Suzanne Cotsakos is an Actor, Author, Entrepreneur and Voice-Over Artist.
She co-founded MUTASIA®, a children’s creative educational entertainment company; is an award winning co-founder of Tertiary Productions, an independent internet production studio and; is a main company member of the comedy troupe Duchess Riot, which has been voted ‘Best Theatre Group’ on LA Hotlist for the last four years.
Suzanne continues to author children’s books for MUTASIA’s educational book series. Her first book, Figley’s New Favorite Food, was awarded the “Mom’s Choice Gold Seal Award” and “Honorable Mention” at the Los Angeles and Pacific Rim Book Festivals. The second book that she co-authored, Land of Illogical & Utterly Impossible Critters also received a “Mom’s Choice Gold Seal Award.”
As an actor, Suzanne has performed in hundreds of shows around Los Angeles with her comedy troupes, Duchess Riot and Side Effects Improv, for which she is also a contributing director, editor, producer and writer. She is the voice of Figley, the main character in MUTASIA’s animated special The Mish Mash Bash and also sings as the character on the music album, Nature Calls: Songs From MUTASIA. Suzanne is a proud member of SAG/AFTRA and holds a BA in Theatre Arts from Pepperdine University; a BFA in Motion Pictures and Television from the Academy of Art University and; an MBA from William Paterson University.
Suzanne was kind enough to answer some questions for us today, so without further ado, here she is!
About Figley’s New Favorite Food
As succinctly as possible, tell us why someone should read your book.
Figley’s New Favorite Food is a humorous and colorful book that shows kids how fun and exciting trying new foods can be! The book is overflowing with vibrant and funny illustrations by Ryan McCulloch.
The cover image is stunning! I’m sure kids will be drawn to the gorgeous illustrations.
Where did you draw your inspiration from for your characters?
I co-founded Mutasia with my mom, Tami Cotsakos. The two of us, along with Ryan, were really interested in how people can be so unique and different from each other but still be friends. We wanted to explore different personality types and how they can get along with each other, even though they may clash at times. We also know that these dynamics bring out a lot of insecurities in kids; we’ve each experienced that in our own lives, and we wanted to address those issues, too. We are able to enhance those themes visually because each Mutasian is a unique mix of two or more animals, and looks completely different from everyone around them. Those exterior differences reflect the differences they feel inside. For our animation and music, I voice the character of Figley, so he and I have a special connection, and I think you’ll see a lot of me reflected through him.
I love the concept behind the “Mutasians” and mixing different animals together. There are usually stereotypes associated with animals so mixing them up is a great way of demonstrating how an individual can have a mixture of traits both physical and personality-wise. And how fun to be the voice behind your creation!
What is the main message you want to convey to your readers in your books?
For Figley’s New Favorite Food, my co-author, Chelsea Menzies, and I wanted to explore real situations that parents and children deal with every day and make it fun. Plus, I’m a foodie, so the topic of food seemed like a good fit. I vividly remember not wanting to try any new food as a child. My parents always told me that I had to take at least one bite. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to eat it anymore. It just seemed that getting young children to try new foods was a pretty common problem, but a unique one to tackle. Visually, we made each food as gross and fantastical as possible, so that when kids see that Figley is able to eat ‘fermented feather porridge,’ trying beets suddenly doesn’t seem that bad in comparison. Each Mutasia book takes on different lessons, but an overarching theme for our brand is embracing things that are different, whether that be experiences or people.
Oh, I’m a foodie too and I hope to feature more food-related posts in the future. We also use the “you have to eat at least one bite” philosophy in our house. I keep telling my kids, “remember the first time I showed you chocolate pudding? It might look disgusting, but it sure tastes good, doesn’t it?” Sounds like Figley has to try some pretty unusual foods in the book!
Can we expect more books from you in the future?
Yes, you absolutely can! I am in love with all the Mutasians and there are so many stories that each of our characters have to share. Chelsea and I have another book coming out this year called, The Lost Journal. It’s an epic adventure about the first human to discover the island of Mutasia, after his boat shipwrecks on the island. It’s a very unique take on Mutasia because we are seeing our characters through the eyes of an outsider, as he records his journey in his journal, takes photos and makes sketches of what he sees. His unfamiliarity with everything and everyone leads to some funny situations. The shipwreck is a metaphor for life and the key messages are about “finding yourself” and “learning to accept change.” I’ve also just started collaborating with one of my improv partners, Erin Muroski, on another book that we hope will be out next year!
