I am excited today to welcome you to my interview with author Susanna Leonard Hill! This interview is part of the blog tour that Susanna is doing for her picture books being released this month. Please read my review of When Your Lion Needs a Bath, and later my upcoming reviews of When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles (review on July 11), and The Road That Trucks Built (review on July 18.) Now, allow me to introduce our guest author …
Welcome to my interview corner, Susanna! I’m happy to be participating in two back-to-back blog tours for your … not one, not two, but THREE new books coming out this month! Thank you for doing this interview at such an exciting time.
First, please tell our readers a little about yourself.
Hmm… a little about myself…
- I was born in New York City.
- I have two brothers and one sister.
- I once poked my kindergarten teacher with an umbrella.
- Wasps and ticks give me the heebie-jeebies.
- The year I turned 9 my birthday was on Easter Sunday – which never happened before or since.
- Red is my favorite color of jelly bean.
- At summer camp I drank Orange Crush out of the can with a Twizzler.
- I love to play with words – writing, of course, but also word games of all kinds.
- I went to school for a really long time for advanced degrees I don’t use much when writing about bath-averse lions, little girls who won’t sleep, and opinionated groundhogs 🙂
- I know all the words to the Gilligan’s Island and Partridge Family Theme Songs. (Though I am uncertain about the PIN# of my ATM card. 🙂
- I have five amazing kids.
- If it’s made of chocolate, I love it. 🙂
- On my last school visit the popular guess on how old I am was 100. Seriously.
And you have a wonderful sense of humour, I’d say. 🙂 When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
It probably sounds trite, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. (Well, after the phase where I wanted to drive a steam roller… 🙂 ) I grew up in a house full of books and I was always read to, so I had a very early love of picture books and there was something about them that just called to me. I wanted to write one. I wanted my name to be on a book because I had written it. And something about writing helps me think. I am far more comfortable writing than speaking!
I’m sure we’re all very glad you chose writing instead of operating a steam roller! 🙂 As a writer, do you do much reading? Who were/are your favourite authors or books or genres?
I have always read a lot. When I was little I read Pippi Longstocking, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the Little House books, the Anne of Green Gables series, every single Nancy Drew mystery, and every horse book I could get my hands on… just to name a few…! Nowadays I read a wide variety – I like mysteries, action, adventure, fantasy – Jack Reacher, Game of Thrones, etc. – but I also read and like a lot of YA.
Have you ever felt like giving up? When did you finally believe in
yourself so you can say “I am a writer”?
I have never felt like giving up writing. I love to write. I need to write. But I have felt like giving up submitting. It can be very discouraging. I am not a person with a lot of self-confidence, so I’m not sure even now that I believe in myself. But I did start identifying myself as a writer after my fourth book was published. At that point I felt like, somehow, I was at least a little bit legitimate.
I understand about the submitting. Do you have a favourite motto or quote or Bible verse that you try to live by and that helps to keep you going?
I don’t know if I do exactly… that’s an interesting question. The quote at the top of my Face Book page is one I like a lot – “Live well. Laugh often. Love much.”
That’s a very good one to live by as it affects one’s attitude positively. How do you consistently write? Do you have writing goals .. daily? weekly? monthly? long-range?
I write because I love to write. I can’t really say that I have specific goals or a specific schedule. Creativity takes a lot of energy, so there are times when life is busy and a day or a week will go by when I don’t write anything new. And sometimes life is hard, and that can rob me of creativity as well. But in general, writing is one of the things I look forward to – not that it’s easy! – but, as I’m sure is the case for many writers (and other creatives – artists, musicians, etc.), it fills a need in me and is something I can’t stay away from for long.
Yes, I agree, it does take a lot of energy. What other interests do you have for a change from writing?
I love to be outdoors. I like to walk, run, and hike. I love animals – dogs and horses in particular – and I love to ride, although I don’t have time for it as often as I’d like. I play the piano (when it isn’t so covered in books that I can’t get to the keys 🙂 ) and I love to read.
All great ways to restore that creative energy. What have you had published thus far, and what do you remember about the very first time you were published?
THE HOUSE THAT MACK BUILT (Little Simon, 2002)
TAXI! (Little Simon 2005)
PUNXSUTAWNEY PHYLLIS (Holiday House 2005)
NO SWORD FIGHTING IN THE HOUSE (Holiday House 2007)
NOT YET, ROSE (Eerdmans Books For Young Readers 2009)
AIRPLANE FLIGHT (Little Simon 2009)
FREIGHT TRAIN TRIP (little Simon 2009)
CAN’T SLEEP WITHOUT SHEEP (Walker/Bloomsbury 2010)
APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS! (Holiday House 2011)
BEER IS ZO MOE! (Veltman Uitgevers 2011) – available in Dutch only
WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH (Little Simon 2017)
WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES (Little Simon 2017)
THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT (Little Simon 2017)
Every time I get a call from my agent saying she has an offer, it’s like a dream come true. I can’t believe how lucky I am that an editor liked something I wrote enough to get behind it and share it with the world. And I feel grateful that there will be another book (because I never EVER take that for granted!)
