Judy Blume Interview Transcript
Your titles are unique. How do you come up with them?
Most of the time the title comes at the end. Blubber and Freckle Juice were exceptions -— I had the titles before I wrote these books. I always have trouble with titles for my books. I usually have no title until the editor has to present the book and calls me frantically, "Judy, we need a title." With Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I just took the first line. With Then Again, Maybe I Won't, I took the last. With Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I sent the editor a choice of about six titles. I had a list of 20 possible titles for Summer Sisters. The publisher chose, not me.
Do you think of the plot first or the characters when you write a story?
I almost always think of characters first.
How do you come up with such great ideas for plots, like in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing?
I'm really quite bad at coming up with plot ideas. I like to create characters and just see what will happen to them when I let them loose!
What are some suggestions for good character development?
Observe. Make notes. Listen carefully. Listen to how people talk to one another. A good writer is always a people watcher.
What character is most like you?
Sally J. Freedman is my most autobiographical character. She is the kind of child I was at nine and ten, when I was the most interesting.
Where did you get the idea for the characters Fudge, Peter, and Tootsie?
Fudge is based on my son, Larry, when he was a toddler. A very interesting child. Peter and Tootsie are from my imagination. At least, I think they are.
Will you be adding books to the Fudge series?
I have a seven-year-old grandson who MUST have another Fudge book and it MUST be dedicated to him. So, I am trying really hard to come up with another adventure for the Hatcher family. In fact, that's what I'm thinking about doing next.
Have any of your books been made into movies?
Fudge was made into a TV movie and then a series. It wasn't good but it wasn't terrible. I keep wanting to see really good adaptations, and this time I'm working with my son, so maybe it will work!
How did you come up with characters' names in Freckle Juice and Fudge-a-Mania?
Character names pop into my head. I've no idea where they come from. But since I've written so many books, I sometimes use the phone book for names, too.
Did you want freckles when you were younger, like in Freckle Juice?
No, I got the idea for Freckle Juice from my daughter, Randy. When she was small, she'd get into the bathtub at night and make a mess. She called this concoction Freckle Juice. It consisted of baby powder, shampoo, and anything else she could mix together. So I had to write a book with that title. That time I had a title first!
I read your book Summer Sisters, and I wondered if you based Caitlin and Vix on characters from your life.
No, the characters are purely fictitious. But I do have a best friend, and she's been my best friend since we were twelve.
Are there any books you have written that you can really identify with?
Oh, yes! I identify with all my characters while I'm writing about them. Then there are the characters most like me, and of course, I especially identify with them: Margaret, Sheila Tubman, Sally Freedman.
Are you ever going to write an autobiography?
I don't know. I can't see an autobiography in my future. But who knows what might happen.
Why do you like to write about families?
What else is there? No, really, I like families. I like all the drama about families, and we all come from families, don't we?
What gives you ideas: people, places, things, or all of them?
Ideas seem to come from everywhere - my life, everything I see, hear, and read, and most of all, from my imagination. I have a LOT of imagination.
What gave you the idea to write Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret?
Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.
Are you going to write any more sequels to Just as Long as We're Together?
I'd love to write Alison's story. Originally, I thought of a trilogy. But somehow I've been sidetracked. I even spent a month in Paris (not that it was hard!) to get a feel for how it could be if Alison visited her father there.
How do you organize your thoughts before you write a novel? Do you write an outline?
I keep a notebook and jot down everything that comes to mind about characters and places and anything else. That notebook is my security blanket. That way I never feel alone with a blank page or a blank screen.
Do you write your books all at once or in fragments as you get ideas?
I write one scene at a time. I keep a notebook before I start a book with everything I can think of about my characters, so that I'm never totally alone with a blank screen or page. Once I begin a book, I try to sit at my desk for two or three hours every morning.
Do you prefer writing for children or for adults?
I have no preference. It's just a question of whose story I'm telling. But if I could only write for one audience, I'd choose kids.
Did you want to write when you were young?
I never really thought of writing professionally. I never knew it was a possibility. I liked writing in school; I wrote for the school paper. I have always liked to make up stories.
When you first started writing, did you have any doubts about whether you could do it? What kept you going?
I was filled with doubts. At night I would think, I'll never get anything published. But in the morning I'd wake up and say I CAN do this. It's hard to deal with rejection, but if you write it's a fact of life.
What was your first successful children's book?
The first success was the first time I let go and just let it happen and that was Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
How did you write before there were computers?
I started on my old college typewriter. Then I bought my first electric typewriter when I sold my first book. Then I moved to a computer. But if you want to know the truth, I still get my best ideas scribbling with a pencil.
How has your writing process changed over the years?
