Vivian Kirkfield’s cheerful personality, supportive nature, and incredible generosity shine through in everything she does. She’s a genuine cheerleader for everyone in the kidlit community. I’m thrilled to learn from her and interview her for Writer’s Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a published children’s author?
Vivian Kirkfield: I was probably on the journey to becoming a published children’s author for my entire life…but I just didn’t know it. A love affair with picture books and a desire to work with young children led me to teaching kindergarten straight out of college. And while raising my own three kids, I often scribbled little stories to entertain them while waiting at the doctor’s office or during a long car ride. But I never seriously thought about becoming a published children’s author until I met the kid-lit community on Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday posts and at her writing challenges. That was 2011 and names like Penny Parker Klosterman and Marcie Colleen were always among Susanna’s contest entries. At the end of that year, Julie Hedlund announced she was going to start the 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge to see if she could write 12 picture
book drafts in 12 months and I thought – that’s what I want to do!
KC: Your delightful debut, Pippa’s Passover Plate, was a joy to read aloud. What was your inspiration?
VK: I’d been following everyone’s lead and joining lots of writing challenges like Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm) where published authors and illustrators and other industry pros came to share their insights on how to find story ideas. One of the posts was from Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman who put out a call for Jewish holiday books. An invitation from a real editor of a real publishing company to submit to her directly? How could I refuse? I sat down and wrote the story of a little mouse who is hurrying and scurrying to get ready for the Passover holiday. But then she can’t locate her special Seder plate. This was 2013…early on in my writing career. I was writing a lot in rhyme (still love it) and honestly, the words just flowed from my pen. It was actually the easiest story I’ve ever written. I gave it to my critique buddies and revised and polished and submitted. Unfortunately, the editor passed on it. But that’s okay. Every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance, right? I put it in a drawer and took it out at the end of 2017 to enter it into the PJ Library contest (PJ Library is an organization that buys books and distributes them to Jewish families). Before submitting it, I showed it to one of my local critique buddies
who is an author/illustrator and she fell in love with it and brought it to her long-time editor. The rest is history. And on a lovely side note, Pippa’s Passover Plate is a PJ Library selection for 2019 and they created a parent/child activity guide on their website and will be sending copies of
the book to children all over the world.
KC: I love the refrains in the story. Was that something you added later, or did they come within the first couple of drafts?
VK: “Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake! Cats make Pippa cringe and quake.”
I had that from the very beginning. I’m very fond of refrains, especially with a rhyming story, but even with my nonfiction prose picture books, I sometimes find a way to include a repeating refrain. And there’s another refrain in PIPPA…when she questions the animals: “Have you seen the Seder plate – Sun sets soon – It’s getting late.”
This refrain is significant because the Passover holiday starts at sundown, so Pippa has a deadline…she’s got to find it soon. I hoped it would add to the drama/tension of the story.
KC: What other projects are you working on?
I’ve got two other books in the pipeline for 2020: Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020) – I JUST got the first sketches in a pdf and I LOVE them. The illustrator, Alleanna Harris, has such a beautiful vision for the story and when I first saw her portfolio, it was love at first sight. The other book, From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020) is a compilation book consisting of NINE full-length nonfiction pb bios. It’s being illustrated by the award-winning Gilbert Ford and I got to see the book dummy with tentative sketches a couple of months ago. Again, I am blown away by how the illustrator is bringing the stories to life. It’s been a super collaboration with the editor and I just finished going through the redlines – those were NOT fun because they were from the copy editor/fact checker and it was for nine stories, not just one. And each story has extensive bibliography. But I met the deadline – YAY!
As far as new projects – yes. I’m working on another nonfiction pb bio – actually a topic suggested by one of my editors. And I’m also completely rewriting (isn’t that what Stephen King says…writing is rewriting) an older nonfiction pb bio about an author and illustrator husband and wife team – but I’m changing the POV to the character they created, instead of a narrator. We’ll see how that goes. And my agent has a few of my other stories out on submission. I’m constantly jotting down story ideas…but I run out of time, even though I do try to stretch the day by staying up half the night – this is a great thing for my kidlit friends who live in Europe or Asia
or Australia/NZ because I’m up when it is their day.
KC: What advice would you give aspiring authors?
VK: My advice to aspiring authors is the same advice I give myself when I wake up every morning. If you want this, it is going to happen…that’s a fact. But here’s the thing—you’ve got to REALLY want it. Enough so that it is your main focus. And honestly, hats off to all of you who have families, homes, and jobs that take your time and attention, or health issues and still you keep chugging along at your writing. We are all in different places in our lives and each can only do what she or he can do in the time frame that you have. But here are my favorite four P’s that will lead you to success in publishing.
PASSION – I think you really have to want this very badly and love the writing and embrace the revision. And if you don’t love the topic, pick another because you will be reading and revising it over and over and over again.
PRODUCTIVITY – Write. And then, write some more. Because an agent usually wants to see more work from you if she falls in love with your story. Be working on several stories at the same time, if you can. Research one. Draft another. Revise a third. Polish a fourth. Join critique groups – they will support and encourage you throughout this process. And it is a process. One that takes time. Time to hone your craft by reading books, taking classes, watching webinars, attending conferences. And conferences, if you are able to go, are wonderful places to connect with other writers and also with agents and editors.
PATIENCE – This is a business that is filled with rejection and disappointment. Agents ignore your submissions. Editors pass on your manuscripts. Not right for our list. Too quiet. Not crazy about the voice. Too long. Too short. When you hear these, please remember that each comment is only one opinion. The time to really sit up and take notice is when your critique group members ALL agree about one thing or another. And
please have patience with yourself. We are all on this journey together and it has hills and valleys, and many bumps and obstacles along the way.
PERSEVERANCE: This may seem a bit like the P above, but it is really very different. Patience is a bit more placid…you are willing to wait. Perseverance is total action…you are moving forward with determination. Meet every rejection with a positive attitude. The fabulous Jane Yolen, author of over 365 books, says she gets five rejections a week. Five
rejections? A week? So, how many stories is she sending out in order to get five rejections a week? And I love what one kid-lit friend said she was doing for the year.
“My goal is to get 100 rejections this year,” she said. Does that sound crazy? Who wants to count their rejections, right? But hold on…if she is getting 100 rejections, that means she sent out at least 100 submissions. BINGO! Because in the end, no matter how beautiful your stories are and how much kids will love them, if you don’t submit them…if they stay in your drawer or computer file…they cannot become the book deal you dream of getting.
I’ll be speaking about this very topic at the Australia/NZ SCBWI conference in Sydney in a few days and I’ll share with you what I plan to tell them. Getting a book published is a process just like making a pizza. The four P’s are the ingredients. I guarantee that if you combine passion, productivity, patience, and perseverance, you will succeed, and I can’t wait to order your delicious
slices, I mean, stories when they go on sale at my local bookstore!
KC: Thank you Vivian! You are an inspiration!
Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water,she can be f ound writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at national
writers’ conferences. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the WorldMoves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.