But there’s something extra-special about the very first time. 🙂
I had gone from remedial language tutoring with dyslexic kids to being a full-time stay-at-home mom after my youngest was born. I had been writing for kids for a couple years in my “spare time” (2 AM by the bathroom nightlight, you know, that kind of spare time 🙂 ), and found my agent by serendipity (but that’s a story for another day!) and she had sent a couple of my manuscripts out on submission a few months earlier.
One cold, gray January day in the early afternoon, when one child was at first grade and two were napping, the phone rang. It was Liza (my amazing and wonderful friend and agent.)
“So,” she said, with a smile in her voice, “I have an offer for you!”
My heart stopped.
I couldn’t breathe.
Her words wouldn’t sink in!
“What?” I stammered intelligently.
“Erin Molta at Little Simon wants to buy The House That Mack Built!” she said.
In a haze of unreality, I scribbled notes about the details of the deal, then hung up the phone in disbelief. My heart was so full I couldn’t hold it in, but the babies were sleeping and every parent on earth knows you never want to wake a sleeping child!
So I hugged this wonderful, amazing, unbelievable news to myself, fist-pumped the air, squealed a silent “SQUEEEE!!!” in my head, and on light bare feet raced a lap or two of the downstairs of my house, overflowing with excited energy!
I was going to be published!
There was going to be a book with my name on it!
It was, quite literally, a dream come true and one of the best moments of my life!
I feel the excitement in your relating of it for us, Susanna! What process do you go through when writing and perfecting your work?
I write every first draft with pen and paper. I think better with the physical act of forming letters 🙂 Once I have a draft, I type it into the computer, revising as I go.
Then I revise again.
Then I revise again.
Then I revise again.
You get the idea. 🙂
Until I feel like the manuscript is as strong as I can make it.
At that point, I usually give it to a trusted critique partner or two to read and comment on. Occasionally I send it to an editor friend to critique for me.
When I feel like the manuscript is as ready as I can get it, I send it to my agent.
Sometimes she says, “This is great! I’ll send it to so-and-so!” Other times she tells me she thinks it could work if I change the ending or strengthen the conflict or something, in which case I take a crack at it. But sometimes she just doesn’t see potential and doesn’t think she can sell it, and I have to chalk it up to an idea I couldn’t make work. For now… 🙂
I, too, hand-write most of my drafts. The process of actual writing is healthier for the brain, a serious consideration. I admire your work ethic and determination. What method do you use to keep track of your writing ideas?
I’m afraid there isn’t much in the way of “method” or “keeping track”! 🙂 I scribble things on random scraps of paper which litter my desk in piles! If the occasion arises when I’m scrambling for ideas, I rummage through the piles! 🙂 I would include a photo of my desk, but I don’t want you to have nightmares. 🙂
Haha! You wouldn’t want to see my desk! I’ve found buried notes and thought … oh, wow, did I write this? It could be a good idea! 🙂 What inspired you to write your three newest books? When Your Lion Needs a Bath; When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles; The Road That Trucks Built.
I think I mentioned that I have 5 kids. 🙂 That pretty much sums it up. 🙂
A large percentage of my ideas come from life with my children who, I’m sure you will be shocked to know 🙂 , frequently objected to baths and haircuts and bedtime and were sometimes miserable with sniffles. So the WHEN YOUR… books came from a lot of those moments. THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT was inspired by two things: my son, who as a toddler was so enamored of construction vehicles that one of his first words was “mass excavator”, and a good friend who actually builds roads.
There’s inspiration all around us, if we’ll only see it. 🙂 Approximately how long did it take you to write each of the three books? Did you have to do much research for any of them? Is there something specific you’d like to share about each of them?
You know, this will sound terrible, but I’m not really sure how long it took me to write each book! I know I got the basic idea down and then went through several rounds of revision, much of it focused on tightening the text. As for research, well, in the case of LION and ELEPHANT I’d pretty much done that over the course of 20 years as a parent. 🙂 And in the case of TRUCKS, my son picked out the books he wanted me to read to him and I read them…research as a bonus of reading with my child. 🙂
It all works! 🙂 The illustrations for each are wonderful. Did you get to share your vision with the illustrators of your books?
I never get to speak with my illustrators during the creation of the book. But in the case of LION and ELEPHANT, I did include a fair number of art notes because the text was fairly brief and much of the humor depended on what was shown in the art in relation to what was said in the text, so I had to make sure my vision was clear. Daniel did an absolutely fantastic job. I couldn’t be happier! His illustrations are exactly right for these stories! 🙂 I did not include such notes for Erica for TRUCKS, but even without my helpful instructions 🙂 she did a fantastic job!
