Posted tagged ‘Writing Tips’

Seven Questions for Vivian Kirkfield and a Giveaway!

January 23, 2020

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Once again, I have the privilege of interviewing author extraordinaire, Vivian Kirkfield. Her newest book, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, launches, January 28th. See my review here. And there is a giveaway!

Ella Marilyn cover

Thank you so much, Cathy! I’m thrilled to be here on your blog just a few days before the launch of the new book!

And I’m thrilled to have you here. In your newest nonfiction biography, Making Their Voices Heard, why did you decide to focus on the friendship Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe had for each other rather than their enormous talents?  

I knew I wanted to write a story for children…a story that children could relate to. Even young kids know about playdates and going to a classmate’s birthday party and how it feels when your friend is mad at you. How to be a good friend is an important lesson for kids. And although it’s true that each of these icons had enormous talent, each was being limited because of discrimination of one kind or another…and it was their friendship which helped break those barriers.

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Ella and Marilyn

When you begin to do research for a nonfiction work, do you have a specific plan you follow?

I begin my research on the internet…scrolling through whatever sites I can find. Then I turn to the local library and if necessary, reach out to the reference librarian to ask if she can connect with the larger libraries. I’ve also contacted the libraries and historical museums and historical societies in the cities where my subjects were born or worked. These often contain archives that are specific to the person I’m researching. In addition, if there are any living relatives whose names pop up during my research, I do try to connect with them.

How do you organize your research to make it easy for you to refer to it? Handwritten notes? Binder?

As I read, I take notes in a dollar store composition notebook…usually (and unfortunately) handwritten (unfortunate because I often can’t read my own handwriting). But I also print out pages from online sources (sometimes an online source can disappear between the time you read it and the time the manuscript is bought – at least you will have a hard copy of your information if/when the editor/fact-checkers ask about something. Then I use a manila folder for all the printed sheets and the notebook. I wish I were more organized…but so far, this system has worked pretty well. The most difficult time was when I was writing the nine nonfiction PB bios for From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 21, 2021). In only 9 months, I had to go from idea to polished submission-ready manuscript…seven polished submission-ready manuscripts (I had already written two of them when we signed the contract). If it weren’t for my fabulous critique partners, I never would have been able to accomplish such a feat in such a short period of time.

What are some of the places you go to find information? (Primary sources?  Newspaper clips? Documentaries? Videos?)

As I mentioned previously, online sources are my first line of inquiry. Then the library…with books/journals/newspapers. I also LOVE YouTube…there are amazing documentaries AND interviews…if your subject is fairly modern (within the last 100 years) there may be a wealth of information, some of the primary sources (an interview, for instance) available at your fingertips.

Another great source of information is the library…but not just the bookshelves. Many libraries have subscriptions to various databases – old newspapers, ancestry sites – and if you have a library card, you may be able to access a lot of it from the comfort of your own home and computer.

When do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?

I know it is time to stop researching when I start reading the same information. Also, I try to write my pitch (what-you’d-say-to-an-editor-if-you-only-had-30-seconds-to-talk) and my one-sentence (kind of a synopsis of the story) before I start writing. If I feel I have enough information to create a strong narrative that answers the promise of my opening lines (yes, I write my opening lines early on), I stop researching and start writing. But, I’m always willing to go back and dig deeper if there are questions that remain unanswered.

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What is your secret for making your manuscripts shine?

I don’t know that it is a secret. 😊 It’s certainly something I share with all of my critique buddies, all of my critique service clients, and at any conference or webinar where I am presenting.

  1. I write about people/topics I am passionate about
  2. I dig deep with my research
  3. I search for a golden nugget that will strike a chord with my child reader
  4. I craft strong opening lines that hook the reader
  5. I utilize various techniques from the picture book writing toolbox (including assonance, alliteration, the element of three, refrains) that help keep the reader engaged and move the story forward
  6. I formulate a satisfying ending that often echoes the opening lines
  7. I read mentor texts in the genre I am writing (this happens before, during, and after I write the manuscript)
  8. I record myself reading the story aloud…and then listen back to catch the places where I trip up or where the reader will lose interest
  9. I share the manuscript with critique buddies and revise with their feedback in mind
  10. Then I record myself again…revise/polish…send out the manuscript to a couple of other critique partners…and revise/polish again.
  11. I know I am done when I listen back and am engaged from the first word to the last…and can utter an AHA, HAHAHA, or AWWW when the last word is uttered.

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Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

No manuscript will ever be perfect. Please don’t try to make it so. Pour your heart into the writing and be willing to revise if several critique buddies point out similar problems. Polish until you feel the story sings. But at some point, we need to go from writing and revising mode to submitting mode because the song of your story won’t be heard if it’s sitting in your drawer/computer/notebook. And even after an editor acquires your manuscript because she loves it, there will probably be additional revisions required…or at the very least, requested. Be open to the perspective of the editor and illustrator…but advocate for this story because you are responsible for putting an accurate, authentic, and consistent book into the hands of children. Never forget that this is YOUR story. Your words. Your heart on the page.

