Hi! I’m not Audrey Vernick, I’m Erin Murphy, Audrey’s literary agent. When Audrey started this blog focused on literary friendships, I knew she had to somehow include her own friendship with Gbemi (Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich). I was there the day they met, so I picked up the microphone and pointed it at them.
EM: The day the three of us met is forever burned into my memory, and I mean that in a very good way. Who could have predicted that I would connect so strongly with each of you, and each of you with each other, at a one-day writers conference? But that’s not really my question. What I’m really wondering is, since you each had to read each other’s work in order to participate in the critique circles at that conference, and that happened via email before you ever met, would you say you fell into friendship with each other’s characters before you did with each other?
AV: Well, this story won’t make me look good. In the weeks before the conference, participants had to send each other their stories for review. I had received almost everyone’s but had no record of receiving one from someone in my group named Olugbemisola Amusashonubi Perkovich. So I sent an email to this person asking him/her to send it to me at his/her earliest convenience. It’s possible that the letter came off as a bit of yelling. But I didn’t mean it.
ORP: A bit?!!! There were a lot of caps. Scary caps. And I, having just come out of a critique group that made me feel rather like an alien, was fragile. I was more than a little anxious about this particular conference; I’d been on the conference circuit for a long time, and had perfected my technique of looking-engaged-but-not-talking-to-anyone. I knew that this conference involved not only the inevitable talkiness of a small group, but the long-awaited opportunity to meet the elusive Erin Murphy, whom I’d waited a year to meet.
Also, I *knew* that I’d sent it. BECAUSE I DID.
AV: Sometimes things that are sent really don’t arrive. But I will take this opportunity to publicly admit, for the first time, that months later, in my mess of an email filing system, I found that this person, Olugbemisola Amusashonubi Perkovich had already sent her chapter, and I just lost it.
ORP: *uncontrollable sputtering*
AV: I know.
ORP: Do you, Audrey? Because I don’t know if you do. Because before I’d gotten that undisputably yelly email, I’d fallen in love with a certain Vernick creation. I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was going to find a friend at one of these nerve-wracking things, a friend who wrote gloriously — with humor and heart.
But then you YELLED.
AND YOU WERE WRONG.
AV: Okay, this was just a bad place to start. Because once we got past that awkwardness, and I have witnesses to support this, I publicly proclaimed my undiluted voice envy after reading your work. That Reggie, that voice, was right THERE once we got past the email confusion. Oh, Reggie! I was and remain in love.
ORP: Seriously, despite my trepidation, I had hope. Against all odds, and all caps, I had hope. Because there was that story. Because you had written about baseball, a sport that I liked, you know, but it wasn’t like it was basketball, or figure skating, or even pro-wrestling of the 80s, but, yeah, it was OK (not beach volleyball or women’s tennis) — until I read your love of it right there on those pages, until I met a boy named Casey who loved his friends and his family and his life at umpire school … and I wanted to be his friend more than anything.
EM: There’s a very good message here about not letting first impressions stick, or something. Also, it’s clear how good you two are at making fun of each other, erm, I mean, yourselves. Which segues nicely into the next item of business. Together, you’ll be doing a workshop about writing humor at an upcoming SCBWI conference. Would you each share your favorite funny moment that the other has written?
AV: A terrible fact about me, which annoys every child on every school visit, is that I can never pick a favorite (except for ice cream flavor: Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz). I could not possibly pick a favorite funny moment. I love the sum total of funny, including, but not limited to: the way no one can get away with saying anything near Ruthie–“Yuck, ‘rule the school.’ That’s so…Western, so imperialistic;” Reggie’s passing thought that “maybe if John the Baptist wasn’t all crazy-looking and bug eating,” people might not have paid attention to him; the trivia on Juiced! bottle caps; confusing the word parabola with the word parable; the horrible (but hilarious) things Reggie and his sister Monica say to each other; and Joe C. saying about Ruthie, “She runs like a girl,” which is SO something you simply CANNOT say about Ruthie. I could go on and on but my point is that it’s the sum total of the book that is my favorite. Okay?
ORP: There’s an exuberance to Audrey’s funny books that is seriously unparalleled. Seriously. The premises (I mean, the Buffalo in kindergarten? Playing the Drums?) are hilarious alone, but then her voice rings so loud and clear and kid-friendly in the writing: ““Does your buffalo have a backpack? Well, then. He’s definitely ready for kindergarten!” Her comic time, rhythm, and natural sense of what we will connect to is just amazing:
People may call you silly. But you must be used to that. Did anyone say, “Hey, that’s a really great idea!” when you brought a baby buffalo home?
I think Audrey’s funny works because even when there’s sarcasm, it’s never mean. She can’t hide her warmth (though Lord knows she tries), and her love for what she is doing (and seems to do so effortlessly) is evident. EDGAR’S SECOND WORD and BOGART AND VINNIE are trademark Audrey — laugh out loud funny, breathtakingly sweet without ever being cloying, and razor-sharp language — not an extra word or syllable anywhere. I don’t know, she just makes you want to hug her books.
AV: I want to add that while the funny is definitely part of it, what I love most about Gbemi’s writing is that it is HER. I cannot separate author/person/friend from the book. 8TH-GRADE SUPERZERO is everything Gbemi is: large-hearted, socially responsible, funny, warm, real, and inspiring.
EM: Gbemi, that’s interesting that you said that about wanting to hug Audrey’s books–I know I have described 8TH-GRADE SUPERZERO exactly that way. I love that with each of you, your work reflects yourselves in such wonderful ways. You both bring a whole amazing package to the table!
What else would you bring to the table if, say, we were able to get together in person and have a little June Book Release Party for Olugdrey Vernovich. Gbemi’s paperback edition of 8TH-GRADE SUPERZERO debuts this week from Scholastic, complete with loads of extra materials at the back (Night Man drawings! A wonderfully healthy recipe from Ruthie!), and Audrey’s TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS will be out June 28 from HarperCollins, so that readers will at last know the answer to the age-old question, “How does a buffalo hold a pair of drumsticks, anyway?” I’ll bring a homemade blueberry pie, and you’ll bring…
AV: I will bring mojitos because they are the one thing I make extraordinarily well and they are an apt way to toast new releases and the start of summer. I shall also bring some cud.
ORP: I will bring a surprisingly sweet kale and mango salad, some no-surprise-there homemade candy sweetness, and walking shoes for us all so that we can have a walking adventure together in our celebration city (which as you both know, is NYC, of course), and find all of the lovely and amazing little stories that ordinary people live every day.
Thank you so much for hosting, Erin. I lift a mojito in your honor. And Gbemi, thank you for not yet killing me about the lost email disclosure. Happy paperback release day to you!