Allison's Book Bag

A Fan of Harriet the Spy

Posted on: July 21, 2014

Editors liked the writing of Audrey Vernick’s first novel but found it too quiet. There simply wasn’t enough to distinguish it from others on their list. The book went in the drawer for a long time. So did her second attempt. Eventually though, Vernick found the right editor with the right idea of how to make her first novel publishable. And so now the literary world can read Water Balloon. I’ll interview Vernick tomorrow and post my review on Wednesday. Save the dates: July 22-23!

EARLY LIFE

Vernick grew up in New York, where she lived with her parents and two sisters and a small white dog. According to her Bio, she has a freaky memory about the names of the kids in her class at P.S. 184Q, and even remembers where most of them stood in size order. Writing wasn’t part of her life in the earliest years, and she even belonged to the math team, but Vernick did love to read and still rereads Harriet the Spy on a regular basis.

In an interview with Lynda Mullay Hunt, Vernicks says that the Yankees started to rub off on her when attending high school in the Bronx. Her great Yankee fan years have been as an adult year. She feels fortunate to have attended at “some stadium-shaking games” in the old stadium and to be at the new one with her son when Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit.

ADULT LIFE

When asked by Darlene Beck Jacobson what brought her to the career of writing for children, Vernick shared that she took a children’s writing class in college, but couldn’t find her voice and so didn’t pursue this format. A desire to tell Tim Brown’s story in that format brought her back, along with perhaps influence from her mom who also wrote for children. In addition to writing for children, Vernick has published more than a dozen short stories for adults in magazines and literary journals. She has also received a Master of Fine Arts and been honored with two fiction fellowships.

Selling that book about Tim Brown, which she co-wrote with her sister, proved difficult. The sisters submitted twenty-seven times before it was published by Overmountain Press, a regional publisher in Tennessee in 2003. Vernick explained to Darlene Beck Jacobson that it was a complicated submissions process, because back then all submissions were via USPS. In addition, their subject was the childhood of outsider artist Tim Brown, and his paintings were the book’s illustrations.

WRITING LIFE

AudreyVernick_DogsAs for Water Balloon, it was Vernick’s first venture into writing for middle grade. Although Vernick knew she wanted to write a novel, she had no idea where to begin. A family in her neighborhood was going through the early stages of divorce, which prompted her to think about the emotional cost of a family breaking apart. According to Lynda Mullay Hunt, that was her starting point: a girl struggling with the dismantling of what had always been her daily world.

The book existed for years with the title Dandelion Summer. Vernicks revealed to Middle Grade March that she sort of gutted it out, writing in big bursts—days of 8000 words and then a break of many days or weeks. Early pages she felt the need to show to some writing friends, to ask, “Is this right? Am I doing it? Am I juggling enough balls in the storyline?” They told her to continue on and so she did, writing half the book, then the last scene, and then filling in the missing part before that last scene.

Her first agent stopped representing children’s books. According to Middle Grade March, Vernick surmised that the only way to get another agent would be to write a second novel. She did, which landed her an agent, but no nibbles. Now she had two novels in a drawer.

Vernick took a novel-writing class and ended up pulling out Dandelion Summer again to rework. When she shared with her new agent the two ideas she had for revision, her agent replied proposed a different one. And thus Water Balloon was born.

Today Vernick lives near the ocean in New Jersey with one husband, two children, and two semi-smart medium-sized dogs. She told Middle Grade March what she loves best about the middle grade audience is “the way their earnestness is starting to bump up against snark and sarcasm”. That, and there being something irresistible about coming of age stories. 🙂

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