Interview with Susan Chodakiewitz, Author of Too Many Visitors for One Little House

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.

Susan lives in Los Angeles in a lively household filled with music, three sons, a husband, a Dalmatian and lots of visitors. Susan loves picture books and when she wrote a musical based on one of her favorites, she realized it was time to start writing her own picture books. Too Many Visitors for One Little House is Susan’s debut book. You can visit her website at www.booksicals.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Susan. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?


I started out writing and composing and producing musical theater. One day I was browsing in the “grown-up” section of the bookstore researching some material for a musical I was writing and the book -- Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market -- caught my eye. Though it was unrelated to what I was looking for I got a flash –- I NEED THIS BOOK. I bought the book and lovingly cradled it home.

I got home and the pressure to get to work on music, re-writes and lyrics for my upcoming staged reading overwhelmed me. I shelved the book and forgot about it … for about 5 years.

My Ah Ha moment arrived one day in 2005 while writing a children’s musical based on a picture book. The option for the book ran out and I was not able to renegotiate it. A little voice inside that had remained perfectly quiet until now suddenly called out to me… “It’s time!” I of course ran to my bookshelf and realized my 1999 version of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market was way out of date. I ordered a new copy and started my journey into the world of writing children’s books.

I’ve been writing children’s books for the last 4 years. From writing musical theater to writing children’s picture books feels like a very natural transition.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?


Too Many Visitors for One Little House
is based on the wild and crazy summer that my family moved into our new house in Beverly Hills and all these visitors came to stay.

First my sister drove in from Miami in a GIANT camper with her husband, four kids, and housekeeper. For a surprise they brought my parents and uncle from Russia.

Then I got a call from my sister-in-law in Houston. She was getting a divorce and was moving to LA. She and the 3 kids needed a place to stay until she found a new house. She arrived with 3 children and a housekeeper.

Soon after that my mother-in-law got out of the hospital. She moved in -- together with her nurse.

All together 23 people lived in our house that summer. Every evening the invaders… oops, sorry… visitors -- would congregate on the front lawn. On occasion my uncle from Russia led the group in a Russian folk song. On some nights my dad joined in with Klezmer on the clarinet.

Our formerly quiet little neighborhood buzzed with music, noise from children at play, and the barking of a scraggly dog -- who adopted our family that summer too. Our not-so-quiet little house began to bust at the seams. On various occasions the neighbors summoned the police to check out the “suspicious activity” at the house of the new family on the block!

I always thought I would write this story as a screen play or musical yet sixteen years later it finally manifested itself as the children’s picture book.

What kind of research was involved in writing Too Many Visitors for One Little House?

I did not do any research for this book. The experience I had that summer was indelibly ingrained in my mind and I basically summoned my sensory memories.

I draw a lot of my inspiration for writing from my lively and somewhat crazy household. There is so much humor in family life, especially raising 3 sons and having a Desi Arnaz for a husband. Sometimes I disappear in the middle of a family happening to jot down the idea for story.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

Wearing both the hat of author and publisher, I had input in every aspect of the book from cover and illustrations to book design, including which font to use. Working closely with the illustrator taught me so much about the writing process and I’m sure will help me in the future with character development.

Before even getting to the design of the book I worked very closely with illustrator Veronica Walsh to develop the characters sketches. We had long conversations about the back story of each character, their personality quirks dressing style, pet peeves, flaws and weaknesses. Veronica sent me multiple character drafts.

The cover was the last thing we tackled. Veronica submitted various ideas for the cover. We toyed with a few, vacillated from focusing on the family, the house, the neighbors, the camper and other ideas until we fell in love with the cover that we currently have.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I wrote my first picture book together with my niece Lauren Grabois, a writer and elementary 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 hide under his rock and not come out for days. This became the basis for our first picture book: Mr. Blueberry and the Fish From Down the Street. We pitched Mr. Blueberry to several publishers but only got rejections. Feeling discouraged I decided to embark on a new project.

When I got the inspiration to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House I blurted it out in one sitting. Then I spent one year re-writing and revising. Then at an SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, I got encouraging feedback from Editor Allyn Johnston who was at Harcourt at the time. She pinpointed exactly how I could improve the story and helped me to clarify the point of view. After I made revisions Harcourt ended up passing on the story. I was very disappointed but my resolve strengthened. I believed that the story had heart.

