INCOGNOLIO by Michael Sussman and Interview

INCOGNOLIO by Michael Sussman

Bewildered but lovable author, Muldoon, is trapped in the dreamlike narrative of his own surrealistic novel. Beginning with just a title—Incognolio—he enters a bizarre fictional realm that plunges him into an identity crisis of anguishing proportions. Is he writing a story in which his stillborn twin sister has come to life, or is he the one who died at birth and it’s his sister who’s writing the novel? Guided only by the whims and dictates of his subconscious mind, Muldoon must unravel the mystery of Incognolio and write his way to freedom or succumb to madness.


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Abandoned by a cackle of laughing hyenas, Michael Sussman endured the drudgery and hardships of a Moldavian orphanage until fleeing with a traveling circus at the age of twelve. A promising career as a trapeze artist was cut short by a concussion that rendered him lame and mute. Sussman wandered the world, getting by on such odd jobs as pet-food tester, cheese sculptor, human scarecrow, and professional mourner while teaching himself the art of fiction. He now lives in Tahiti with Gauguin, an African Grey parrot.

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Interview with author Michael Sussman

  • Can you tell us about your new release?

I call Incognolio a psychological thriller, however it also contains elements of mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. More importantly, it’s a page-turner!

When a strange title for a novel hijacks his mind, Muldoon traverses identities, planes of reality, and the dark recesses of his psyche in an effort to grasp the enigmatic Incognolio. Is he writing a story in which his stillborn twin sister has come to life, or is he the one who died at birth and it’s his sister who’s writing the novel? Guided only by the whims and dictates of his subconscious mind, Muldoon must finally face his demons and write his way to freedom or succumb to madness.

Eight years ago, the nonsense word incognolio popped into my mind. It sounded like a story title. For four years, every idea I tried went nowhere. Then it occurred to me to proceed without any plan at all. I wrote the first draft without thinking or censoring, starting simply with a protagonist who writes a novel based only upon a title.

Over the course of several years, with the help of freelance editors, I reworked the material into a much more coherent and accessible form, although I think it retains much of the intensity and outlandishness of the original draft. The result is a novel that’s both funny and disturbing, delving into themes and situations that I could never have predicted.

  • If you wouldn’t be a writer, what you would be?

I have worked for many years as a clinical psychologist, which informs my writing. In addition to writing, I am also a musician, painter, and devoted karaoke performer.

  • When did you begin writing?

Starting around the sixth grade, I began writing short stories. In my late teens and early twenties, I filled a couple dozen blank journaling books with my writings and drawings.

  • Do you have any advice for unpublished authors?

The main thing is to keep writing: the more you write, the better you get. Most published novelists have at least two or three manuscripts that never saw the light of day. It is imperative to receive lots of feedback on your writing, whether it’s from a critique partner, writer’s groups, or paid freelance editors.

  • What’s the hardest part of writing a book?

In writing Incognolio, the hardest part was committing myself to radical openness: accepting whatever emerged from the depths of my psyche. At first, this was exhilarating, freeing up my imagination. But over time, the process took on a darker cast as I was compelled to explore disturbing themes and parts of myself that I typically repress.

  • What inspired you to write, you took any ideas from other books, movies etc?

Regarding the structure of Incognolio, my two main models were Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Lewis Carroll’s Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.

Regarding the style and content of the novel, my greatest influences included Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, Kelly Link, Tom Robbins, Aimee Bender, George Saunders, and Christopher Moore.

I found inspiration in these authors’ creativity, originality, inventiveness, black humor, absurdity, profundity, emotional honesty, fearlessness, and how they consistently break the mold.

  • What are your favorite books and authors?

Some of my favorite authors include Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Poe, Steinbeck, Salinger, Borges, Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Tom Robbins, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Italo Calvino, Paul Auster, David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami, Ann Patchett, Christopher Moore, Kelly Link, Steven Millhauser, George Saunders, and Aimee Bender.

The books I love the most include The Shrinking of Treehorn, Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Lolita, Nine Short Stories by J.D. Salinger, East of Eden, To Kill a Mockingbird, Song of Solomon, Italo Calvino’s t zero, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Bel Canto, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and George Saunder’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.

  • Where can readers find your books?

Incognolio is widely available online as a paperback. The eBook is currently available exclusively at Amazon.

  • If you could visit any place in the world or a place created by a book, where would you visit?

The Garden of Eden.

  • What projects are you currently working on right now? Would you mind sharing them with us? 

I’m working on a sequel to my children’s picture book—Duckworth, the Difficult Child—which will be published in 2019 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I am also writing a comic sci-fi Middle Grade novel.


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