Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview with Children's Author, Audrey Vernick on her Book, Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums

I see you’ve now written two books with buffaloes as your main characters. What attracted you to using buffaloes to tell your story?
I stumbled into the idea of a buffalo. One morning, I said something off the cuff to my son about how interested our dog seemed in some food he was bringing to school. I said that when he returned home from school, he should think about teaching his dog to bake. I thought for a minute and said, "You know, I should write a whole series: Teach Your Dog To Bake, Teach Your Cat to Surf, Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums." Later that day, I wrote pretty much the whole buffalo drums book. Then there was no looking back.

I see the first book has a curriculum guide. What goes into doing a guide for a book?
I hired a genius, Natalie Lorenzi, to develop my curriculum guide. Both a children's writer and a teacher, Natalie has a unique gift for helping teachers work picture books into their curriculum and showing how to use them to reinforce core content standards.

Explain the concept of finding your inner buffalo?
It's a term I use for tapping into voice. Voice was always the thing that came naturally to me. (Plot is another story--that's my weakness.)

For the longest time, I couldn't get my voice into my picture-book writing. For me, the buffalo books were the breakthrough books; the moment when that happened. I know a woman who writes brilliant letters and email but when she tries to write fiction, something very formal keeps her from using that same, true voice. Finding your inner buffalo is about working through the difficulties until you find your true voice.

When did you start writing in trying to make it a career?
I never made a conscious decision about writing as a career. All the full-time jobs I held involved writing in some way--I worked as a publicist for a magazine, as a public information office at a college, a PR executive. All the while, I also wrote literary short fiction which, as we all know, is the opposite of having a career as a writer. When I stopped working full time to raise my children, the fiction writing life tucked nicely into that. And once I started writing children's books, I didn't write much more literary fiction. I enjoy writing children's books.

Tell me about what you cover in your school visits? How do you change it around for early grades to middle grades?
Though the examples I give are different for the younger and the middle grades, the message is pretty much the same. I talk about where writers find their ideas and where students might find theirs. We talk about how they can discover their own writing territories.

I tell them how many times my first published picture book was rejected, and point out that many people might have stopped sending it out after the 14th rejection or the 23rd, but that I'm glad I didn't, because it never would have been published.
The thing I repeat the most, because I really don't think kids have any idea, is that good writing doesn't often come in a first, second or third draft; good writing emerges from repeated rewriting.

What are some of the most interesting responses that you’ve received in your school visits?
I was asked if I've ever been so bored writing that I've actually fallen asleep. Young kids love to tell me which buffalo books I should write next, and once one suggests a sport, hands are raised until we get through EVERY sport. At my most recent visit, they tagged on extra words that cracked me up: How To Teach Your Buffalo How to Try on Clothes. Is Your Buffalo Going To Learn to Go To First Grade? And of course, Teach Your Buffalo How To Draw Himself.

At almost every visit, there's one kid who approaches me, usually after everyone else has left the room, to ask a more serious question about writing. I love those moments.

What are some other ways you promote your book? What would you say is your most effective promotion?
I don't think I can quantitatively say I have a most effective promotion, because what works one time usually doesn't work the next. I'm still figuring all this out. I'm working on developing my online presence. Part of that involved launching a new blog, I also attend and present at a number of conferences for writers and educators and school media specialists.

What do you know now about writing books that you wished you had known earlier in your writing career?
I've learned how to get out of my own way. I spent so much time explaining--why my characters acted a certain way. Why it was okay that this one behaved this way when most rational people would behave the opposite way. Now I just state the truths as they serve my story without explanation. I wish I learned that one earlier.

What advice would you give to other writers for encouragement?

It's a very subjective business and it ONLY TAKES ONE. You only need one editor to fall in love with your work. I once submitted the same revision to two editors who liked a first-round submission but wanted some changes--they were both looking for similar revisions. When my agent submitted the revised manuscript, one editor said, "Wow, that's kind of a mess, isn't it?" And the other said, "Wow, you really hit it out of the park." And I was glad it only takes one.

I'd also mention, because I don't think it's acknowledged that often, that luck factors in a whole lot. When possible, have good luck, not bad.

That's all for our interview today. You can visit Audrey's website at and her blog at Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums will be released on June 28 and Audrey's debut middle-grade novel, Water Balloon, will be released on September 5.


  1. Super interview, Audrey! And good things for me to think about as a hit the school visit circuit...And I love the idea of just stating the truth as they serve the story. Congrats on your TWO upcoming titles!

  2. Can't wait to teach my buffalo to play drums. This is the practical guide I've been waiting for!

  3. Really nice interview. I love Audrey's advice about finding your true voice. And I might add that once you find it, beware of revising the truth right out of it. I've been guilty of that.

    Audrey has the uncanny ability to find that truth in many voices - in her buffalo books and in her amazing non-fiction books too.

    I'm anxiously waiting to see what the buffalo is up to next.

  4. Thanks to each of you for stopping by! I look forward to doing each and every one of these interviews. It's a great learning experience for me. This book got my attention as my husband is a drummer.

  5. Thanks for hosting me, Christine. And thanks for the kind words, everyone.