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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - VIVIAN KIRKFIELD

Welcome back, Vivian! How wonderful to feature the amazing author Vivian Kirkfield for the second time! You can read Vivian's first blog appearance from February, 2018 here. I'm delighted to be part of Vivian's current blog tour, helping to showcase her brilliant debuts! In 2019, Vivian has three picture books releasing, with two more appearing in 2020! And she continues to write her blog, run the #50PreciousWords Writing Contest, and tirelessly cheer on the entire children's writing community. And as Vivian discusses below, she is soon embarking on a whirlwind world tour! It is an understatement to say that I'm so excited to fill up a bookcase shelf with Vivian's upcoming picture books. And I'm thrilled to call Vivian a friend. Read on for Vivian's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.

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

A million thanks, Melissa, for having me on your blog. I’m so happy to share what inspired me to write the stories that are just about to take their very first steps into the world.

Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 5, 2019) and illustrated by Jill Weber, launches TOMORROW! OMG…be still my beating heart! This story was inspired by Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman who wrote a blog post for Tara Lazar’s 2013 PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now called Storystorm) in which she put out a call for Jewish holiday stories. Submit directly to an editor? That was an opportunity I could not ignore. Just then, a picture of a little mouse, hurrying and scurrying to get ready for the Passover holiday, popped into my mind. She’d need an obstacle to overcome, right? Okay, I thought, maybe she can’t find her special Seder plate. And then, because we are supposed to throw rocks at our hero, Pippa Mouse has to go and ask all of her neighbors, who are her natural enemies, if they have seen the plate.

Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate) illustrated by Mirka Hokkanen, launches on March 15th and the inspiration came during one of my many fishing/hiking adventures with my husband when we lived in Colorado. The pristine mountain streams and rivers were home to many wild creatures and often, when I took a break and sat REALLY still, they’d venture out. I’ve always been a supporter of energy conservation, wildlife preservation, and environmental protection and I hope that this book will encourage young kids to appreciate the beauty of nature and develop a desire to preserve the habitats that are so crucial to the health of these animals, and ultimately, to our own human existence. For the book, I chose ten animals that are on endangered or threatened species lists. And I’ll relay a funny story which might have been a tragedy, if not for the stellar research of the illustrator, Mirka Hokkanen. Fortunately, she is also one of my Storm Literary Agency teammates, so we already knew each other. Early on, she reached out to me.

MIRKA: ‘Vivian, the golden cheeked warbler doesn’t live in the same ecosystem as the other animals.’

ME: ‘Sure it does! It lives in Colorado, just like all the other animals mentioned.’

MIRKA: ‘No…it doesn’t!’

ME: ‘Yup…it does…it lives in Colorado Bend State Park!’

MIRKA: ‘Check the map…Colorado Bend State Park is in…TEXAS!’

ME: ‘Oops!’

Fortunately, Mirka and I were able to find a replacement, the Willow Flycatcher. But this is one of the reasons why I feel a collaboration between author and illustrator is so important. Sadly, in this publishing industry, that doesn’t usually happen because many editors want to ensure that the author doesn’t try to strongarm the illustrator and prevent the illustrator from exercising her own creative voice. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had great editor/author/illustrator collaboration with four of my five upcoming books.

Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books), illustrated by Chris Ewald, launches May 1st although according to some book sites, that’s been changed to April 1st. We’ll see what happens. The inspiration came in the summer of 2014, right after I took a nonfiction picture book writing class. During the class, I fell in LOVE with writing nonfiction and, paying attention to what the instructor had advised, I was scrolling online through lists of ‘the first person to do this or that’ and I came across a reference to Sarah E. Goode. There was almost nothing about her except that she was the first African American woman to secure a U.S. patent. And that’s when I knew I had to write the story about her . . . to honor her . . . and give recognition to the amazing feat she had accomplished. A trailblazing woman, this former slave owned her furniture store at a time when most women didn’t own anything, not even the money they earned. And when she pursued her dream to get the patent, she opened the door for those who would come after.

When I reached out to other librarians for more information, I was told that they felt sorry for kids who got Sarah Goode’s name during Black History Month because there was nothing about her available for kids to use for their projects. And that made me even more determined to give Sarah and the children of today, this book.

Regarding upcoming projects, I also have two books coming out in 2020. First, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020), illustrated by Alleanna Harris. The inspiration for this book came from a photo I saw on the internet—Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, sitting next to each other at a nightclub. Hmmm . . . I thought, I hadn’t realized they knew each other. So, I dug deeper and discovered that they were good friends and had actually helped each other to break down barriers in their industry. WOW! A friendship story with both a #diversity and #woman-power hook? I was on it in a flash!

