About The Book

Q: In writing Too Far, you challenged yourself to conjure your inner six-year-old.

RS: I did two drafts of the book back in 1989 and 1990. The biggest problem I encountered was trying to remember what it was like to be six. The experience of creating a fantasy world in a natural setting—that I could recall. But a lot of the other things were difficult: I couldn’t summon up a six-year-old’s language or the practical details of what a child of that age can and can’t do. Can a six-year-old make a telephone call? I realized that I couldn’t get Too Far right unless I was very close to children of that age.

When my daughter, Sky, turned six I thought, I’d better stop what I’m doing and focus on Too Far. She lived for her fantasies, and she’d cultivated friendships with friends who have that same quality. This was my chance.

She participated in character development—not just Fristeen, but most of the other characters as well, especially Shivers. She also created the title font for the book. The story couldn’t have been written without her.

Q: What makes six so special?

RS: Something crucial happens at that age. Kids are past walking and talking, the imitation phase, the age-three declaration of independence, and so on. All the mechanical systems work. But the boundaries of the self aren’t yet frozen. The child is not clear about “what’s me and what’s not me.”

At that age, a child is capable of very sophisticated conceptions, and physically capable of real exploration. A six-year-old can go long and far, both mentally and physically. But they don’t yet understand the difference between fantasy and reality. A six-year-old doesn’t understand where the self stops and the world begins.

It doesn’t last long. My daughter is in second grade now. She’s seven, and the time of serious magic is nearly over. Fantastic creatures and imaginary companions have given way to her experiences in the real world. Eighteen months ago, she could look me in the eye and tell me that she flew behind the moon.

The Roots of Creativity

Q: To you, the roots of human creativity go back to that point.

RS: When adults draw on the power of their imagination, I think they’re connecting with their six-year-old psyche. They’re pretending for a moment that the self has no bounds, that the mind is whatever it can imagine--that anything is possible.

A lot of the science on creativity points back to childhood. There’s a multi-generational study at UCLA, looking at achievement across all professions. So far, the conclusion seems to be that people who do well are people who have a six-year-old outlook on things. They’re playful and experiment freely. They consider themselves amateurs. Everything is an adventure with an unknown result. There are no penalties, no rules.

I have vivid memories of that age. A lot of my best traits—and the qualities I value most in others—come from the six-year-old self.

The Universe Speaks

Q: From the start, you were trying to depict how the child’s imagination takes control of the mind and creates an alternate reality.

RS: My determination to do this was greatly influenced by Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which I read for the first time during my college years and has continued with me ever since. While I was working on Too Far, I visited Ibsen’s home in Oslo. I was walking back to my hotel. I stopped, parked on some steps, and re-read the play while the sun set over the harbor.

Ibsen has the forces of the universe speak to Peer through fantasy characters. One of the wonderful things about the play is that it turns reality inside-out. All of the things that happen to Peer in the real world are less important than his interactions with the fantasy characters, drawn from Norwegian folklore. It’s in those scenes that his crises and decisions occur. The play isn’t about Peer’s struggle with other humans. It’s about his struggle with the forces of the universe and with his own character.

Robbie and Fristeen live in a world born from their minds. But that world includes characters that say things to them that they can’t fathom. That no child could fathom. I love that idea, and I believe it expresses a fundamental truth about the power of the imagination.

Q: Writing Too Far was also an opportunity for you to be six again.

RS: I lived in an imaginary world when I was that age. Later, when I was 18 and 19, there were moments on LSD when I felt like I had recaptured that same boundlessness. When my imagination is burning hottest, I feel like I’m six again. So casting myself into the minds of six-year-old characters was a treat.

Not Kids' Stuff

Q: Despite the age of the protagonists, and the fact that it reads like a parable, Too Far is decidedly not for kids.

RS: There are books for children that work for adults. And there are books that seem to be for children, but are really for adults. Too Far belongs to the latter group.

The Wind in the Willows is a good example of a book that seems to be for children, but isn’t. It starts to work when you’re an adolescent, I think. Rat’s encounter with Pan—that’s not kids’ stuff. And all the commentary on Toad—his materialism and type-A obsessions. You need to be older to understand most of that.

Likewise with Platero and I, which found its way into my hands when I was very young. My understanding of the book has grown over the years, but it still has a lot to teach me. The language and the vignettes are so simple that it’s easily mistaken for a children’s book.

Out of this World

Q: For a number of years now, you’ve been collecting the paintings of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, whose artwork appears on the Too Far cover.

RS: I first discovered EVB in 2003. I loved the places his paintings took me and the power they had to stimulate my imagination. My enthusiasm reached the point that I wanted to share them. So in May, 2009, we launched VonBruenchenhein.com, an extensive online collection of EVB’s paintings.

Q: What makes a Visionary artist like EVB?

RS: I think it starts with a personal predilection. You’ve got to be built that way. But it also helps if something traumatic happens at age six—at the moment when anything is possible, and the imagination has this unusual control over the mind. If the real world burns down around the child, and there’s a strong desire to escape, the child may seek a firmer foundation elsewhere.

EVB had a near-death experience when he was six, and his mother died when he was seven.

Understanding why I felt so connected to EVB’s work was helpful in getting to the heart of Too Far.