Susanna Leonard Hill
Susanna is an award winning children’s author who has authored 15 children’s books with 10 more forthcoming over the next two years. She was born in New York City and attended Brearley School, then graduated with a degree in English and Psychology from Middlebury College. Later she received her M.A. and M.Ed. from Columbia University. She spent many years teaching dyslexic students, and she has been writing stories ever since the second grade, when she wrote her first story, The Girl and The Witch. Her books have earned awards including Junior Library Guild Selection, Amelia Bloomer Project Feminist Books For Youth, Booklist Children’s Pick, Children’s Book of the Month, Parents Magazine #1 Board Book 2017, and Gold Mom’s Choice Award. In addition to authoring children’s books, she is a mother to five, a teacher, and a lecturer.
What is your process from story idea to finished manuscript?
I write all my first drafts out in longhand with a pen on paper - very old school :) They are a dreadful mess! - full of cross-outs and arrows and stuff scribbled in the margins. But I think better with a pen in my hand, so that’s how I write. Once the first draft is written, I type it into my computer, revising as I go. Then I read and re-read, checking to make sure the story flows well, the rhythm of the language works, that each word I’ve chosen really deserves a place in the story. I read the story aloud to hear how it sounds that way, and often make changes based on that - very important since the books I write are all intended to be read aloud. Eventually I reach a point where the story feels as good as I can make it. Then I send it to my agent. That is the first hurdle. If she doesn’t like it, I have to rewrite it or abandon it. But if she does like it, it will go out on submission!
Tell us 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.
Profile and cover image from susannahill.com.
Usually, I find I have more ideas than I know what to do with :) I have 5 children, I was one of 4 siblings, and I have 4 nieces, 4 nephews, and 2 granddaughters, so ideas tend to be everywhere! For me, brainstorming is more about evaluating ideas to decide if they’re good enough to make a book, or about how I can take a moment, or a piece of an idea, and turn it into a story worth reading. That involves finding the right combination of idea, character, setting, conflict, and resolution.
As I mentioned above, my children supply a lot of story inspiration, and much of writing takes place in my head before I ever sit down to write. So it’s actually not as hard as you might think to balance writing with being a mom as long as you keep something handy to scribble things down on so you don’t forget them until you have time to write. My desk is littered with grocery store receipts, ATM statements, deli napkins, and odd scraps of paper with all manner of bizarre notes on every square inch of white space :) As for teaching writing, I wrote my own class (Making Picture Book Magic) and I teach online, so I can do it from home on my own schedule. I have students from all over the world, each on his or her own schedule, all in different time zones, and it works out very nicely with everyone communicating when they have time.
Many, many, many times! :) They are delightful about it, but not too helpful as they claim to love everything I write :)
Writing, especially picture books, is a surprisingly competitive field, so learning to accept rejection has been a challenge to overcome. In addition, with all the opportunities for readers to write reviews and express their opinions, there is the challenge of coping with what can be quite negative reviews that are posted online. It’s important to try not to take them personally. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, and no book appeals to everyone - not even Harry Potter :)
First thing in the morning is my favorite time. I’m as rested as I’m going to get :), the day is new, the world is quiet, and the coffee is hot and fresh! :)
I actually particularly like working on rhyming manuscripts like Airplane Flight and Freight Train Trip and Alphabedtime! as well as several other books that are forthcoming. I like the rhythm of the language, and I like the challenge of finding a way to tell the story so that the meter is steady and the rhymes work - it’s kind of like doing a puzzle :)
I love hiking, baking, reading aloud at bedtime (which I did well into middle school with all my kids), sledding, building sandcastles (especially digging the moat!), and playing all kinds of board games and card games!