By Chelsie Derman
Arts & Entertainment Editor
For Amulya Veldanda, a Class of 2018 graduate of the College who majored in biomedical engineering, reading and writing will always stay close to her heart.
Ever since she learned to read, she would go to the library every day after school, indulging in numerous stories and rhymes. Veldanda may currently be a scientist at the Integra Lifesciences in Plainsboro, NJ, but her inner book-lover self has never withered. Now, she plans to self-publish her first children’s book “Cosmo Faces the Forest of Fears,” on Tuesday, March 1 — and she couldn’t be more thrilled.
“It’s not really for the money or anything like that because I don’t think I would actually be able to become a professional or really popular author,” Veldanda said. “It’s mostly for the hobby and the fun of it.”
"The theme of the book is, 'being brave isn't about not being scared, it's about being able to face your fears,'" she added.
The story immerses readers into the life of a golden retriever — Cosmo — who goes into the forest with his family, but loses his sister. The story contains bright, colorful images and is well-suited for kids ages five to nine.
“Children from ages 5–6 may have difficulty reading it independently, but would be able to follow along and have fun,” Veldanda said in an Instagram post. “Children from ages 7-9 would enjoy reading the story themselves and would maybe learn a new word or two!”
Veldanda drew inspiration for the book from her own childhood experiences.
“I came up with that theme because I actually used to be terrified of dogs when I was younger,” she said. “I would not go near any dog. If a dog was coming onto the street, I would go to the other side of the street.”
However, in junior year of high school, Veldanda’s family decided to get a dog — Cosmo. And from there, her fear of dogs was history.
“After we got him, now I just love dogs so much,” Veldanda said. “The theme is loosely based off of that background.”
If you saw the name “Cosmo” twice and scratched your head, there’s no need to re-read. Yes, Veldanda plopped her own dog, Cosmo, into her children’s story. According to her, real-life Cosmo and the character Cosmo — both golden retrievers — are very similar.
Veldana said the two Cosmo’s have something in common: their “crazy love for treats.”
“He’ll do anything for treats,” Veldanda said, laughing. On cue, Cosmo started barking in the background, as if he heard the word “treats” and instinctively knew what Veldanda was talking about.
She said that she wants to make her book into a series, which would be called “Diamond in the Ruff.”
“I have certain things I want to include in my story, like I always need some theme for the story,” Veldanda said. “Based on the theme, I figure out, ‘Okay, what is the main conflict that my character’s going to face? And what’s kind of my character’s strengths and what is his one big weakness in the story? And how can he overcome that weakness?’ To make the conflict go away.”
Veldanda also always includes a side character who helps Cosmo out.
She said how she already wrote the second book — “Diamond in the Ruff,” book two — but she still has to get illustrations done for that installment.
When looking for someone who could do the illustrations for “Cosmo Faces the Forest of Fears,” Veldanda met her illustrator from Fiverr, a freelancing platform. The illustrator goes by the pen name, Seriusrim.
“I found someone whose artistic style matched my vision for my own story the best,” Veldanda said. “Working with the illustrator has been really great.”
The illustrator is from Indonesia and does digital illustrations. Veldanda is amazed by Seriusrim’s work, finding the illustrations adorable.
“I think it looks kind of like Disney a little bit,” she said.
When Veldanda worked with Seriusrim to get the perfect illustrations, she wrote a detailed idea of what she imagined a scene to look like. She didn’t send him the actual book because children spend a lot of time looking at the eye-appealing pictures to get the story, rather than the physical words.
Veldanda enjoyed showing “Cosmo Faces the Forest of Fears” to her young cousins.
“It’s so fun watching kids read the book,” Veldanda said.
Veldanda plans on doing read-out-louds once her book is published. She talked to the Piscataway community center and they agreed to her coming and doing a reading — and they also said she could bring Cosmo so the kids could meet him in-person. Veldanda added that she could possibly play games with the kids.
Veldanda is using her community to increase readers and publicity. She reached out to the Rutgers Barnes and Noble and they agreed to put her book on their shelves. She also asked her town’s bed and biscuit — a place where dogs can stay if their owners are going out-of-town — if they could shelve her books. Like the Rutgers Barnes and Noble, they said yes.
Veldanda also uses social media, including Instagram and Facebook, to promote her book. While some of her followers are friends, authors, teachers, librarians — and any other type of person who is keeping an eye on what children’s books are out in the market — some of her followers are also parents searching for books for their kids.
“It’s been really cool to see how many people — random strangers — get really invested in your process. I was so shocked,” Veldanda said. “When I first started posting on Instagram, I didn’t expect so many people to comment and like things and say, ‘good job,’ ‘congrats,’ ‘I’m so excited to buy your book.’”
While the number of followers must be rewarding, Veldanda said the physical writing is one of her favorite parts of this experience.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle, how to make the story work, and how to make the rhyme fit with the story and make everything flow all together,” Veldanda said.
In an instagram post, Veldanda broke down the qualities of what makes a scientist similar to a writer, such as persistence, attention to detail, clarity, patience, creativity and a passion for reading.
“I’ve noticed a lot of things I use and work with at work are things I also need when I’m at home writing,” Veldanda said. “You can take the skills you use in any field and apply it to writing also. A lot of people narrow it down to what they can do in one field, but I don’t think that’s the case. You can have very different interests and excel in them because a lot of times there are similar skills you need for both.”
While self-publishing may not be seen as prestigious as traditional publishing, self-publishing still takes a lot of time and effort—and Veldanda, who is just putting a foot in the self-publishing world, realized that.
“Usually you think, ‘okay, you just write the story and then you get the illustrations and then you’re done,’ but a lot of work has to go into the formatting of the book, thinking of what will appeal to kids but also appeal to parents, and also a lot of social media, networking with other authors,” Veldanda said. “I think a huge part is going to come after publishing the book, to get word out that this book is out there. I’ve learned that the writing, the illustrating part is such a small piece of self-publishing. There’s so much more that goes into it.”