Audrey Vernick: Rockin’ Writer

            I met Audrey Vernick a couple of years ago at the home of my friend Sudipta Bardhan-Quallenwhen a group of writers decided to meet there to talk shop and get some editorial feedback on our work. Several picture books and one award-winning middle grade novel later, Audrey is now preparing for the release of her fifth picture book.  

So You Want To Be A Rock Star debuts tomorrow, February 28! Congrats Audrey! It’s very exciting to post an interview just a day before the release date. So instead of jumping right in to nerdy chick questions, I want to ask about this awesome book. (And readers, don’t miss the win your own copy at the end of this post.)

Publisher’s Weekly  called So You Want to Be a Rock Star “a delightfully snark-free guide to how kids can release their inner spotlight-loving performer …”  What a great description! How does your book encourage creative expression?

It didn’t occur to me until after I read it in published form, so this wasn’t my intention, but the book seems to be a cross between Blue’s Clues and the Clash. (Yes, I know. Yet another Blue’s Clues/Clash mash up in an already cluttered market.) It’s a direct-address text, which sort of demands participation.

It’s probably easiest to give an example from the book. After a basic primer on air guitar, the text reads: “This is very important: while you’re strumming your stomach, can you also close your eyes and make the kind of faces you make when your stomach really hurts? And move your head slowly from side to side?” I’ve been reading the book to kindergarten classes when I visit schools, and seeing a whole class making strained rock star faces is always a highlight of the day.

The text guides readers from air guitar basics to stage technique to video considerations, wardrobe and hair concerns, and of course, a quick lesson on how to sneer. The same review you quoted also said, ‘The low-tech premise–you can still rock with a mop on your head and family members as backup dancers–is refreshing.” That really pleased me.

As an aside, the role of the grandparents in this book–something that wasn’t in the text at all but shows up in Kirstie Edmunds’ illustrations–is absolutely hilarious.

I can’t wait to read it! It doesn’t sound like the characters in Rock Star are very nerdy… but do any characters from your other books have nerdy traits that help them out?

In WATER BALLOON, thirteen-year-old Marley would much rather read or play Monopoly than hang out with her lifelong best friends at a party with high school kids. I’m not sure she would say this helped her out—it was a hard time for her to live through—but with the distance I have from writing that book now, I can say sticking to her comfort zone and being true to herself definitely helped Marley survive a very rough patch.

I love it when a character is true to herself! Are there any fictitious chicks you particularly admire?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harriet the Spy lately. It seemed like everyone hated the way she was always scribbling in her notebook, but it was impossible for her to stop, so she kept doing it. (And spying on people from a dumbwaiter.) It hurts me every time I remember the shock Janie and Sport must have felt when they read Harriet’s unkind words about them. But that’s the kind of experience that is so true of childhood and is so often so missing from children’s books—that excruciating I-hurt-people-and-I-don’t-think-I-can-live-through-this realization. I admire the fact that Harriet did live through it in her own messy way.

Great choice. Harriet is definitely true to herself. She’s brainy too.  How is brain power an asset to your career?

I’ve learned that I’m a research geek. When researching my nonfiction picture books, I love the thrill of a new discovery, the puzzling required to fill in a timeline hole, and the unearthing of a little-known story.

But I also love applying that research to my fiction picture books. I have a book coming out next year, BOGART & VINNIE: A COMPLETELY MADE-UP STORY OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP, about a square-lipped rhinoceros and a crazy happy dog, and I loved learning all about rhinos as I was writing it. Did you know that in the fifth century BC, people thought that ground-up rhinoceros horn could be used to detect poisoned liquids (the liquid in question would start to bubble!).

Nerdy chicks rule, right?

Right! Tell us a story about a time when nerdiness turned out to be an advantage for you.

I cowrote my first book with my sister Ellen. It was published by a small house, Overmountain Press, and there was a day when the brother and sister who worked as editor and publisher of that family-owned Tennessee business were in New York. The four of us met for lunch.

In the way that big sisters sometimes do, Ellen managed to work one of my dark secrets into the conversation—that I had been on the math team in 9th grade. As I was turning eleven shades of red, the editor and publisher both chimed in with, “So were we!”

As the baby sister, it was so rare—but I clearly won that round.

