I can’t believe it’s a year today since Vivian Kirkfield and I flew to Auckland NZ from Australia after meeting up at the SCBWI Sydney Conference 2019 three days earlier for the first time. A YEAR TODAY! Wow! And who said time doesn’t fly? We had a blast, meeting all those wonderful Kidlit people such as Susanne Gervay, Mira Reisberg, Vivian’s agent Essie White, Sarah Davis and many others including our room-mate Maria Marshall also from the USA. I literally had to pinch myself for the next few days everytime Vivian came downstairs for breakfast, just to remind myself that she was really here, in my home. As a dear online friend and critique buddy for the past eight years that vivacious, bubbly, sweet pint-sized lady is exactly the same if not more amazing and wonderful in person as she is online folks. Known widely in the kidlit world for her huge heart, compassion, encouragement, wisdom, her inspiration and successes are a testament that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and want it enough.
When Vivian and I were talking about doing this blog post I commented on the parallels between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Munroe’s friendship, and the opening lines in her latest book MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD, and her and I. We are two very different people in looks. Vivian, short, fair skinned with black curly hair and me, white (grey) straight hair, tanned skin and surprisingly a little taller than her. Yet inside we were similar, with our passion for writing for children and our hopes and dreams to get our stories into the hands of children everywhere.
I thought I would celebrate the anniversary of Vivian’s world trip of Europe and down-under last year by sharing some wonderful insights Vivian shared through some of her many blog post interviews celebrating the recent launch of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD. But first I had a few questions of my own to ask her…
1.. Vivian I know in other blog posts and interviews you have mentioned how you were inspired to write about the friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Munroe and I know you love to dig for research in any form available, but how do you know what actual thread of the story you want to tell or show and when and how did you know you had enough to tell the story?
Those are great questions, Diane. In this instance, because I was so captivated by the photo of Ella and Marilyn sitting shoulder to shoulder in the nightclub…and because I was so intrigued by this friendship I had never known about even though I grew up in the 50’s, I decided I wanted this to be a story about inclusive friendships and about women supporting women. As with all stories, there are other threads woven in such as racial and appearance discrimination and gender equity.
One of the problems with writing nonfiction is that when there is a lot of information, it’s hard to decide what to leave out and what to leave in. From books and online in-person interviews, I had plenty of information – and when I had the telephone conversation with Ella’s long-time promoter and got confirmation that they had been friends, I knew I had enough to write an authentic accurate narrative.
- I know that we are constantly told that the beginning or first sentences – the “hook,” if you will, is very important in writing any picture book. What was the process or how did you come up with the opening lines of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD? Was it easy or did you have to play around with it?
That’s another great question, Diane! For me, the opening lines are my way into the story…and also the reader’s way into the story. I craft my opening lines early in the rough draft writing process…and sometimes they remain the same…and sometimes they change drastically. With MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD, I originally thought I’d create the setting/time for the reader…and my opening lines went like this:
In 1955, the year Disneyland was created, the year Velcro was invented, the year McDonalds served their first hamburger, women were supposed to be seen and not heard. But two women would not be silenced—movie star Marilyn Monroe, and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
On the outside, you couldn’t find two women who seemed more different.
Marilyn’s platinum blonde waves, baby blue eyes, and breathy boo-boo-be-doos had movie-goers going ga-ga.
Ella had kinky curls and satiny brown skin. Her velvety shube-doobe-doos filled small smoky clubs like nobody’s business. But black jazz singers couldn’t perform in places that were for whites-only.
And if you look at the opening spread of the actual book, you will see that I totally eliminated that first paragraph…and started with what became the theme/heart of the story: On the outside, you never saw two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike, filled with hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.
The manuscript went through many revisions…and even after the Little Bee editor bought it, there were still revisions to do.
- I’m interested in how you are going about promoting this book. You do school visits, library and book store readings with question and answers and talks and presentations at writing conferences and retreats, is there any other marketing tool you are using? And what works best for you?
