I admit it. I geek out over picture books, kidlit, and my writing heroes.
And this week's guest made me fan girl to an embarrassing degree! (She put up with my gushing remarkably well.)
If you ask the kidlit community, who is one the kindest, most inspiring authors around,
Vivian Kirkfield would be one of the first names to pop up.
Always one to offer incredible advice, she is also a prolific author and host to the writing contest 50 Precious Words!
And lucky me! This wonderful weaver of words agreed to let me pick her brain. :)
So without further ado, the lovely Vivian!
My favorite question first! If you could be any donut, what would you be and why?
I was going to say double chocolate dipped because I am a total fan of anything chocolate. But as I thought about donuts, I remembered the old-fashioned crullers I used to make with my grandmother when I was a little girl…fried to a golden brown, sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg, and eaten when still warm. I’ll go with the cruller because even thinking about it brings her memory closer to me.
Oh the feels! I love it!
You, my friend, are a very prolific writer! Can you share a little about your writing journey?
I started writing picture book stories seriously at the end of 2011 and when Julie Hedlund announced she was creating the 12x12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, I couldn’t hop on board fast enough.
So far, I have three picture books that have launched and two in the pipeline for next year.
Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019) illustrated by Jill Weber.
Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate, April 2019) illustrated by Mirka Hokannen.
Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor (Creston Books, April 2019) illustrated by Chris Ewald.
Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, January 14, 2020) illustrated by Alleanna Harris.
From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020) illustrated by Gilbert Ford.
This happened when I started researching the Ella Fitzgerald/Marilyn Monroe story. Both of these women were celebrities, icons of the movie and music industry. But most of us only know the small slice of their lives that the media tell us.
In digging deep, I discovered that Marilyn was an astute businesswoman and was one of the first female movie stars to own her own production company.
She was also an early Civil Rights advocate, a very unusual stance to take for a young starlet under contract with a major studio in the 1950’s.
And Ella, although painfully shy, spoke up against racial discrimination in 1970 and sued the PanAm airline when she was bumped from a scheduled connecting flight in Hawaii while on her way to a concert in Australia. And she won! I want kids to know about what these women did…and how they helped each other in their careers – women standing up for women!
Wow, Vivian! How interesting and inspiring!
What is your favorite thing about the kidlit community?
THE PEOPLE!!! The fact that everyone is so GENEROUS, sharing what they know, eager to help others achieve success!
What inspired you to write Sweet Dreams, Sarah?
I discovered that Sarah E. Goode had gone from slave to inventor, but there were no books about her…in fact, there were only a very few lines on a couple of websites, yet she was one of the first African American women to own a patent from the U.S. government.
It didn’t seem fair to me that someone who had blazed this important trail had been forgotten by the history books. I knew it was a story that would inspire young kids, especially young girls, to build their dreams into reality.
If you had to choose a favorite line or part from one of your books, what would it be?
Hmmm…that’s difficult…because I have quite a few of them. But the last lines are definitely my favorite:
Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history. She had built more than a piece of furniture. She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.
I'm not crying, people. You're crying.
What is your number one revision tip for writers?
My number one revision tip is to record yourself reading the manuscript aloud…I use my computer. When I play it back, I’m able to hear when the words trip me up. I’m able to see when my mind stops paying attention. And I’m able to feel that wonderful chill that comes when I hear the last word…if I don’t, I know the story is missing something.
But I have to add three more things writers can do to help the revision process: 1. READ, READ, READ as many current picture books as they can,
2. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE lots of stories,.
3. Surround yourself with a good bunch of critique buddies. I can’t thank mine enough…they have encouraged me, supported, me, and helped me trim and polish my manuscripts – and I love each and every one of them, whether we exchange manuscripts online or meet in person!
Inquiring minds want to know, what are some of your favorite books?
I met this incredibly talented author in one of the most awkward places: the bathroom...at a writing conference. As you may have guessed, I completely geeked out amidst the sound of flushing toilets and hand dryers.
Aram could have backed away slowly or not made any sudden moves. Instead, she grinned, accepted me for the crazy lady that I am, and eventually agreed to let me interview her!
She's also agreed to send one lucky reader a signed copy of one her books! Winner's Choice! The winner will be announced this Friday 7/26 along with Aram's cover reveal for her brand new book, Let's Go to Tae Kwondo!
So who is Aram?
Alright Aram, if you could be any kind of donut, what would you be and why?
Boston Cream Donut, for sure! It was my older sister’s favorite when we were kids, and therefore, my favorite. I followed my sister around like a tail. I always wanted to copy everything she did. Moreover, a Boston cream donut is so sweet and delicious inside out!! If I could bring joy to others like it does, I will be pretty happy.
Tell us a little about your writing journey.
My writing journey goes side by side with my illustrating journey because I draw and write simultaneously most of the time.
In the summer of 2009, I went to many different publishing houses in NY. I dropped off my portfolios for review. They still reviewed portfolios the old-fashioned way then (even though it was definitely not as common then as I heard it was a long time ago.) Though I received some valuable feedback, it didn’t really lead anywhere, and I was discouraged.
