Looking out into the audience at a production she is acting in, directing, or has designed costumes for, Skyler Schrempp can always tell how the show is being received. A small crowd with delighted faces or a packed house that’s disengaged—it’s immediately obvious how the show is landing. But as the debut author of the middle grade novel Three Strike Summer (McElderry) and a newcomer to publishing, she didn’t know what to expect. The book was written, edited, and released into the world without the immediate feedback loop she was used to in theater.
“Launching a book felt akin to closing a show,” Schrempp says. “There’s no way for me to look into the audience and see if someone is reading the book.”
But positive signs began to bubble up: four starred reviews (including one from PW) and comparisons to classics such as The Sandlot and Esperanza Rising. Schrempp says it’s deeply exciting and satisfying to see how readers are responding. “It’s been incredible. I’m very grateful.”
The story centers on Gloria Willard, an “Okie” whose family loses their Dust Bowl farm during the Great Depression; they head to California to take up poorly paid, exploitive work in a peach orchard. Here, Gloria struggles to adjust, hoping that her remarkable pitching arm will gain her admission to the boys-only baseball team. Shut off from that opportunity and caught up in the labor disputes at the orchards, she falls back on her talent, moxie, and big heart to bring hope to an impossible situation. Schrempp says experience in theater helped her to home in on the voice, and her extensive research into the time period contributed to the authenticity of the dialogue and tone.
An avid reader and writer as a child, Schrempp grew up loving fantasy series such as Brian Jacques’s Redwall books and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. As a teen, she inhaled anything dark, moody, and historical, becoming a fan of the Brontë sisters. When she started college, she intended to be a writer, but shifted to theater after a discouraging experience in a writing class. In the theater kids she found her people. She worked in theater for many years in a variety of roles—costume designer, actor, director.
While theater remains a passion of hers, the heavy burnout of irregular hours and unpredictable pay didn’t seem sustainable as Schrempp looked to a future with a family (her husband also works in theater). Wanting to pivot, she returned to the idea of writing, which offered a more flexible way to be creative. Pursuing a master’s in writing for children at Vermont College of Fine Arts provided her a way to shift gears.
When she arrived at VCFA, Schrempp says, she intended to write a melancholy, historical YA novel in the vein of the Brontë novels she loved. But during her first semester, she started a short story about a kid who “comes to believe that she has to take a punch to regain honor” and to surrender to the consequences of her actions in order to receive redemption. With the encouragement of her adviser, author Varian Johnson, the 20-page story expanded into a novel.
Three Strike Summer met with quick success: Schrempp finished her first draft while still at VCFA, got her agent, and sold her book—to Alyza Liu, assistant editor at McElderry Books—all before graduation. She also found out she was expecting her first child. She was on track to deliver both the final draft of the book and her baby at the same time, in fall 2020, but the baby decided to come a bit early. All the same, the book was completed and came out this past August.
Schrempp says that working with McElderry has been “a really good artistic sojourn,” adding, “They are committed to great stories.”
Schrempp is currently working on one of those moody Victorian gothic murder mysteries she was first drawn to. “I want to make things that are beautiful and valuable and that come from an organic place,” she says.