Judy Blume Boxed Set (Fudge-a-Mania, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge)
by Judy Blume
Published by Random House
Buy it online
Judy Blume and her husband George Cooper meet me at a chic tea room on Vancouver's west side. You know the kind of place: elegant, understated, quiet jazz piped through discreetly hidden speakers and the staff are quiet, unobtrusive and look as though chocolate wouldn't melt in their mouths. I've done many interviews in this same tearoom and never been paid any attention: "please" and "thank you" and "would you like more hot water?" Authors -- even really well-known ones -- seldom attract much attention.
And then there's Judy Blume. Near the end of our interview, one of the wait staff breaks away from the others, "Excuse me," she says. "Miss Blume. I'm sorry to intrude. It's just that I wanted to say how much your books have meant to me over the years."
Blume takes both of the girl's hands in her own and shakes them gently. "Thank you," she says. "That means so much to me." And all hell breaks loose. The quiet understated staff comprised of mostly young women crowd around: the elegant facade quite forgotten. They are not frightening, you understand. They are not demanding. What they want is to give something -- even if the something is emotion -- back to the woman they feel has given them so much.
"This happens all the time," Blume confides later. "It's really nice. And they always want to give." An instamatic camera is produced and a photo is taken of Blume with a bevy of tea servers and entrepreneurs ranged around her adoringly.
Twenty-two books into her career, Blume is presently promoting Summer Sisters her latest book and the first adult novel she's written in over 10 years. She is, she says, enjoying this latest tour more than any she's ever done. "Ten years ago I said I'd never do this again," she says of the hullabaloo that surrounds a book tour. It's exhausting and draining and, "it doesn't leave you time to write."
This time however, Blume is enjoying the responses she's getting from people in the age group of our tea-mobbers: young women who grew up reading and enjoying Judy Blume's books. Young women who came of age perhaps a little less painfully knowing that they weren't alone in their challenges. It is, Blume says, a good feeling.
Physically very small and delicately-built, now 60 Blume appears easily 10 years younger. The youthfulness has a god-given appearance, though: she wears little make up and there's a graceful naturalness about her. The gentleness of her mien and the delicacy of her stature are a stark contrast to the books she writes: cathartic, emotional books that have often been called "therapeutic" by the critics and much worse by certain moral policing groups who have tried -- sometimes successfully -- over the years to have her books banned from schools and libraries in the U.S.
Blume and her husband of 19 years maintain residences on Martha's Vineyard, Key West and New York. "Only islands, George likes to say," Blume jests. She likes to read and, when on the Vineyard, she rides her bike. She loves to see her children and her grandson, Elliot. And -- to her fans delight -- she continues to work. "I have so many stories left to tell!."
Linda Richards: This is your first book tour in many years.
Judy Blume: I haven't promoted a book on the road since 1986. In 86 I said, 'That's it. I'm never doing this again. Ever. Ever.' And I was much younger when I said that. But here I am.
Martha's Vineyard plays an important part in Summer Sisters. And your affection for the place is obvious in the book. Is it a lifelong relationship? Did you go there when you were a child?
In 1983 we were living in Santa Fe and George suggested we go to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard for the summer. I truly had never heard of Martha's Vineyard before. And we lived in what my stepdaughter called psycho house. That was the basis of the house in the book. Once we went back to the Vineyard we said, 'Yes. This is it! This is a wonderful sort of place. And we rented for a couple of years. And eventually we bought this place.
Your first book was published what year?
No. Any kind of book.
Fall of 1969.
And that was?
You're going to make me tell you?
Well, I guess I can't make you.
The One in the Middle is a Green Kangaroo. It was an illustrated children's book.
Did you illustrate it yourself?
No. I tried to illustrate my first efforts but I'm totally not an illustrator so it was sort of a joke. But I have kept them in the closet. Colored them. With little colored pencils. Fastened them with little brass fasteners like I was still in school. I told my children that if they try to publish them after I die I will come back and haunt them.
Have any of your books been made into films?
Forever was made into a TV movie in 1976. Stephanie Zimbalist's first starring role. Music was all the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.
You were pleased with it?
I was totally pleased with it. I didn't know any better. I thought it was great. They had a good director. They had a producer who really, really cared. And they had an executive producer who fought the network to be able to make it true to the book.
And there's a TV series from the Fudge books. And a TV movie of the week from one of the Fudge books to kick off the series. Which should all soon be in home video. I'll have to find out. But that was an emotionally difficult experience. I promised George I wouldn't cry. Did I cry every day?
[George: Not every day.]
Because it was frustrating. Emotional and frustrating. Because you know, they said they needed my input desperately. So we went out there and stayed for several months and they wouldn't let me anywhere near it. It was terrible. I was referred to as the writer of the original material. It was a great lesson in surviving a degrading, humiliating experience.
The TV series?
Yes. Wanting to work with and participate and having been invited and then shoved aside. It was really pretty bad.
Have you seen it?
Did you hate it?
No. When we went into it we said what we're going for here is the DNE award: Does Not Embarrass. And it does not embarrass. It's not embarrassing. I loved the cast. The cast was really lovely: the children were wonderful. The set direction was incredible. I couldn't believe what they were able to build on a lot. The brilliant creative stuff was fun, in that way. I just wanted it to be so good. And I just thought it could be so different. Everybody is always in a hurry. You know: hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry. So I was disappointed. But not so disappointed that I wouldn't do it again. I don't know that I'd get involved at the same level, but I would let it happen again.
Part of it must be fun, I guess.
Yeah: it's exciting. I like movies myself. So it's fun when the characters speak your lines and it works. My favorite of any that we've done we did ourselves. We did a little film based on Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great and that was a real mom and pop. We got some money from an educational film company and we did it. My son and I wrote the screenplay very quickly based on the book. He directed it. We executive produced it. And we had wonderful kids. It's charming and it works.
