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Summer gardens and zucchini {A chat with author, Tina Dozauer-Ray}

Tina, it’s so great to be able to talk with you.

My mother-in-law took my daughter to our local library when you were doing a book signing and reading your book, Too Many Zucchini for Zachary Beany. We fell in love with the story instantly. My mother-in-law loved that the Grandmother was a major character in the story.

What inspired you to write this story?


I learned to garden with my mother in Iowa, and I have always found gardening to be a great comfort and joy to me.  When I became a mother, I wanted to share this with my children and would bring the babies out to the garden with me.  Later, they began to “help” with planting and weeding, and then they started their own projects, like our ongoing “biggest pumpkin challenge.” (Each year we beat our own record.)

I wanted to share the delight of growing one’s own food with children, and I came up with the idea of writing a children’s book which included a packet of seeds.  I thought kids would be much more likely to share Zachary Beany’s gardening adventures if the seeds were right there for them, ready to plant. The “problem” of surplus zucchini is legendary in the Midwest, so I thought that would be a good theme.

I wanted the book to contain projects that the readers could do themselves, like making zucchini sculptures and zucchini bread, so I included our family zucchini bread recipe.

I made my mother the main adult figure because she inspired me to learn to garden, and I love the influence she has had on my kids over the years. I love the idea of the older generations passing on their wisdom to our media-drenched young ones.

My 11-year-old son has a cooking app on his iPod…and then there’s that farm game on Facebook…someone needs to show our kids how we do this stuff “old school!”

I love what you are saying. I love watching my kids sit at the feet of my mother-in-law and learn how to create and make things with their hands and imaginations. I’m learning a lot from her too.

How long did it take you to write and publish your book?

The process was relatively quick.  My son, Toby, was excited about the idea of my writing a book and posted an “idea sheet” on the kitchen wall so that family members could write down ideas for the book, specifically things that you can make with zucchini.  I used a lot of his ideas, like the helicopter and rocket, which were passions of his at the time.  We have made each one of the creations shown in the book!

Idea sheet, that’s fabulous!

Once I got the idea, the process went pretty quickly.  I probably had my draft final draft written in a month.  I shopped around for a print-on-demand publisher that was willing to deal with my seeds, which very few were willing to do.  I have never shopped the book to a traditional publisher, although it’s been on my to-do list ever since.  I wanted to the book to be out, with the seeds, as soon as possible.  I knew that if I was lucky enough for a standard publisher to pick up my book, it would probably take years for the book to come out, and probably without the seeds, which, to me, were the key to the reader’s experience.

I shopped the internet for an illustrator, settling on Bonnie LeMaire, a whimsical artist from Canada.  It was fun to go back and forth with ideas, pointing out things like “we have to replace the lilacs in that picture with sunflowers, because the lilacs wouldn’t be blooming anymore.”

I can’t remember exactly how long the publishing process took; I’m guessing about 6 months?  I went with Lifevest Publishing in Centennial, Colorado, which has since gone out of business since the original owner died unexpectedly, and then the economy didn’t exactly help the new managers.

So, I’m thinking I had a book in my hands about 6 months after I started writing.

Your process is super helpful. I’m thinking about writing a book with a friend of mine who has a granny nanny.

What has been the response, from your readers, about the organic zucchini seeds you include with the book?

Most people love the seeds. I do, however, get the feeling that some parents wish the seeds weren’t there, because the adults feel “stuck” having to do some gardening they’d rather not do otherwise.  The books that reach these homes are the ones that need the seeds the most!  Even apartment dwellers can fill a great big pot with dirt and set it on their back stoop.

You are so right! Your book has us planting a garden this year, and I not have a green thumb.

Have you had any funny adventures growing zucchini?

