Audrey Vernick is a Children’s Book Writer living and working in New Jersey. I had the pleasure of meeting Audrey at the 2011 NJSCBWI Conference in Princeton. She – along with fellow writer Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkowich and Agent Marietta Zacker – led an Intensive Workshop on writing funny. The workshop was one of the most informative and fun-filled writing events I’ve ever attended, due in no small part to Audrey’s effervescent and infectious personality.
Audrey has written several Picture Books (PB) such as SHE LOVED BASEBALL (Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books of the Year 2011), BROTHERS AT BAT (four starred reviews), and IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? (IRA/CBC Children’s Choice 2011). She’s also penned a Middle Grade (MG) novel titled WATER BALLOON (a BCCB Blue Ribbon Award Book). Her child-like perspective and gentle humor shine through the pages of her work.
I’m so pleased you could join us Audrey.
Thanks for having me!
- When and how did you sell your first book?
Not easily and not quickly. The first children’s book I wrote, Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship, cowritten with my sister Ellen Gidaro, was submitted 27 times before it was published by Overmountain Press, a regional publisher in Tennessee in 2003. It was a complicated submissions process as all submissions then were via USPS, and our book was about the childhood of outsider artist Tim Brown, and his paintings were the book’s illustrations.
Funny fact: earlier this year, I received an envelope, postmarked NY—no return address or rejection letter—that contained our submission packet. Some editor must have found it in a corner of her office and was too embarrassed to include anything to identify herself, so she just quietly rejected our book nine years after it was published.
It’s crazy stories like that that make it fun to be a writer. What brought you to the career of writing for children?
I’m not sure. When I took a children’s writing class at Emerson College decades ago, I was awful. I could not get the voice and my teacher’s frustration with my writing and with me was palpable. I think the desire to tell Tim Brown’s story in that format is what brought me back. Though I’m sure the fact that my mother wrote for children had some influence, too.
What’s your typical writing day like?
If I ever have a typical writing day, I’ll be sure to let you know. I am not a disciplined writer. Rather than working hard at becoming a more disciplined writer,I’ve actually just become more accepting of the way I am. I write picture books in short bursts and I still have to trick myself into writing novels.
IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? Is a delightful book about preparing a child for her first experience in school. What inspired you to write it?
First, thank you! I wrote its sequel, Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums, first. When HarperCollins acquired it, they offered a two-book deal. They wanted the first book to be one that would introduce the buffalo character. My editor knew I was working on a book about a yeti attending kindergarten and asked if I’d be willing to turn that yeti into a buffalo. I was. And I did.
Where did you get your ideas for the baseball PB’s?
I learned about Effa Manley, the subject of She Loved Baseball, by reading a Time For Kids newsletter my son brought home from school. As a female baseball fan who lived in New Jersey, I found it hard to believe that this incredible woman, who owned a Negro League team in Newark, and who had been a trailblazer and a civil rights activist, was someone I’d never before heard of. The more I learned about her, the more I admired her.
As for the twelve Acerra brothers whose story is told in Brothers at Bat—the son of one of the brothers lives in our town and had talked about his father and uncles who comprised an all-brother baseball team. He put me in touch with one of his uncles and my interviews and research led me to the story.
A book I’m working on now is about a woman introduced to me by the director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He helped me at various points in my research on the two previous books, and a conversation about something unrelated led me to this new subject. I love that kind of serendipity.
So do I. What’s the most extraordinary thing you’ve experienced since being a children’s book author?
I’m terrible at isolating moments as best or most or favorite. So it could be anything from the way a group of preschoolers acted like I was a high-end rock star when I exited a restroom in their school to the two opportunities I’ve had to speak at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Or getting an amazing blurb from Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. for Brothers at Bat. Or having the trailer for She Loved Baseball played on the jumbotron at a Newark Bears game. Or the launch for my novel Water Balloon. Or being one of a handful of children’s writers to have an essay accepted for the forthcoming book My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Brose, Read, and Shop. Sorry.
Those are all memorable experiences. I would have a difficult time zeroing in on one myself What’s next?
In the next two years, I have two picture books coming out: Bogart & Vinnie, A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, illustrated by Henry Cole, will be out in 2013 and Edgar’s Second Word, illustrated by Priscilla Burris, will be out in 2014. I also have some picture books out on submission. I’ve returned to a novel I wrote years ago with the hope of making it a lot better. There’s another baseball picture book biography on the horizon and I’m booking school visits for the year ahead, too.
Where can readers find your books?
My books can be found in local libraries, bookstores, and at online booksellers.
Any advice for those of us just starting out?
When I was in graduate school, I had the hardest time not considering EVERY comment the others in my workshop provided. It took years, but I learned that what I need more than a group of people is someone who reads me well. At almost every stage of my writing career, I’ve had at least one very trusted reader. That person has changed over time, and whenever possible, I like to have more than one, as there are always some stories that even your most ideal reader just won’t get. I have found readers in classes, online, at conferences. And by birth—my sister is one of my most trusted readers.
Audrey’s website, http://www.audreyvernick.com, contains more information on her books, including discussion guides for some of the picture books. She blogs at http://literaryfriendships.wordpress.com
Thanks Audrey. It’s been delightful talking to you…just as I suspected. I look forward to BOGART AND VINNIE and hope to see you at a future SCBWI event.