In the beginning, I knew less and was more spontaneous. Now I think I understand how my process works, but in a way it's more difficult.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I'm a re-writer. The first draft is torture! It's so hard for me. Once I've written the first draft, I have the pieces to the puzzle, and I love to put it together and make it into a whole. I rewrite about five times. Though with Summer Sisters, I went through about 20 drafts!!!
What do you do when you are not writing?
When I'm not writing . . . hmmm . . . well, I kayak in summer and ride my bike in winter (in Key West). I love going to the movies and to the theater and reading. My one regret is that I seem to have less and less time for just sitting and reading! I really miss that time to myself to get lost in a good book.
Did you ever have an author that inspired your writing style?
Oh, yes! I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.
What do you think makes a book good?
Well, when I'm reading, I like to care about the characters. I like to know what's inside their heads. And when I'm writing, the same thing is true. For me, character is everything. I'm interested in people and how they cope and how they relate.
Who were your heroes when you were a kid?
That's an interesting question. I think, because I didn't know people with very exciting jobs or careers, my heroes — aside from my father, who was definitely my hero — were movie stars. They seemed to lead exciting lives. Also, I wanted to be a detective.
Were there any teachers or other adults who inspired and encouraged you to become an author?
I had a writing teacher when I was in my twenties and decided to take a course. She encouraged me. At school I had an English teacher, Mr. Komishane, who encouraged and supported all of our creative work. But no one thought I should become a writer. That was my idea, and I didn't get it until I was grown.
What were you like as a teenager?
Oh, I'm not that crazy about the teenager I was. I much prefer the interesting person I was (to me, anyway) before I was a teen. As a teen, well, it was in the fifties, a very boring era. But as a ten year old I had a depth and curiosity that still interests me. Maybe that happens to all of us. We're too into being like everyone else. Too concerned about how we look to our peers when we're teens.
What was your favorite childhood book?
I loved Madeline when I was very young. Then I loved the Maud Hart Lovelace series about Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. I also liked the Oz series. And Nancy Drew. Basically, I just loved to read. I read whatever I could find. My parents had shelves of books in our living room.
What was the first book you ever wrote and/or published?
The first book I ever wrote was called You, Mom, You?, which wasn't published. The first published book was The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo.
Did you take any special classes before you started writing stories?
I don't think writing classes necessarily help you become a writer, but I did take a course in writing at New York University, which was my alma mater. My teacher there gave me what every writer needs, support and encouragement.
Did anyone ever try to discourage you from being a writer?
Yes. My then-husband had a best friend who was an English major at college. He said, "You're a nice girl, Judy, but you can't write." Also, I sent an early manuscript to someone who wrote picture books and he said, "Give it up. You have no talent." So I always say, be careful what you say to someone who wants to write, because you never know.
What advice would you give to an aspiring young author?
Keep writing! Don't let anyone ever discourage you. Just keep on going, because you can't help yourself. You have to write! No one chooses to become a writer. You write because you can't not write.
Do you like your job a lot? Why or why not?
Let's put it this way: I like to make up stories and characters. Sometimes I think I just can't write another book. It's so hard. But then I wait a few months — like now — until I can't stand it anymore, and I really want to get back to my desk and get started on the next one. So, I guess I must like it. I especially like it when the book is done and I wonder, "How did I do that?" because when you write you go off into that other part of your brain and it's as if you're not aware of writing. You're not aware of anything; you're just living the story. And then you can't remember having written it at all. Does any of this makes sense?
Do you think that your books encourage kids to read?
Well, I hope so. I think any book that someone likes encourages that person to pick up another, and that's how readers are made.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I like to read fiction. I like to get completely involved in the characters' lives. Sometimes, when I'm writing fiction, I have to switch to reading nonfiction.
Do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?
Oh, yes! But there's also a tremendous letdown. It's as if you have to say good-bye to your best friends, the people you've been so close to for a year or two or three. Some writers get depressed when they finish.
If you could change anything about your writing, what would it be?
That's a hard one to answer. It's best not to dwell on what you've written, wishing it could be different. We all write what we can. We do the very best we can. You might think, oh, I wish I could write like so-and-so, but you have to write like yourself.
What are some editing strategies that you use?
The very best for me is to read aloud, to listen carefully. You'll find you really want to edit as you go. I always tell writers when they've finished a book, put it away. Take it out in a month and read it aloud. A funny story: I was recording one of the Fudge books and as I read I kept changing things and the engineer kept stopping me and saying, "You read that wrong." And I said, "I know, but it's better this way!" But it was too late to edit. I had to read it as it was.
Do you have a special place to go when you get writer's block?
Writer's block, what's that?! There are good days and less good days, but I refuse to acknowledge writer's block. Although, for really good thinking, I do like to go to the water to just sit at the ocean or the pond. I like my kayak for thinking, too. And my bicycle. We all have some days that are better than others. If it's a bad day, if it just won't come, get up and walk around, do something else. Tomorrow it will come.