Go Audrey! I’d like to root for the baby sisters in general, but my baby sister (also named Audrey) might let it get to her head! It was great growing up with a sister. If you could go back and give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hang in there. People will start acting less crazy and be more kind once you get older.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I watch a ridiculous amount of baseball. I try not to miss a game when the Yankees play. And they play 162 time a year. You’d think that would make more me prolific in the offseason—all that free time!—but I’m generally busy lamenting how much I miss baseball. 

Well, they do say that baseball is the thinking man’s game. It’s gotta be a thinking woman’s game too. This seems a perfect time to mention that Audrey has written two picture books with baseball themes. BROTHERS AT BAT:THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM debuts April third!  And  check out the trailer for SHE LOVED BASEBALL . There is a special story that goes along with this trailer. It was shown at an Effa Manley Day promotion at a Newark Bears baseball game last May. Since the team Effa owned, which won the 1946 Negro League Championship was a Newark team, Audrey was was especially happy to see her trailer shown at that field!

Thank you Audrey for joining us today! To find out more about Audrey, visit her website at or take a look at her blog about literary friendships!

And before you go, check out this giveaway!  For those of you who remember me saying I was going to use Rafflecopter next time, I tried, and it isn’t compatible with WordPress. Phooey!  But entering is easy! Just leave a comment here. There, that gets you in the drawing. If you want more chances to win, you can like my Facebook page or Audrey’s So You Want to Be A Rock Star Facebook page.  It’s easy to like these pages, just click on the like buttons in the right sidebar of this blog! Add a (+1) by your comment for each FB like. Also, if you follow this blog you can add a (+1).  You can follow by clicking  follow this blog in the right sidebar too. 🙂 Good luck everyone! Contest ends on March 19, 2012.

Here is the loot you could win: 

The winner will receive a copy of the book signed by the author. And in case the winner's worried about how to carry such a book--there's also a ROCK STAR tote bag which reads: Are you ready to rock?

What little (or big) reader wouldn’t want this prize. Hey, we probably all need tips on how to improve our air guitar skills! Thanks again, Audrey!  


The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Sandra Day O’Connor

Before I pick the each Quotable Nerdy Chick to highlight, I usually research a couple of different amazing women. Then I look at what each had to say. Are their words timeless?  Do they contain a message that speaks to success? This week I picked someone whose hard work has garnered her impressive recognition. In 2001 she was ranked the second most powerful woman in America by Ladies’ Home Journal. She was listed as 36th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2004 and 2005. And she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barak Obama.

Everyone knows that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first female member of the United States Supreme Court, but do we really know how she landed such a prestigious position? After reading more about her, I think I do. She became the first female justice not only because she was intelligent, but also because she had an outstanding work ethic. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the path to success is paved with a lot of hard work. When you read the quotes below, you’ll know that Sandra Day O’Conner believes this too.

Sandra Day O’Connor Quotes

  • Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.
  • We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something.
  • Each of us brings to our job, whatever it is, our lifetime of experience and our values.
  • I don’t know that there are any short cuts to doing a good job.
  • The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not on my gender.


This week, I think my favorite quote is the second one.  How nice to see that someone who has risen so far, acknowledges that we all need help. To see a compiled list of nerdy chick quotes, click HERE.


Lisa Rentz: Innovative Writer

One of the hardest things about moving to Beaufort SC a few years ago was leaving all of my nerdy friends behind. Knowing I was lonely for brainy conversation, a friend from Greenville suggested that I get in touch with a freelance writer and teaching artist down here named Lisa Rentz. I contacted her out of the blue that same day. Lisa was nice enough to not only meet me for coffee, but to listen to me talk her ears off for over an hour. She also helped me on my way to becoming a teaching artist.  I’m just as impressed with this many-hat-wearing nerdy chick now as I was when I met her. In addition to her teaching and writing, Lisa is the transmedia publicity leader at Artworks, which means she promotes the arts in Beaufort County and helps other artists do the same, using all platforms from the newspaper to Twitter. Her writing has been published in various genres including short stories, articles, and essays. Ever on the cutting edge, she’s recently added writing apps to this list. Thanks so much Lisa for joining us today!

What is your favorite way to flaunt your brain power?

Most of my flaunting is done in my writing, which is my preferred method of communication (email before phones for me.) I consider writing to be a form of self-defense, so I have to get in some impressive high kicks, if you know what I mean. My writing skills are what got me through high school, college, and many jobs. I’ve written book reports about books I didn’t read and about books I made up.