I can’t help but see a cross between Gilligan’s Island and The Island of Dr. Moreau – but for children, of course! Maybe one day there will be a Mutasia Theme Park!
About Being an Author
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? What inspired you to choose to write books?
I either wanted to be an actor or go to the Olympics for softball. The actor part ended up winning. As an actor, I have a passion for exploring characters and telling stories, and writing allows me to do that through a whole other medium! I have always loved to write. I kept a journal and wrote a lot of poetry growing up. It was always a great outlet for me. I remember writing a children’s book for my senior project and I really enjoyed it. When we created the Mutasia brand, I knew I wanted to write books for it. I have such a huge love for the characters and the world, and I felt I could bring my own unique experiences and perspective to them. Plus, being an actor (and a kid at heart), my imagination is always active, and writing is such a great way to channel that energy.
It sounds like you’ve always known what your path would be. You are so fortunate to be able to do what you clearly enjoy doing so much. I remember watching women’s softball in the Olympics many years ago when it was included as part of the Olympics. I’m pretty sure the Canadian women’s team never won a medal but our Canadian hero Hayley Wickenheiser was on the team. She’s won 4 gold medals and 1 silver medal in women’s Olympic hockey.
What has been the best compliment you received as an author?
I had done a Skype reading of Figley’s New Favorite Food with a 2nd grade class. One of the boys in the class said that afterwards he tried broccoli and it wasn’t that bad. That was a huge compliment to me. I loved that Figley (the main character of the book) encouraged him to try something he wasn’t sure about.
That is very sweet! I agree – it’s the trying to new food that is the problem. Most of it is not nearly as bad as kids think. Except steamed spinach.
What advice would you give someone aspiring to write a children’s book?
My advice would be to read a lot of children’s books in the age range you want to target to get a sense of the rhythm and structure. Then I would brainstorm the kinds of stories and topics you are passionate about. Think about the books that inspired you as a child. Lastly, I would keep it simple. In general, if you break most story lines down they have one theme and a simple plot. It’s how you make the world and the characters come alive that sets you apart.
That is great advice for authors. I agree that reading, reading, reading books in your target age range is so critical. You need to know your audience.
More About Reading and Writing
What are some of your favorite books from when you were a child and did any of these inspire you when writing your books?
I loved everything by Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss! I still do. I love the quirkiness of their points of view. I like that they were entertaining and a little weird, but they taught subtle lessons too. It’s impossible to read the Mutasia books and not see those influences in there. Those books helped teach me to use my imagination, to write what I know, and to always infuse a little of myself into my writing.
Two of the greatest children’s book authors. I grew up on Dr. Seuss but my children only went through a short phase of reading his books. Where did I go wrong?
What books are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading a lot of autobiographies lately, and a lot of books on creativity. I just started Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I love it so far. And I am re-reading The War of Art. I think it’s a good book to re-read once a year. It’s a good reminder of what can block your creativity.
I love Amy Poehler (and Tina Fey). I have both of their books on my to-be-read list. I have not heard of the War of Art though. I’ll have to look that one up. Thanks for the recommendations.
What is your favorite book of all-time (adult)?
It would have to be the Harry Potter series. They are all wonderful. I have re-read the series multiple times. I feel so very close to all the characters. Oh! And I love my little hardcover collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
My son and I are both reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. We are on Book 5, but my daughter finished them about a year ago. We just visited Universal Studios and the two Harry Potter theme parks in Orlando just last month. Walking through Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Hogsmeade, and Hogwart’s was an incredible experience.
More About the Author
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
I usually keep myself pretty busy. Mutasia is a full time job. Plus, I am an actor. So, that means a lot of rehearsals, classes, auditions, and filming. I also write, produce, edit, and direct web sketches with my partner, Erin Muroski, for our comedy troupe, Duchess Riot. I am a main company member of Side Effects Improv (we are starting to produce our own web sketches, too). I perform at least once a month with both groups all around Los Angeles and I teach improv to beginners. I used to run a production company with my husband, so sometimes I still freelance for certain clients. But when I’m not doing all of that, I love spending time exploring museums, going on hikes, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with my hubby and our two awesome dogs.
I’m not sure when you find the time to write, you are so busy!
- Dessert? S’Mores
- Season? Fall
- Animal? Dog
- Flower? Sunflower
- Time of Day? Dusk
Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers too! Thanks so much for taking the time to share some tidbits about yourself Suzanne and for introducing us to Figley!
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