I agree! Both illustrators did fabulous work. How ever did you manage to get three books published so close together? And along with that how did you go about finding a publisher? an editor? or did you have an agent to handle that for you? (You mentioned her earlier.)
The fact that these books are coming out so close together is just luck of the draw! Since WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH and WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES are the start of a series, the editor wanted to release them together. The third series title will release on January 2, 2018, and the fourth in Fall 2018. THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT was edited by a different editor in the same house! I don’t know how often that happens – it has never happened to me before – but somehow the books were all just ready at the same time. I do have an agent – the wonderful and talented Liza Voges of Eden Street Lit without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today!– and she was in charge of submissions.
That’s amazing! What is it about writing children’s books that appeals to you?
Everything is new to children. They are still full of curiosity and wonder. I love writing for people who are so eager to absorb and for whom you can make a difference. Because along with the positive side of newness, children have a lot to learn about the world and their place in it, and that can sometimes feel a little frightening, confusing, overwhelming, or lonely. Books can help children understand both how things work and that they’re not alone in their experiences and feelings. If I can help one child feel more comfortable with the arrival of a new sibling, or laugh over having the sniffles instead of feeling plain miserable, I feel like I did a good thing. And just the opportunity to make reading an enjoyable experience for kids – something they can carry with them – is very appealing.
I like your heart. What do you do to help and encourage others in their writing goals?
I teach an online picture book writing class called Making Picture Book Magic, which I try to make accessible and affordable and doable time-wise, and which I hope is helpful to those who take it. I also write a blog with features that allow writers to practice pitching (Would You Read It Wednesday), do a fun writing exercise together (Short & Sweets), or ask questions about the picture book writing life and craft (Oh Susanna!). I also run several writing contests a year on my blog for which I try to include prizes such as critiques by editors, agents, and authors. I also offer critiques of picture book manuscripts.
I plan to take your writing class at some point and have been urged by other writers because they’ve found it to be so good. I’ve only added my comment once in your pitching help, and I’ve participated in two of your writing contests. I’ll be back to try more! 🙂 Do you have other projects in the works? If so, can you give our readers any hints?
I have a couple more books coming out over the next 2 years …
- WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT (Little Simon January 2, 2018)
WHEN YOUR MONKEYS WON’T GO TO BED (Little Simon Fall 2018)
ALPHABEDTIME! (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House Spring 2019)
- MOON DREAMS (Sourcebooks Spring 2019)
– those are all to some degree works-in-progress because there may well still be a call for edits on one or more of them. Aside from those, I have a few other manuscripts I’m kicking around that are not ready for humans yet, although my dogs have had to listen to them innumerable times. 🙂
That’s actually FOUR more books, Susanna! How fortunate you are. As for dogs, they make a considerate audience; my little one tips her head attentively when I read anything out loud. 🙂 Is being a writer/author all you had hoped or thought it would be?
You know, Lynn, it really is – for me. I love to write. I am grateful that my circumstances allow me to do what I love, even though what I earn is more supplemental income than making a living. I have been incredibly fortunate to be published, and that has allowed me to teach writing, which I love to do, and to do school visits which I also love, and to write a blog where I get to be part of a lovely community of like-minded folks. So yes. If anything it’s more than I thought it would be 🙂
I’m so glad for you. Do you have any advice for hopefuls?
My advice is probably much the same as what you’ve heard from other writers. Read as much as you can in the genre you hope to be published in. Practice your writing. Read good books on writing craft. Take some writing courses if you can – online or in person. Join SCBWI and go to some writing conferences. Join a critique group. Write. Write. And write some more! And if you really want to be published, never give up. Keep improving your writing. Keep trying. Keep submitting. Because the best idea ever won’t sell if you never bring yourself to write it and send it out into the world. 🙂
Thank you, Susanna, for an insightful interview. It’s been fun. 🙂
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, Lynn, and for doing so much this month to give my new books a good start!
It’s truly my pleasure. 🙂 And now …
The rules are simple. Leave a comment on this post telling how you would coax your lion into the bath, and your name will be entered into the draw. 🙂 You have until Saturday, July 15, at 9:00 PM EST to enter. Using the “random name picker” I will select one name, and the next morning – Sunday, July 16 – I will announce the winner. Be sure to check your email Saturday night because I will be contacting the winner for a mailing address.
Check out Susanna’s blog for fun things including the schedule for the other participating blogs in her tour. More from Susanna:
Website Blog - watch a fun trailer for When Your Lion Needs a Bath Making Picture Book Magic (online writing class)
Don’t delay, comment today! And please pass the news on to your friends; post on Twitter, FaceBook, or what ever way you communicate with the world. We thank you. ♥
Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