I sent out the story to a few more publishing companies but in the back of my mind I was already formulating the idea for starting my company Booksicals. I received several more rejection letters in the meantime.

I turned for advice to a former NY editor who now has 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 she thought was worth the effort. She read the stories and replied that in her opinion Too Many Visitors for One Little House was a strong story with the most potential.

One day I saw my business partner’s Phyllis Zimbler Miller’s newly released book, Mrs. Lieutenant in print. I KNEW … I had to go for it! A few weeks later I decided to make the plunge to publish Too Many Visitors for One Little House through my own company -- Booksicals.

I totally enjoyed the publishing process I went through with Too Many Visitors and especially enjoyed working with illustrator Veronica Walsh. However the process requires a lot of self-discipline and attention to detail.

I am pretty ruthless when it comes to self-critique and I think I am able to detach myself enough to be objective about things that aren’t working. I rely a lot on the critique from my business partner Phyllis Zimbler Miller and on the feedback from my smart and creative sons whose artistic eyes and ears I trust implicitly.

To have your own publishing company one has to be ready to take artistic control, market, promote and do everything it takes to be successful. With my background in theater and producing I felt I was ready to take the plunge. Having your creative destiny in your own hands is very exhilarating and I’m thrilled to have decided to forge ahead with Booksicals.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

I wrote the actual story out in one sitting. Then I spent about a year revising and re-writing to get it to the level where I would consider publishing it.

Once the decision to publish was made it took about one year from the time I started working with the illustrator before the book was released.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I have never had an agent. At the beginning when I was querying to publishers I also queried agents. I think it makes a huge difference having an agent. But as everyone knows, agents look for success or previous history of success… If you are a new writer it’s a catch 22. For me personally at this point, I don’t think having an agent is by top priority though I would welcome the interest of an agent who loves my work.

Do you plan subsequent books?


I plan to do a sequel to Too Many Visitors for One Little House featuring the family on El Camino Street and starring the scraggly dog. I’m holding a contest so my readers can help me name the dog for the next book. Readers can enter the Name the Dog Contest at www.booksicals.com.

I’m currently working on a new book about a dog named Dogstoyevsky. Dogstoyevsky wants desperately to be a great writer but can’t seem to find his own artistic style. It’s a story about believing in your self. Is it autobiographical? I’ll let you decide.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I am an -- any-time- I can-get-to-the writing -- writer! Though I am very much a morning person and am frustrated all day (my husband has another adjective for this) if I don’t get to write – especially if I’m in the middle of something.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?


A huge publicity firm. I’d also hire a staff that could work for me 5 days a week – and a personal assistant.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self promoting is not unique to book marketing. It applies to EVERYTHING.

What have I been doing? Active on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, blogging, and doing a virtual book tour for starters. I have several list of on and off-line promotional projects that I will get to after this book tour.

I’ve also created a theatrical division of Booksicals called Booksicals on Stage and formed the Booksicals Repertory Company which is performing the book in schools, libraries and at literacy events. I am hoping to work with sponsors to bring Booksicals performances to pediatric hospitals and underprivileged children.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Like Dogstoyevsky from my upcoming book… you need to believe in yourself. Believe in your story. If it needs work, re-write. Be relentless with your dreams and aspirations. Never take NO for an answer. “El mundo es de los osados” is my favorite quote. It means “the world is for those who dare.”

I am always fighting those evil “fear monsters” --- fear of failing, fear of not having any more ideas, fear that I’m not any good. Whatever the fear of the day is -- I keep my keeping my passion for writing strong and it helps me keep going.

Thank you for your interview, Susan. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

The book is available at www.amazon.com.

Visit with the characters of Too Many Visitors and get Nanny’s apple strudel recipe at www.toomanyvisitorsforonelittlehouse.com

Visit www.booksicals.com to learn about how Booksicals promotes a love for reading through the arts.

You can also find me @susanchodak on Twitter, and on Facebook and Linkedin.

I look forward to your comments on my blog at http://www.booksicals.com/blog
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