How do you feel when an editor tells you to change a part of a story that you feel is just fine?
It hasn't worked that way for me. An editor would question something rather than say change it. A good editor can explain why something doesn't work, and sometimes you have to argue your point. You should, if you're really convinced you're on the right track. I've done that a couple of times. Mostly I've had excellent relationships with editors. I need a good editor. Who doesn't? A good editor brings a fresh eye to your manuscript. I would never want to publish without working with a good editor.
Does anyone else in your family write?
My husband, George Cooper, has a nonfiction book coming out this spring - Poison Widows. And my daughter, Randy Blume, has a novel coming out called Crazy in the Cockpit. I'm a proud wife and mom!
What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
English. Drama. I was always dramatic! My aunt called me Camille.
Did you ever spend all your money on books when you were a child?
I bought a book every week at the Ritz Bookstore in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They cost less than a dollar then. I saved my allowance. I also used the public library in Elizabeth. I loved choosing books to read.
How did it feel to be one of People magazine's most fascinating people of the year?
It felt pretty good. But we don't take it seriously. I mean, my family knows I'm just a regular person. One who can't always type what she's trying to say!
Which of the honors that you've earned makes you the happiest?
I think it's best not to focus on honors or awards. But if I have to, I'd say the Children's Choice Award means the most.
Do you travel a lot as a writer?
I do quite a bit of traveling. But sometimes I just want to stay at home! My next big trip will be a book tour to England for Summer Sisters. And also, a book tour to Germany.
Do ever go to schools to talk to students?
I love to talk to kids. I wish I could tell you I could come to all your schools, but that's just not possible. Since I can't do that, I hope you'll visit my Web site, instead. It's http://www.judyblume.com. You'll find out more than you want to know there.
Where did you get the idea for Iggie's House?
Iggie's House was my first long book and second published book. I lived in a neighborhood in suburban New Jersey that was all white, and I liked to think about how the neighbors would handle a racially mixed neighborhood. It was the very beginning of the seventies and I wanted my kids to know kids of all backgrounds.
Do your own kids find themselves in your books? If so, how do they feel about that?
No!!! I've always been really careful about respecting their privacy. I think when you're a writer you have to protect the people closest to you. Of course, Fudge is based on Larry when he was small. But that wasn't a serious look at him.
Do all of your books take place in places that you've been to?
Yes, I would find it hard to write a book set in a place I don't know. In order to make it real for the reader I have to have a sense of how things work in a specific place.
Did your parents read to you a lot as a child?
It's funny, I don't think my parents read to me very often. But they were book lovers. I read to my children and now to my grandson. He loves being read to at bedtime, even though he's just learned to read. You should never stop reading aloud.
What was your reaction when some of your books were criticized over their content?
I always feel badly for the message that sends to young readers.
Do you keep adult critics in mind when you write for young people?
It's terribly dangerous to think of any critics when you're writing. You've got to write what you believe and get totally lost in the story you're telling. You have to think only of your characters and nothing, nothing else! If you write for critics, it's all over.
Have you ever been dissatisfied with one of your books after you finished writing it?
Well, sure. I'd like to rewrite Iggie's House. It was my first. I was just learning. But I know I have to live with it the way it is. I tell kids to read it just to see how I've improved. That is, I hope they'll think I've learned and improved.
Do you have any pets?
Right now I have a "granddog." She belongs to Larry. Her name is Mookie and I'm crazy about her! She's a Jack Russell terrier and she's so smart! She visits me all the time and I know she thinks of me as her granny. My stepdaughter, Amanda has four horses and five cats. My daughter, Randy, has one mean cat! I don't mess around with her.
Do people treat you as someone famous or as a regular person?
I can't relate to people who treat me as a "famous person." I only like to hang around with people who treat me as a regular person because that's what I am. All people are really just regular.
Is Judy Blume your real name?
Yes. Blume is my first husband's name, but we were married a long time and it felt comfortable.
Do you get to choose the illustrators for your book covers?
No. Aren't some of them just awful? We're trying to do new covers now and I've seen some I really like so let's hope. . . .
What is your favorite food?
Pasta, pasta, pasta! My all-time favorite.
As a child, did you daydream a lot? If so, is that where your story ideas come from?
Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.
How do you feel about the television shows kids watch today?
I could say I can't stand the shows for kids. But here I am working on some based on my books. I don't think it's realistic to say kids shouldn't watch any TV. I just wish the shows would be better. And that kids would watch less. Get out there and do things, kids! Don't become couch potatoes!
Judy, do you have any final words for the audience?
You've been the most exciting audience with the best questions! Thank you all so much for being here with me. I think you've inspired me. I think I may have to write another book after all.