_Featured Author Vivian Kirkfield February 2019

12 x 12 Vivian Kirkfield with characters

Vivian Kirkfield is making her picture book debut this year with three new books! Now before you think Vivian is an overnight success, let me fill you in on a little secret. This particular Featured Author post has been postponed two different YEARS, because the first book she signed a deal for was postponed two years! It will now be her third book published. This business is crazy, fickle, and slow, but Vivian, a charter member of 12 x 12, is proof that if you keep working on your craft, keep writing, and keep participating in the kidlit community, you CAN make it happen. We love you, Vivian and we couldn’t be more excited for your success! 

Building a Strong Foundation for a Successful Writing Career

Did you ever play with blocks when you were a kid? The bigger you built your bridge, the stronger a foundation you needed. Otherwise…BOOM! In the same way, if you ever bought a house, you probably had it inspected to make sure everything was in good condition. And one of the first things the inspector checked was…you got it…the foundation. A strong foundation is needed for every project that is built…whether it’s a bridge of blocks, a home you share with your family, or your writing career.

Pippas Passover Plate by Vivian Kirkfield

Yup, it’s true – your writing career needs a strong foundation. I was so very fortunate because, in 2012, when I decided to become a picture book author, Julie Hedlund had decided to start the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. Write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. Easy-peasy, right? After all, a picture book is ONLY 32 pages. Of course, I am joking, because that actually makes it harder. You can only use a limited number of words so, you have to make each one of them fight for the right to step into the light. Ha! Can you tell I love to write in rhyme? In fact, one of the first stories I wrote was Pippa’s Passover Plate which will be a real book in just a few days, published by Holiday House and illustrated by Jill Weber.

If I may, let me backtrack a bit. During the first 64 years of my life, I wore many hats: kindergarten teacher, day care provider, registered representative for my husband’s financial planning company, book catalogue typist, service desk associate at Marshalls, gardener, crafter, wife, mother, but always a lover of picture books. In 2011, the year I turned 64, my son gave me a very unusual birthday gift.

He took me skydiving.

Vivian Kirkfield skydive 2I loved it! The dive was thrilling, but the best part was that when my feet touched the ground, I knew that if I could jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I could do just about anything.

And what I wanted to do was write picture books and become a traditionally published picture book author.

So, I joined 12 x 12 and hunkered down to start writing my first story. I participated in Susanna Leonard Hill’s many writing contests: Valentiny, Halloweensie, and her ever-popular Holiday Contest. I also took part in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo – now called Storystorm – a month-long celebration of finding inspiration for story ideas. I joined a few critique groups because I realized that even though I got A’s in English, that did not mean I knew how to write a picture book story. Every month, I wrote a rough draft. Then I would revise it. Send it to a couple of critique buddies. And revise again based on their feedback. Month by month, my pile of stories grew and by the end of 2012, I had TWELVE pb manuscripts! Not yet ready for prime time…but still, I had some stories.

The next year, in 2013, I got even more serious about my writing. Julie had implemented agent submissions for the challenge and I was able to send off some of those manuscripts. Most of the feedback I got sounded like this:

Hmmm…if you are going to write in rhyme, it has to be perfect. Why not try this story in prose?

Hmmm…I don’t think you have a story here yet – but the writing is lovely.

Hmmm…she puts her brother in a box and mails him to the zoo? We don’t want to encourage kids to do dangerous things (I guess that was way before Oliver Jeffers wrote STUCK 😊).

You get the picture. I had a lot of manuscripts, but they needed a lot of work. I needed to find out how to make them better. So, the next year, in 2014, I took some online picture book writing classes. FIVE of them. (Please don’t try this at home! 😊) Honestly, I don’t recommend this for anyone. Because it was a bit overwhelming to process so much information in such a short space of time. Pretty much one after the other, I took Susanna Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic, Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab, Jodell Sadler’s Pacing Picture Books to WOW, Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archaeology, and Mira Resiberg’s Illustrating Children’s Picture Books. Oh, and yes, I actually took a sixth class. I had won Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write 4 Kids, a self-paced class that used five classic picture books as mentor texts.

And guess what? By the end of 2014, I had a bigger pile of picture book manuscripts. But even better, I was getting more positive feedback. One of the stories I sent was a lyrical free verse about endangered animals called, Visitors to Deep Pool.

Hey…this is lovely. In fact, it is pure poetry. It’s too quiet for me, but I’m sure someone else will grab it.

