Welcome, Vivian Kirkfield! Welcome, readers! Let’s get this party, I mean Author Interview, going!
Happy Universal Music Day! We decided to celebrate Universal Music Day by introducing Vivian’s new picture book, Making Their Voices Heard, The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Read more about Universal Music Day here.
I met Vivian Kirkfield online through the wonderful kidlit community. She is a fascinating online friend. I can only hope our paths intersect some day so we can meet in person. Think WASHINGTON state, Vivian. Yakima Valley.
I’ve enjoyed reading about Vivian’s new picture book releases and her fun travels and adventures. To celebrate her newest picture book release, I’ve invited Vivian to visit and answer a few questions. But first, here is her new book.
*Be sure to read all the way to the bottom. Vivian Kirkfield is offering a bound ARC of Making Their Voices Heard to one reader. Be sure to comment below to get your name in the hat!
Making Their Voices Heard, The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe
Written by Vivian Kirkfield
Illustrated by Alleanna Harris
Little Bee Books, January 14, 2020
I was so excited to read Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee, January 14, 2020). I had no idea Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe knew each other. How did you find out about this special friendship?
At the end of 2014, soon after I took a class in writing nonfiction picture books, I was surfing the internet, looking for ideas for stories (a homework assignment for that class) and came across a photo of Ella and Marilyn, sitting together at a nightclub. The blurb under the photo talked about how Marilyn had helped Ella get a booking at a top nightclub in Hollywood. I was intrigued…and I started digging deeper to find out more about it. But, as is the case with many story ideas, I couldn’t find anything to substantiate whether or not Ella and Marilyn were friends. So, I had to get creative.
I discovered that one of the books on Marilyn Monroe was authored by a former professor at a California university. I went to the school’s website and found her email. I contacted her and she suggested I ask the president of the oldest Marilyn Monroe fan club, Greg Schreiner. I was able to get his email on his website and he gave me the phone number of the woman who had been Ella’s promoter for thirty-seven years. I called her – we spoke for hours – and she verified that Ella and Marilyn had been friends and both had a tremendous respect and admiration for each other.
What was your inspiration to turn this friendship into a picture book?
They say we need to make a book relatable for kids. Kids help their friends all the time. I thought it was important to show how Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe helped each other. Marilyn put her career on the line to a certain extent because in those days, there was a lot of racial discrimination and movie studios controlled what their actresses could and couldn’t do. By calling the nightclub owner and insisting that he book Ella, Marilyn stepped up and spoke out. The Civil Rights movement was just in its infancy…in fact, the nightclub incident happened in 1954 and it wasn’t until the end of 1955 that Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on the bus.
I also wanted to show how we are all complex individuals. Most of us know Marilyn as a sexy Hollywood star…and kids probably don’t know her at all. Similarly, most kids may never have heard of Ella, but her music was genius…in fact, at the first Grammys in 1959, Ella Fitzgerald won for best female pop vocalist and best improvised jazz performance. I thought it was time for kids to discover these two special women.
What was your writing journey for Making Their Voices Heard? How long did it take? Did you work with others or share your manuscript with a critique group or other writers?
As I mentioned, I wrote the story late in 2014/early 2015. I researched – using online sources and lots of library books. When I felt I had enough information to craft the narrative around these two icons, I began writing. By June 2015, I had a polished rough draft. Hahaha…that sounds like an oxymoron, right? I had the story…but it wasn’t there yet. I submitted it to Rate Your Story, an online service of kid-lit professionals who give a rating from 1-10 (1 is the best…it means the story is just about ready to submit). In June 2015, Ella and Marilyn…at that point titled: A FRONT ROW SEAT, received a ‘3’ and the judge suggested I add something about how Ella helped Marilyn to balance the story out. GREAT ADVICE which I took!
I worked on the story, gave it to some of my critique buddies, along with the feedback from the judge. And then I revised and polished it some more and brought it to a writing retreat where an editor fell in love with it and asked me to revise and send it to her. I did revise it and submitted it to Rate Your Story again in August 2015 with the title: STANDING UP FOR FRIENDSHIP. It received a ‘2’. Then I signed with Essie White as my agent and she submitted it to that editor. But even though the editor loved it, she couldn’t get acquisitions to buy it.
In the summer of 2016, I went to another writing retreat and pitched it to a different editor who asked to see it. Essie sent it to her and she asked for revisions. I revised and gave it to critique buddies again. And in August 2016, I sent it to Rate Your Story one last time with the title: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM. And it received a ‘1’. The editor loved the revision, but that acquisitions’ team wouldn’t buy it either. That’s the thing about this business…you can have a fabulous story but if it doesn’t get to the desk of the right editor…or, if it does, but acquisitions doesn’t think they can make enough money…or if the publisher isn’t looking for a book about that topic…they will pass on it. You just have to keep on writing other stories and submitting that one.
Early in 2018, the manuscript was still circulating (Essie really believed in it) and the editor from Little Bee Books asked for a revise and resubmit. I revised (are you seeing a pattern here…no matter how polished your story is, every editor or agent sees it with their own eyes and from their own perspective of experience…and we have to be willing to make changes as per what a particular editor is looking for), with the help of my critique buddies, and the editor bought it. And the week after she made the offer, we spent five days of back and forth emails as she made suggestions for a few minor tweaks and additions. Every day, my inbox would have her marked up manuscript…every evening, her inbox would have my revision. On the fifth day, she said…We’re done! It’s time to get the illustrator.
And she did. The illustrator, the fabulous Alleanna Harris was signed on almost immediately and the publication process began.
Which just goes to show that if you believe in your manuscript and your writing is good, your story will find a home!
What special plans do you have to celebrate the book birthday of Making Their Voices Heard?
I have several thoughts…the book launches January 14th, 2020. And the NYSCBWI conference is the first week in February. If Little Bee Books can arrange a book launch at Books of Wonder or some other NYC bookstore for that week, I might do that. One of my dear friends, Maria Marshall, is going to interview me for her Picture Book Buzz blog series on January 13th…and she’ll also do a Perfect Picture Book Friday review on January 17th. Several other friends are already doing posts (like this one here on Angie Quantrell’s blog!). I don’t have a book birthday post yet…but I think maybe Kathy Temean might have said she wants to do that. The mid-winter ALA is at the end of January in Philadelphia…I’d be happy to go there if I could sign the book at the Little Bee booth. And of course, the Grammys are January 26 – that’s a special day for this book because, as I mentioned earlier, Ella Fitzgerald won Best Female Pop Vocalist and Best Improvised Jazz Performance in the very first-ever Grammys in 1959. I’d also love to attend the LASCBWI next summer – Greg Schreiner, the president of the oldest Marilyn Monroe fan club, thinks Hollywood is the perfect place for this book. 😊 And I am always open to suggestions – if anyone has a great idea, I’m all ears. 😉
What else would you like to share about this lovely book, your writing, or your life as an author?
I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world…I am truly living my dream…and best of all, I’m able to work with other writers, both old and young. At every conference presentation, I encourage writers to never give up – the only failure is the failure to keep trying. And at every school I visit, I hope to inspire children to follow their dreams—because nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.
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 visiting critique buddies all around the world. 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 where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. 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, January 14, 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020).
Thank you, Vivian, for the wonderful interview! I’m fascinated by the journey of this book on its way to publication. Great job sticking with it! Congratulations and Happy Book Birthday!
Don’t forget to comment and share some love with Vivian! Comment by Friday, October 18, to get your name in the hat to win a bound ARC copy of Making Their Voices Heard.