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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - SUSAN JOHNSTON TAYLOR

I am delighted to feature author Susan Johnston Taylor on the blog today. Susan shares the inspiration (dating back to her childhood experiences!) for her beautiful, STEM-focused debut poetry picture book, ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES: POEMS ABOUT EARTH'S COLORFUL CREATURES (illustrated by Annie Bakst, Gnome Road Publishing, 2023). Susan also shares about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Susan!

STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

I’m a naturally curious person, so I have no shortage of wacky ideas. My challenge is figuring out how to execute on those ideas and refine them into a cohesive manuscript with a satisfying arc.

Animals in Surprising Shades doesn’t have a traditional narrative arc, but it follows a rainbow structure as it introduces readers to a red poison dart frog, an orange newt, and so on. (Not many picture books use a rainbow structure, but you’ll often see concept books using a day-to-night or changing-of-the-seasons structure.)

In early 2020, I read about these squirrels in India that have bright-colored fur, unlike the more neutral-colored squirrels found in North America. I started brainstorming a concept book about animals in unexpected colors.

If I were Jane Yolen, I thought, I’d write it as a poetry collection. Wait … maybe I could write a poetry collection? It took a lot of research and revision, but I did it!

I realized much later that the seeds of this project actually go back to my childhood. When I was a kid, a few of my classmates teased me for my bright red hair. This book celebrates creatures that come in all shades, especially those you might not expect, turning that childhood experience into something more positive and empowering.

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

Writing for kids allows me to explore my many curiosities. My debut book combines my passion for poetry with my fascination about quirky animal facts. I have other projects exploring music, food, animals, and untold histories.

Outside of writing, I’m very into singing and crafting. I host a show tune open mic here in Austin, Texas. Someday when I publish one of my music-themed manuscripts, I'd love to host a book event with young musicians performing live.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

I’m excited to start doing school visits next year, but one of the ways I’ve connected with young readers as a pre-published author is through writing workshops. For two summers, I co-taught an online poetry camp through Austin Bat Cave, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization that offers creative writing workshops to kids and teens.

I stay connected to the KidLit community through online communities like the Courage to Create, the Twitterverse, STEAM Team Books, and a picture book marketing group I helped form called PB Spree. I’m also a Writing Barn fellow, so this fall I’m TAing for Rob Sander’s 6-month Write.Submit.Support program for Nonfiction Writers through the Writing Barn.


Susan Johnston Taylor is a Writing Barn fellow and author of Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (Gnome Road Publishing, 2023). Her poetry also appears in 10.10 Poetry Anthology: Celebrating 10 in 10 different ways. As a freelance writer for over a decade, she’s written 15 titles for the educational market and published nonfiction articles in children’s magazines including FACES, Highlights for Children and Scout Life. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their two rescue dogs.



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1 Comment

Hillary Homzie
Hillary Homzie
Oct 26, 2022

I love the concept of delighting in the wimpy and the wonder!

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