Four Otter Toboggan by Vivian KirkfieldHa…have you heard that one already? For three more years, no one grabbed it (this business of writing requires an infinite amount of patience). But then, at the end of 2017, someone else did grab it. We changed the title (don’t stress out about your titles, the editor might change it anyway) because the editor thought it sounded like science fiction. And, on March 15 of this year, Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book published by Pomegranate and illustrated by Mirka Hokkanen will splash, slide, tiptoe, toboggan, flit and flutter into bookstores everywhere.

When 2015 dawned, I set a new goal. I was going to get an agent. Again, the 12 x 12 Challenge had given me not only a great foundation, but the 12 x 12 members were always there in a supportive and encouraging role, whether I went to the Forum to ask for feedback on a pitch or I posted a question on the Facebook page. And I SUBMITED! To agents who were in the monthly 12 x 12 roster. To agents I found on #MSWL (Hashtag Manuscript Wish List – a twitter list containing the wish lists of various editors and agents. To agents via my pitches on #PitMad, and #PBParty which are both Twitter pitch challenges. And I sent manuscripts to several agents who were open to submission. One of them responded within an hour that she loved my story. This was the first nonfiction picture book manuscript I had written and I had worked really hard with critique partners to polish it. By the summer of 2015, I had four agents asking for more work…good thing I had more work to send them. That’s a really important point to remember. Most agents want to represent you as their client…for your whole body of work, not just for one story. 12 x 12 helped me to build a strong foundation with a base of lots of manuscripts. And by the fall, I had decided to accept Essie White’s offer of representation. As soon as the contract was signed, sealed and delivered, Essie sent out that first story she had fallen in love with. Within two months, we had a book deal and Sweet Dreams, Sarah, published by Creston Books and illustrated by Chris Ewald, will launch on May 1…or maybe April 1. That’s another thing about this publishing business, nothing is guaranteed.

Sweet Dreams Sarah by Vivian KirkfieldWell, that’s not quite true. There is something that is guaranteed. If becoming a picture book author (or illustrator) is your passion, if you are willing to put in the time and be productive, if you can muster the patience required, and if you are persistent and never give up, I guarantee that it will happen for you. Because I truly believe that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IF YOU CAN IMAGINE IT.

My dear 12 x 12ers…go forth and multiply those manuscripts. Develop a stockpile of stories. Take classes, attend webinars, go to conferences. Surround yourself with encouraging and supportive critique partners. And utilize the vibrant platform that Julie has created for us. Build a strong foundation and you will succeed!

 

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. 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 MOVESrom 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.

This month, Vivian is offering a picture book manuscript critique to one lucky winner! Write your draft and do a revision for you best chance to win!

This Post Has 159 Comments

  1. Dear Vivian, you are an inspiration from skydiving to revision diving to “going forth and multiplying manuscripts.” Your determination is contagious! Thank you for sharing your journey to publishing and for reminding us how important it is to have a strong foundation in our writing careers and in our stories. Congratulations on the three books you have coming out this year! I just love how your hard work produced a well deserved trifecta!

  2. I just ordered Pippa’s Passover Plate for the library where I work! I am really looking forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing your writer’s journey. I am still building my pile of stories but working on moving forward all the time.

  3. Vivian, I’m so happy for your (well-deserved and hard-earned) success! I already have all three books on order. Thank you for always being a cheerleader for the rest of us. You’re the best! 🙂

  4. Vivian, you are such an inspiration and I have loved getting to know you over the past few months. Each interview gives me another detail showing how wonderful you are! So happy to share our debuts together and I can’t wait to see what you have coming up next!

    1. And I’m excited about ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON…just a couple of weeks, right. I think it launches on the day I fly to Sydney, Feb 19th. I’m so glad we’ve connected and can support one another!

  5. Vivian,
    Your background and bucket list sound a lot like mine (except for the skydiving part).
    I’ve been at this writing thing for years now. 12×12 has been a part of me for at least five years now. I have tons of drafts but maybe two about ready for submission. I have a question: did you start your blog, website ,and join all the online things after you had a contract signed? I sort of hate to do all that when I may be just drafting and revising for another ten years. I feel like it would take up valuable writing and conferencing time.

  6. I enjoyed learning even more about your life and writing journey Vivian. This article is chock-a-bloc full of excellent advice. Wishing you continued writing success!
    Oh and now I want to try sky-diving!

