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Interview with children’s picture book author Susan Chodakiewitz

Susan Chodakiewitz is a writer, composer, and producer. She is the founder of Booksicals Children’s Books-Furthering a love of reading through the arts. Through her company Booksicals, she has created the Booksicals on Stage literacy program, which currently hosts musical performances of the picture book Too Many Visitors for a Little House at schools, libraries and at special events. Too Many Visitors for a Little House is Susan’s first book.

Thank you for this interview, Susana. Can you briefly tell us what her 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 cranky 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 a Little House is based on that 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 couple of grandparents and an uncle from Russia. They brought in a ton of blankets, pillows, piles of laundry, toys, and lots of clothes.

Then my sister-in-law from Houston called. She was getting a divorce and moving to Los Angeles. Where else could she go? She arrived with 3 children, a housekeeper, a lot of suitcases and a lot of psychological baggage.

So my mother-in-law, who was in a wheelchair, moved in with her nurse.

Things weren’t quite complete until a scruffy dog ​​followed me home from the supermarket one day as I was walking home pushing a giant cart full of food for all the GUESTS! The dog decided to camp out on our front lawn for 2 weeks until we brought him back.

The neighbors were NOT happy to see their once quiet neighborhood turn 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 released as the illustrated book: Too Many Visitors for a Little House.

Is this your first published book? If so, can you tell us about your experience finding a publisher?

I am excited to say that Too Many Visitors for a Little House is my first published book.

I wrote several stories before Visitors, including the first story I wrote together with my niece Lauren Grabois, who is a writer and a schoolteacher. Lauren and I ate a peculiar Beta fish. My fish, Jaws, was anorexic and would spit out his food. Lauren’s fish, Mr. Blueberry, was paranoid and always hid under a rock. This became the basis for our first story: Mr. Blueberry and the Fish From Down the Street.

We received great feedback after introducing Mr. Blueberry at an SCBWI conference exhibit in Los Angeles. I started pitching the story to editors. I only received rejection letters. I got discouraged and decided to move on to a new project. When the inspiration came to me to write Too Many Visitors for a Little House, I wrote it as a story told from the family’s point of view.

I submitted it to several publishers, but only received rejection letters. I was very disappointed but I believed the story. I wasn’t giving 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 Allyn Johnston while I was still at Harcourt. Allyn advised me to get rid of the count and remove all character names.

I discussed with her the problem she was having with the 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 she did the revisions. She said yes. I was elated. I went home and revised the story, changed the point of view, removed the count, and changed the language. I sent the revised story to Allyn at Harcourt. She sent me a nice letter saying that Harcourt decided to PASS. I was very quite disappointed. But he still believed in the story. I wasn’t giving up. I continued to refer to the book, although I have now begun to seriously think about self-publishing.

One day I asked a former publisher in New York for advice who now had an independent company called Picture Book People. I sent him several of my stories and asked him for advice. If I were to post myself what story he thought was worth the effort. She read all the stories and responded that, in her opinion, Too Many Visitors for a Little House was a strong story with heart and had the greatest potential for success.

So now all he had to decide was whether and when to make the editorial leap.

Since I compose music and lyrics for musical theater, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for musical theater with my love of writing picture books. In the process of reviewing Too Many Visitors for a Little House, I started thinking of songs for the characters. One morning I woke up with the words BOOKSICALS in my head. I suddenly realized that I had found my way!

That is how I decided to start my own line of books called Booksicals with the mission of creating and publishing books that foster a love of reading through art. Too Many Visitors for a Little House would be Booksical’s first illustrated book.

And that’s how I found my publisher.

How has it been working with your editor?

Although I am my own editor, I am very strict about revisions and rewrites. I get outside help from independent publishers and have a business partner who critiques my work and helps me get to the heart of the story.

I really enjoyed the publishing process with Too Many Visitors and especially enjoyed working with illustrator Veronica Walsh.

When you work with an outside publisher, the writers and illustrators almost never communicate with each other. Since I played BOTH the role of writer and editor, I had to work closely with the illustrator.

In preparation for the character sketches, together Veronica and I discussed the characters, their relationship to each other, character flaws, quirks, and many things that I didn’t put into the actual story. This was a very interesting process for me and it taught me a lot. I liken the process to the director working with the actors to develop the backstory in order 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 true story in one sitting. I then spent about a year revising and rewriting it to bring it to the level where I would consider publishing it.

Once the decision to publish was made, it took about a year before the book was published.

Do you have any words of inspiration for other writers who would like to wear your shoes?

If you believe in a story, go after it. do not give up

In my case, rejection was the catalyst that led me to create Booksicals and set me on this exciting new path.

I understand you are touring with Pump Up Your Book Promotion in July via a virtual book tour. Can you tell us why you chose a virtual book tour to promote your book online?

Virtual book tours are a great way for writers to reach online readers, parents, consumers, teachers, and anyone who likes children’s books. Pump Up Your Book Promotion does all the research and knows the blogs that are best suited for your genre of book. I think it’s a great advertising and marketing opportunity.

What’s next for you?

With the goal of inspiring a love of reading through the arts, I recently formed the Booksicals Repertory Company and created a musical version of Too Many Visitors for One Little House. We had a debut performance of Too Many Visitors for a Little House at the Robertson Library in Los Angeles on June 2. A mother who was at the presentation emailed me that night saying that her 2-year-old daughter begged her to read Too Many Visitors for One House 4 times before she went to bed. She told me that her eldest daughter, age 9, went to the Booksicals website as soon as she got home to listen to excerpts of the music and she wanted to get the CD of the book (soon to be available on iTunes).

This level of enthusiasm for reading is exactly what I set out to achieve with Booksicals. In the near future, I look forward to partnering with corporate and individual sponsors to help bring Too Many Visitors for One Little House performances and books to children in disadvantaged school districts, homeless shelters, and children’s hospitals.

The decision to write a sequel to Too Many Visitors for One Little House came up in an interesting way. At a two-author reading in Arizona, the children asked me to tell them what my next book would be about. When I asked them if they wanted to read more books about family on El Camino Street, they all said YES! I asked them to tell me which character they wanted more books about and they unanimously yelled: the dog!

So that’s when I decided that I would write a sequel. BUT the scruffy dog ​​needs a name! I’ve posted a contest on the Booksicals website for kids to help me name the dog in the next book. The contest can be accessed at

Thanks for this interview, Susan, and good luck to you!

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