But verifying that they were actually friends wasn’t easy. And I think my path to getting more information might be helpful to others . . . so, I will share it. I researched both women and discovered an author who had written several books about Marilyn Monroe and was herself considered a pioneer in the gender equality movement. I discovered she was a professor emeritus at a California university and I went to their website and scrolled through the faculty and her email popped up. I reached out, explained who I was and what I was hoping to find out. She directed me to the website of the president of one of the biggest Marilyn Monroe fan clubs. And on his website, I found contact information and reached out to him. Even though he owns the biggest collection of Marilyn Monroe gowns which have toured the country, he wasn’t able to give me the information I needed. HOWEVER, he provided me with the PHONE NUMBER of one of the fan club members who had been Ella Fitzgerald’s promoter for thirty years. Double WOW! I called her and we spoke for hours and she verified that Ella and Marilyn were indeed friends although they did not frequent the same gatherings because Ella was not comfortable in most social situations and Marilyn was usually the life of every party she attended. You just never know where one bit of information will lead you.

The other book that is coming out in 2020, From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020), is being illustrated by the award-winning Gilbert Ford. Woo-Hoo! It’s a totally innovative book, NINE full-length fully illustrated picture book biographies with the aha moment when the lightbulb went on for each visionary. The project started when the editor received my manuscript about eighteen-year old Swedish immigrant Eric Wickman who arrived in New York City, unable to speak English and with only sixty dollars in his pocket. He failed at job after job, and finally invested in a car dealership. But when he couldn’t even sell the one sample car on the lot, he bought it himself and turned it into a shuttle service which grew into…the Greyhound Bus Company. The editor loved the story and had an innovative idea. Could I write eight more stories like that . . . about other things that move? My answer? A resounding YES! And so, during the last few months of 2017 and the first four months of 2018, I wrote seven new picture book manuscripts (I already had one about the first manned balloon flight of the Montgolfier brothers in 1783) from first idea to research to rough draft to polished submission-ready manuscript. Phew! Looking back, I’m not sure how I did it, especially since I was doing revisions on Sweet Dreams, Sarah and continuing to do blog posts and give feedback for critique buddies. But I think, my total focus on what needed to be done was key. AND, my amazing critique partners, who were always there for me.

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

Words . . . for me, it is all about the words. The words I use in my stories, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, rhyming, free verse or prose, are carefully chosen . . . lyrical if possible. I utilize simile, metaphor, alliteration, and refrains. Magic happens when you make every word count—that’s the tagline of my #50PreciousWords Writing Contest and I take those words very seriously. And I love that you ask about showcasing my creative side in other pursuits, Melissa. Because for me, the words are still of the utmost importance. I love hiking (which I haven’t done lately), fishing (which I’ve done even less) and traveling (which I am about to do quite a lot). But my most favorite ‘other’ pursuit is connecting with people. And WORDS definitely figure into that. Just by the words you choose and the way you arrange them, you can help or harm.

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

Connecting to my young readers? Through my words and through the fantastic pictures the stellar illustrators have drawn. I believe kids will relate to Pippa and her fear of Cat, Snake, and Owl, and will love the joyful palette that illustrator Jill Weber created. I know that little ones will delight in Mirka Hokkanen’s brilliant woodcut illustrations and search for the hidden animals on some of the spreads, while my use of simile and metaphor will help them connect with the wild creatures. And I hope that the heartbeat of Sarah’s pursuit of her dream will engage the hearts of young readers.

I stay connected to the Kidlit community in so many ways—by social media, on my blog, in critique groups, and with my #50PreciousWords Writing Contest. And the fact that I try to stretch the day by staying up into the wee hours of the next morning is quite helpful because I can FB chat with friends in Singapore, Auckland, and Seoul. It’s a wonderful blessing to be writing at 2am and all of a sudden, a notification pops up from one kid-lit friend or another:

FRIEND: Hey, are you still up?

ME: Yup…how’s it going?

There are times when I have three FB PM chat windows open and I am talking with someone in Switzerland and Nepal and Australia. How cool is that? And of course, now I am heading out shortly on this very intense global adventure: sharing my thoughts on "What Creates Success in Book Publishing" at the Australia/NZ SCBWI conference in Sydney. From there, I go to Auckland to discover the beauty of NZ with my own personal tour guide, my amazing critique buddy, Diane Tulloch. And then on to Switzerland to visit with one of my Storm Literary Agency teammates, the brilliant Julie Abery who will travel with me to the Bologna Book Fair where we will connect with so many other kid-lit friends. It promises to be a fabulous journey and I’m excited to see where it will take me.


Writer for children – reader forever...that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She’s got a bucket list that contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she is not looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books that she hopes will encourage young kids to become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Vivian lives in the quaint New Hampshire town of Amherst where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner.


Visit Vivian on her website, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge every March. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and just about anywhere people are playing with picture books.


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