Strong Women of Aviation: Meet the Force Behind the 'Turbo the Flying Dog" Children's Book Series

8:12 PM

Victoria Zajko and Turbo
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am not wired like some men in that I really think we should live in a genderless world where women earn exactly the same pay as men, and where any female should have the same chance at climbing to the very top of the corporate ladder as their male colleagues.
And as an aviator, the fact that just over six percent of the pilot community is female is appalling when they make up fifty percent of the general population. I've called this missing 44 percent aviation's "secret weapon for growth" and it should be every pilot's responsibility to break that glass ceiling for good.
There are all sorts of women, just like there are various kinds of men. But the term "strong woman" describes one of my favorite types of females, because they seem to be very good at self-motivation and driving themselves to achieve anything they choose. "Strong" does not mean forceful, or pushy, or overtly aggressive. It means they just charge ahead with the same verve as some men. The Neanderthals of the 1950s who had an ugly "B" word for these women thankfully have mostly gone west, and the smart women who "lean in" today seem to be just that much closer to grabbing the brass rings they seek.   
In my last post on young, brilliant rocket scientist Stephanie Evans, I started an ongoing series looking at strong women in aviation. These females are leaders in our aviation family, and one of the most motivated of this group is Victoria Zajko. She is @Toriafly on Twitter and is about to publish the first in what I hope is a long series of aviation-themed children's books based on her shelter dog, Turbo.

While Turbo will fly in anything, apparently he
has a preference for open-cockpit biplanes.
Good Doggie.
And since we all want to publish a book, I thought "The Pixie Pilot" as she is called would make the perfect subject of another interview in this series. So sit back and enjoy the tale of how a book for the littles goes from idea to your eyes.

Airplanista: Let's get to know you.

Victoria Zajko: My name is Victoria Zajko (formerly Neuville) and I work in customer service and sales at Aviation Insurance Resources. I kind of fell into this position when I moved to Frederick, MD and now am happy to turn it into a career. Insurance is not that boring when you get to work with and talk to pilots every day! I am a commercial pilot with an instrument rating and fly a Cessna 172 (through work) and Glasair IRG (my husband's) regularly. My dream airplane would be a Waco, although I have never stepped foot in one! I completed all of my flight training in Michigan where I grew up. I went through ground school and my first discovery flight when I was 16 thanks to many years of encouragement from my father. It wasn't until I was at a crossroads in college rethinking my future when it dawned on me that I kept putting my goal of becoming a pilot in a file in my brain called "someday."

Airplanista: Walk us through the very inception of the book it moved from concept to a living project.

VZ: My coauthor Kelly Kennedy and I have always wanted to write children's books. I recall babysitting when I was in middle school and high school and I would create short stories complete with artwork for the kids. Shortly after my husband, Bob, and I adopted our dog Turbo, many friends were encouraging us to make him a Facebook page chronicling his adventures. One night, while spending time with Kelly (most likely a happy hour lol!) we thought, here's our chance. Turbo has to have a book about him. From there our ideas spread like wildfire and we plan to publish at least 4 books in the Turbo series. Kelly had assisted me before as part of a marketing team for aviation events I held at Frederick Airport and I knew we would make the perfect team. We plan for a successful series that will take lots of work, but we always ensure that we enjoy the process.

Airplanista: Once it was decided that you wanted to produce a children's book with an aviation theme, what were the major roadblocks that had to be cleared in order for the project to begin positive forward progress?

VZ: Roadblocks, hurdles, whatever you may call them, I'm used to them! I think it keeps life interesting and you have to expect them along the way for any project. Surprisingly, we did not encounter many (yet...knock on wood). Probably the biggest hurdle we faced was financing. We did not have the funds to properly produce and advertise our product, so we started a Kickstarter campaign. We were 50% funded within the first day, were a Kickstarter staff pick, and even made it to number 2 in the top children's books Kickstarter campaigns. In the end, we went 16% over our minimum goal when the campaign ended. I believe that the Kickstarter success proves what a powerful story Turbo the Flying Dog will be, and that the many nights staying away brainstorming his marketing campaign have paid off.

Airplanista: How much work was put into developing the story of Turbo the Flying Dog? Do you or your publishing partner have previous writing or publishing experience?

VZ: You would think that a couple of sentences per page would not be that difficult, but it was and it was a lengthy process. We had to insure the flow of the book targeted a certain age group and that we were getting the story across and having readers fall in love with the Turbo character in a mere 32 pages. It went through several revisions, paying attention to each and every detail, until we knew it was ready. My coauthor publishes the Country Register for Tennessee and Kentucky and has a background in creative writing. Her knowledge has been irreplaceable. We each have different areas of expertise and creative ideas that we bring to the table.

The cover art for book one in the series
Airplanista: Explain how much work went into the art for the book. How was it developed...was it a tough process or one that was rewarding?

