‘Ezmerelda’ reveals secrets behind bullying
Story by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | PHOTOS BY LUIS CHAVEZ
Marissa DiSimone was bullied when she was younger. Wanting to teach kids to rise above it, she penned “Ezmerelda and the Discovery of Her Magic,” a middle-grade novel that mixes magic and self-discovery.
“She’s an average sixth grader who has bullying issues,” DiSimone says about Ezmerelda Huffington. “I wanted to tie in real-life issues with her ability to hear people’s thoughts.
“We always worry what other people are thinking. She starts to realize the bullying isn’t about her. It’s about their own insecurities. I like to throw magic into a life lesson. I want it to be about something bigger than magic. Each book will have a new magical power and a new way of looking at the world.”
A 13-year Playa Vista resident, DiSimone “discovered” the storyline for the October 2020-released book when she and her husband visited the south of France five years ago.
“We were just driving past the town of Eze when the story came to me,” DiSimone says. “I never wrote anything before. I started jotting down a couple chapters on this trip.”
She took a six-week sabbatical from her job at Lululemon’s Ivivva to write the 254-page book, which came to her organically. When she was finished, she shelved it. In 2020, she moved forward, finding an editor and joining a Seth Godin Akimbo Workshop.
“You write every day,” she says. “It helped me cut in half my 120,000-word manuscript. I did lots of rewrites and edits and had kids read it. When I was pregnant, I decided the due date for this book was going to be before the baby comes. I ‘birthed’ the book and she came less than two weeks later.”
The mother of two girls, Kyle and London, DiSimone has been writing the sequel to her first book since March.
DiSimone finished “Ezmerelda and the Discovery of Her Magic” in four years. “Ezmerelda: When Time Stands Still” is going quickly.
“With the first one, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I was terrified of getting it out in the world. It helped when I sent it to kids and they returned with positive feedback. I knew I was on the right path.”
She wrote a chapter a night once her children fell asleep. The Akimbo workshop encourages writers to finish a project in six months. DiSimone isn’t satisfied with that. She wants them to be a year apart.
“It’s nice to have those people cheering you on and keeping you accountable,” she adds.
She is having 20 children — over half of whom live in Playa Vista — read the first draft of “Ezmerelda: When Time Stands Still.” She also rejoined the Akimbo Workshop.
“Kids are always incredibly honest, and their feedback gives me the necessary changes to move forward with the next draft in order to publish this fall,” DiSimone says.
“I’m going to make the changes they suggest. I love kids. They’re honest. You don’t get that as much from adults. It’s such a fun journey to do with kids. That’s why I wrote it in the first place. It’s for them and their feedback is important.”
She said the kids had clever ideas for the book.
“They said one part didn’t make sense to them, another part was moving too fast,” she says. “This is really great feedback. They’re so well spoken. Within the first group, several of the kids finished the book within one day.
“They’re crazy fast readers. They enjoyed it, which makes me feel good. I did this with my first novel, too.”
DiSimone self-published the first book through Amazon. She hopes her books leave readers encouraged.
“The character has a lot of similarities to me,” says DiSimone, who grew up in Santa Monica and studied dance, psychology and education at UC Irvine. “She does a lot of activities—dances, swims and does theater. There are definitely a lot of elements—she has a younger sister, who has unique characteristics.
“My parents are divorced. I wanted to have elements that I and the readers could relate to.”
In a way, the Ezmerelda books helps DiSimone work through her own problems.
“We tend to hold onto those things,” she said. “How amazing would it have been to know all those kids who were being mean to me were just really having the same issues as me? How amazing to know that at 12 instead
“I just wanted to infuse those things that I wish I could have learned at a younger age. The biggest takeaway is I need to believe in me. I was worried about being corny with that message, but there’s a surprise that’s revealed.”