Thank you so very much, Cathy, for the opportunity to share my thoughts and spread the word about my newest picture book that launches January 28: MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, illustrated by Alleanna Harris).

As always, Vivian, it is my pleasure to have you as my friend and as a guest on my blog!

THE GIVEAWAY!

Vivian has generously agreed to give away a copy of her newest book or a fiction/nonfiction picture book critique.

For a chance to win, please leave a comment below. For an extra chance to win, post this giveaway on social media, and make sure you state where you posted it in your comment. Please note:  You must be a resident of the U.S. and at least 18 years of age to enter. The giveaway ends on Thursday, 1/30/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be randomly picked and announced on my 2/6/20 blog post. Good luck to all!

Learn more about the fabulous 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, 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 numerous picture books. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

 

 

 

Catching the Eye of an Editor

May 23, 2019

I’m sure many of us wish we could write the perfect picture book that would immediately catch the eye of an editor.

 

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It’s not an easy task, but here are some tips to keep in mind while you’re writing your masterpiece.

First of all, your book should be marketable. Research your competition. Has your book done before? How is your book different from the others? Do you have a unique angle?

More tips to consider as you’re writing and revising. Does your manuscript have:

A strong voice

A compelling plot

Conflict

A unique theme

An interesting structure

Sentences that flow seamlessly

Visual potential

 

Other writing elements to consider:

Pacing

Page turns

Rhythm

Repetition

Rule of Three

Wordplay

 

Of course, there’s much more to consider when attempting to write the perfect picture book. Keep on your toes.

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Read, read, read everything in your genre. Hone your craft. Join critique groups. Revise, revise, revise and keep on writing. Never give up. When you least expect it, one of those picture books you’ve been working on, for what might seem forever, may catch the eye of an editor. And that just might happen because you finally discovered how to create magic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit About Voice

May 9, 2019

I was lucky enough to attend three wonderful days at an annual SCBWI conference. I saw old friends, met new friends, and attended some excellent workshops. Now my brain is bursting with information I’d love to share.

Let’s talk a bit about voice. What exactly is it?

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No, this isn’t it!

In many ways, voice is hard to define, but when you read it or hear it, you recognize it immediately.

Voice encompasses many things.

It’s the author’s style of writing.

It’s the sentence structure and the right choice of words.

It’s rhythm and timing.

Voice is the element that makes the author’s writing stand out from others.

It sets the mood and personality of your story.

It’s what pulls the reader into the story creating an emotional connection.

It’s the unique way a character expresses feelings.

Voice is what puts magic into a story.

 

Here are some exceptional mentor texts that ooze voice.

Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith

The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Diary of a Worm written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Harry Bliss

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Let your voice be heard!

 

 

 

Good Things Happen When You Read Blogs

July 16, 2015

I read blogs – blogs about children’s books and the writing life. I find them interesting and informative. Blogs stimulate ideas and motivate me. They’re filled with writing tips, book recommendations, book reviews, illustrator studio tours, and plain good advice.

Contests and giveaways are an added treat offered by many of the blogs. I’m a sucker for these. Each time I’m a winner, I’m like a kid at Christmas, waiting to tear open my gift when it arrives. Here are a few of the things I’ve won recently.

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Once I read the books, I pay it forward – libraries, schools, friends … Although, there a few special books I’ve kept for my home library.

Besides the blogs listed on my blog page, here are a few more of my favorites. If you have more suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Picture Book Builders

A Year of Reading

Teaching Authors

Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

Design of the Picture Book

Watch. Connect. Read. Mr. Shu Reads Blogspot

This Picture Book Life 

The Nonfiction Detectives

Dan Gutman’s WEIRD WRITING TIPS

November 13, 2014

There are some students who have a natural talent for writing, and there are others who struggle.

As teachers, we try to inspire and encourage our students to become good writers by modeling and exposing them to a variety of literature. Teaching writing to students can be very daunting. Fear not! I have discovered a book that will make teaching the writing process easier and fun for all involved.

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Dan Gutman, author of My Weird School Series, has written My Weird Writing Tips. It’s illustrated by Jim Paillotand this book is the perfect tool to get your middle-grade students engaged in writing.  Gutman offers students basic tips on the right way to write and talks about the importance of written communication He gets students off on the “write foot” by discussing how to come up with ideas, starting with the ordinary and moving along to the extraordinary. He offers positive reinforcement and inspirational quotes from famous writers. Simple explanations and tricks to help choose the correct part of speech, the right punctuation, and how to differentiate between confusing words (it/it’s) are also included. Did I mention that besides being an excellent writing tool, this book is in-your-face funny!

Every middle-grade classroom should have a copy. Teachers can use it as a read aloud and then follow up with mini writing lessons. Students can use it as a reference or just read it for enjoyment. Imagine a student delving into a writing book just for the fun of it. Get your copy today!


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