Will Write for Cookies – Susanna Leonard Hill






 Susanna Hill and Baahb read at MCP

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 :))

Picture 3

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!

susanna hill workspace

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.


White Choc Peppermint Cookies


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.

Website: http://susannahill.com/HOME.html

Blog: http://susannahill.blogspot.com

FB Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannaLHill

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!

81 thoughts on “Will Write for Cookies – Susanna Leonard Hill

  1. Susanna and cookies! Magical. Thank you Susanna for all you do to foster and help writers and young readers. I appreciate all the time you give to us in between your busy schedule of family and work. I also loved the Making Picture Book Magic class. It’s very affordable, useful and amazingly doable – you really tailored it for writers. And Perfect Picture Book Fridays … after picking up a pile of wonderful recommendations to read to my son … I thought how blessed I am to have found this community to make it easier to find great books. (Thanks for this series Vivian and the cookies!)


    • Thank you for always being so supportive of me and everything I do, Stacy! I’m so glad Perfect Picture Books has been a great resource for you – that is the whole point! – and you have been a participant since its inception. And thank you for your kind words about my course. (And the cookies are really easy to make and VERY yummy! :))


    • Stacy…you hit the nail on the head! Susanna is amazing for all that she does for us (aspiring picture book authors) and for kids while all the time she is there for her own family and her own writing obligations.
      Thanks for being there for me, Stacy, as a critique partner and as a loyal blog and facebook commenter…it means so much.:)


  2. I like her office, well at least with the light it was getting at the time she took the picture. Vivian, I wanted to ask you. Several people have recommended Susanna’s online writing course. Have you taken it yourself, or heard from people who did?


  3. I can’t get my thoughts off those cookies 🙂 How fun to read the story behind the counting sheep story. To think that part of the idea came from a commercial! Thanks, Vivian and Susanna!


    • I can’t believe you haven’t seen the story behind Can’t Sleep before, Tina. I feel like I’ve posted it so many times people must be getting tired of it 🙂 You should definitely try the cookies. They are super easy to make and extremely delicious!


    • What I’m learning, Tina, is that the great story ideas are right there…we just have to be listening and observing carefully…and paying attention. I know I am often concentrating on the task at the moment or some future event or problem. This is what is brought out in many of the PiBoIdMo posts.
      Glad you enjoyed the interview, Tina…I can’t wait to read your pb ms on this critique round.:)


  4. Aw, man, Susanna! Those cookies look great and I will be sure to bake these with my son, the other mint lover in the family. But you still haven’t’t revealed what I am dying to know: HOW do you do it all? I know it isn’t just chocolate. I tried that!


  5. Brilliant post, ladies! Susanna your course is awesome and thank you for all the wonderful things you do for us writers. I love those comments your son made, tonnes of ideas there. And yummy!


    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Catherine! And really, I don’t do all that much. The magic that happens is because of everyone who participates – it’s all of us together. I’m glad if my son’s midnight ramblings spark any ideas for you, and do try the cookies! 🙂


  6. Golly! Look at all these early birds – or maybe they’re night owls! I wanted to post the first comment and you’ve all beat me to it! Thank you SO much, Vivian, for inviting me to participate in your terrific new series. I’m honored that I got to be part of it. And thank you for so thoughtfully adding in all the little details I forgot (the links to my own blog!) I loved Iza’s post last month, and I’m so looking forward to Suzanne’s in December. Thank you for all you do for the writing community!


    • I was sure I had replied to you response, Susanna…but know I don’t see it.:(
      You have been a great role model when it comes to providing value to the writing community…I am a grain of sand to your sandcastle.:)
      I’m just so lucky that super people have agreed to participate in this.:)


  7. Susanna, as always, you are so generous and supportive and funny! Your son’s questions and the horse stories that “never saw the light of day” cracked me up! And I love this: ” 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!” So true. I also love this: ” 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!” Yes! Great interview, ladies, informative and thoroughly enjoyable! Thank you 🙂


  8. Awesome post, Susanna!
    The cookie recipe has already been added to my family’s annual Cookie Day batches to make.

    Catherine, I’m currently in Susanna’s class and can’t agree with you more. She has a way of making you go , “Ah Ha!”


    • Glad you were able to stop by, Lori! Please forgive the delay in posting your comment…it got lost in cybercommentland.:)
      I was so happy with Susanna’s answers and cookie recipe…and I’m really looking forward to February and her class.:)


    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Sylvia…I just found your comment in a spam folder…so please forgive the delay in posting and responding to it. I hope you’ll stop by next week for Susanne Gervay’s interview.:)


  9. Susanna and Vivian, I enjoyed this interview so much! Susanna, I am so grateful to “know” you (some day we MUST meet in person) and I am also grateful for all you do for the writing and reading community. And I *love* being part of your legendary “hare-brained schemes” — code for creative and amazing ways to benefit others. You are a joy.

    Vivian — this series is brilliant. Thank you for it, and for all *you* do for writers and readers.

    You’re both awesome!


    • It would be so fun to meet in real life, wouldn’t it? One of these days you’re right – we will have to work it out! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview, and thank you so much for all your kind words. I have to agree about the series – brilliant idea, Vivian! – and I’m so looking forward to the next installment…not JUST because of the cookies 🙂


      • Yes it would, Susanna! But the internet has been an incredible vehicle for connecting with super people like you.:) I’m so happy you agreed to the interview…Will Write for Cookies is only going to be as good as my gracious and generous guests.:)


    • Hi Beth! Now I realize that Susanna was responding to your comment about meeting in person.:) But, I have hopes of meeting all of you one day… you just never know.:) I’m so thrilled that you like the series…I’ve been so fortunate in the amazing authors who have agreed to participate.:)


  10. Can’t wait for ALPHABEDTIME!

    I like hearing that you are a *sun* person as well. Thank goodness I have a laptop so I can migrate from one side of the house to the other during the course of the day. So much more cheery!

