North artist explores her characters’ back story in debut book

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Em Varosky of North Attleborough (far left) celebrated the release of her book, “Strange Wild Beings,” at the Southcoast Open Air Market on June 25. Part of a series, the book explores the back story of the cartoon characters she created two years ago. Courtesy photo
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By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Two years ago, Em Varosky introduced the public to Skoshie the Cat, Wisp the Dragon, and Zeek the Octopus through her cartoon-themed artwork.

These popular critters are now having their unique stories told, courtesy of a series of children’s books that Varosky wrote and illustrated. The first book, “Strange Wild Beings,” is centered on Skoshie the Cat and the strange forest that she calls home.

As she wanders the forest, Skoshie learns that the strange things she was told about aren’t strange at all. She meets Zeek, an octopus who wants to “do all the things” and Wisp the dragon, who is just looking for a quiet place. One of the lessons given through the bright, colorful drawings is that the world can be a scary place, but hiding from it means you won’t get to see all the wondrous things it holds.

Let’s start with the book itself. What is this one all about?
This one is going to be the first of a series. This is kind of explaining who the characters are and why they know each other. For the past couple years when I’m doing craft fairs and stuff when I have my characters out and about, people are like, “Well, who are they? And you know, what’s their story?” They don’t have a story. They’re just the things that I made. They’re just my art. And people have asked for a book and so I have finally stopped dragging my feet and I wrote one.

Was there something that kicked this off?
My mom was my mom—she was very encouraging for me to do this. And so I was like, “No, I don’t need to do this.” And she kept kind of encouraging me along the way. And finally over like the beginning of the year when I’m not doing as many craft fairs it’s like, well, now now’s a good time to try to make this happen.

Tell me, who is Skoshie?

She is a cat who lives in the town. She lives in her nice little house. And her name is based off the word ‘skosh,’ which is something that my husband says a lot. And I’d never heard of it prior to him using it and he said it’s a little or a small amount. And so, Skoshie the Cat is always looking for a little or a small amount of good in every situation. So while she’s living in her house in her comfort zone she’s trying to find the little or a small amount of good outside, beyond her comfort zone bubble. And that’s kind of how the story begins.

Was it a challenge to create the stories in the first place?
There were a lot of drafts because I mean, it was a children’s book. How hard can that be to write if you’re not writing hundreds of pages. It’s just a story.

But I think for the first time my challenge was laying the foundation for whatever potentially comes next. Even their names like the dragon, the octopus, changed names. For the longest time they were named Sporky and Squiggles. I can’t have all the characters names begin with S. Honestly, it gets a little confusing. And there were many, many drafts and many different approaches taken prior to landing on this story.

Was it fun to kind of create the world of the characters?
Yes, once I figured out that I wanted it to be in the woods, which is where it all happens. Once I got there, it was fine. I knew going into it once this was done, I can only build off of it. So it was the laying the foundation and knowing this is who they’re going to be and once I write it, I can’t change it again.

Now that I’m on the other side of it, it’s kind of a release because the foundation is done. And I can’t change it. But the process of making those decisions and deciding what their personalities are and deciding what makes each of them unique and how they contribute. The style of the story was much harder than I thought it would be. I have new respect for children’s book writers.

Given all the drafts for this book, was it hard to say “Okay, we’re done?”
Yes, it was very hard. Because the first several drafts that I did and they were very different from what we have now. I was part of a mentorship program and so I was sending to mentors and I’m like, is this good? And they’d be like, no, you can do better. I’m glad, I’m very thankful that I had people who were willing to tell me that and not let me settle for just getting something done and getting it finished.

Did you find that you grew as an artist from this experience?
I think yes, it was definitely an experience to be able to just go head-down and do that many watercolor paintings because I do love watercolor, but I never crave that many in a row. So it was fun to be able to play with the colors and and the thing that I personally enjoyed was finally assigning a color to each character—which might not be a big deal, but up until this point, they’ve all been whatever color I feel like doing at the moment, and so this was awesome.

It was another one of the decisions that I was afraid of—committing to a color for each of them because they’re not chameleons. So, yeah, so the cat is teal, the octopus is green, and the dragon is purple. And that was another big commitment for me, in my head. I get all of these standards in my head that I was intimidated by, but I was happy to get that done.

When was the release for the first book?
The first one that I did was the Southcoast Open Air Market (SOAM). That was Saturday the 25th (of June). And I picked that one because that was kind of where I really started building my entrepreneurship community a couple years ago. Because it was the pandemic, most of the craft fairs were shut down. SOAM was still open—obviously much spread apart and it was still weird. But that was where I really started building a community and I had lived in Somerset. I wanted to be in that area when I did the launch.

Let’s look ahead to the other books. Are you currently working on them?
I would love to get another one done by the holiday season. I have not started it yet. Maybe I actually will do it. So sure, let’s say the holiday season.


Looking about looking back on this experience, what would you say was the most enjoyable part?

Is it okay to say unpacking them when they got shipped to me—because that was definitely the coolest part. There’s something different and and it always surprised me, because we’re in such a digital-centric world that I always underestimate the power of a physical object. And because I laid out the book, I’ve been staring at these pages for months now. And even the the e-book.

When the books get here it’s just going to be the same thing that I’ve been looking at for all these months. But then you un-package it and it just feels so different, to look at those same images, but in your hands. Just seeing your work on a piece of paper that got printed. It’s very, it’s extremely fulfilling for me.

For more information, visit www.emvarodesigns.com or www.emvaro.etsy.com.