Festival of Books: Are you there Judy Blume? It's us, your fan base
Judy Blume fans packed USC's Bovard Auditorium on Saturday afternoon to hear Los Angeles Times staff writer Mary McNamara talk with the author about her books, her writing career and her characters at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
They came young and old, carrying dog-eared, well-loved copies of her books. They applauded loudly, they listened patiently, and when it came time for the audience question-and-answer period they lined up at the microphones to say thank you to the author who had an uncanny ability to put all their awkward growing-up moments to paper.
Over the course of the conversation with McNamara -- and fans -- Blume shared how she came to start writing in the first place ("I had two young kids; I'd married young and I had no creative outlet"), what her pre-writing career was ("making felt cutout figures for children's rooms, but I became allergic to the Elmer's glue, so I guess it was a sign") and how writing a first draft is always hard.
"I hate first drafts, and it never gets easier. People always wonder what kind of superhero power they'd like to have," Blume told the audience. "I wanted the ability for someone to just open up my brain and take out the entire first draft and lay it down in front of me so I can just focus on the second, third and fourth drafts." She said the 23 drafts she went through for "Summer Sisters" made her vow that it would be her last book.
"And it was for a long time," Blume said, who told the crowd she's currently working on a book about growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1952. "People say, 'Oh, you're writing historical fiction,' but those were the years I was growing up."
She wouldn't divulge much about the book except to say that she's enjoying the historical research and that the book currently focuses on three teenagers. "But the adults are starting to come in and say things," Blume said. "Even though I didn't ask them to."
She told the audience she wrote the book "Forever" for her daughter. "That may not be the best reason for writing a book," Blume said. "But she came to me and said: 'Mom, can there ever be a book where two people do it and nobody dies?' "
Blume also offered a strategy for now-grown fans of her books (the most popular of which are "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" and "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing") hoping to introduce their children to her books.
"First, invest in one with a new cover," she said. "Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh no, you're not reading that -- you're not ready for it yet.' "
Blume's suggested exercise in reverse psychology not only brought peals of laughter from the crowd, it also was the perfect illustration of how, even after a writing career that's spanned four decades and more than two dozen books, Blume's ability to deftly tap into the minds of preteens and tween-agers transcends generations.
-- Adam Tschorn