I met Vivian Kirkfield a number of years ago through the 12×12 picture book challenge group. We’ve taken online writing webinars and classes together and cheered each other along on our writing journeys. Anyone who knows Vivian will agree that she’s a talented writer, an enthusiastic cheerleader, and a valued friend. And although our friendship has never ventured beyond the invisible boundaries of the internet, I know one day I’ll have the joy of meeting Vivian in person, and there will be smiles and hugs. Please welcome my dear friend and beloved picture book author, Vivian Kirkfield!
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 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.
Me: Welcome, Vivian!!! I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to have you visiting my blog today. I have a handful of questions about your writing journey and book, Four Otters Toboggan. Let’s get started.
Some writers have always known they were destined for a life of writing while others embarked on this journey after their children or grandchildren were born. Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to write for children?
Vivian: Although I scribbled stories and poems as a child and always loved writing, I never seriously considered writing for children until I went skydiving at the age of 64. It empowered me to start blogging to spread the word about my parenting book, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking (Money Penny Press, 2010). And as I blogged about picture books because that is what my parenting guide was all about, I connected with people who wanted to write picture books and I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do.
Me: Tying into the question above, what were the first steps you took at the start your
Vivian: The first step, luckily, was joining in with Julie Hedlund as she started her 12×12 Challenge to write twelve picture book drafts in 12 months in 2012. Perhaps you’ve heard this saying which is attributed to Confucius…when the student is ready, the teacher appears. 2012 was the year I was ready to learn…and 12×12 came along. The 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge gave me a fabulous foundation in productivity which I think is one of the four key elements needed to find success in book publishing. The other three are patience, passion, and perseverance. In addition to joining that challenge, I also participated in Tara Lazar’s story idea challenge, Storystorm (PiBoIdMo in those days), found critique groups so I could get feedback on my manuscripts, and read dozens of picture books. And of course, I wrote and revised and wrote and revised and wrote and revised.
Me: Although I’m not as far along on my writing journey as you are, I wish I could go back to those first days and share some powerful advice with my younger self. Knowing all you know now, what changes would you have made earlier on if you could go back?
Vivian: I probably would have taken some picture book writing classes right away. Instead, I waited until 2014…and then I took FIVE in one year. Hmmm…I would tell my younger self: don’t do that!
Me: I read an interview in which an author said she wrote in her car while parked on her driveway as it was the only quiet place she could find. Other writers write in a coffee shop or home office. Can you describe the place where you love to write and also share what makes this place special?
Vivan: My small round dining room table is my favorite spot to write. On the left, there is a big picture window that looks out at the woods behind the house. On the right, there is the kitchen with a window that faces the front of the house and the road…in the winter, I can see the cars go by…in the summer, the trees and bushes leaf out. But I feel like it is the hub of the house and I like that feeling. I don’t usually need silence to research or write.
Me: Every book begins with an inspiration. We might overhear a conversation that sparks an idea, see a clever illustration, read a news item in the paper, catch a child’s comment, participate in an activity, and more. When did you receive your ‘AH HA’ moment for your book, Four Otters Toboggan, that sent you rummaging for paper and a pen?
Vivian: That’s an easy one, Leslie. Four Otters Toboggan was inspired by my many fishing expeditions with my late husband. Stuart and I would hike into pristine wilderness areas and fly-fish. And when I’d get tired of casting, I’d sit quietly on a boulder…so still that the woodland creatures would start venturing out. River otters splashed, butterflies hovered, and falcons circled overhead. But sometimes we’d find trash left behind or we would discover that industrial or residential development had ruined a formerly untouched area. When I filled my PiBoIdMo notebook in 2013, one of the ideas was about a lake where endangered animals came to visit…I wanted to encourage young children to learn about these creatures and cherish them and protect them.
Me: You’ve shared your books in many classrooms with kids across the world. What was the best comment/reaction you received from a child?
Vivian: The best comment: WOW…how do you write so neatly? And of course, I had to explain, that the book is printed by the publisher who has machines that write so neatly. I bring the little book dummy I made for OTTERS years ago and they can see the stick figures and messy handwriting…and I assure them that their art and writing are probably much better than mine!
Me: Imagine you are sipping coffee in a fabulous café. The bell on the door jingles, and a
children’s author breezes inside. To your joy, the only available place to sit is at your
table. Which author would you love for this to be, and what do you most want to ask or say to them?
Vivan: I’m blessed because I have gotten to sit and chat with many wonderful picture book authors. Just last week, I attended an author panel at the Blue Bunny Bookshop and was able to meet the owner, author/illustrator Peter Reynolds. He is just like his books, filled with light and love. And I’ve spoken with Brian Lies, whose book, THE ROUGH PATCH, is one of my favorites, especially for times of loss. But, going back in time, I guess I’d love it to be Louisa May Alcott because I was so enamored with her books when I was younger and now, as an author, I so admire how she wrote what she knew and managed to throw rocks at her heroes before she allowed them to succeed, which is an element of storytelling that I struggle with. I don’t know that I would need to ask anything…I would just want to chat.
Me: If I remember correctly, you once stepped out of an airplane into the big blue sky to experience skydiving. Is there anything on your bucket list, relating to your writing or not, that you would love to experience and check off?
Vivan: Traveling was definitely on my bucket list and although I’ve certainly done quite a bit of it in the first few months of the year, I would love to do more. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of how much fun it is to visit with kidlit friends all over the world, I want to do it again.
Thank you, Vivian, for taking the time to share your writing journey with us. I know you’ve probably got lots of projects you’re working on and more that you’re excited to jump in and begin.
Here are Vivian’s books with links to Amazon.
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) Target available date – Spring 2020;
and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Target available date – fall 2020.
And now for the Giveaway!
One lucky person who leaves a comment will receive a copy of Vivian’s picture book, Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book. I’ll announce the winner on next Friday’s Perfect Picture Book review of this very book!
See you then!