Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction author Vivian Kirkfield. You likely know her name because she’s one of the most hardworking and friendliest names in the kidlit world. She had a slew of books recently come out, with more on the way. Join us as we discuss her latest nonfiction PB, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe published by Little Bee Books.
BUT FIRST- yay, a giveaway: Vivian is generously giving away a signed copy of her book Four Otters Toboggan with the 8-page activity book that the illustrator created and a couple of Otters bookmarks. Simply comment on this blog. US only, ends June 26, 2020.
Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it is that each manuscript has its own journey…even if it is with the same publisher as a previous book. I haven’t had that experience yet, because each of my books is with a different house.
Making Their Voices Heard had a very interesting path to publication. I wrote the story early in 2015…and brought it to a conference where I was able to show it to an editor. Even though it was a rough draft, she loved it and asked for me to finish it and send it to her. I signed with my agent later that year and by early 2016, we sent it to the editor. She asked for revisions. I did them and she loved it…but couldn’t get her team to acquire it. They worried that it was a white savior story. That summer, had the opportunity to chat with another editor at a conference and she asked to see it. We sent it, she loved it, asked for revisions, but even though she loved the revision, she also couldn’t get her team to acquire it. Same problem. I continued to revise the story to try to bring more balance to the relationship between Ella and Marilyn. And when we sent it to Courtney Fahy at Little Bee Books, the magic happened. She loved it, asked for revisions (are you getting the picture of how this process works? Even when we think the story is singing, the editor may have a different harmony in mind 😊)…loved the revisions and acquired the manuscript.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The internet is my friend! I came across a photo of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a nightclub and the caption spoke of their friendship and how Marilyn had helped Ella break down some barriers. My curiosity was piqued…I grew up in the 50’s and admired the talent of these women, but had no idea there was a friendship between them. I had to find out. When I dug deeper and discovered what had happened, I knew it was a story that kids needed to hear…about friendship, inclusion, respect for others, no matter what their race, creed, or color.
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m dedicated to this writing journey. Fortunately for me, I am retired and can write all day, all night, whenever I choose. I tend to work on various projects at the same time…and juggle these with giving feedback to my critique partners and critique clients. The best thing is that I love it so much, it is not work…it is my passion…so I always want to be writing.
What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
As a kid, I read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover…I absolutely love to find out about people, places, events…especially hidden gems about ordinary people who did extraordinary things…but who didn’t get the recognition they deserve…and whose lives and accomplishments kids need to know about – I’m hoping that if they engage in the story, it might spark their curiosity and lead them down a path of new knowledge and interest.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside they were alike—full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.
Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m not sure where my career is headed…but I do know that I am definitely enjoying this wild adventure! I feel blessed to be living my dream. Upcoming books in the pipeline are FROM HERE TO THERE: Invention That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021, illustrated by Gilbert Ford) and PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills & Kane, Spring 2023, illustrated by Jana Christy). We also have four stories (all nonfiction pb bios) out on submission right now, so fingers crossed that one or more of them finds the right home. Because that’s the thing about this business…you can write the best story, but if it doesn’t get to the right editor, it’s a no go. And by the way…last year when I did the guest post here, I mentioned that an editor had asked for a particular story and I told you all that I had written it and we were hoping she would like it. Well, it wasn’t what she was looking for…and so my agent submitted it elsewhere…and that is the Pedal, Balance, Steer story that will be coming out in Spring 2023. Word to the wise…Never Give Up!
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
This is definitely the hardest question of all…asking a lover of books which are her favorite ones. I’ve always loved The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton…I loved the story of a house that felt out of place…where change was happening all around her…and then finally, she is rescued and brought to a new surroundings where she can start a new life all over again. Newer picture books are mostly nonfiction: Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Nancy Churnin’s Irving Berlin: The Boy Who Made America Sing; Hannah Holt’s The Diamond and the Boy. The writing in all is so lyrical…and the characters make a hero’s journey. I love them because they are inspiring stories for children and adults.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
The only failure is the failure to keep trying.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Moosetracks…chocolate with nuts and caramel!!!! And you ask why? Because I LOVE chocolate and the nuts and caramel only make it better!
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 and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author many picture books including Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and the upcoming From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021) and Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek, Spring 2023).
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