Author Spotlight: Suzanne Lewis (with Giveaway)

Feb. 6, 2015

We are delighted to introduce Suzanne Lewis, author of A PENGUIN NAMED PATIENCE: A HURRICANE KATRINA STORY. Welcome, Suzanne!  Be sure to enter her giveaway of a signed copy!

Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.

I started out as an artist, advertising art director and professional photographer. Writing came later. But the art has served me well-- drawing story boards and conceptualizing commercials has helped me visualize and write a scene. 

I also worked in an independent bookstore for nine years which was a great eye-opener. Honestly, I wanted to be an author/illustrator, but when that didn't pan out, I'd already started writing books for children and I was hooked. I'm really a big kid at heart.  I was an only child and spent a lot of time alone and in the imaginary world so I think that laid the groundwork for wanting to write for children. 

Tell us about A PENGUIN NAMED PATIENCE: A HURRICANE KATRINA STORY. What inspired you to tell this story? How did you research it? What was the hardest part of telling this story?

I've always loved penguins and my partner and I were visiting New Orleans and she told me to go see the penguins at the Audubon Aquarium. She's a news junky and already knew their rescue story.  So I spoke to the penguin keeper and read about their ordeal online. I started drawing penguins and putting together a "dummy." As it turns out I think Lisa did a much better job depicting Patience and her friends than I ever could have.  

The hardest part of telling the story was trying not to anthropomorphize. Especially since it was non-fiction. I kept wanting to give the penguins back packs and have them actually sitting on the plane with the penguin keeper and Ronnie Herman, my agent, kept saying "no, you can't do that, this is non-fiction and the publishers won't accept that." They are such human-like creatures in their little tuxedos, see, there I go. 
What surprised you about the publishing process?

How nice and helpful my agent and editor were. And how much fun it was to see Lisa Anchin's sketches from reading my manuscript.  

What projects are you working on now?

I've got a "young YA" out on a submission and working on a sequel to that. And a few more picture books in the hopper. 

What advice would you give to new authors? What are the one or two things you did that most helped you become published?

It's all about perseverance and finishing that shitty first draft and keeping your butt in the chair. Annie Lamott was my first writing teacher and she drummed that into our heads. 

I attended conferences and joined SCBWI which is good for making connections. But I think developing a thick skin is a good idea for any artist/writer. You get rejected by one agent or publisher, you don't let that stop you. You send out another query/submission and have faith in your work.

Who or what inspires you?

Reading, going to the bookstore, watching a movie, being in nature, living in beautiful Northern California, my dog.  

Tell us something most people don't know about you.

I'm a fifth generation Texan living in Northern California, soon to be building a tiny house in the seaside village of Mendocino. A little piece of heaven for any artist or writer.

I grew up in a creative household.  My father was a floral designer and painter. My mother is a writer.  After graduating with a BFA from the University of Texas I pursued a career in advertising art direction, graphic design and illustration.  Eventually, I found my way into commercial photography traveling the world shooting for magazines, greeting card and calendar companies.  I worked for an independent bookseller in San Francisco for nine years, hand-selling adult and children’s books and buying sidelines for the children’s section.  My interest in writing and illustrating children’s books was sparked there.  I still enjoy photography, but have been painting seriously for several years.  Each medium informs and rekindles the other and depending on my mood, offers sustenance.  Whether it’s conceiving a story, grabbing the perfect shot, painting abstractly or rendering an illustration—that serendipitous moment is what fuels my imagination.


  1. Thank goodness for the people in our lives who point us toward interesting potential book ideas!

    I'd love to hear more about your research with the penguin keeper and how you got all the details for your book. Can't wait to read it!

  2. "give the penguins backpacks" funny! Great interview. You're book sounds wonderful.

  3. I agree with Penny. "Give the penguins backpacks" and your agent's response had me chuckling. I loved the interview. This book looks adorable and I'm impressed at the level of personal commitment you had to discovering the penguins story! Thank you for the giveaway!

  4. Terrific interview. Thanks for that. I will definitely check this one out.

  5. This sounds like an awesome book. Congratulations!

  6. Cant wait to get my copy - congrats !!

  7. Really fun to read the background about how the story became your book! Thank you for telling us about it!

  8. I too am a big fan of penguins! Thanks for sharing your penguin journey ;D

  9. I love penguins. This sounds like a great book.

  10. Omigerd, penguins!! :D What's not to love?

    I love this: "You get rejected by one agent or publisher, you don't let that stop you. You send out another query/submission and have faith in your work." So very true! One must just keep at it.

    Thank you, Suzanne and Kidlit411 for the interview and giveaway!

  11. Sounds like a lovely book! I, too, write true animal story picture books (Orangutan Houdini - about ape who outsmarts zookeeper) - and I was very interested to learn about your book and your process. Can't wait to read it! Nice to hear some positives animal stories.

  12. I have a page all about the different collective nouns for penguins on my website. Love those birds!

  13. As a New Orleanian I am quite fond of Katrina s t ories. Thanks you for telling this one.


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