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CSI Creator Tells Teens’ Stories in a New Way

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2019 9:00 am

Anthony Zuiker, creator of the widely acclaimed TV show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and its spin-offs, is now working on another project with his wife and a small team. The concept of this project is to use graphic novels to tell the stories of real teenagers who have dealt with serious issues. As of now, Anthony said 25,000 books have shipped to more than 30 schools across America.

So far, the graphic novels of over 70 pages have covered divorce, cyberbullying, racism and body image. More are on the way, including books on school shootings, transgender, autism and suicide.

The project started when Anthony was taking one of his sons, Evan, to summer school. Evan, who has Asperger’s syndrome, wanted the other kids to understand him better, so he wanted to write a book telling everyone “what was wrong with him.”

“Why don’t we tell all the kids what’s right with you?” Anthony asked in response.

The two embarked on what Anthony described as the “world’s most expensive father-son project,” beginning with an interview.

“The thing that was troubling for me was... there were all these things that were happening to him on campus that I had no idea about,” Anthony said. “He was being made fun of, called names.... Through it all, I also learned that he was able to receive a certificate called ‘Making Great Strides’ from his principal because he was actually improving. He gave that certificate to the only kid in a wheelchair at school, which was just unbelievable.”

After the interview, Anthony wrote the first 12-page book and put $30,000 into having it illustrated and ready to publish under the title A for Autism. He also developed the idea to create other books, such as B for Bullying, C for Coping, and so on. It was at this point when Evan asked Anthony not to publish the book until Evan was 18 years old. He is currently 16.

“This is where it started.... This is what kicked it all off,” Anthony said about the experience of creating A for Autism.

“As a global storyteller married to an 18-year educator — Michelle — we decided to keep going and pursue our journey into telling real kids’ stories.... So, we created Zuiker Press.”

The first book the couple tackled was Mend: A Story of Divorce, which is told from the perspective Sophia Recca before, during and after her parent’s divorce.

Anthony said the process of creating one of the books starts with interviewing the parents and their child for several hours over the course of a few days. Anthony records the interviews as a teaching tool and there’s a number of interview clips on the company’s website. The website also has a section of free, downloadable curriculum for teachers for each book. These are written by Shannon Lively, whom Anthony said is their educational specialist for the books.

After the interviews, Anthony writes the book in the child’s voice. The book is then illustrated by “all the guys that draw Marvel movies,” leading to a “very high-end” graphic novel. Each book also has 10 real pictures of the child. Anthony refers to the children as the authors of their respective books, as they are “the ambassadors of their issue.”

At the end of the story, there’s a brief description of where the author is now (at the time of publication of the book). Near the back of the book is a page titled “Take 5!” which has five “takeaways” or things for parents and teachers to learn from the book. These takeaways are written by professionals in the field related to the topic of each book.

After the takeaways, there’s some information about the company, Anthony and Michelle, and the team who worked on the book. Finally, there is a preview of the next book.

Anthony said they chose a certain length for the books so they can be read in a classroom setting, which is the ultimate goal for the books, though that wasn’t the original idea.

After writing the first three books, Anthony wanted to put the books up in Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. When he signed on with Simon & Schuster Publishing to distribute the books, they told him that he was responsible for selling thousands of book copies they would print for him.

“You’re talking to the creator of CSI, right? The guy who doesn’t lose and always wants to win,” Anthony said. “So now I’m in overdrive and I realized, quickly, that a book in Barnes & Noble like this, with Deadpool, Batman, Ironman, I would be bankrupt inside a month.”

Anthony, who has a second home in Lake Arrowhead, said he sat down with David Nygren and Lynn Klopfer from Rim of the World High School and told them about the books.

“[Lynn] looks at the books and she starts crying,” Anthony said. “She said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We don’t have any way to talk about these things with kids. If you’re going to give them a graphic novel, that’s a great way to start a conversation. These are great.’”

Anthony said Steve Keefe, the owner and a broker at Coldwell Banker Sky Ridge Realty, then donated $4,000 to purchase 50 copies of the first four books for Rim High. Once the books were at the high school, he said Stacy Chapman had her classes read the book for Wellness Week. Anthony even went to speak there, where one girl told him that she had been dealing with depression and anxiety, but after reading Click, the book dealing with cyberbullying, she “felt so much better.”

