Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interview with Michael Sussman, author of Otto Grows Down and a contest!

On Tuesday I posted a review of Otto Grows Down written by Michael Sussman and illustrated Scott Magoon. Go here to read the review. *Hint, hint, it's a great book!

As promised, Michael has stopped by to answer some questions about his writing and his book. Plus, he's giving away a signed copy of Otto Grows Down!(details below) First, the interview:

Michael, how did you come to write OTTO GROWS DOWN?

About five years ago, I was experiencing a bad case of writer’s block as I struggled to start a second novel. My son, Ollie, inspired me to start writing for children. As soon as I switched my intended audience from adults to children, my writer’s block disappeared!

As a child, I would sometimes fantasize about what life would be like in backwards time. This fantasy became the basis for OTTO. In early drafts, time turned around because of a book called “Backwards and Forwards” which Otto received as a present. I wasn’t wild about this aspect of the plot, but struggled to come up with an alternative. Finally, while taking a bath, I had my “Eureka!” moment: Time reverses when Otto makes a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born!

By the way, I chose Otto’s name because it’s a palindrome. All the names in the story—Otto, Anna, Bob, Mom, and Dad—read the same backwards and forwards.

Are there any similarities between you and your main character, Otto?

Having an older and a younger brother, I used to fight for my parents’ attention. Like Otto, I also experienced remorse when I overshadowed my siblings.

What was your road to publication for OTTO GROWS DOWN like?

I received dozens of rejections from editors on an early draft of the story. I revised the manuscript and sent it out again. Once more I received dozens of rejections, but two editors were interested. One editor backed out when her colleagues decided the story was too edgy for a picture book. The other—Frances Gilbert at Sterling Publishing—loved the story and has been a delight to work with.

How many other children’s manuscripts had you written before OTTO GROWS DOWN? What have you done with them?

OTTO was my second attempt at a picture book. The first one never got published, and I haven’t gotten around to revising it.

You’ve published books in the adult world. How does it feel to be able to call yourself a children’s author now?

It’s wonderful. I love reading the story to audiences, and the responses I’ve received from children and parents have been truly heartwarming. There’s no sweeter sound in this world than a child’s laughter.

Do you have any other books in the works? Tell us about your work-in-progress.

I’m currently polishing two picture book manuscripts. One is whimsical adventure story, written in verse. The other is about a girl who develops a superpower that spins out of control.

What are you doing to support the publication of your book?

I’m doing bookstore events with Scott Magoon, the illustrator. I’m also giving readings in schools and libraries. With any luck, the “Otto industry” will thrive without any government bailouts!

Finally, if you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

I’d say either Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because I’d never be bored, or Tom Sawyer, because I long for a simpler way of life.

Thanks Michael, for the great interview! It's interesting to know that palindromes, childhood fascination, and writer's block are all a part of Otto Grows Down. Now I have even more stuff to talk with my kids about when we read your book(for the hundredth time!)

Otto Grows Down is published by Sterling Publishing. You can read more about Michael at his website

Ready to win a signed copy of OTTO GROWS DOWN? All you have to do is leave a comment on this post. You can just say enter me, but if you want to get it off your chest, you can share what your siblings did to pester you(or what you did to pester them!) I'm told that I used to make my poor little sister sit in the corner all the time. I don't remember doing any such thing. Unfortunately there are photos.

I'll take entries until Tuesday, April 7th at 6 p.m.(PST) when I'll put all of the names in a hat and have my littlest guy, who can't even read yet, pull out a winner. I'll contact you if you leave a link or if I recognize you, otherwise, check back in on Tuesday to see if you've won. U.S. mailing addresses only. Good luck!


  1. Hey, Heather, great interview with Michael Sussman. I'm delighted to be the very first contestant.

    I grew up with four sisters and was always kind, selfless and loving in my interactions with them. I will change that story only if one of them happens by here. ;-)

    Since your little guy doesn't read yet, I was thinking of telling him that whatever comes out says, 'terry hunt'. What do you think?