VZ: Kelly and I had this vision for the look of the book, but putting that look into words was very difficult. A good working relationship with whoever became our illustrator was also key and we wanted a true fan of Turbo to be our illustrator. So, we put a call out on social media for artists to send in a sample drawing of Turbo and a bid on the book project. We didn't expect much and were surprised at how quickly and how much talent came in! By pure coincidence, the person who provided the "right" look was my husband's cousin, Michelle Zajko. It was very rewarding that we could make this a friends and family affair and that I could get to know my new family a bit better through such a creative process. Michelle has been great. She does not take advantage of the fact that we are family and treats the Turbo series as seriously as we do. She also has such an amazing vision, we rarely have to go back and ask her to change something in the book. She brings the cartoon Turbo to life in a way we had only imagined.

Airplanista: Lets talk business. It seems that everyone wants to publish a book at some point, but you are actually doing it. How did you create the business model for this book project? Did a publishing house pick it up, do you have sponsors, or is it being self-published?

VZ: Self-publishing companies make it so easy for anyone to be an author these days. This is a route we had initially avoided due to the thought that self-published books would be overlooked because they were in fact that...self-published. But there are some items that take a lot of time (and money) to get picked up by a publishing house. First, to get to the big leagues you have to go through an agent, and those agents have fees and may or may not want to represent you. We both really believed in our story, however, so this did not deter us. In the end, we chose the self-publishing route for one reason: control. We wanted to keep the integrity of the series intact and didn't want the Turbo brand to change while under the control of a publishing house. We had a specific plan in mind that we did not want compromised by putting the control in someone else's hands.

Airplanista: What other writers and publishers did you speak with about their book projects before starting yours?

VZ: When we were in the beginning stages, I quickly consulted Karlene Petitt of Flight to Success for insight due to her author and pilot background. She's always been a big supporter of an endeavor I've been a part of and she did not disappoint me here either. When the book was written, we sent it to a good friend and author of the soon to be released book, Hausa Blues, Shelah Maul. Shelah is a Speech Pathologist and helped us determine the proper age range for the book and point out areas that needed a second look. Finally, once we decided self-publishing was the way to go, I got connected with Jeff Kennon who self-published his book, The Day I Learned to Fly. He was always willing to answer any questions I had about his experience. These mentors prove that it's not just about the author(s) that go into a book, there is a whole backbone of support that brings a story to press.

Airplanista: What are your short- and long-term goals for the book projects? How many units would you like to sell, and how far would you like to take this "Turbo the Flying Dog" brand?

VZ: We are dreaming big! We had named Turbo prior to the Disney movie about a snail called Turbo came out. So since they beat us to the big screen, we would love to have Turbo's big screen debut be with DreamWorks. They produce my favorite movie How to Train your Dragon anyway :) We are realistic, though, despite our lofty goals. We are not in it to make money, just to inspire children with Turbo's tale. I'd love to see the first four books go to print and see where it takes us from there. 

Airplanista: Now that the book is coming out, what are your plans to get people to buy them?

VZ: This is probably the hardest part of self-publishing, but luckily Turbo (the real one) already has quite a following on social media. Plus, the pilot community has been amazing in spreading the word. Besides the usual books signings at book stores, we hope to go to dog friendly places as well as airports to promote the book. I hope to put together a few small airport events together at the beginning of the New Year. It will be a perfect opportunity to meet Turbo and to get children excited about the aviation environment. We have already been in touch with a few aviation shops and FBOs to sell the book and will be submitting our product to larger retailers like Sporty's for review. The book will also be available for purchase on the Turbo the Flying Dog website and on

Airplanista: What do you want to accomplish with this book series in terms of motivating children to learn more about flying?

VZ: Turbo is a just a mutt who spent the beginning of his life at a shelter. If he can learn to fly a plane, any kid can, too! The Turbo series is a glimpse into the aviation world, I hope that through Turbo, children will want to learn more about aviation. In book one, kids will learn that aviation can be fun and that it's not that scary. Through books 2 through 4 children will be invited to learn a little bit more about airplanes, aviation history and weather. The pilot population is dwindling and it's up to us present pilots to encourage others (young and old) that they can achieve their dream of flight. My hope is that through the Turbo books, children know that they can reach for the sky despite the odds that may be against them. Turbo is in a cage in the beginning of Turbo the Flying Dog but by the end, he's flying towards a brand new life!

VZ: Turbo the Flying Dog is expected to release on December 8th, 2014. It will be available on and over at our website: We'd love to hear what you think and feel free to share photos of your kids (or yourself!) enjoying Turbo's story. We'd also like to give a shout-out to Dustin's Angels. They are a rescue group out of West Virginia and the group we got Turbo from. My husband and I actually picked real life Turbo up by plane the day we adopted him! Without their dedication to giving animals a second chance, I wouldn't have such an awesome four-legged co-pilot. Many thanks also to all of our Kickstarter backers and those that have retweeted, shared, and what-not our project along the way. The last thank you goes to our husbands, Bob (mine!) and Chris (Kelly's) because they've put up with our crazy ideas, countless of dinners chatting about the series and have never once doubted our project.
Finally, I'm an open book, feel free to contact me or Turbo anytime with your questions or anything you would like to share.

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