Rochester author's first book to arrive on shelves May 22

May 13, 2018

Rochester resident Michelle Cusolito's first published book began as 500 words, typed with one finger on her cellphone.

Now, "Flying Deep," a children's book that takes readers inside the deep-sea submersible Alvin, a high-tech research vessel from the Woods Hole Oceanographical Institute, will be available to readers beginning on May 22.

In 2016, the manuscript of the book won a PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children's Book Discovery Award, intended for books that have not yet been awarded a publishing contract. The award gave Cusolito access to editors who helped her further shape and advertise the book.

Then, in the same week that her book won an award, Cusolito learned that publishing company Charlesbridge wanted to buy the rights to "Flying Deep."

"It was quite a week, my head was spinning!" she said.

Cusolito originally learned about Alvin from one of the vessel's pilots, Don Collasius. She and Collasius were introduced to each other at a gathering. When she learned who he was, Cusolito, a former teacher, asked if Collasius would come in and talk to her fourth-grade class. He accepted.

His stories and information sparked an idea in Cusolito's mind during a walk back in 2014, when the idea for "Flying Deep" suddenly hit her. Then she realized—oops, she'd forgotten her pen and notebook, two items she normally never has further than an arm's reach away.

"So I sat down next to Snipatuit Pond and wrote the first 500 words, typing on my cellphone. And I wasn't great at texting then, so it was mostly just pressing one button at a time with my finger," Cusolito laughed.

She had a first draft of the book, but there was still a lot of research to be done. "I think almost every single thing I wrote in the first draft was wrong," she said.

Through Collasius, Cusolito was able to tour Alvin and meet its senior pilot. She did hundreds of hours of research on the Oceanographical Institute and Alvin.

"Usually I do all my book research first, so the process was totally backwards," she confided.

The final word count is around 700 words, which Cusolito considers a real achievement.

"It's so difficult to break into publishing children's books," she noted. "You have to be able to tell a complete story in 700 words. That is not easy!"

Fall River artist Nicole Wong created the book's artwork on a $10 iPad app, ProCreate, Cusolito said.

"I love that it's an illustration app that any child could download and just start using," she said. "There's no barrier to getting high-quality software anymore."

"Flying Deep" will be available at bookstores beginning on May 22, but those looking for an early copy can attend the book's free launch party at Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth on Saturday, May 19. The launch party begins at 2 p.m. Wong and Alvin senior pilot Bruce Strickrott will be in attendance to answer children's questions. Those who are attending and would like a copy of the book are asked to call the bookstore at 508-548-5548, in order to make sure enough books are available.

To see more of Cusolito's work or to follow her work on "Flying Deep," visit her website, or find her on Twitter or Instagram at @MCusolito.