What social norms are you fond of flouting?

My husband does the dishes and the shopping, and I do all the yardwork— those are still norms to challenge, right? We split the taking out of garbage pretty well. I’m a feminist, which is still a fun way to flout, despite all the progress. Stereotyping is a big part of the social norm, and I’ve learned to not judge a book by its cover (or its mousy brown hair) because of all of the people who’ve mistaken me for a shop girl or an office assistant. I’m always getting asked where the bathroom is. The only retail I’ve ever worked was my husband’s artisan bakery. I’ve had only one regular 9 to 5 job, and that was working at my dad’s business for a couple of years  in my 20s. I’ve definitely flouted that get-a-real-job norm too.

Great examples of flouting, Lisa! How is brain power an asset to your career?

As a working writer, I am a content provider, which means I generate stories, articles, photographs, illustrations, and connections for other people like journalists. So I spend a lot of time focusing, and problem-solving, and info-organizing, and meeting deadlines. That process is brain-power intensive— I rarely get to read novels anymore, thank goodness for short stories and magazines like Harper’s Monthly.

Visualization is a component of brain power that I use a lot. It’s a great way to slow down and find clarity, so that my work—an email or a short story—will be effective and enjoyable. Doodling and drawing work great as visualization.

Tell us a story about a time when nerdiness turned out to be an advantage for you.

All the time I’ve spent reading has been a huge advantage- reading is the foundation of writing, and I’m pretty good at trivia. I have a lot of memories of reading while walking home from school, reading in bed late at night, reading in class. The Thomas Cooper Library at USC in Columbia was fantastic when I attended there. And if being uptight about deadlines is nerdy, then I’ve got an advantage there, my deadlines are literally every other day.

If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Oh that would have to be a good stock tip. Apple, Microsoft, etc.

Hmm. That might be the best advice yet. It’s certainly the most fiscally responsible! Now can you tell us what’s cool about being nerdy?

Having knowledge and the ability to use it.

Right on! You already write across several genres, and now you’ve added writing downloadable apps. I couldn’t begin to write an app. What are some skills needed to do this? Particular challenges?

Writing an app is like writing a novella— one specific subject and just the right length. I determined the concept and content of my apps, and my publisher, Sutro Media in San Francisco, took care of the programming, thank goodness. My two apps, an arts & travel guide to Beaufort SC and ‘Pencils, Words & Kids’ could both be published in paper-book form. But smartphones are the new desktops, and one of the new ways to read, so I wanted my work to be there too.

The challenge of filling an app is organizing all the content. In a book or a magazine, the writer knows the reader is going to start at page 1. In an app, all the contents are sortable and searchable and cross-linked and filterable, so I had to make sure that each entry is both stand-alone and harmonizing with the rest of the app. In ‘Pencils, Words & Kids’ I wanted to relay the whole writing process, but also make it a la carte, so people could just pick and choose a creative step for themselves— write what you enjoy, not just what you know. My apps include hundreds of photos, which was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

How can your creative writing app help other nerdy chicks improve their writing skills? 

Lots of ways! The premise is that creative writing is like weight lifting, every repetition makes you stronger. So I emphasize writing-writing-writing, in the Just Do It sense.

All the prompts and techniques were developed in the trenches, while I was working in the schools in Beaufort SC, so other nerdy chicks and geeky boys and all sorts of other types helped me develop my ideas about learning the creative writing process. I’ve included their opinions in the app too. One 7th grader told me something beautiful that I quote whenever I get a chance- “Writing long & adventurous stories calms me.”

The app is really informative, about the big How Tos and Whys of writing, and I also included information (like vocabulary and definitions) because that’s what writers need for describing and explaining— that’s why science works so well with the arts, right? I also emphasize writing by hand. I heard recently that pencils can write for 35 miles. That’s a long line and a lot of potential.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

Being a homebody as much as possible and doing a sewing project about once a year. For the past few years I’ve been making purses from thriftshop blazers— the pockets are built-in better than I could make them.

I saw Lisa toting one of her cool blazer purses the other day. She said it takes a whole blazer to make one purse! Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please!

I take lots of frisbee breaks and walks with my dogs. It’s great for stretching, taking my eyes off the computer screen and, since I’m always looking for ways to get three things done at once, also takes care of the dogs’ need to get outside the fence.

