for the main character?
I thought it was a good fit because of the alliteration with the word “cowlick.”
What do you want kids to take away from reading your book?
You know, it’s meant to be a silly book, but my cowlick was something that always troubled me. I figured there’s a kid out there that struggles with hair issues and they might be able to relate and get a laugh out of it. Having his friend and the other kids rally around him helps him to accept himself more. The message I would want them to walk away with is that nothing is insurmountable and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Who did the illustrations for the book? Were you involved in the process?
After I wrote the story, it sat in a drawer for 10 years because finding an illustrator was a big obstacle for me. I don’t have any artistic talent. But then a friend of mine suggested her niece, Kyra Slawski, who ended up doing it for me. She had just graduated from college with an art degree, but she had never done anything like this before. She was very hesitant at first, but I said, “Look, anything you do is going to be fine.” She did a wonderful job. We met a few times in person but did most of our work through the computer. She would send some illustrations to me and I would send them back with comments — sometimes Cornelius’ cowlick wasn’t in the right spot, or I had a different idea. We’d go back and forth until both of us were satisfied.
What was it like seeing Cornelius come to life?
It was so surprising. You can write the story and have an image in your head, but seeing it is different. I can’t say he was exactly as I pictured him — I had pictured a boy a bit more like Dennis the Menace — but when Kyra first sent me her illustrations, I was all for it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write a book?
Don’t put you book in a drawer for 10 years! Work on it bit by bit and set a time for it to be completed.
“Cornelius & the Cowlick,” recommended for ages 3 to 8, is available on www.Amazon.com for $9.50. The book can also be found in the Local Authors Collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main Street in Setauket.