  7. Great post, Vivian! Thank you for giving us a peek at your publishing journey and for sharing your insights on how important it is to have a strong foundation and to persevere in your writing!!

  8. Vivian,
    This post is very inspiring to me. I have a similar background with 25 years as an educator. It was also very helpful to hear what you have gone through in order to get published.
    Best of luck with your books,
    Marilyn

  9. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey, and that it’s never too late to start a writing career. I now understand about that strong foundation. Congratulation!

  10. Such an inspiring, encouraging story! Five classes in one year is daunting, to say the least, but wow! You obviously have stamina and look how it all paid off. Congrats and continued success!

  11. Great post Vivian. Fun to see that we piggybacked each other in the classes. You have worked so hard and built a great foundation of work, contacts, and friends. I am so glad your books have found homes! Looking forward to seeing the “second story” in your career. <3

  12. Vivian, you are the epitome of the inspiration! I am so lucky to know you! Your writing journey shows us how persistent and strong we have to be! Congrats to you! You deserve every success!

  13. I don’t think I have the guts for sky diving, but I hope I have the perseverance to pull off picture book writing!

  14. Vivian,
    Thank you! So inspiring! Can’t wait to read ALL your books!!
    PS I’ve always said I wouldn’t… but maybe I’ll even sky dive one day after reading your post!

  15. Vivian, you are a bright light in the kidlit community and an inspiration to many, including me! Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  16. Thank you, Vivian! Your post is so inspiring and just what I needed to hear. I sometimes think my age (68) is a major roadblock, but I guess I can’t use that excuse anymore! Congratulations on your success and for your example of perseverance.

  17. Oh, Vivian, this is so exciting! I am so pleased that you’re debuting with three books in one year! What everyone else has said. It couldn’t happen to a nicer, kinder, awesomer (is that a word? LOL) member of our kidlit community. Congratulations one-hundredfold! <3 <3

  18. Vivian is such a positive influence and inspiration for us all. Couldn’t be happier to see her hard work pay off! ❤️

  19. Wow! What an awesome birthday gift! Sticking that landing is an adrenaline rush for sure. Thank you for sharing your writing journey. Congrats on your triple debut and wish you many more.

  20. Thanks for the fantastic overview of your journey Vivian. You are always so positive and optimistc! It’s inspiring and so very much appreciated. Congratulations on a wonderful 2019!

  21. Dear Vivian, your writing journey is amazing! You have given me hope by showing that it’s never too late to begin writing picture books. Congratulations on your success as a picture book writer and on the books that are coming out this year. I can’t wait to read them! I am so happy for you!

  22. Thank you for the reminder that perseverance is key in this business. Congratulations on all your accomplishments.

  23. Vivian,
    Thank you so much for your inspiring words! I have followed you on social media and the 12×12 FB page. I’m thrilled for your upcoming book releases and can’t wait to read your published words. Many, many congrats!

  24. You are such an inspiration, Vivian! Thank you so much for sharing your story and for being an encouraging soul to all of us along our kid lit journey. Congratulations on your upcoming books and I wish you many years of success to come!

  25. Vivian, your zest for life and vibrant passion for picture books is simply infectious. When I first got started on my kidlit journey, I was happy to connect with you, and always felt so supported by your encouraging words. You’re sincere and giving, and our community is so lucky to have you!

    I really appreciate the positivity and message of perseverance that you’ve featured in your post. I whole-heartedly believe in the same philosophy. Seek out growth, keep at it, and bring about your dreams. That’s what we’re all doing, and I still feel so assured that things will pan out. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  26. I love your dogged determination and enthusiasm. You really show the lows and highs of a writer but still remain encouraging. It’s enough to make the rest of us say, “If that is what it takes, full speed ahead.”

  27. Vivian,I love your dogged determination and enthusiasm. You really show the lows and highs of a writer but still remain encouraging. It’s enough to make the rest of us say, “If that is what it takes, full speed ahead.”

  28. Vivian, your amazing positivity and encouragement is always an inspiration for us to KEEP GOING! Hard work and persistence are the watch words. Thank you for sharing your journey and best of luck with your three books this year!

  29. Vivian,
    Thank you so much for this post- sincerely! I hit a low point yesterday, and told my husband that some success needed to come my way because I was feeling so discouraged. I turn 64 this month, and I have been occasionally drifting into the “I’m too old” mood. You have inspired me to embrace my dream and look forward and be brave. I am working this year to be “all in” and not hold back, but, at the same time, not be crazy with signing up for everything. I laughed out loud at your comment about classes. I forced myself to take a break this month from a writing class opportunity because it would have been too much. Thank you for this early morning inspiration.

