A Writerly Blog
I am honored to finally host Vivian Kirkfield on my blog today – a stellar and prolific debut author who has a heart for kid-lit authors of all kinds. I admire Vivian's generous spirit, and wanted to give back, even in a small way, I've been amazed at her swift rise to authorship, and it is well deserved!
So on with the interview. . .
You have truly been on an incredible author’s journey these last six months, Vivian! Can you give us a brief account of your adventures, as you hopped from one continent to the next?
Right you are right, Jarm! It has been an incredible adventure, especially these past six months. I’d been asked to speak at the Australia/NZ SCBWI conference, so I flew out to Sydney on Feb 19 and spent three days touring around Sydney with Maria Marshall, a kid-lit friend and critique buddy from the States who was also going. The conference itself was awesome! I gave a presentation, and got to spend time with my agent, Essie White, who was the keynote speaker.
And then I flew to Auckland, NZ with another critique buddy, Diane Tulloch, who had attended the Sydney conference also. She opened up her home to me and took me around that beautiful country for three weeks. Diane also organized a wonderful library book event for me and a school visit where I read FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN to 100 six-year-olds.
From there I flew to Geneva to hook up with Julie Abery, another critique buddy (do you see why I love to have so many critique buddies? 😊) and was honored to spend two weeks with her and her family. We flew to London for a weekend and WALKED EVERYWHERE, from Covent Garden to Soho Square to Fleet Street. It was amazing! (And I just discovered that my phone has a pedometer and has been keeping track of the distance I walk every day - in London I walked about 7 or 8 miles each day). She also arranged a visit to the International School where we both read our books to the three and four-year-olds. WOW!
And then we took a train from Switzerland to Bologna to attend the Bologna Book Fair. Maria Marshall again flew over from the States and met us there. She and I stayed after the fair to take one day train trips to Milan and Venice. Then finally, on the last day of my round-the-world trip, we traveled to Florence where we met up with yet another kid-lit friend and Lyrical Language Lab mentor, Renee LaTulippe. My head is still whirling with joy!
I'm a bit envious, Vivian! ;-} Did you see this coming, or was it all a big surprise?
I totally expected that eventually, I would get a book deal. It was a thrill to sell my first book so quickly at the end of 2015, only a couple of months after signing with my agent. Then it was a bit disappointing to sell nothing else for almost two years. And that’s why I say we can never give up because, at the end of 2017, we sold three more books to three different publishers. And one of them was for that nine-story compilation from Houghton Mifflin. THAT was pretty awesome! Then a few months later, in the beginning of 2018, we sold another.
Incredible. Not the typical author's journey. Did you feel prepared?
Yes, I think I felt prepared for the journey. I had made a decision at the end of 2011, that I wanted to write picture books and also that I wanted to be traditionally published. And so, everything I did was intentional. I participated in challenges, joined critique groups, took online classes, went to conferences, and wrote and revised and wrote and revised…and submitted. I truly believe that there are certain ingredients and steps we need to take if we want to succeed in book publishing. I think we need Passion/Purpose, Productivity/Practice, Patience, and above all, Persistence.
Those words are Perfect to describe what it takes to become a published author, Vivian. What, if anything, do you wish you would have known or prepared for before the “big events”?
I wish I’d known more about the actual publishing process and timeline. And I wish I’d been more confident in the very beginning with the first book - more aware that I had a voice and could use it if things weren’t proceeding correctly. But, when you are a newbie, you don’t know what proceeding correctly looks like. That’s why now, when I give presentations at conferences or speak with other authors and illustrators, I share my experiences so that they will be more informed and better able to advocate for their books!
Which is exactly why I look forward as a debut author to sharing my story. Is there one event or experience that stands out among the rest as you look back?
The experience that stands out most is when we signed the deal for the nine-story compilation. The editor wanted nine nonfiction picture book stories about visionaries whose inventions changed the way the world moves. I had two stories written and only had eight months to write seven more. From idea to research to rough draft to polished submission-ready manuscript. And I had it on her desk by the deadline. This really boosted my confidence in my ability to write. And I thank all of my critique buddies who helped so much in getting those manuscripts submission-ready.
That is quite the project, Vivian! We look forward to reading it. What is the next big event in your author’s journey?
I recently spent a week in Chicago where I had four school visits and one bookstore event, plus I was able to visit the gravesite of Sarah Goode, the main character in SWEET DREAMS, SARAH. That was a very special moment.
The next big book event will be the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Conference in Baltimore, MD in November. I’ll be on a panel of authors talking about Using Picture Books to Inspire Self-Advocacy and Student Led Learning. I just found out that my cousin, who lives near Philadelphia, invited me to come for Thanksgiving right after the Baltimore conference. So I am now involved in planning a school visit, or maybe two in the Philadelphia area.
And I have a family trip to Colorado with one day in Denver and I am currently making plans to do a book event there and connect with some of my Colorado kid-lit friends. I’ve learned that when the doorway of opportunity swings open, you need to be ready to step forward.
Whew! The excitement never ends. With all this activity, you must be exhausted! What do you do to unwind and relax?
Hahaha. That’s funny. I am not exhausted, perhaps because I am living my dream. Truly, I am so very fortunate. But I do take time out – meeting with local kid-lit friends and critiquing with them. And my daughter and grandson live only five minutes away – I get to spend time with them also. Plus, in the evening, I sometimes make a big bowl of air-popped popcorn and watch a movie.
That is so true, Vivian. When we enjoy what we are doing, it enlivens us. What encouragement can you give to those of us who are still plodding along, looking for that perfect agent or editor who will fall in love with our manuscript?
Most of my advice will be what you’ve all heard before:
- Read lots of books in the genre you want to write.
- Write lots of stories and embrace revision.
- Connect with the kid-lit community and participate in challenges and contests.
- Join critique groups and help others with their manuscripts.
But the most important thing I can tell everyone is: don’t give up. The only failure is the failure to keep trying! Remember — nothing is impossible if you can imagine it, so keep following your dream!
You are such an encourager, Vivian, and it's been a delight to interview you at long last! Your swift road to publication has been a wondrous thing to watch, and it couldn't have happened to a more compassionate author. We will follow your career with interest! Thanks for taking the time to share your latest adventures. . .
"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, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world.
When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found 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 conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest. 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, January 14, 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.
How about you? Do you have questions about the joys and challenges of an author's journey? Post them below in the comments!
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.