Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back to the future with author Michael Sussman!

Today we're thrilled to have a guest post by Michael Sussman, author of the new picture book Otto Grows Down. Michael's very kindly stopped by (virtually, anyway) to chat about two slippery subjects -- time and human nature -- which feature prominently in this "time-twisting tale of sibling rivalry."
What sparked the creation of Otto Grows Down?
I live in Cambridge with my son Oliver. I worked for many years as a clinical psychologist and published two books for mental health professionals. I started writing fiction as an at-home dad, completing a comic mystery novel that I still hope to publish. Ollie inspired me to start writing for children, which really freed up my imagination.

Otto Grows Down is the story of a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time after making a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born. The book challenges children to think in new ways as they imagine life in reverse, and can help kids cope with the difficult feelings entailed in sharing the spotlight with a new sibling. I’m thrilled to see my first picture book in print, and more are on their way.

What was it like to collaborate with Scott Magoon [also the illustrator of Spoon and Ugly Fish]?
Fantastic. I got to see the illustrations at every stage, from initial sketches to finished product, and Scott was very open to my feedback. He did a phenomenal job.
[Psst... come pick up a copy of Otto signed by both Michael and Scott!]

As an older sibling myself, I think Otto Grows Down portrays the jealousy older siblings may feel towards a new baby both accurately and compassionately. Do you have brothers or sisters (or just a really good imagination)?
Yes, I’ve got an older and a younger brother. I was extremely jealous when my younger brother was born, and took on the role of “mother’s little helper” as a way of maintaining maternal attention. My older brother was also far from pleased when I came along, so I can identify with both Otto and Anna!

How do your background in psychology and your knowledge of children's psychological development inform your writing for children?
As a psychotherapist, I’ve had the chance to work with children of all ages. Coping with a new sibling is one of the most difficult adjustments for young kids, and how they deal with this challenge can shape personality development in powerful ways. I tried to write a story that addressed these issues without becoming moralistic or heavy-handed.

How did you become interested in backwards time?
As a child, I used to amuse myself by imagining what a day would be like if time ran in reverse. I’m still fascinated by time, which seems to me to be one of the strangest aspects of our universe. In Otto Grows Down, I play around with some of the bizarre features of life in reverse: Otto takes baths when he’s clean and they make him dirty! Tuesday is trash day and Otto helps bring in the garbage! In art class, Otto wipes the paint off a perfectly good painting, leaving a blank sheet of paper!

What's your favorite daily activity done backwards in Otto? Were there any that didn't make it into the book?
My favorite is when Otto must rewrap his birthday presents and give them back to his friends. My son, Ollie, thought that Otto should walk and talk backwards, but that would have been tough to pull off.

What other projects for children do you have in the works?
I’ve completed several other picture book manuscripts. One of them features a girl who is born with “hurricane breath” and must find a way to use her enormous power constructively. Another one, titled Fergus Falls Up, explores the absurdities that arise when a boy finds himself standing on the ceiling!

When would you go if you could fast-forward in time?
One hundred years in the future, to see whether or not we make the changes necessary to save our beautiful planet. I’d also travel to my deathbed, to see how much longer I have to live!
Thank you to Michael for the Q&A -- and be sure to visit to keep up with Michael and his time-traveling, gravity-defying writing adventures!

1 comment:

Joanna said...

Otto is wonderful! Great interview :)