I really do enjoy the ridiculous size the zucchini can reach if you don’t catch them in time, and the crazy shapes they can grow into… My favorite zucchini creation was made by my husband and son after the book was published.  I had a booth at the Louisville (Colorado) farmer’s market, and they came down later rolling a zucchini tractor they’d made.  It was awesome:  big wheels they’d borrowed from another toy and a little Fisher Price farmer perched proudly in a little seat they’d hollowed out in the zucchini.  It was a huge hit with the kids at the market who would come by and play with it.

That sounds cool.

My mother-in-law makes the best chocolate zucchini cake. You provide the recipe for Nana’s Special Zucchini Bread at the end of the story. What other baked goods or dishes do you like to make with zucchini?

Who doesn’t love fried food?  I think my family’s favorite way to eat the zucchini (mine, at least,) is to dip slices in egg and panko crumbs, and fry it.  Then you can do “zucchini parmesan” and layer it with cheese and tomato sauce.  Yum!

Yum! I’m a big fan of fried food.

Barbara Kingsolver has a chapter in her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” called “Zucchini Larceny.”  She has two zucchini recipes in it:  ”Disappearing Zucchini Orzo,” which is delicious (basically zucchini, cheese, and pasta,) and “Zucchini Chocolate Chip cookies.”  I have not tried the cookies, but it’s on my list for this summer.

I’ll be adding those recipes to my list as well.

We planted our first garden this year, any gardening tips to share?

My biggest challenges have been “the two w’s”:  water and weeds.

I am very stingy with water, and I have no irrigation system for our garden or enormous yard.  Adding a bunch of composted horse manure before planting helps the soil hold water, as well as enriching it. The compost also makes a great mulch to prevent evaporation from the soil below, and then I might add wood chips on top of that, with maybe a layer of cardboard or newspaper in between.  If I’m really feeling ambitious (and mad at the weeds) I’ll do weed fabric under the wood chips

Wow!

We have a horrendous bindweed problem in our yard, and we don’t use any herbicides or pesticides.  So, I end up digging a ton of bindweed roots up every year, just to have them come back a few weeks later from the evil “mother root” many feet below.  Mulching does help with this, but this year I’m trying another technique:  bind weed “mites” imported from elsewhere in Colorado that eat nothing but bindweed (we hope.)

The extension service bags them up and sells them to folks trying to get a handle on their bindweed problem.  You get little pieces of “infected” bindweed to wrap around your own bindweed.  The mites are supposed to spread and weaken the plant over time.  It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s supposed to make that noxious weed more manageable.

So, my number one tip for Colorado gardening?  Mulch, mulch, mulch!

All of that made my head spin a bit. You may need to lead a workshop for us gardening amateurs.

Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book?

I found self-publishing my book to be a great deal of fun, but, unfortunately, quite expensive, especially commissioning the artwork.  I had hoped to sell more books on a website I had built. It has a link for buying the book that I’m embarrassed to say no longer works, since the publishing company went out of business.  I’m on the fence between hiring someone to fix this and just taking down the website.  It’s so darned cute, though, so there it sits in limbo…

So, I don’t think I would seriously start my next book unless I managed to shop Zachary Beany to a regular publisher.  I teach at two local middle schools and have two children, and I don’t have the time right now to work on another book unless it would make money for our family.

That being said, my next book would most like feature giant pumpkins!

Just FYI, the book is hard to find now, since the print-on-demand company went out of business.  I think Boulder Bookstore might still have it, and the Book Cellar in Louisville, maybe Grandrabbits.  The most sure-fire (and cheapest) way to get it is to drop me an email and arrange to buy one from me personally.

Thanks, Tina.

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Tina Dozauer-Ray grew up gardening on a farm in southern Iowa. Some of her earliest memories are of her mother’s rambling fruit and vegetable gardens: she still vividly remembers catching a fat bumble bee on a chive blossom with her bare hands and getting stung! She also remembers the rare taste of golden raspberries and fresh Concord grapes, still warm from the sun. Read more…

Too Many Zucchini for Zachary Beany can be purchased on Amazon or by contacting Tina directly.

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