Susan Chodakiewitz is a writer, composer and producer. She is the founder of a course in miracles 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.
Thank you for this interview, Susan. Can you tell us briefly what your latest book, Too Many Visitors for One Little House, is all about?
Too Many Visitors for One Little House is a children´s picture book about 3 crabby neighbors, a new family on the block, a big family reunion and the importance of being included.
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 giant 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 a ton of blankets, pillows, piles of laundry, toys and lots of clothing.
Then my sister-in-law called that she was arriving from Houston. She was getting a divorce and was moving to LA. Where else could she go? She arrived with 3 kids, a housekeeper, a tons of suitcases and lots of psychological baggage.
Then my mother-in-law who was in a wheel chair moved in with her nurse.
Things were not quite complete until a scraggly dog followed me home from the supermarket one day while I was walking home pushing a giant wagon filled with food for all the VISITORS! The dog decided to camp out on our front lawn for 2 weeks until we brought him in.
The neighbors were NOT at all happy to see their once quiet neighborhood transform into a cacophonous carnival of celebration. The police were summoned anonymously on several occasions.
It took 16 years for the story to germinate and finally be set free as the picture book: Too Many Visitors for One Little House.
Is this your first published book and if so, can you tell us your experiences in finding a publisher for it?
I’m thrilled to say, Too Many Visitors for One Little House is my first published book.
I wrote several stories prior to Visitors including the first story I wrote together with my niece Lauren Grabois who is a writer and school teacher. Lauren and I both had quirky Beta fish. My fish, Jaws, was anorexic and would spit up its 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 From Down the Street.
We got really good feedback after presenting Mr. Blueberry at a SCBWI conference showcase in Los Angeles. I started pitching the story to publishers. I only got rejection letters back. I got discouraged and decided to move on to a new project. When the inspiration to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House came to me I wrote it as a counting story from the family´s point of view.
I sent it to out several publishers but only received rejection letters back. I was very disappointed but I believed in the story. I was not giving up.
At the next SCBWI conference I was determined to get advice on how to improve the story and was fortunate to get a critique from Editor Allyn Johnston while she was still at Harcourt. Allyn advised me to get rid of the counting and take out all the character names.
I discussed with her the problem I was having with point of view and together we discovered that the story was really about the neighbors and their need to be included. I asked Allyn if she would consider the book for Harcourt after I made the revisions. She said YES. I was elated.I went home and revised the story, changed the point of view, took out the counting and tweaked the language. I sent the revised story to Allyn at Harcourt. She sent me back a nice letter saying Harcourt decided to PASS. I was very quite disappointed. But I still believed in the story. I was not giving up. I continued to query the book though now I started seriously thinking about self publishing.
One day I turned for advice to a former NY editor who now had a free-lance company called Picture Book People. I sent her several of my stories and asked her to advise me. If I were to self publish which story did she think was worth the effort. She read all the stories and replied that in her opinion Too Many Visitors for One Little House was a strong story with heart and had the most potential for success.