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Interview With Children’s Picture Book Author Susan Chodakiewitz
Susan Chodkiewicz is a writer, composer and producer. She is the founder of Booksicals Children’s Books – encouraging the love of reading through the arts. Through her company Booksicals she created the literacy program Booksicals on Stage which now presents musical performances of the picture book Too Many Visitors for One Little House in schools, libraries and special events. Too Many Visitors to One Little House is Susan’s debut book.
Thanks for this interview, Susan. Can you tell us briefly what your latest book, Too Many Visitors for One Little House, is about?
Too Many Visitors for One Little House is a children’s picture book about 3 dumb neighbors, a new family on the block, a big family reunion, and the importance of inclusion.
Can you tell us who or what was the inspiration behind your book?
Too Many Visitors for One Little House is based on the crazy summer we moved into our new house in Beverly Hills and all these visitors came to stay.
First my sister arrived in a huge BOUNDER (the biggest camper on the market) with 4 children, 1 husband, 1 housekeeper, a set of grandparents and an uncle from Russia. They brought lots of blankets, pillows, piles of laundry, toys and lots of clothes.
Then my sister-in-law called that she was coming from Houston. She divorced and moved to Los Angeles. Where else can she go? She arrived with 3 children, a housekeeper, tons of luggage and a lot of psychological baggage.
Then my mother-in-law who was in a wheelchair moved in with her sister.
Things weren’t complete until one day a sloppy dog followed me home from the supermarket while I was walking home pushing a huge trolley full of food for all the visitors! The dog decided to park on our front lawn for two weeks until we brought him.
The neighbors were not at all happy to see their once quiet neighborhood turn into a cacophonous carnival of celebration. The police were called anonymously on several occasions.
It took 16 years for the story to germinate and finally be released as the picture book: Too Many Visitors for One Little House.
Is this your first published book and if so, could you tell us about your experiences in finding a publisher for it?
I’m excited to say, Too Many Visitors to One Small House is my first published book.
I wrote several stories in front of the visitors, including the first story I wrote together with my niece Lauren Garbois who is a writer and a school teacher. Lauren and I had a strange beta fish. My fish, Jaws, was anorexic and would spit out his food. Lauren’s fish, Mr. Blueberry, was paranoid and would always hide under a rock. This became the basis for our first story: Mr. Blueberry and the Fish Down the Street.
We got really good feedback after showing Mr. Blueberry at the SCBWI convention show in Los Angeles. I started pitching the story to publishers. I only got rejection letters back. I gave up and decided to move to a new project. When the inspiration came to me to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House I wrote it as a counting story from the perspective of the family.
I sent it to several publishers but only got rejection letters back. I was very disappointed but I believed the story. I didn’t give up.
At the next SCBWI conference I was determined to get advice on how to improve the story and was lucky enough to get a critique from editor Elaine Johnston while she was still in Harcourt. Elin advised me to get rid of the count and remove all the names of the characters.
I discussed with her the problem I have with point of view and together we discovered that the story is really about the neighbors and their need to be included. I asked Elaine if she would consider the book for Harcourt after I made the revisions. she said yes. I was elated. I went home and corrected the story, changed the point of view, took out the count and changed the language. I sent the revised story to Allin in Harcourt. She sent me back a nice letter saying Harcourt had decided to move. I was very quite disappointed. But I still believed the story. I didn’t give up. I continued to borrow the book although now I began to think seriously about self-publishing.
One day I consulted a former editor in New York who now had an independent company called Picture Book People. I sent her some of my stories and asked her to advise me. If I were to post a story myself she thinks it’s worth the effort. She read all the stories and replied that she thought Too Many Visitors to One Little House was a strong story with heart and the most potential for success.
So now all I had to decide was if and when to do the publishing.
Since I have been composing music and lyrics for musical theater I have been looking for a way to combine my passion for musical theater with my love of writing picture books. In the process of revising Too Many Visitors for One Little House I started thinking about songs for the characters. One morning I woke up with the words BOOKSICALS in my head. Suddenly I realized that I had found my way!
That’s how I decided to open my own line of books called Booksicals with the aim of creating and publishing books that will encourage a love of reading through the arts. Too Many Visitors to One Little House will be the debut Booksicals picture book.
And that’s how I found my publisher.
What was your publisher like to work with?
Although I am my own publisher, I am very careful about revising and rewriting. I get outside help from independent editors and I have a business partner who reviews my work and helps me get to the heart of the story.
I really enjoyed the publishing process with Too Many Visitors and I especially enjoyed working with illustrator Veronica Walsh.
When you work with a publishing company, writers and illustrators rarely get to consult with each other. Since I played both the role of writer and publisher I had to work closely with the illustrator.
In preparation for character sketches, Veronika and I discussed the characters together, their relationship to each other, character flaws, pet anxieties and a lot of things that I didn’t include in the real story. It was a very interesting process for me and taught me a lot. I liken the process to that of the director working with the actors to develop the back story to better understand the characters and bring out their nuances.
Can you tell us how long it took you to write and publish your book?
I wrote the real story in one sitting. Then I spent about a year revising and rewriting it to get it to a level where I would consider publishing it.
From the moment the decision to publish was made, about a year passed until the book was published.
Do you have any words of inspiration for other writers who would like to walk in your shoes?
If you believe the story, follow it. Do not give up.
In my case rejection was the catalyst that led me to create Booksicals and led me down this exciting new path.
I understand you are traveling with Pump Up Your Book Promotion in July via a virtual book tour. Can you tell us all why you chose a virtual book tour to promote your book online?
Virtual book tours are a great way for authors to reach online readers, parents, consumers, teachers and anyone who loves children’s books. Pump Up Your Book Promotion does all the research and knows the best blogs for your book genre. I think this is a great advertising and marketing opportunity.
What’s next for you?
In order to inspire a love of reading through the arts, I recently founded Booksicals Repertory and created a musical version of Too Many Visitors for One Little House. We had the premiere of Too Many Visitors for One Little House at the Robertson Library in Los Angeles on June 2nd. A mom who was at the concert emailed me that night that her 2 year old was begging to read Too Many Visitors to One Little House. To her 4 times before bed. She told me her older daughter, 9, went to Booksicals as soon as she got home to hear snippets of the music and wants the CD of the book (soon to be available on iTunes).
This level of reading excitement is exactly what I set out to achieve with Booksicals. In the near future I hope to partner with corporate and private sponsors to help bring more visitors to One Little House performances and books for children in underserved school districts, homeless shelters and children’s hospitals.
The decision to write a sequel to Too Many Visitors for One Little House came about in an interesting way. At two author readings in Arizona, the kids asked me to tell them what my next book would be about. When I asked them if they wanted to read more books about the El Camino family they all said yes! I asked them to tell me which character they wanted more books about, and in unison they shouted — the dog!
So I decided I would write a sequel. But the black dog needs a name! I posted a contest on Booksicals for kids to help me name the dog for the next book. The contest can be accessed at www.booksicals.com.
Thanks for this interview, Susan, and good luck to you!
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