  30. Vivian, I’m so excited for your success! And thrilled that you’ll be at the NESCBWI conference — and presenting, too! See you soon!

  31. Vivian, I’ve met you in person (at the NESCBWI conference), entered your 50-words contest, and read your tweets. You’re an inspiration and I always love hearing what you have to say, like in this motivational post. Congrats on your well-deserved success. I can’t wait to read your books!

  32. Hi Vivian! Thanks for sharing what it takes to be an overnight success built on a strong foundation! What a glorious year for you! Dreams do come true if acted upon.

  33. Thanks so much for your great post! I’m always fascinated by the different paths that authors take to get to publication, and always reminded — patience!

  34. Vivian, I’m so happy for you. You truly are the model for patience, perseverance, and productivity…all the things we kidlit writers need to embrace in this crazy business! Thank you for sharing your journey. I cannot wait to read your books!

  35. Thank you ,Vivian, for such an inspiring post about your overnight success! I love that you went sky diving and parasailing. Is hang gliding on that list? As a 70 year old pre- published author I joined 12 x12 after being encouraged to do so by my critique partner. ( achieved getting a critique partner as my goal in 2018). Improving my craft and stockpiling more drafts are the goals for 2019. Thank you for the encouragement and for sharing your path with us.

  36. Thank you for this story of you! Congratulations on your books: I assume there will be many more picture books to come. 🙂

  37. Vivian, such a wise and lovely post! Thank you for all the support you give to all of us in Picture Book Writing Land, and big congratulations to you on your BIG YEAR, 2019. Good luck with all the promotional things you’ll be doing — I know you’re going to love getting your books out into the world.
    xoxo
    Chris

  38. This post struck such a chord with me, Vivian! I enjoyed hearing that you began your journey with stockpiles of manuscripts. I find that I keep writing and polishing new manuscripts, but hardly ever submit them before moving on to a new idea. My 3rd child starts preschool this fall and I keep envisioning my dream of “steady submissions” as a slingshot that’s just waiting to take off!

  39. Vivian, persistence is the word ! Your post was inspiring and I was so happy to hear about your journey. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Three books in 2019!! One of the hardest working authors in the business! I cannot wait to enter for a chance at a critique by the one and only Vivian! Thank you Julie and 12×12!

  41. Your analogy using the foundation of house is perfect. Great reminder Vivian about building a strong foundation, learning the craft, putting in dedicated hours and work. You did that and we are all learning from your success. Thank you for wanting to help shape all of us here in the 12X12 family.

  42. Vivian,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story and your wisdom — keep building that MS pile high!!

    I appreciate all you have shared and can’t wait to keep reading all your new stories as they hit the shelves.

  43. Lovely interview! And so encouraging! Thanks for encouraging us! Congratulations on your successes and may there be many more!

  44. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Vivian! I read this immediately after making my writing & illustrating to-do list for 2019, and it was exactly the inspiration I needed to feel energized about this year.

  45. What a truthful AND inspiring post! And I just love the illustration of you and your “critters.” It radiates pure happiness!

  46. You are such an inspiration, Vivian! Thank you for sharing your story and for being our constant cheerleader! You are amazing and you deserve every success and happiness 😊

  47. Thanks for sharing your journey Vivian, very inspiring. Congratulations on your three books coming out in ’19. I’m so very happy for you and wish you more in the coming years!! Thanks for being a kidlit cheerleader!! We all certainly need it.

  48. Oh Vivian,

    You have to be a picture book author’s favorite cheerleader! Thanks so much for always being so positive and for reminding us that it takes time, passion, and perseverance to stay in this game for the long haul.

    Thought of giving up my pens and pads Saturday, but then I realized that was just disappointment talking in my head.

    Glad I stuck around to read your inspirational post and to keep moving forward.

    Headed to work on a SLH Valentiny story. I’m stuck this year, but I know I’ll find inspiration soon.
    Thanks for a great post.

  49. Excellent post about writing writing writing and learning learning learning is validated in your own successful journey. It’s been a joy to follow you and rejoice in your success, Vivian!

  50. Vivian, Thank you so much for sharing your story of perseverance. I literally can’t stop crying after reading your post. Your encouragement and example has touched me. I wish you much continued success!

