WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION FOR WRITERS
SUSANNA LEONARD HILL
When I first started blogging, I was posting a picture book review every week. Another blogger told me that there was a site I just HAD to visit because that author was putting together a resource list of great picture books and activities. “It’s called Perfect Picture Book Friday,” she told me. “You must check it out!”
I did…and the rest is history. Not only did I join in every Friday with an entry to Susanna’s linky-list, but I also participated in her many writing prompts like Short and Sweets, holiday story contests like the Halloweensie Contest and helpful weekly features like Would You Read It Wednesday (pitches) and O Susanna (answers to specific writing/publishing questions).
Susanna Leonard Hill is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice),No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.) Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean. Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Fall 2015. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.
She conducts a picture book writing online course, MAKING PICTURE BOOK MAGIC, and is also well-known for her ‘hare-brained schemes’…which means she is always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need and to creatively support and encourage others. Oh, and every week she feeds us virtual CHOCOLATE and other goodies!
Susanna, I really appreciate you hopping on board this ‘hare-brained’ scheme of mine!
So, without further ado, HERE’S SUSANNA!!!!
Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?
I am a lucky girl.
I grew up in a family of readers and a house full of books. Literally. There were piles of books on the floor in the hall (I thought that was normal… :)) until my dad built new shelves… and then those were filled… and then there were more piles 🙂 My mom used to read to us not just at bedtime but while we ate lunch sometimes, or when we were driving in the car (of course not while she was driving :)).
I really don’t remember thinking in author/illustrator terms at the picture book age, but I loved Make Way For Ducklings, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, The Story of Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, Harry The Dirty Dog, and Curious George. Oh! and Madeline and Bread And Jam For Frances 🙂 Those delightful characters and the magic of the words and pictures together filled me with joy. Even way back then I knew that someday I wanted to write books like those!
When I got a little older I loved everything Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, Beverly Cleary, Sydney Taylor, Louisa May Alcott, and Nancy Drew… and horse stories – every single one 🙂 (And I’ve written my share of horse stories and Nancy Drew books which have thankfully never seen the light of day :))
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started writing for children?
Hmmm…. That’s a tough one. There are a lot of things I’m glad I didn’t know 🙂
But I wish I’d known that 2700 words was considered too long for a picture book 🙂
I wish I’d known that all writers, even famous, successful ones, have the same struggles you and I do. They have mornings where they don’t know what to write. They have days when the delete key gets a serious work-out. They get stuck in the middle of their stories. They get rejections. It’s comforting to know that my heroes work too. And I don’t mean that in a negative way – I’m not glad they struggle sometimes. It just makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one 🙂
Which leads me to wishing I’d known that the writing community is a lovely one, full of smart, funny, generous people. I am grateful every day to be a part of it, and I wish I’d known from the beginning that such a community existed. It was harder to find back then…in the dark ages before the internet :)…
Where do you like to write/draw – inside, outside, a special area in your home, on the computer, in a notebook with paper and pencil?
I am a sunshine addict. If there is a patch of sunshine in my house, that’s where you’ll find me 🙂 Which means I usually work at the kitchen table and not in my office (which is on the north side of the house and gets hardly any sun.) I write all my first drafts of picture books and early readers with a basic blue Bic pen, which fits well in my not-very-big hand, on either college ruled lined paper or plain white printer paper. Only after I have a draft down do I type it onto my Macbook. And I usually revise as I type, so the original hand-written version rarely matches the first typed version. And then of course there are the 9 billion revisions after that, so the story I end up with might be quite far from where I started 🙂 Like every writer I’ve ever met, I keep paper and pen next to my bed, on the kitchen counter, in my backpack (because I am just so not a purse person :)), in my car etc. because you just never know when a great idea is going to hit and I have learned from hard experience that if I don’t write it down AT ONCE it will likely be gone in the next heartbeat!
When during the day (or night) are you most productive? Do you set a schedule for working or do you write/draw when the muse speaks?
My best writing time is usually the morning, but when an idea really has me in its grip I can write anytime. I’ve clocked a lot of hours by the nightlight in the bathroom at 2 AM 🙂 One of the things I love about being a writer is that it gives me the freedom and flexibility to be there for my kids. I can drop work and head for a soccer game or a school play and then pick the work back up again at 11 PM if that’s when I have time. But that doesn’t make for a regular schedule! I’m not so good with schedules and organization (an area I’m trying to improve :)) When I get involved with something, whether a story, or writing a blog post, or whatever, I am so single-minded about it that I can use up all my time for the day on one thing and never get to other things I had hoped to do. So I’m trying to gain skills in that department. As for the muse, I don’t wait for her. She is very temperamental (especially if I haven’t been getting enough sleep :)) so if I waited around for her I might never write! I try to write something every day. I don’t always manage. But I try 🙂
Why did you choose counting sheep/bedtime issues as the basis for your picture book, Can’t Sleep Without Sheep? Is there a clue here for aspiring authors?