    Lovely interview by lovely ladies. Thank you!


    • Maybe sun people are attracted to each other.:) I, too, love the sun…that’s why I loved living in Colorado where there are 331 sunny days a year! But New Hampshire has been good to us these past 6 weeks…the sun has been shining almost every day – not at all what I expected from the East coast.:)

      Glad you enjoyed the interview, Cathy!


    • Aw, you’re so sweet, Cathy! I can’t wait for ALPHABEDTIME either! 🙂 And yes, thank goodness for laptops. When I get to the point where I must leave my pen and paper behind I am thankful to be able to move my computer to wherever the sunny spot is 🙂


  11. I love Susanna’s chocolate ideas, cookie recipes, contests, books, blog, hare-brained ideas, support, fun… wow, and so much of that came out in this lovely interview. Thank you ladies.


    • And I love all your wonderful posts, Joanna, – your illustrator interviews and your teenage travels through Europe and your Perfect Picture Book picks – and your delightful SNOW GAMES, and all your fabulous contest entries, and most of all your staunch support of whatever ridiculous thing I happen to be up to at the moment! 🙂 Have an extra cookie on me 🙂


  12. Susanna ~ I enjoyed learning a bit more about you and your writing. Your blog is ALWAYS a happy place to visit!

    Even for those of us who don’t write (or read) Picture Books.

    Thanks to you too, Vivian. I bet the two of you meet sometime soon ~ now that you both live on the same coast.


  13. Wow, is this interview packed with a lot of Susanna things. First of all when I hear the word chocolate or any sweet, I always think of Susanna. Yes, many hare-brained ideas, but people sure love them! Susanna has contributed so much to this writing community — and it’s such a privilege to be part of it!


  14. What a great interview and I can’t wait for Alphabedtime! How exciting about your books being translated into so many languages? But man, are you a busy girl, Susanna!

    You’re so generous for mentioning all of those amazing kidlit links for new and old to connect. We are a blessed bunch to have each other and your contribution to this community is invaluable. Thank you Vivian for having Susanna as your guest. You and your blog are amazing!


    • Hello Pamela…I was thrilled to have Susanna participate…and I’m so happy you like my blog. I only wish I had more time…when I first started blogging, I tried to do a post EVERY DAY! Yikes! I kept it up for 3 months…but it left no time to do anything else.:)


  15. Hooray for Susanna! I’m pretty sure I’m in a LOT of good company when I say how much I have learned not only from Susanna’s Making Picture Book Magic class, but from her blog and from just watching what she does. This lady knows her stuff, and is one of the most generous children’s writers I’ve met. Thank you for featuring her, Vivian!

    And Susanna – I, too, search out that patch of sunlight every day, and move my computer around the house as the sun moves. I like knowing that we are both prowling our houses like cats looking for that inspiring bit of warmth! Big hugs to you!


    • So glad you enjoyed the interview, Renee! And you are right…Susanna is so extremely generous with her time…those writing prompts and contests take SO MUCH TIME and preparation and follow-up…just the time responding to the comments (and she responds to EVERY comment…and often follows up with a reply to the reply).


  16. Hi Vivian,
    I just can’t keep up with all the wonderful blogs I follow. So I’m late again.
    Susanna, I love reading about your wonderful words, and thank you for the contests you work so hard at running. And the prizes are terrific too! 🙂
    Vivian, it seems I’ve deleted your blog by MISTAKE! So I’m signing up again. 🙂


    • Glad you were able to get over here, Tracy! I know exactly what you mean…so many awesome blogs…but then there is no time for writing our own stuff.:) I hope you’ll be back for the interviews each month…so many talented writers and illustrators will be sharing their thoughts AND recipes!!! 🙂


  17. My parents were here this weekend, so I’m catching up today! What a wonderful interview! Susanna is the reason you and I are friends, Vivian…at least I am remembering we met through PPBF. In fact, Susanna, you have be a source for a lot of my online relationships through PPBF, the contests, Short and Sweets, Would You Read It!!!! The list is long and awesome. Your personality shines through in all of your posts and I just know if we sat down to lunch (with Vivian, too!) that we would be there all afternoon and then have supper! If I had to pick a favorite line from the interview, it would be “if a poisonous snake and a scorpion got in a fight, which one would win?” Now that is funny and a great reason to have written Can’t Sleep Without Sheep!!! You two have a great week 🙂


    • Well, you know, he had a valid question! And at somewhere in the middle of the night I did NOT have an answer 🙂 Thanks for all your very kind words, Penny. You are such a gem you would have found all your relationships without me, but I’m very glad I’ve gotten to know you! And I agree – it would be so fun to get together in real life… and we would probably all talk for ages and never leave 🙂 Let’s plan it soon! 🙂


    • I’ll make a note of that future lunch date, Penny!
      Yes, it was through Susanna’s PPBF and Holiday Contests that we met…your contest entries ALWAYS blow me away…especially since I love to write in rhyme and your rhyme is always SPOT-ON! Thanks for stopping by with such lovely comments.:)


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