  2. Hey, it must be national OTTO day since I just reviewed OTTO on my blog today, too! Wonderful interview with Mr. Sussman!

    My brother used to pester me more than I pestered him, but my cousins and I did hold him down and cover him in make-up one day circa 1982.

  3. Great interview! I love the story about how the story came to you, Michael.

    I had a cast on one of my feet when I was a baby, and I'm told that my older brothers used to carry me around, bopping each other on the heads with my cast. Yup.

  4. Heather, enjoyed this interview. Especially the bit about the palindrome names. Clever!

    I have an older brother. The most memorable thing he did to me was pin me on the ground so I couldn't move and then he'd spit in my face -- only he wouldn't let the spit actually fall. He'd just let it dangle from his mouth and then when I thought it would surely fall, he'd suck it back up. UGH! One day I will write about him in my books and the whole world will know what a brute he was. (Still love him, though. I mean, he is my brother and all!)


  5. fun! I used to make mine play school forEVER!!! ;)

  6. I'd love it!!
    I'm the baby so I was the one pestered!

  7. Great interview! Michael and I used to be in the same online critique group until he moved on to bigger and better things!

    My older sister used to make me smell her feet before she'd do anything for me!

  8. Thank you for the terrific interview. Nice to get an author's perspective. I also posted my review of "Otto Grows Down" this morning on Brimful Curiosities and have have a giveaway (not signed though).

    I never let my little brother win any games we played. Well, very rarely I might have.

  9. Great interview. I am so guilty of torturing my little brother. I used to make him clean up my messes by saying, "If you don't do it I am gonna tell Mommy it was you." I was horrible! ;) I've just ordered this book for my library, I can't wait til it comes in.

  10. My sister is 5-1/2 years older than I am and most of the time she couldn't be bothered with me. Once, when I was mad at my Mom and thought I must be adopted, she told me that she remembered me being born so too bad for me! She teased me all the time and her favorite name for me was "Ellie Elephant".

    Sounds like a fun book! If I win I will read it to the kids at our library's Ladybug Club!

  11. Once I told my little sister I was a giant rabbit wearing a people-mask. To this day she still talks about how traumatic it was. Poor girl...


  12. Great interview.

    I am the oldest of three. One game I invented was called Garage Sale. My brother and sister would gather up their things for the sale. Then I would make them buy their stuff back.

  13. Otto sounds great; can't wait to check it out.

    I was 12 and 15 when my brothers were born, so my stories vary a bit from the ones posted thus far. For example, once when my dad and I were strolling my brother Alex downtown, some teenage girls walked by and made a loud nasty comment about teenage pregnancy. I was at once my dad's wife and my brother's mother and I was only 12. The devastation. Also he peed on me once, and I learned that hard but essential lesson about baby boys and diaper changes.

  14. Is it wrong that I'm enjoying reading how everyone tortured each other?

    My cousin would hold me down and do that spit thing to me too, Amy. And at least once, it did fall. Ugh!

  15. Ellie, my sister (the one who made me smell her feet) used to call me "smelly ellie elephant" - and my name is Lori!!

  16. Heather,

    Great interview with Michael Sussman. You are doing a great job in cyberspace!!

    My brothers are older than me and I was sometimes their victim. One favorite torture was to force my nose into the very smelly running shoe of my brother's friend, Andy. There were always plenty of older guys around to laugh at me. I believe growing up the youngest and the only girl left me an odd mixture of spoiled and toughened up. At times, I was the pampered one, but then I had to learn to fend for myself at a very early age. When I was three, my brothers yelled for my mother to come rescue them -- from me. I had apparently had enough, and had treed them in the bunk bed. I had a broomstick and I wasn't afraid to use it. I whacked whatever part started to come down from the perch.

    I look forward to reading Otto Grows Down, and hope I win the contest.

    Stephanie Theban

  17. I feel horrible for saying this but I always picked on my younger sister growing up. We're 3 years apart and I remember just being mean on occasion. We laugh about it now, but I still hate that I was like that!


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