The idea of counting sheep/bedtime issues came to me because my son has a very busy mind and when he was little he had a hard time falling asleep. He would lie in bed and have his “thinking time” which often resulted in his coming in to our room long after I thought he was asleep and asking me such questions as, “if a poisonous snake and a scorpion got in a fight, which one would win?” and “if a car could drive into space, how long would it take to get to the moon?” and “how many teeth does a shark have and is that more or less than how many a dinosaur has?” So children who didn’t fall asleep easily were on my mind. That in itself wasn’t enough for the story though. I wanted to write a story that kids who have trouble falling asleep could relate to but that they would also find fun. The rest of the idea came from a mattress commercial on the radio that said something like, “Tired of counting sheep? Try our mattresses.” And I thought to myself, what if it was the sheep who got tired of being counted? and the two ideas clicked together. So I would say the clue for aspiring writers is that ideas are all around in your life, and sometimes it’s a matter of two separate but related things coming together in a new and surprising way, so keep your eyes and ears and heart open all the time – you never know when a great idea will present itself!
I also asked Susanna to share some tips for aspiring writers. Here is her shortlist:
- Read as much as you can in the genre you hope to write.
- Write as much as you can – practice makes you better!
- Join online groups such as Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 (if you write PBs) where you can belong to a community of writers and learn.
- Read books on the craft of writing such as Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books and Linda Ashman’s Nuts & Bolts Guide To Writing Picture Books.
- Take a writing course or two if you’re able.
- Write some more.
- Challenge yourself to come up with new ideas by joining Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee.
- Know that you have to be tough on certain levels to be a writer. It’s not an easy field to break into. There are a lot of talented writers out there. The publishing industry is in a state of transition so while there are many opportunities, there is also a lot of caution on the part of editors who aren’t sure which way the wind is going to end up blowing. But don’t let a fickle market or the fact that other people have talent discourage you. If writing is your heart’s desire then write! You have just as much chance, just as much right, just as much hope as anyone else!
- Join SCBWI.
- Have some chocolate.
- Write some more 🙂
Susanna, thank you so very much! Your answers were inspiring and your shortlist of tips is something everyone should print out and keep by their workspace.
You are well-known for the delicious virtual treats you provide with almost every post, Susanna. We are thrilled to have the recipe for one of your favorites – this will definitely be served for dessert at our house this Holiday Season.
MINTY WHITE CHOCOLATE DIPPED WAFERS
12 ounces white chocolate, chopped into 1″ pieces (do not use chips, I used Ghiradelli’s White Chocolate Baking Bars)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 box Famous Chocolate Wafers (or 40 plain chocolate cookies)
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (5-6 broken candy canes)
Line two baking sheets with wax paper and set aside
Melt the chocolate using a double boiler or a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. (Note: you just want about 2 inches of water and you don’t want the bottom of the bowl touching the water.)
Stir peppermint extract into melted white chocolate
Dunk cookies, one at a time, into melted chocolate so that chocolate comes about 1/3 of the way up the cookie. Shake of excess and place carefully on wax paper.
Sprinkle white chocolate with peppermint candy
Place cookie sheets in the fridge for at least 15 minutes (or pop in freezer for less) so white chocolate is set and firm to touch.
These cookies are best stored in a container in the refrigerator, layered between pieces of wax paper.
Yield: 40 minty dipped cookies.
If you’d like to learn more about the lovely Susanna or contact her, please check the links below.
FB Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill
Pinterest (which I use for Perfect Picture Books): http://www.pinterest.com/susannaleonard/boards/
Making Picture Book Magic Online Writing Course: http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html
On December 21st, I’m honored to be interviewing a guest from half-way around the world, RA for SCBWI Australia, award-winning multi-published author and child-advocate, Susanne Gervay. Please stop by to say hello!
- Monday Magic for Writers (viviankirkfield.com)
- Susanna and her doggies! (catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com)
- Perfect Picture Book Fridays – My Uncle Emily (loniedwards.com)
- Alphabet Trucks by Samantha R. Vamos (thiskidreviewsbooks.com)
- Perfect Picture Book Friday/ The Secret Cave – Discovering Lascaux (clarbojahn.wordpress.com)
- #PPBF: Chopsticks – Fostering Creativity and Self-Reliance (viviankirkfield.com)