Bookstore events can be fun…but they can also be very disappointing. Sometimes you only get one or two people who show up. Other times, you planned to read the book for story time, but the children are only 2 years old and can’t really sit to hear a story and you need to improvise and just read the pictures, skipping over most of the words. I’ve really enjoyed bookstore events geared for adults where I can chat about my journey as a writer. And writing conferences are also lots of fun because I know that my story might be inspiring to attendees. But my absolute favorite is to do school visits…the kids are amazing…so engaged and curious – the best part is the Q&A…they amaze me with their thoughtful questions.
As to what marketing sells the most books? Not bookstore events…although the bookstore usually buys a bunch of books…and often some of each of my previous titles. The school visits arranged by the bookstore are great…each school buys a box or more of books, usually. And writing conferences, especially if you are on the program, can be a nice place to sell some books because you can sign them for attendees. Honestly, I try not to stress about the sales of the books…I want to concentrate on writing the best stories I can write…and hope that editors buy the manuscripts and consumers buy the books.
When a book wins awards, as SWEET DREAMS, SARAH did, that can be helpful for sales, especially to schools and librarians. We’ll see what happens this year since SARAH won the Eureka Honor Award from the California Reading Association and was named a 2020 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.
- Just a quick last question… I hear you are giving a talk at the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club and also an interview with the German Marilyn Munroe’s Fan club for their magazine. Congratulations! How fantastic is that! Are you excited/Nervous? Next, we will be seeing you interviewed on Good Morning America, BBC and ABC tv…lol.
Hahaha…well, I won’t hold my breath for Good Morning America…but I am very happy about the talk with the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club in Los Angeles in July…Greg Schreiner, the president, was very helpful in putting me in touch with the lady who was Ella Fitzgerald’s promoter for thirty-seven years. I’m not nervous because I love speaking with people about my writing journey and how I came to write each book. What I have found is that I speak from the heart about my passion for writing, the nervousness fades away.
And the interview for the German magazine is total fun…I can’t wait to see it!
Thank you my dear friend. I took the liberty to post some links so if people would like more information about this book and Vivian’s process and her thoughts you can find some of the blogs she was interviewed on…
There is more on Ella and Marilyn on Maria Marshalls blog, where Vivian also has some advice if you have just learned your book is about to be published.
On Nancy Churnin’s blog, Vivian voices her concerns writing MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD and about what friendship means to her.
On Sallys Bookshelf Vivian shares her thoughts about how Ella and Marilyn stepped outside the norms society had set for them. Learn some insights Vivian came across while researching.
On Beth Anderson Children’s Writer Blog Vivian discusses mining for heart and shares how she mined heart into the story of Ella and Marilyn.
And check out another wonderful interview by Vivian as Author Spotlight on Helen Ishmurzin’s Blog.
Diane, thank you so much for having me on your blog. You were such an amazing host for me when I visited New Zealand last year…and the blog posts you did were much appreciated. I wish it wasn’t such a big trip…or else I’d be back in a blink of an eye. I so appreciate your encouragement and support as one of my critique buddies…you are definitely part of the reason my stories are so strong.
AND, I am grateful for your help with #50PreciousWords…thank you for being willing to help read, comment, and judge the entries again this year. The contest opens with an official blog post on February 29 and closes on March 5th. I’m hoping to post the winners (we already have 24 awesome prizes including editor critiques and seats in writing classes) on March 21st.
That’s right folks Vivian’s #50PreciousWords is on again and you have exactly two days left to polish those 50 words so get writing and check out Vivian’s blog with all the rules extra on February 29. I’m looking forward to reading and judging. In past years one author gained agent representation through this contest and another had their work picked up by an editor. So this is a very worthwhile and popular contest. See you there.
Also I have a special announcement …one lucky person will win a bound ARC of Vivian’s upcoming book: FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES. It doesn’t come out until January 2021 but if you comment on my blog then you will go in the draw to get an advanced copy of this amazing new book which is a compilation of NINE stories. That’s right not one but NINE stories on how different modes of transportation came about. And believe me it is an amazing book by Vivian.
Thank you again, dear Vivian. I’ve so enjoyed having you visit my blog and I’m sure we will see you here again in the near future. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed you will be visiting New Zealand again one day soon. Here are a couple of pictures, memories of last years’ visit. (I’m sure facebook will share some memories too.)
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 traveling around the world to hug kid-lit friends. 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 national writers’ conferences. 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); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.