I have always guessed that Vivian Kirkfield was a special person. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other not only through our writing, but also on a personal level. I remember late nights “talking” about family, health, and where we saw ourselves going at our stage in life. To be totally honest, we didn’t actually meet in person until a few months ago. And guess what? Once I met Vivian in person, I KNEW she was special. When we finally got to hug each other for real, it was like running into a long-lost friend. That’s the kid lit community. There are many cheer leaders, and Vivian is captain of the squad! She is always there for all of us, so I am thrilled to introduce you to her and her debut picture book, Sweet Dreams, Sarah. I’ve been lucky enough to have followed this book through drafts to beautiful completion. And it is definitely a beautiful book. (And by the way, it’s available for pre-order! 🙂 )
Critique buddies (from left to right), Vivian Kirkfield, me, and Linda Hofke at Kristen Fulton’s WOW retreat this past July. (We missed the rest of our Good Night Moons!)
I am delighted to share Vivian’s journey in this interview.
What drew you to writing picture books?
I can still remember sitting on my mother’s lap, turning the pages of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Although we didn’t have many toys (a second hand cabinet held Candyland, Parcheesi, a medley of crayons of various size and vintage in a round tin container), Mom was a lover of books and reading. She was a former nursery school teacher, so we always had books around the house, many from the library. Becoming a kindergarten teacher was my childhood dream, and after accomplishing that and being exposed to even more picture books, I toyed with writing my own. But it wasn’t until my own children were growing up that I put anything down on paper, and these early attempts fell by the wayside until I retired. Encouraged by my husband, I realized that I could do more than just read other people’s picture books to kids…I could write them myself.
How long have you been writing?
As a kid, I always had paper and pencil close by, and I enjoyed scribbling little rhyming riddles. I’ve still got a scrap of paper from a small spiral notepad that displays my spidery left-handed scrawl: I’ve found a gold mine, it’s really a treasure. It’s not really gold, but it’s sure a great pleasure. (Answer: LOVE)
But I really got serious about writing in 2005 when my kids were all grown and married. I self-published a parent-teacher resource book with 100 picture book recommendations and a matching craft project and cooking activity for each. Getting active in social media so I could promote that book, I connected with an amazing kid lit community and realized that writing picture books was where my passion lay.
The road to getting traditionally published is hard. What made you continue?
The parenting book was self-published, and it was a great experience. But I realized that getting traditionally published for a picture book was my goal. And once I set my sights on something, I truly never give up. My husband says I am the most tenacious person he has ever met. Our 49th anniversary is coming up at the end of August…yes, I totally never give up. And I found that the support and encouragement of fellow writers kept me going. Joining critique groups, participating in writing challenges, taking classes, attending conferences…these all helped me stay inspired and positive.
Do you have an agent?
YES! I do. The incredibly lovely Essie White from Storm Literary Agency. I signed with her in the middle of October 2015. Within two weeks, she sent out the story she had fallen in love with, and by the middle of November, I had a deal with Creston Books for that manuscript.
Do you think it’s important to have an agent?
For me it is. Before I signed with Essie, a lot of time and energy was devoted to deciding who to send stories to. Should I send this one to an agent? An editor? Which agents are closed to submissions? Which publishing houses will only accept agented work? Keeping track of what I sent and where I sent it was definitely eating up a lot of my valuable writing time and energy.
But I caution writers to do their due diligence. Not every agent is for every writer. It’s important to decide what YOU need in an agent. And when you have agents who are interested in you and your work, please don’t be afraid to ask questions. And when an agent offers you representation, please don’t be afraid to ask to chat with some of their clients. How they treat their clients is how they are going to treat you.
Vivian signing with Essie White of the Storm Literary Agency.
Have you always done non-fiction?
When I first started writing picture book stories, they were mostly rhyming fiction…a little boy who didn’t want to take off his boot, a little girl who mailed her pesky brother to the zoo because he acted like a monkey. I wrote a bunch of prose fiction also. And then I took Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archaeology class in June 2014, and I never looked back. I love the research and finding that golden nugget of a story that has lain undiscovered for years. I love bringing history alive for young readers.
What drew you to Sarah in particular?
Having loved nonfiction as a kid, it was so much fun rediscovering my enjoyment of biographies and historical events. When I pulled up a list of ‘firsts’ and discovered that a former slave had become one of the first black women to receive a U.S. patent, I was intrigued. And when I found out that there was almost NOTHING written about Sarah E. Goode, and that the staff at the STEM Academy in Chicago that bears her name also knew nothing about her, it became a quest on my part to tell her story. More than writing about famous people, I enjoy telling the tale about someone children probably haven’t heard of.
Thanks for speaking with me, Vivian, and thanks for all the good advice!
I encourage all my readers to pre-order Vivian’s book. I can’t wait for mine to come!