So I have this secret.
Okay, maybe it's not as secret as I like to think. I love picture books. Like LOVE. I check them out at the library by the dozens, and tell myself they're "for the kids." Ha! Nope. Definitely for me.
But the real secret is that I want to write picture books. I have played at it for years. Studied the greats endlessly. Taken classes at conferences. Paid for critiques by professionals. Even written several ugly drafts of would be stories. But I could tell I had a long way to go.
So when my lovely CP (Dee Romito) told me she had signed up for an online picture book writing class called "Making Picture Book Magic," I was all ears. And then, THEN, she told me it was by one of my favorite author/bloggers (who I also consider a friend), Susanna Leonard Hill. I didn't even know she had a class! So of course I signed up right away.
Her class is so popular, I had to wait a few months to get in, but let me tell you, it blew me away! It's not even that she told me anything I didn't already know. But the way she broke everything down into the perfect sized daily lessons was awesome. It felt like I had a friend walking me through the process from start to finish. I felt productive. Capable. Excited to write!
And even better, as part of the lessons, there was a facebook group where we could share and discuss with the other participants and get feedback from Susanna (and each other). And let me tell you, the feedback was pure gold. GOLD. And not just the feedback on my work. I learned tons reading the feedback on the others' work.
Honestly, the money I paid for Susanna's class is the best spent money I have ever put into my writing career.
I was so excited by the class, that I asked Susanna if she would be my guest on the blog and answer a few questions. And she said yes! So I welcome Susanna to my blog.
Me: When did you begin your Making Picture Book Magic class, and what inspired you to do so?
Susanna: I started Making Picture Book Magic in February 2012, after I'd spent the better part of 9 months writing the course, beta testing it, and commissioning art to decorate the lessons and inspire writers. I got the idea for the class because I do critiques for people on a pretty regular basis, and I found that many of the manuscripts I received from beginning writers were showing similar types of problems. It got me to thinking that maybe I could offer a class that covered some of the basics. I wanted the class to be interactive so that people would have the opportunity to ask questions, not just generally about writing, but specifically about the stories they were working on. I wanted writers to be able to learn from each other as well as from me. I wanted the class to be affordable, because lots of writers don't have a lot of money to spend on such things. I also wanted it to be something the average person could manage in the small amounts of time they could find in their busy life. So that was my aim. You've taken the class, so you can say if you think I succeeded or not :)
Me: Yes! You definitely succeeded. I particularly loved being able to ask specific questions about my work. So helpful!
So let's talk about your writing. One of my favorite books of yours is Can't Sleep Without Sheep. My kids and I (and my husband) were cracking up! I think the cows were my favorite. Where did you get your inspiration for that book? How long did it take you to write it?
Susanna: I'm so glad you like Can't Sleep :) I owe that story to my son and a mattress commercial. (And yes, I know the main character in the story is a girl, and there are no mattresses to be seen :)) When my son was little, he wasn't big on sleep. Every night he'd get in bed and have what he called his "thinking time." Many nights, long after I thought he was asleep and had gone to bed myself, he'd come into our room wide awake and full of questions. "What's the temperature of the sun?" "How many teeth does a t-rex have?" "Where does the wind come from?" To which I would answer knowledgeably, "Uh...." I'd take him back to bed, tuck him in, and tell him to count sheep, sitting beside him in the dark while he did so until he finally drifted off. When I got to writing the story, for some reason (maybe so he wouldn't know I was talking about him :)) I changed the main character to a girl. But by itself a story about a child with a busy mind who couldn't fall asleep was not enough. I had that part rolling around in the back of my mind for a while, unwritten, unfinished, because I knew it needed more. Then one day, when I was driving the kids to school, a commercial came on the radio. It said something like, "Tired of counting sheep? Buy our mattress!" And I thought to myself, what if instead of getting tired of counting sheep, the sheep got tired of being counted? And that's when I finally had a story :) The actual writing only took a few hours, but I'd been thinking about it for ages.
Me: It amazes me how much of 'writing' is really 'thinking.' And I love hearing how a story is born. So fascinating!
Seven of your picture books have been published. Have you ever considered dabbling in longer stories? Why or why not?