In 2012, I started an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts. There I hoped to find an artists community, support and guidance. During that time, I really got to experiment, draw and write what I wanted.
The next year, Pat Cummings became my mentor. It was life-changing. Without her support, guidance and expertise, I would not have been published. My debut picture book, Cat on the Bus, was one of several projects I worked with her. It came out in 2016, two years after I graduated.
My next book, No Kimchi for Me! came out in 2017. Its sequel, Let’s Go to Taekwondo! will be out in April 2020.
I met my agent, Erica Rand Silverman, at my very first book event in the summer of 2016. It was almost by chance (or destiny?) at a book festival she organized. I was very lucky to have met her. She's been the great support ever since!
My editor, Grace Maccarone from Holiday House, has also been in this journey with me all along the way.
What inspired you to write your book?
My first book Cat on the Bus was inspired by a random photo I saw online that was taken in South Korea on a very cold winter day. Someone took a photo of a street cat who got on a bus and took a seat. It made me imagine that the kind bus driver must have let the cat on the bus because he knew how cold it was outside.
The kindness of the driver and the passengers of the bus who did not mind sharing the seat with the cat inspired me to write a story about how small act of kindness can change someone’s life.
I had a cat I adopted from the shelter and I used to imagine what life she might have led on the street. So with all these, my debut picture book was born.
My second book No Kimchi for Me! was a natural path for me because I wanted to make a book about Korean food and culture. It was something I always missed. And also something I knew very well.
I really wanted it to be a story that any child could relate to regardless of their heritage or background. My editor Grace Maccarone helped me add a sibling quarrel element, which enriched the story significantly and made it more universal.
I felt very at home working on this book; drawing a lot of kimchi, Korean food, and children (though they are cats) with a lot of emotions!
I’m happy to add that a sequel is coming out next spring with the title Let’s Go to Taekwondo!
(In fact, I was told the cover would go LIVE this Friday.)
Can you share with us a favorite line from one of your books?
They chop…pour…break…add…stir…and cook.
What is your number one revision tip for writers?
Learn to detach yourself from your work. If you’re too attached, which is very natural, it is hard to keep an open mind and accept the critiques, even the good ones.
Trust your critique partners, editors, and your author friends. Keep an open mind to their critiques.
Do you think it is harder or easier for author/illustrators to break into the publishing industry?
It is definitely not “easy,” but I think it is somewhat “easier” for author/illustrators to break into the publishing industry when the work is right because they can show their work visually therefore capture someone’s eyes instantly. Also illustration pieces are easier to share on social media where publishing industry people definitely pay attention. But of course, work has to be good first.
There you have it, ladies and gents! Aram's desire to impact her readers has me inspired as well! Be sure to follow her on social media.
Tell us what you think of Aram's apparent lack of arachnophobia. Are you the same way? Or, do spiders have you sprinting away?
A little hand clasps my leg smearing an unidentifiable substance across my questionably clean jeans.
The dog scuttles across the living room, doll clutched in its mouth. Chasing after the orange blur, a ten year old mermaid and her little brother.
Clack. Clack. Thud. My boy trips over a race car. His wails perfectly mimic the screech of hysterical howler monkeys.
A voice from the other room complains, “Mom, I don’t get this math problem either.”
Dinner bubbles or perhaps smokes. It’s in the eye of the beholder at this point.
And over this din, my phone dings.
It’s my oldest. She wants to know if she can come over to do laundry, like now.
The thought, I did this to myself, is followed closely by my musings over jet planes and sandy beaches. But I know the hooligans would get me before I ever made the door.
Then little hands tug on my pant leg once again with a demanding “Up”.
The dog abandons the doll for the much tastier treat of salty tears. The wet slurp as the dog licks my son’s face is hardly audible over his giggles.
I shake my head but find my own lips sliding upward.
I hear my other son mutter, “if my teacher likes answers so much, why doesn’t she solve her own problems?”
Another text lights up my screen with a kissy face and a “Seriously, I am out of clothes."
I think back to a time of empty doors and halls.
Of empty arms, crushed dreams, and heartbreak.
I remember a time with clean floors, adoption applications, and quiet dinners for two.
There was a season for those and one day there will be again. But for now, I will be grateful for little hands... and tears... for working smoke detectors...
dirty clothes... and four legged thieves.
There are a million reasons to love being a mommy. But bed time snuggles might just be one of the best. This little gal inspires me, challenges me, and fills my life with love and lighter.
Little hands tangle in my hair
Little lips peck my cheek
A little voice whispers, “Night night, mommy. Love you.”
And I wonder how someone so little can fill my heart till I think it might burst
A stuffed flamingo brushes my other cheek
A pig tail tickles my arm
A fuzzy blanket warms us in the cool room
And yet the only thing I feel is her hand suddenly squeezing mine
Crickets chirp a cheery song outside
The wind swishes against her window
Our rocker creaks in the sleepy gloom
And yet the sound that most comforts me is her soft sigh as she slips into slumber
And I wonder again, how blessed am I to be her mother?