Interview with Michael Sussman
1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing novels?
I’m a clinical psychologist, currently focused on writing. The first two books I published were written for psychotherapists. Once I became a father, I enjoyed reading picture books to my son. I decided to try my hand at writing one, and my debut picture book—Otto Grows Down—was published by Sterling with illustrations by Scott Magoon. As my son grew older, I started writing for an older audience, and the result is Crashing Eden, a YA fantasy/paranormal novel.
2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Crashing Eden?
My first novel, Crashing Eden, is a YA urban fantasy with paranormal elements. It was released by Solstice Publishing in May, both as a paperback and e-book.
I’ve 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.
In Crashing Eden, I tell the story of a group of youngsters who build a device that reproduces the state of mind experienced by people before the Fall. This instant enlightenment puts them at odds with Samael, the Creator God, who regards them as having crashed the Gates of Eden. As Samael rains down his apocalyptic devastation, the protagonist and his companions must find a way to overcome his wrath or face oblivion.
3) What inspired you to write this novel? How much research was involved in the writing?
When I was nineteen I lived in a commune in Paradise, Nova Scotia. One night, I suffered a concussion in a car crash in which I was a passenger. Like my protagonist in Crashing Eden, I spent the days following the concussion in what I can only call a state of grace, filled with deep feelings of gratitude and joy. I think that, unconsciously, this experience spurred me to write the novel.
I did substantial research into myths of the Golden Age and myths regarding the afterlife. I also researched Gnosticism, which I knew very little about. Gnostic cosmology is fascinating, and it became central to the novel’s plot.
4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
The novel is written in first person, from the point of view of a 17-year-old boy named Joss Kazdan. Getting inside his head and finding his voice was the biggest challenge. For one thing, it meant revisiting my own adolescence, which was a painful and confusing period of my life.
5) I think most of us can appreciate how difficult the teenage were. In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge?
I had the most fun with Joss’s 5-year-old sister, Callie. I love children at that age, and I worked hard at bringing out her innocence and joyful nature.
The toughest character was Joss’s mother, a bitter woman who is full of resentment, especially toward her son. I tried to tone down her meanness, but she stuck to her guns.
6) What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Definitely join a writer’s group. Your writing cannot progress in a vacuum, and you can’t rely on friends or family to give you the feedback you need.
If you’re writing for children or young adults, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org/). They hold great conferences and can help you find a critique group. Also check out Verla Kay’s chat site (http://www.verlakay.com/) which provides a wealth of information and emotional support.
8) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? Are there other genres in which you are interested but haven't yet explored?
I’m working with an amazing illustrator on an adventure story in verse, titled The Great Gogglemog, and I hope to begin a new novel this summer. I’d like to write a comic mystery novel.
9) Favorite authors?
There are so many, but here’s a partial list: Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf, J.D. Salinger, Steinbeck, Nabokov, Vonnegut, Updike, Ann Patchett, Tom Robbins, Robert Parker, and Christopher Moore. My favorite YA authors include M.T. Anderson, Francisco Stork, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and Melvin Burgess.
10) We share a lot of the same favourite authors. Do you have a pivotal point in your life, a point when you knew you would be a writer? How did it develop?
I’ve always loved to write. As a teenager I wrote poetry, short stories, and song lyrics. In graduate school I wrote a dissertation that became the basis for my first book, A Curious Calling: Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy. I also edited a follow-up volume, A Perilous Calling: The Hazards of Psychotherapy Practice.
When my son was little, I read piles of picture books to him. Although some were excellent, I felt many of the books were kind of boring or condescending toward children. I decided to write a book that challenged kids’ minds, and the result was Otto Grows Down, a story about a boy who becomes trapped in reverse time when he makes a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born.
11) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
I like to read, go hiking, dance, and play music. I especially like to spend time with my son, who is now thirteen. I suppose my ultimate luxury would be to travel to New Zealand or to Chile, my mother’s homeland.
12) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I’d like to thank you, Stephanie, for inviting me to do this interview!
You're welcome, Michael!!
I’d love to hear feedback from readers of Crashing Eden. Please visit my website, http://www.MichaelSussmanBooks.com and my Facebook Fan Page, http://www.facebook.com/CrashingEden