One of my favorite quirky picture books is OTTO GROWS DOWN by Michael Sussman, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that Michael has a new YA novel, CRASHING EDEN. Well, Michael is crashing my blog today and he’s leaving behind a paperback copy just for you.
“Dr. Suss” (as I like to call him) is a prolific, versatile writer who has published books in diverse genres. So I asked him how he shifts gears to different formats and what obstacles he faces in doing so.
TL: Michael, you’ve written medical books, picture books, and now a young adult novel. How did you adjust from writing one genre to another?
MS: The toughest shift was from writing nonfiction professional books on psychotherapy to writing fiction. About 20 years ago I first tried my hand at a novel. Looking back at that manuscript, I cringe at how stiff and wooden my writing was—especially the dialogue. Thanks to practice and critiques from writer’s groups, my next novel was considerably better, although it too went unpublished.
After reading hundreds of picture books to my son, I decided to start writing for children. That transition was a breeze. Writing for kids totally freed my imagination and allowed me to be much more playful and fantasy-based. The result was OTTO GROWS DOWN, a story about a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time.
In writing for young adults, I benefited from having already spent years honing my novel-writing skills. There were, however, two major differences. It was a stretch to write with the voice of a teenager, and that took a great deal of revising to get right. Secondly, I had to revisit my own adolescence, and that was no picnic!
TL: Which genre is your comfort zone?
MS: When it comes to writing, I’m such a perfectionist that I’m not sure I have a comfort zone.
Writing picture books is probably easiest for me, since the sky’s the limit when it comes to letting your imagination run wild. In terms of novels, I think I feel most comfortable writing thillers and mysteries, especially with a comic edge.
TL: How did you get the idea for CRASHING EDEN? What made you decide to tackle the YA genre?
I started trying my hand at fiction about twenty years ago. I wrote a psychological thriller and a comic mystery novel, neither of which were published. I developed severe writer’s block, which was immediately relieved when I began writing for young children. Looking back, I think I was working out unresolved issues from my own childhood. Next I turned to writing for young adults. Consciously, I chose YA because the market was hot! But unconsciously, I believe I realized that it would give me the chance to work on issues from my mostly miserable adolescence.
The genesis of CRASHING EDEN began with the title, which had floated around in my mind for nearly a decade. I’d been interested in world mythology for many years, and especially intrigued by the widespread myths suggesting that humans have degenerated from an ancient state of grace, symbolized by Paradise or the Golden Age.
I began to wonder what might happen if we were somehow able to recapture the state of mind supposedly experienced by people before the Fall. What if a device could be built that altered our brains in such a way that we felt like we were back in the Garden of Eden?
This led to speculating about how the God of the Old Testament might react to trespassers in his Garden. That’s where the story takes a controversial turn.
TL: What an intriguing premise! So, what YA reads have really stuck with you? To which books would you compare your style?
MS: My favorite YA novels are Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, FEED by M.T. Anderson, UNWIND by Neal Shusterman, and MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francis X. Stork.
I’d like to think my style is unique, although I’d say it’s strongly influenced by two of my favorite novelists: Tom Robbins and Christopher Moore.
TL: How do you hope readers will react to your book?
MS: My ideal reader loved OTTO and is curious about the title of my novel. She’s intrigued by the notion that the widespread myths of a Golden Age were based on something real, and by the idea of returning to Edenic consciousness. She feels empathy for my troubled protagonist and gets caught up in his many dilemmas. She enjoys the humor and suspense of the story and finishes the book in one sitting. Then she recommends the novel to all her friends, posts glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and sends a copy of the book to her uncle, the filmmaker!
TL: Ha, ha! Don’t we all wish! So, with all those genres floating around in your head, do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Yes, I’ve definitely had periods when I couldn’t write a thing and couldn’t come up with a single idea. It feels awful. With other types of work you can just phone it in, but not with writing.
With mild writer’s block, I can overcome it by exercising, being in nature, taking a hot bath, meditating, or simply taking a break from writing. With more serious cases, it takes some psychological/emotional exploration. The blockage may be due to depression. It may stem from avoiding something that you need to write about. In one case, my writer’s block evaporated when I shifted from writing for adults to writing for children!
TL: I love that. Writing for children definitely frees the imagination and lets you go places adult fiction doesn’t.
Thanks to Dr. Suss for offering a paperback copy for me to give away! Just leave a comment to enter. You get one entry for your comment plus an extra entry for each share on social media, just let me know in a separate comment! A winner will be selected in one week. Good luck!
And visit “Dr. Suss” online because he’s hilarious and talented (and a good friend)!