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!