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Spot the Difference with Vivian Kirkfield

Updated: May 5

Guest blog post by Vivian Kirkfield


You can order Vivian's books here.


No matter the genre, all successful books need these three elements. An opening line that hooks the reader. Plot and pacing that hold their attention. And a satisfying ending that…satisfies. 


We write our rough draft. And then the hard work begins…finding just the right words…and weaving them together to create the magic of a great story. Oh, and then there’s the title – we labor over that for hours, days, even weeks. 


I think revision is the bane of both newbie writers AND multi-published authors. We all struggle with uncovering the tale that is waiting to be told. Stephen King once said, “Writing is rewriting.” And I agree. Each one of my manuscripts that has become a book, has gone through multiple revisions and maybe it will be helpful to others if I share a few of the rewrite highlights.



For example, in 2015, when I decided to write a story about Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe and the moment when they hatched a plan to fight discrimination, I was focusing on how different they were, but how that didn’t stop them from becoming friends and allies – and also, how they both wanted to be recognized by the world. An early version of MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was titled: 


A FRONT ROW SEAT: Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald…and the opening lines read:


If you asked Marilyn Monroe who her favorite person in the whole wide world was, her eyes

would sparkle as she told you, “My very favorite person and I love her as a person as well as a singer, is Ella Fitzgerald, She’s the greatest!”

On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who seemed more different, but under the skin,

deep in their hearts, where it really mattered, they were like two peas in a pod.


An editor loved the concept, and asked for an R&R. She took it to acquisitions, but no luck.

The next major iteration was titled: 


MARILYN AND ELLA: STANDING UP FOR FRIENDSHIP…and the opening lines went like this:


“Once there were two little girls with big dreams. Both wished for fame. Both wished for fortune. But friendship was what they really needed.


Another editor loved the story and asked for an R&R – but when she took it to acquisitions, the answer was no.


I continued to work on the story – and the title, and this is what we submitted to Little Bee Books in 2018.


Title: ELLA AND MARILYN MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD: How Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe Battled Discrimination


OPENING LINES: 


Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different.

But on the inside, they were alike—full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.


The editor loved it and took it to acquisitions and…hurray! They bought it! Of course, there were still tweaks to be done with the editor, but although the title was revised to zoom in on the friendship angle, the opening lines remained the same.



Of course, once in a while, an editor loves what we send them and very few changes are needed. That happened with PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE…we only had to change one word. But even though that manuscript was exactly what the editor wanted when she received it in 2017, that’s not how it was when I first wrote it in 2013.


Original title: PIPPA’S PESACH PLATE (Hard for most people to say)

Original beginning verses:


Hurry, scurry, Pippa Mouse,

Busy cleaning up the house.

Pesach starts tomorrow night,

Seder meal by candlelight.


Questions to be answered – four.

Prayers of blessing – many more.

Days to celebrate are eight.

Wait a minute – where’s the plate!


Special plate for symbols six.

Sweet charoset holds the bricks,

Karpas, bitter herbs and egg,

Shankbone from a lamb’s front leg.


Lots of information – it’s almost a textbook on the Passover holiday, but it’s intended for ages 3-7. As I revised over the years, I simplified it, creating an easy to read-aloud rhyme about courage, friendship, and community.


Here are a few verses from the version the editor acquired:


Hurry, scurry, Pippa Mouse,

Washing, scrubbing, cleaning house.

Passover starts at six tonight,

Seder meal by candlelight.


Hustle, bustle, lots to do,

Pippa stirs a chicken stew.

Sets the table – all looks great.

Wait a minute – where’s the plate?


I’m thrilled Pippa will have a sequel – not announced yet, but coming Fall 2025. 



Titles and opening lines aren’t the only things that change over the life of a manuscript as it waits patiently to become a book. My newest book which launched February 20th, PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World, went through dozens of iterations. I started writing it for an editor who asked for a stand-alone picture book about how the bike helped women gain more independence in the late 1800s. She wanted it to include several women who rode bicycles. I wrote about three.


Title: PEDALING THEIR WAY TO INDEPENDENCE: How Frances Willard, Kittie Knox and Annie Londonderry Helped Change the Rules.


And the opening lines went like this:


Sometimes the rules need to be changed.

In the late 1800s, the rules of law said women could not vote, control their own wages,

or open a bank account by themselves.

The rules of fashion said women must wear stiff corsets, tight collars, and long heavy

skirts.

The rules of society said women should cook and sew and stay at home. And if a woman

needed to go somewhere, she’d better ask a man to help her get there.

But Frances and Kittie and Annie disagreed. All three of them had a trusty bike on which

they pedaled their way to independence.


Now when I read it, it feels clunky – but it felt good at the time. However, when we sent her the manuscript, she didn’t fall in love with it. She asked me to choose one of the women and focus on her. I chose Annie Londonderry and rewrote the manuscript.


The new title:  Pedaling to Independence: The Story of Annie Londonderry – First Woman to Bike Around the World


 And the new opening lines:


Annie wasn’t afraid of hard work. She bustled from room to room, cooking, cleaning, and

caring for her kids. She hustled from business to business, selling advertising space for local

newspapers. Times were tough for a poor immigrant family. When Annie heard that two rich

businessmen were going to pay $10,000 to the first woman who pedaled around the world, she

knew she had to try. But how on earth was a mother of three, who had never even sat on a

bicycle, going to pedal around the world?


But that editor still didn’t fall in love with it. We sent it to an editor at a different publishing house. She asked for an R&R. And then another R&R. And then another R&R. And then she acquired it…and asked for a new title which I scooped up from the refrain that was already part of the text itself: PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World.


It’s a challenge to craft the best opening, weave the heart of your story through each spread, and create a satisfying ending…but when you do, when you find just the right words, something magical happens. Best advice? Embrace revision – but save all your drafts. Over the past 12 years, I’ve done a lot of revising.  I try to look at it as an adventure – and when I compare the original versions of my manuscripts with the revisions that went on to become books, I know that my time has been well-spent because these are books that will engage, inform, and inspire young readers. 

___________________________________________________________


Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. 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 where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge.


Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, Best STEM Book K-12, Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection.


To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books: www.viviankirkfield.com

Vivian’s books are available at Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores, as well as Bookshop.org and Amazon. If you order from her indie bookstore, you can get a signed copy. If you order from anywhere else and would like a signed bookplate, please email her at: viviankirkfield@gmail.com.


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3 Comments


Guest
Apr 16

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share some of my revisions, Lea. Revision is challenging, but rewarding. And it's amazing how we are sure we have the perfect story...and then we look again and see places where it might be stronger, tighter, or more heartfelt.

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Robin Currie
Robin Currie
Apr 15

I love story early attempts and revisions - plus Vivian is one of the most gracious and generous persons in the industry! Thanks for highlighting these great books.

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Guest
Apr 16
Replying to

Thanks so much, Robin...and I'm looking forward to connecting with you when it's time for you to choose your prize for #50PreciousWords!

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