Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

Interview with ‘Screaming at the Ump’ picture book author Audrey Vernick

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Audrey Vernick writes funny and not-funny, fiction and nonfiction, short and long books for young readers. Her nonfiction picture book, ‘Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team’, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Arts Foundation’s Fiction Fellowship, Audrey lives near the ocean with her family.


For what age audience do you write?

I write humorous picture books for ages 2-7, nonfiction picture books for ages 3-9, and middle-grade fiction for ages 9-12.

Tell us about your latest book.

‘Screaming at the Ump’ (March 4, 2014) is about twelve-year-old Casey Snowden, whose father and grandfather own and run Behind the Plate, an umpire training school. Casey knows all there is to know about foul and fair and being objective and can’t wait to put those skills to use as a sports journalist. But right now he has an awful lot to worry about — enrollment is down at the school, his best friend, Zeke, is hatching a number of ill-advised plans to get himself on reality TV, and Casey’s long-absent mom seems determined to make a reappearance in his life. And he’s going to need a big story to break into the world of middle-school journalism. It’s possible one has landed right in his lap–if that Behind the Plate student is actually a former MLB player disgraced in a steroid scandal, as Casey believes him to be. But would it be okay to expose one of his dad’s own students? It turns out it’s not always easy to make the right call.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope that they get what I always seek from a book — a satisfying opportunity to get to know a character and witness his slightly-off-the-beaten-path life, and to watch him change and grow in believable ways. There’s something for the baseball fan, something for aspiring journalists, for those whose best friends can be exasperating when they’re not being hilarious, and for those navigating their way through their parents’ divorce. And for those who are interested in humorous contemporary realistic fiction.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

This is probably a strange answer, but the waiting is the hardest part. At various points in my drafts, I’ll seek out feedback, usually from writer-friends. I know it’s impossible to instantaneously have read and responded to an entire book, but there’s a part of my waiting self that is not wholly rational and wants to hear back within two minutes of having sent the file. And there’s no end to the waiting–for my agent’s response, for submissions to go out, to hear back on submissions. Even waiting for reviews can be hard!

Henry: So true. Being a writer means honing your craft, your endurance, your tolerance for criticism and rejection, and your patience.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Things that seemed really hard, nearly unbearable, can get easier. It’s possible to thicken your skin when it comes to getting feedback on your work. I believe every writer is secretly hoping readers will say that their first draft is pure genius, does not need even the tiniest revision. In actual fact, all good writing happens in the revision process. The feedback part was so hard for me when I was an undergrad and graduate student. It was very hard (impossible) to not take the criticism personally, to not feel insulted. It took a long time for that to change. But it has changed.

Henry: Sometimes it can help to put a bad review in perspective to look on Amazon and see that someone somewhere has given a terrific book a one-star rating. An author can’t please everyone, and shouldn’t try.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

There have been many! I’ve been asked to speak, twice, at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The first time was about Effa Manley and the second about the Acerra Brothers (in connection with my books ‘She Loved Baseball’ and ‘Brothers at Bat’, respectively).

We celebrated Effa Manley Day with the Newark Bears one summer night at their baseball stadium in New Jersey. Kids were given a copy of ‘She Loved Baseball’ as they came through the gate and a player read it aloud to them before the game. My daughter threw out the first pitch. The book’s trailer (http://www.audreyvernick.com/SheLovedBaseball.html) was shown on the Jumbo-tron.

I’ve been invited to read and sign at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art during their Baseball Weekend.

Looking back at that list, I’m wondering why I write books that aren’t about baseball — the baseball picture books have led to so much fun stuff!

Henry: Because baseball books can’t feature pirates or dinosaurs or zombies… Or can they?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

This isn’t exactly advice, but it’s something that might help writers accept those early frustrating years of not getting even the tiniest publishing break. I don’t think many writers talk about the role luck plays in publishing. The stars really need to align for everything to come together in the right way at the right time. You definitely need a viable manuscript, but there’s also this uncontrollable element of luck when it comes to getting in front of the right editor at the right time.

Aspiring writers also take heart when I share my publishing history, because both of my novels, after a wide, enthusiastic round of submission, spent years in a drawer. I learned a lot about writing and writing novels, in particular, during that drawer time–mostly by paying attention and reading a handful of craft books, and also attending The Heart of the Novel workshop Patti Gauch teaches through the Highlights Foundation. Each novel was thoroughly revised before being resubmitted, and luck shifted into place, and both found a publishing home at Clarion Books.

Henry: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur. “Luck is the great stabilizer in baseball.” – Tris Speaker.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Hey, Boo.” It just kills me.

Henry: And that would be, “When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat steaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange small spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears.

‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.” — To Kill a Mockingbird, page 270

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Not really. But as someone working in the northeast, my most productive writing comes in winter, under an electric blanket, on the comfortable chair in my bedroom. I am often resistant to writing — I have to make myself do it — but when getting up means giving up the toasty warmth of my electric blanket, I’d often rather write on. (That’s the rule: I can only sit in that chair with that blanket when I’m writing. If anyone ever tells compliant me that it’s just a made-up rule I could break at any time, I will likely never publish again.)

Henry: No, no. You can only write in that chair with a blanket. 🙂

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The superpower of impeccable first drafts, please.

Henry: Very original. Well played, sir.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I’d only want one. My mother, Judy Glassman, who died in 1989, a year before the publication of her middle-grade novel, ‘The Morning Glory War’. It’s a really good book. And I really miss my mom.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I take long walks with my dogs every day. I watch a lot of Yankees games. In the summer, I spend a lot of time at the beach. I enjoy hanging out with my family. A perfect day, then, would be listening to a Yankee game while walking my dogs with my family at the shoreline on a sunny day.

Henry: I have a fond childhood memory of watching a Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium. I saw Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski play.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She tried.

Where can readers find your work?

Beyond their libraries, local bookstores, and online sellers, they can find more at http://www.audreyvernick.com.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

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