    1. Never fear, Cheryl…the Rafflecopter comes at the end of the month…when Julie’s puts up the end of month check-in post, you will be asked if you commented on the Featured Author post from that month…if you didn’t, you’ll have an opportunity to click and it will bring you back here so you can comment. If you did already comment (which you have!) you click – I commented – and then the Rafflecopter asks you two more questions…did you write a draft this month and did you revise a manuscript. Even if you didn’t do either of those, you still get an entry into the critique giveaway, just for leaving a comment on this post.
      So you are good to go and don’t need to think about it until Julie puts up the check in post at the end of the month.
      And I so appreciate you stopping by and commenting! I’m glad the post was inspirational!

  51. Congratulations on your success, Vivian! I just love this post. It’s sweet, beautiful and full of hope. Thank you for the inspiration….I will continue to work on that foundation!

  52. Congratulations Vivian on your hard work finding beautiful success! Your story of perseverance and patient determination to keep molding a story is inspiring. Proof that patience, hard work and learning the craft do pay off. Thank you for sharing!

  53. This is so inspirational. I love hearing stories like this and great advice too with the string foundation. Thank you.

  54. Vivian – thank you. Your words are so inspiring with your key message: persevere. It’s so disheartening at times, this business, but your post (and others like it) give me hope. Congratulations on your new books too.

  55. What a brave and inspiring woman and writer you are. I have new hope for getting
    published now and getting a boost in the pants to move on to submissions. Thanks.

  56. What an inspiring post – thank you for your wonderful words. And congratulations on “making it!” This is going to be a heck of an exciting year for you – similar to that skydive – you may find yourself a little breathless!

  57. Oh, Vivian, I loved reading about your journey! You have been and continue to be an inspiration to me! What a wonderful sentence: “You can only use a limited number of words so, you have to make each one of them fight for the right to step into the light.”

    Mazel Tov! This is your year and it is so well deserved.

    1. It’s not going to be easy to step away from this computer to do other work…I want to read each comment and respond to let everyone know how much I appreciate their support, encouragement, and good wishes! Thank you so much, Lauren! I will continue to try to inspire all those who are following their dreams.

  58. Vivian – thank you for sharing your story. This is my fourth year of 12×12, so I’ve seen your name a lot, but it’s great to read about your journey. You’re a prolific writer and an inspiration. I will say though, I’m afraid of heights, so I’m glad it didn’t take skydiving for me to find my way to PB writing. : )

  59. So loved the journey you have been through. Your persistence is so inspiring. I’m working on some health issues right now that have taken over in priority but hope to get back to ‘normal’ and keep up with writing and illustrating. Thank you for being here.

  60. I love reading about your writing and publishing journey. The block building analogy is perfect-kindergarten teachers unite 😉 !

  61. So inspiring! Loved hearing of your journey Vivian. Gives me hope and reminds me of what’s possible if we keep moving forward. All the best to you.

  62. What an inspiring post! Vivian, you are so ambitious and colorful! I can’t imagine taking 5 (or 6) courses in a year (*applauds, *admires)! Way to set a bar for immersion. Congratulations on all your books coming out!!!

  63. Vivian, Thanks for sharing your journey and the importance of building a strong foundation. Your constant words of encouragement to all of us on the road with you are always refreshing. Congratulations on your three PB’s! What a wonderful year ahead.

  64. Thank you for sharing your journey, Vivian. You’re inspiring! Your perseverance proves that hard work, and passion for what you do, will manifest your dreams. Congrats on all your success…well deserved!!

  65. Oh, Vivian, you’re such an inspiration to me (also of a well-lived age 🙂 This particularly resonates: “I realized that even though I got A’s in English, that did not mean I knew how to write a picture book story!” That was the first brick in MY foundation. Congratulations on your well-earned success!

  66. It’s always encouraging to hear that it’s never too late to pursue a new path. Makes taking a chance a little less intimidating. Thank you for your inspiring story. (I will NOT however jump out of an airplance!)

  67. Vivian, you are such a bright spot in this world and your success story is a joy to read! You continue to inspire me to keep going, keep going, keep going! I was in that Mira class with you, and it has been a pleasure to watch your career unfold. What a joy to see your hard work pay off!☺️

  68. Thank you, Vivian, for sharing your story! It’s motivating–and it comes at a pivotal time for me. Congratulations on all your success!

  69. All of your interviews are so inspiring Vivian. You give us all the faith and fortitude to go forth and persue our dreams. Thank you!

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