Believe me, we’ve just scratched the surface of the many ways Lisa creates. To find out more about her, visit her website: You can take a look at her writing app HERE, and her Beaufort guide app HERE.  Lisa’s short story, The Chimney, recently won a Liars League competition. Click below to hear it read in beautiful British English.

This Nerdy Chick: 10 Ways to Win

When I started this blog, I said I’d jump in and let you know what is going on with this nerdy chick (a.k.a. me) every now and then. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews. I try to post all of those on my Facebook author page. Click HERE to view.  Book promotion involves more time than I ever imagined. But it feels like things are going well, so I’ll keep on, keeping on. My biggest news for the time being is that Greek rights to The Boy Project were sold by my wonderful agent to Psichogios Editions. This is the same Greek publisher who publishes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so I am very excited.

There are a couple of ways to win a copy of  The Boy Project or some book bling on the web right now, so I thought it’d be fun to list them here in one place before the contests are over. Check out these sites:

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer

This site offers a chance or multiple chances to win a hardback copy of The Boy Project. It also includes an interview! Contest ends Feb. 22, 2012

Click here: I AM A READER NOT A WRITER for details!

Over at KRAZY BOOK LADY  there is another chance to win a hardback copy of The Boy Project. It also includes a book review and a guest post by me! Contest ends Feb. 25. Check it out HERE.

YABOOKSCENTRAL is offering a chance to win book bling from The Boy Project, and other debut novels, and some advanced reading copies of forthcoming books too! This contest ends March 1, 2012.

(11:42 pm, and we’ve already got 7 for the below giveaway. I’ll do another one soon… probably on my FB page next time, but who knows. Thanks for all who commented. 🙂 )

Finally, you can win right here. I put together 7 friend packs of The Boy Project book bling. Each set includes:

5 tatoos 


5 bracelets

So if you have a tween/teen reader in your household, or you are a tween/teen reader or you’re a teacher and librarian who has students who would like these, or if you just want them…. all you have to do is be one of the first 7 people to comment below and I will mail the friend pack to you. Couldn’t be easier!  Contest open to US, Canada, and Europe. One per household please!

I hope to have more interesting things to share with you soon. Thanks for reading! I feel really lucky to have been able to interview so many great nerdy chicks!


Quotable Nerdy Chick:Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet from Amherst, Massachusetts. She is famous not only for the multitude of poems she wrote, but also for being introverted to the point of being reclusive. In her later years, she wore almost all white. Only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime, though she wrote almost eighteen hundred. Emily’s poetry is simple, yet extremely insightful. To read more about Emily Dickenson, click HERE.

Here are some of those insightful things, Emily Dickinson said:

Emily Dickinson Quotes:

  • Celebrity is the chastisement of merit and the punishment of talent.
  • Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.
  • Forever is composed of nows.
  • Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.
  • Luck is not chance, it’s toil; fortune’s expensive smile is earned.

Forever is composed of nows. I love that. And look at that first one. Emily Dickinson could not have known how crazed the cult of celebrity would become, but those words she wrote in the 1800s, seem to ring true today.

Donna Farrell: Glasses Flaunting Web Designer!

This past summer, when my life was caving in on me a bit, I knew I needed a new website, but I couldn’t find the time to revamp mine. My friend Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen understood the pressure I was under, so she surprised me by researching web designers and calling me with Donna Farrell’s name. “Here’s who I found to do your website. Contact her.” I did. Donna did a great job with my site! Sudipta ended up getting her site redesigned by Donna too.  At this point, Donna has designed web sites for over twenty children’s authors and others.  She is also a wonderful illustrator. Thank you for joining us today Donna!

What is your favorite way to flaunt your brain power? 

I love to use my hands.  So anything I can fix, repair or create with my hands makes my noggin happiest.  From creating a visual world for a story from the tip of my pencil to taking apart the vacuum to figure out why it isn’t working, everything is a puzzle to me that I MUST solve.  I find natural curiosity leads to problem solving, letting your brain power shine through.

If you can take apart your vacuum and have the confidence you will fix it, you’re not only nerdy, you’re brave! Are there any social norms are you fond of flouting?

I’m really comfortable with who I am, so I don’t really worry about the norms, or what people will think. I focus on staying optimistic, running an honest business and treating others fairly. As a sole proprietor, I’m more concerned with my customer service and relationships then the bottom line, that’s about as against the norm as it gets.  Probably not the perfect business model, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I love it when interviewees pick that flouting question! So how is brain power an asset to your career?