Susanna: I have considered it! In fact, I have attempted it! I have 4 completed novels (and by completed I mean I got to "The End" but boy do they need work!) and about 10 others in various stages. I am the queen of jumping in, writing 30-45 pages, and then realizing I have no idea what I'm doing or where I'm going. But I would love to figure it out, so I'm still working on it :)
Me: Haha! Sounds familiar. I always feel bad about the unfinished books of mine. Maybe someday I'll go back. :)
Through your blog, you began the Perfect Picture Book database a couple of years ago. It is so useful, and I've learned of so many great books through it. Can you tell us a little about this, and what inspired you to start it (I seem to be all about inspiration today!)?
Susanna: My younger sister-in-law is actually responsible for inspiring Perfect Picture Books. She asked me a couple different times if I knew of good picture books about one topic or another, and it got me to thinking that there were probably a lot of parents out there who didn't have the kind of background we writers have in what's out there for kids to read. I thought it might be helpful if they had a place to go where they could find excellent, highly recommended picture books on various topics and themes. Then I thought I could take it a step further (as long as I was doing it anyway :)) and add resources to the reviews so that parents, teachers and homeschoolers could easily find ways to expand on the use of picture books at home and in the classroom. I knew it would take me a REALLY long time to build up a data base by myself, so I threw it out into the blogosphere to see who might want to do it with me, thereby finding a terrific group of people who show up every week with great picture books to share. (I have to publicly confess, though, that keeping the list properly updated is a HUGE job and I have fallen woefully behind. I am working on catching up, but the data base always lags well behind the books that have been done! If anyone happens to be looking for an unpaid job, call me :))
Me: Hmmm . . . I might just be contacting you myself. What a great thing to be a part of!
Okay, okay, I've taken enough of your time, but I have to throw out a couple of fun ones. First, I have shared many a dessert with you on your blog. What, amongst all your offerings is your very favorite?
Susanna: Asking me to choose a favorite dessert is like asking me to choose a favorite child, Janet! How can you?! Let's see... How about three favorites? 1. Gingerbread with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. 2. Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. 3. Chocolate mousse cake. Oh, and brownies with coffee ice cream. Okay. That's it. Oh, except there's nothing like a freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookie! Okay. That's really it. Oh, except fresh cider donuts, especially this time of year, which aren't technically dessert, but really you can eat them any time! Okay. I'll stop. But now I'm hungry. What have you got? It might be a new favorite :)
Me: Haha! I do ask the hard-hitting questions, don't I? And yum. Now you have me drooling. Fresh cider donuts sound amazing right now! Alas, all I have to offer is a bucket or two of Halloween candy.
So, on to the most important question of all (I mean, this is ME, you had to know this was coming) what would your personalized license plate be? Or if you'd rather, you can tell us the personalized license plate for one of your characters. Punxatawny Phillis might have quite an interesting one. :)
Susanna: Oh gosh! This is a hard one! I'm not good at these. Maybe WRITRGRL? Or GHOGSRUL? Or LUVCHOCL8? :) Maybe you'd better think one up for me!
Me: Oh dear. I'm afraid you've used too many letters in those plates. You are only allowed 7. ;) Let me offer some suggestions: PBWRITR; GHOGPWR (Groundhog power); I ROCK; I WRITE or perhaps LVDSSRT (Love Dessert). What do you think?
Susanna, thanks again for stopping in! And I hope you all have a great day. :D
Susanna Leonard Hill grew up in New York City with her mom and dad, one sister and two brothers, and an assortment of cats. Her first published book was The House That Mack Built, released by Little Simon in 2002. Since then, she has published six more books: Punxsutawney Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005), Taxi! (Little Simon, 2005), No Sword Fighting In The House (Holiday House, 2007), Not Yet, Rose (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009), and Airplane Flight! and Freight Train Trip! (Little Simon, 2009.) Can't Sleep Without Sheep, released Fall of 2010 (Walker Books), is illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, and Jeff Ebbeler is illustrating April Fools, Phyllis!, released in 2011 (Holiday House).
You can find her on her blog a http://www.susannahill.com