After the success at Rim High, Anthony said he asked his friends in Hollywood to donate to the cause and he began fundraising. He raised more than $115,000, 97% of which was just to pay for books. He started reaching out to schools across America, offering them free copies of the books. Replies from the schools were in acceptance of anywhere between 25 and 2,000 copies of each book.

Throughout all of this, Michelle has been working with Anthony every step of the way.

“We’re like one-man bands over here. I lick every stamp, I stuff every envelope, I go to the mailbox; there’s no staff. I have a president, illustrator, proofer and publicist, but [mine and Michelle’s] upstairs bedroom is the office. We do everything ourselves. All the purchasing of the materials, envelopes, stamps, labels, all the computer work. It’s like a bomb went off [in that room], but we keep shipping books out.

“We never use a donation dollar for a salary.” Anthony continued. “None of the raised money goes to any of the staff. We pay for everything, Michelle and I, out of our CSI money. It’s expensive.”

Anthony said each book costs the couple $75,000 to put together and they have been doing two books a year.

“I was over at the Lake Arrowhead Pizza Deli, the phone rings and it was Simon & Schuster and they said ‘congratulations, you’ve sold out. Completely sold out... We’re reprinting them,’” Anthony said. “In this business, reprinting is a home run.”

Anthony said Zuiker Press has also partnered with National Writing Project (NWP), a nonprofit who can handle donations for Zuiker Press and send books exactly where donators want them.

“When someone gives money to NWP, they can call to check on their money,” Anthony said. “They can also call principals of the school they chose to see if the copies were received. Finally, they can call Sarah. She is the one who is in charge of fundraising with me in Buffalo [New York]. There’s three transparent check stops just so the money doesn’t go God knows where. It’s important that our donors can track their money and track where the books go so they’re confident.”

The books are intended for an audience in or above the fifth grade. So far, existing books include Mend: A Story of Divorce by Sophia Recca, Click: A Story of Cyberbullying by Alexandra Philips, Colorblind: A Story of Racism by Johnathan Harris, and Imperfect: A Story of Body Image by Dounya Awada.

Going forward, Anthony said they have two books coming out later this year, on Nov. 5. The two books are Activist: A Story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting as told by Lauren Hogg, and Identity: A Story of Transitioning as told by Corey Maison. Activist is about school shootings while Identity is about being transgender.

Lauren will be presenting Activist with Anthony at the American Library Association on June 22 at 10 a.m. in Washington D.C. Anthony said this will be “like our Superbowl for the company.”

In the spring of 2020 two books will be released – Brother: A Story of Autism by Carlton Hudgens as told by Bridget Hudgens and Goodbye: A Story of Suicide by Hailee Joy Lamberth. Brother is told from the perspective of Carlton’s sister, Bridget, as she tells the story of her brother, who has autism. Goodbye is a story of a suicide victim as told by her parents, Jennifer and Jason.

After that, Zuiker Press has plans to do stories on the Hispanic Dreamers, anxiety, gaming addiction, vaping, coming out gay, opioid addiction, and Duchenne’s disease.

“It’s real. It’s not just a bunch of cartoon characters with issues written by adults,” Anthony said. “Our books get kids talking. Our books help save lives. Our authors want to save other kids. That’s the mission.”

“The most important part about our company is that you pick up the book and say to yourself ‘I’m not alone,’” Anthony continued. “For me, it’s not about money, it’s about legacy. The legacy of leaving something behind that will help kids forever. That’s exactly what our mission is. These books are timeless.”

“We’re also very committed to [the Lake Arrowhead] community,” Anthony said. “My goal for this mountain is to have the book in the hands of every child in the mountain. We have plenty of money in the mountain to do that.”

Anthony encouraged locals in and around Lake Arrowhead to donate specifically to the Lake Arrowhead area to show a demand for books in the mountain region.

For more information, or to order a book, visit www.zuikerpress.com

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