It has allowed me to be flexible and take opportunities as they come, in directions I might not have foreseen, embracing the changing landscape and carving out a niche for myself.  My creative path has been varied.  I hold a BFA in Graphic Design, but have also done hand painted furniture, murals and technical illustration. Currently I spread my time between my web design business, illustration work and freelancing as a graphic artist, this variety has been what has made me most happy.

What’s cool about being nerdy?

I get to wear glasses! I love different styles of frames the way others crush on shoes.  I figure if you have to wear them every day why not have fun with it!

I got my first pair of glasses this past summer. I like them too! Can you tell us about a well-known fictitious chick you admire and why you admire her?

Anne Shirley.  (aka Anne of Green Gables) L.M. Montgomery created such a great character with so many of the qualities that I admire. She is smart, imaginative, passionate and stubborn.  I love the notion of “kindred spirits”, that we can form alliances that run deep into your soul. Anne also struggled like most adolescents wishing she looked different, wishing for more wealth, only to find comfort in her own skin and the modesty of a simple life.

As a designer and an artist, how do the nerdy parts of your brain help out the artistic parts?I think what sets some of the really good designers apart, is their ability to work with a grid.  There needs to be some rhyme or reason to the placement and hierarchy of the text.  The grid is really a mathematical element.  Even with portraiture, there is math.  Eyes sit 1/2 way between top of head and chin etc.

Then you use your skills to try to make other people happy, a lot of them are authors! Since authors tend to be brainy folks, can you tell us what it is like to work on projects with so many people who have big ideas?

I have met very few in person and have only spoken by phone to about half.  I think because writers are comfortable communicating in text, it’s possible to pick up on their energy and personality through an exchange of emails. With each site I hope to create an online presence that is unique to them, their books and their writing.  Because I have studied the market of children’s publishing, attended SCBWI conferences and am in the trenches myself, my relationship with my clients isn’t all about design, but also advisor and comrade. Sure, at times I’m a little star struck, having the opportunity to collaborate with those whose work I have admired, and professional success I’ve envied.  I feel so much gratitude to be a part of the creative direction of their sites.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I love organizing.  All the labeling, sorting, compartmentalizing.  To take chaos, toss the reins around it and show it whose boss, now that is pretty powerful.  Evaluating and eliminating clutter, it’s like an episode of CSI for me.  It also has therapeutic benefits.  When my environment is unsettled and scattered, that’s how my brain feels.

Oof. I hate organizing. I only wish I thought it was fun! I think my life would be a lot better if I had your attitude toward de-cluttering. Oh well. If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure

Books Donna illustrated for Target.

to put aside their authentic selves and to display

only a small portion of their gifts.”

-Mary Pipher

To that I say:

You are original and uniquely you.

Be authentic.

Let all your gifts shine.

Very nicely said! To find out more about Donna and to see a snapshot of many of her sites, visit her WEBSITE!      

You can also find Donna on Twitter and Pinterest

I’m so glad to have been in touch with this particular Nerdy Chick! Her mad web skills made my life so much easier this summer. Thanks Donna. 

Quotable Nerdy Chick: Mary McLeod Bethune

When nerdy chick Kathy Erskine quoted Mary McLeod Bethune in her interview, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know who she was. I was curious though, because I grew up in Camden, SC, which is right next to Bethune SC. I wondered if Mrs. Bethune was from SC. So of course I did what every nerdy chick does when faced with the unknown: I researched the topic until it wasn’t unknown anymore. Yes, Ms. Bethune was from my home state, though apparently not from Bethune itself.  And wow, she did some amazing things. She started a school for African Americans in Florida that became Bethune-Cookman University. She pushed for standards that rivaled the best schools around. She worked for civil rights, was awarded the Springarm Medal by the NAACP, was named one of the 10 greatest American Women in 1935, and she advised President Franklin Roosevelt. Really, the short format I use here does not do her justice. Please read more about her HERE. You will be amazed at what she was able to accomplish. And you will be inspired by some of the things she said.

  Mary McLeod Bethune Quotes

  • Cease to be a drudge, seek to be an artist.
  • Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.
  • Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.
  • The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood.
  • We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.

Amen. Amen. Amen to that last quote!  Click HERE to read quotes from other smart women. This list is updated weekly!