Susan Chodakiewitz 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 has created the Booksicals on Stage literacy program which is currently presenting musical performances of the picture book Too Many Visitors for One Little House at schools, libraries, and special events. Too Many Visitors for One Little House is Susan’s debut book.
Susan will be on virtual book tour in July and November ‘09 to promote her latest children’s picture book, Too Many Visitors for One Little House. We interviewed her to find out more about her wonderful new book.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Susan. Can we begin by having you tell us why you chose to write children’s picture books?
A: I absolutely love picture books and the way they express complicated emotions and ideas in simple and whimsical ways. Years ago I decided that one day I would be a children’s book author. I put that idea on the back burner for many years and dedicated myself to writing musical theater.
About four years ago while attending the Academy for New Musical Theater in Los Angeles I decided to write a children’s musical. I selected to write a musical based on one of my favorite children’s picture books.
I optioned the theatrical rights to the book and two years into work shopping the musical the option rights ran out. Renegotiating the rights became complicated and the option expired.
It was at that moment that a light bulb head went off my head—it was time to start writing my own children’s books!
Writing picture books for me is a lot like writing songs for musical theater. The sound of the words and how they roll off the tongue is critically important in both art forms. In both songs and picture books you have to develop a character and tell a story with very few words and in a very short time frame.
I write, re-write, and keep cutting words until I feel that the sentences “sing” and the words fall on all the right beats. To me I find this challenge exhilarating.
Q: Did you outline before you wrote your book or did you just go with the flow?
A: I did not outline before starting to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House.
The idea for the book had been germinating in my mind a long time. One day I just sat down to write it.
The repeating chorus “Too Many Visitors for One Little House” came out spontaneously. I immediately knew this would be the title of the book.
Q: Who was your favorite character in Too Many Visitors for One Little House and why?
A: The scraggly dog is my favorite character in the book.
The dog featured in the story actually followed me home from the supermarket one day while I was getting food to feed all these visitors that had come to stay with us the summer we moved into our new house. He was old and tired and in need of being loved. The dog camped out on my lawn for two weeks and would not go away until he was finally invited in.
In the book, when the dog appears on the scene, it’s the turning point for the neighbors. Their own loneliness is heightened when they see that even a homeless dog found a family life. This loneliness makes the neighbors crabbier and determined to get the family in trouble.
To me the dog embodies what the neighbors really want—to have a family and feel included.
Q: Who was your least favorite character?
A: I don’t really have a least favorite character. I love all the characters especially since they are based on real family members that I love.
Q: Can you tell us about the setting and why you chose it?
A: The story is based on an the actual summer we moved into our new house in Beverly Hills and all these visitors decided to come for a stay.
Every evening our visitors would congregate on the front lawn—talking Russian, Spanish, English, and Hebrew. Our house buzzed with music, the clattering of kitchen dishes, the noise of kids at play, and the barking of the dog that adopted our family that summer.
The once quiet neighborhood was no longer quiet. On various occasions the neighbors complained and the police came.
All the while that I lived this experience I knew … there’s a book in this somewhere! It took sixteen years for the story Too Many Visitors for One Little House to finally manifest itself as a children’s picture book.
Q: What was the hardest part to write?
A: I had the most trouble with the point of view.
At first I wrote the story from the family’s point of view. The mom and dad were the ones feeling overwhelmed by the visitors and the neighbors were just commentators in the background.
Various drafts later, I realized that it was really the neighbors’ story. The happy family served to heighten the neighbors’ loneliness.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
A: I was looking to embark on a new picture book project. I had many ideas for stories and had started a few.
Then one morning and I was reminiscing with my husband about the crazy summer that all the visitors came to stay at our house. Suddenly I had the overwhelming urge to sit down and write the story as a children’s picture book.
The story had been germinating in me for quite some time. I always thought I’d either write it as a screen play or as musical. I did not imagine it would end up as a children’s picture book.
Q: Do you plan on writing more children’s picture books?
A: I’m in the middle of finishing a new book called Dogstoyevksy, about a dog who wants to be writer but can’t seem to find his own voice.
I also plan to write a sequel to Too Many Visitors for One Little House.
At a two author readings I did in Arizona I asked the kids if they wanted to read more books about family on El Camino Street, featured in the book. They all said YES!
I asked them to tell me which character they were most interested in hearing more about Unanimously they shouted—the dog!
That’s when I decided that the sequel would feature the dog as the main character.
Now I need the help of my readers to give the scraggly dog a name for the next book!
Q: Thank you for this interview, Susan. Can you tell us where we can find out more about you and your wonderful new book?
A: To share your thoughts with me about the book, leave me comments on my blog, get craft ideas from the family on El Camino Street and get Nanny’s delicious apple strudel recipe (featured in the book) at toomanyvisitorsforonelittlehouse.com.