BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN
LITTLE ARMENIA—Cynthia Keyllian, founder of Beads for Battle, has written her first children’s book, “Just Us Three.” With a background in Public Health and a passion for children, Cynthia ventured into children’s literature. Her book is set to launch on Friday, May 31 at 7 p.m., at the upstairs lounge of the Oak & Vine, at 117 E Harvard St, Glendale, California 91205.
Cynthia founded Beads for Battle, a non-profit cancer support organization, in 2013 after being diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The bracelets are a handmade collaboration, made by Cynthia and her BFB team, and are gifted to individuals—often times children—battling cancer. her desire was to spread hope and cancer awareness, while also giving back to her community and advocating for youth. Filled with creative ideas, Cynthia began working on “Just Us Three” in early 2018.
“Just Us Three” tells the real-life story of Cece and Mickey, a pair that find understanding and acceptance within one another. While working on her children’s book, Cynthia was simultaneously completing her Master of Public Health degree. She uses her background in public health to successfully incorporate her knowledge of the field into a storyline that engages, and teaches children.
Recently, Keyllian sat down for an interview at the Asbarez offices.
Aleen Arslanian: From Beads for Battle to the literary world, you seem to be filled with creative ideas. What inspired you to write?
Cynthia Keyllian: Just to put it out there, the children’s book has nothing to do with Beads for Battle. The book is more of a personal accomplishment funded by me and my family. It was difficult to jump into a new field, because I had no idea about writing or publishing. But, I always knew I wanted to write a book, and specifically a children’s book. That’s all I really needed to get me going. I have that drive in me—if I put my mind to something, I’m going to do it. I had this story that kept repeating in my head. I woke up from a dream one night, and I had a journal next to my bed, so I started writing. I read the story to my parents and they thought it was fun and wanted to know more, so I completed the story and put the journal away. I didn’t immediately go back to it, but the story stayed on my mind until I decided to do something about it. I eventually started typing out and editing the story and one step led to the other. For me, this is a new platform to teach kids about public health, because that’s what I want to do with my career—to work with kids, work with health education, and find different creative ways to get messages across to them.
A.A.: Who, or what, were the inspiration for your characters Mickey and Cece?
C.K.: I’m Cece, and Mickey is my puppy, Mickey. I got Mickey when I was diagnosed with cancer. He’s been there for me throughout this journey. I was definitely spiraling down depression when I was going through treatment. With a puppy, they love you no matter what you look like, no matter what you’re going through. Watching Mickey grow up, I realized he had a physical disability. The story is about Mickey’s disability, and his urge to hide the disability from his owner because he thinks that if she finds out about it she’ll give him away. It’s told through Mickey’s perspective. The whole point of the story is to accept your differences, love them no matter what they are, and to embrace others for their differences or disabilities. It’s what makes them unique and beautiful.
A.A.: Is there a particular reason why you chose children as your audience?
C: I really want to make a career out of working with children, especially in the Armenian community. I think that kids should be taught valuable life lessons from a young age. My parent’s instilled important values in me early on: to always be kind, to always give back, and to never judge anyone. With what’s happening in the world today, it’s important that kids have these values. Also, I’m personally obsessed with children’s books—I’m a kid at heart. For a lot of my friend’s birthdays or graduations, I gift them children’s books that I think reflect them. Each time you read a children’s book you can take something different away from it, depending on your life circumstances. It’s a fun and interactive way to teach kids lessons.
A.A.: Is there a lesson that you want kids to take away from your book?
C.K.: The story is about friendship, compassion, kindness, and loving one another. I hope that kids can take that away from the story. Especially now, with all the bullying taking place, if kids are sick or can’t go to class their peers laugh at them, or criticize them for it. When in reality, no one really knows what that child is going through. Hopefully this book can be taken in that perspective and people can see that we all have our differences—for some its internal, for others its external. No matter what the differences are, you should embrace them, and love that person for their differences. Many moms have reached out to me through BFB. One in particular said her kid was being bullied because he couldn’t go to school, or one of the kids at school ripped his BFB bracelet from his hand. She’s shown me photos of her son crying…She’s tried to advocate for BFB to go to their school—we call them school takeovers—to talk about cancer education. But, they don’t have the time or aren’t trying to make the effort. A lot of moms are struggling with this, and have no outlet. I took all this into consideration when working on the book.
A.A.: Are the illustrations a collaboration between you and the publishing company?
C.K.: The publishing company has a set of their own illustrations. But, just to make sure they capture what I want, I sent them pictures of me and of Mickey. I sent them a picture of Mickey limping, and I asked that they make sure the illustration looks exactly like the picture. I sent a picture of Mickey’s doctor, too. They really captured exactly what I wanted, and they were really lenient with changes.
A.A.: Are there any Armenian touches to the “Just Us Three?”
C: There’s a minimal touch of Armenian-ness to the book. For example, I had the publishing company create a sticker for Mickey’s luggage that says, “Armenia.” In the back of the book, I talk about how involved I am in the Armenian community.
A.A.: Did you have a mentor, or someone to consult through this process?
C: This book project was all me. Initially, I reached out to someone who had published a book, but it wasn’t a children’s book. The novel world and children’s book world are very different. But, just seeing that someone was able to do it was comforting. I went on social media and found other young authors to see how they started up. My family was very motivating and pushed me to keep going. There were days where I had a final and the publishing company needed me to sign something, or there was a BFB event or a workshop…my family really calmed the storm for me. But, in terms of the actual book, it was me from start to end. I think that’s what makes it so beautiful. I had no experience or knowledge about writing and publishing. I started going online and signing up with author support organizations just to see what’s happening in the world of publishing. Or taking part in different webinars to see how you can expand your book or marketing tactics, and talking to different authors about events. I put myself out there just to see if I could do it on my own.
A.A.: How much research went into this project?
C.K.: Before I completed the book I decided to find out what the steps to publishing were. I saw that you can go traditional—market your book through an agent to a book publishing company. Or, publish on your own. I realized I wanted to have control of the whole process, because it was my first book. So, I took the self-publishing route. Then I started visiting bookstores. Any free time I had, I would run to a bookstore and sit in the children’s book section for hours. I would read books, see which publishing companies were used, read about the authors, and look at how many pages and illustrations were in each book. I took notes of all these things prior to writing the book. Once I started writing the book, I had to think about how to market it. How am I going to advertise to Barnes & Noble? How am I going to conduct a reading? What are the best strategies? It was a lot of research throughout the entire process.
A.A.: Do you plan on publishing more books? If so, will you continue writing children’s books?
C.K.: Yes, I definitely want to stick to children’s books. I’m not sure if I want to make a career out of writing, only because that’s never been something I see myself do in terms of a career. I definitely enjoy it and I find that it’s a good outlet for people to express themselves. But, it’s something I want to continue on the side. When these stories come to me, I have to get them on paper. I also think it’s important to challenge yourself. I hope that people see that, if they really want to do something, they can make it happen. My goal is to encourage that in the community. I do plan on writing other children’s books, and depending on the path this takes me, I’ll figure out if I want to independently sign, and maybe even write in Armenian.