Saturday, February 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Judy Blume

I was always a Judy Blume fan. Borrowed the heavily-worn Are You There God, It's Me Margaret from my elementary-school library. Felt sad/guilty reading Blubber (I still remember how that girl smelled--which is a neat trick to pull off in print) and completely identified with Superfudge's older brother. In fact, I won a hardback copy of Superfudge for doing something terrific in fourth grade, but I can't remember what it was. I still have the book, though. Today's Judy's birthday, and Writer's Almanac sent the following. Enjoy.

Judy Blume was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the best-selling author of more than two dozen books for young people.

She was 27 years old, with two preschool aged children, when she began writing seriously. For two years, she received constant rejections. Highlights magazine routinely sent her a form rejection letter with the box checked "Does not win in competition with others." She finally published her first book in 1969: a story called The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

The next year, she had her big breakthrough, with the young adult novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1970). It's the story of 11-year-old Margaret Simon, the daughter of Jewish father and Christian mother, and her adolescent attempts to make sense of things like religion, boys, and menstruation. The book was banned in many schools and libraries. It's one of the most challenged books of the last third of the 20th century. But it's also beloved by many, and it has been a big best-seller over the years. It was re-released just last year.

She's also the author of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972), Blubber (1974), The Pain and the Great One (1974), Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977), Superfudge (1980), Here's to You, Rachel Robinson (1993), and recently, Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain and the Great One (2008). Her books have sold more than 80 million copies.

She lives mostly in Key West, where she writes at a desk facing a garden. In the summer, she writes in a small cabin on Martha's Vineyard. She always writes in the morning. When she's working on a first draft, which she says is the hardest part, she writes seven days a week, even if only for an hour or two day.

She always begins a story "on the day something different happens." In Here's to You, Rachel Robinson, she said, "It's the day Rachel's older brother Charles, gets kicked out of boarding school." In Superfudge, "it's the day Peter learns there's going to be a new baby in the family." She keeps a notebook for each book, filled with scraps of dialogue and other things that come to her head at various times through out the day. She says that her characters are in her head for a long time before she begins writing, and she feels like they're so real that she often talks about them at the dinner table. She usually does about three drafts of each book, and works much more intensely at rewriting than at the first draft.


My desk faces a world map, not a garden in Key West, and I don't have a cabin in Martha's Vineyard. But, I connect with her habits and the idea that the first draft is the hardest part. I particularly like that she always begins a story on the day something different happens. It sounds simple, but it's extremely good advice.

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