When did you do it?
Ten years ago. 1988. Afterward ABC picked it up and showed it. The book was early 70s. Sheila was all my childhood fears. I love the result. And I just think we were able to catch something, even on no budget to speak of. The whole thing was done in a few days. I felt it spoke in a special way. It wasn't sitcom. It wasn't all jokes.
Would you do that again?
If I didn't want to write any more books I would. It's a really long time.
You've dealt with a lot of censorship throughout the years.
Much more in the 80s and some in the 90s. Much more than in the 70s. The 70s were a much more open time. A time when people weren't afraid of taking chances: and I'm talking about the publishers and the editors. I had this wonderful young editor and publisher who never made me feel I was doing anything the least bit controversial. Because I didn't feel I was. And we were just lucky to all come together then.
I mean the principal of my children's school then wouldn't put Margaret on the shelves. Because she gets her period. Like, kids in elementary school don't get their periods. It's ludicrous. Even my friends way back then had their periods in six grade.
Some things just don't change.
Except that they're developing earlier now. But it was the 80s -- the political climate of the 80s in the states that brought the censors out and everything turned conservative. Over night the religious right became very vocal. Because they were so vocal and because others weren't they wielded a lot of power.
What's the climate now?
The climate now is: that's a good question. I'd better give you a good answer. It's as though the censorship isn't all coming from the right: the left wants to get into the act. The PC folks want to get into the act. It's crazy. You can't give in to any of the censors. I don't care where they're coming from. Because we'll have nothing then. Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you've got to fight it. I think there's good news and bad news, that's how I put it. In censorship. And the goods news is that I think that people are more aware. And the publishers are more aware. Booksellers are more aware. And kids are beginning to learn in school.
We grew up and we had these amendments. We had this Bill of Rights. We had this constitution. But you never really learned about something that affected you directly. Now there's a wonderful school librarian named Pat Scales from South Carolina who goes around and teaches kids courses on the first amendment and she has been a tremendous friend to the right to read and the right for children to be able to choose their own books. She has helped parents be less afraid by having classes for parents. 'Here are the books your children might be reading this year. Let's read them together as a parent group and talk about what could bother you. What you might be afraid of in this.' She's wonderful.
And it really is about fear, isn't it?
It's about fear. It's about control. And fear is contagious. I don't know why people think that if only they can control what their children read they can control their children's minds. It doesn't work that way. It's as if, if it's in a book it gives you permission. They're afraid that their kids will read about it and then it'll happen to their kids or their kids will do it. It doesn't work that way at all in real life. Reading about it can satisfy your curiosity so you say, 'No way. I'm not getting into that.'
Books in schools and libraries are selected by professionals. And there are criteria that they use. They're not just putting any book in the library. They're selecting books and so it's not that every single book that's ever been published in the history of the world is in your child's school library. It's not.
Tell me about your own kids.
I have a daughter who's 37. A son who will be 35 soon. A step-daughter to whom I'm very close who's 30. She's been in my life since she was 12. She's responsible for George and I being together.
Were any of them in Summer Sisters? Or, rather, which characters in the book did you draw from life most or did you identify with most strongly?
I identify with all of them because they're mine and because you have to. I mean, you can't be judgmental about your characters. You've got the reader to be judgmental, but not you. And while there are some that I really don't like -- like Tawny [who is the mother of one of the main characters in Summer Sisters ]. She's had a tough life. Still, I don't want to be like Tawny. I don't want to be her daughter. And I don't want to teach my kids that you hold everything in, always. I'm just the opposite.
Are you working on the next book?
No! No, no! This was long, tough and emotionally draining. Many times while I was writing it I thought I just couldn't. It was so hard. And I always say I'm never doing it again. And the other night I said to George, 'This is so much fun!' that's when I heard it was on the bestseller list. I have a notebook filled with characters who I think could be really interesting to get to know in another adult novel. Just filled with their names and... oh; there's four sisters and a crazy father and he's constantly marrying and remarrying. He has crazy businesses. I don't know. I think maybe I will write it someday.
But then I have a grandson who wants Fudge since we play the Fudge game. I have to be Fudge, so I'm four. He gets to be Peter my big brother: talk about power. And my daughter is our mother. She's mom and she has to always separate us and say, 'Now boys. You really have to get along better.' Elliot loves it, and it drives the rest of the family crazy when he says, 'Let's play the Fudge game'.
So there might be another Fudge book?
I'd love to do another Fudge book. But when I wrote Fudge-a-mania I brought everybody together and I said, 'That's it! I never have to do this again. No more Fudge books.' But now Elliot and I play a game called Florida Fudge or Coconut Fudge. Maybe we'll have Coconut Fudge. Because he visits us in Key West and we talk about what trouble Fudge might get into in Key West.
See. I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'
I would like to write so many different books. I have so many stories. I feel really, really creative. I think that, in my life anyway, although I have continued: I've always been able to write even though the worst. And there's been some really bad stuff. And I've been able to write, which my daughter says she finds unbelievable how lucky I was that I was able to do that. But I feel this creative spurt. I mean I don't have these other things to worry about right now. Although I'm sure if I try, I'll find something to worry about, because I do. But then I think, I'm 60 years old! I have to choose more carefully. To decide what I really want to do. Because I've always thought I was going to die tomorrow because my father died young. So I think in my 20s I was even much more thinking that way than now. You know, now I've had the chance to do a lot of it. I've had the chance to do a lot of books and tell a lot of stories: live a lot of lives.
How many books? Did I read there were 65 books?
No: 22. 65 million books. I know all those numbers.
And you get lots of nice letters. You did a book around letters as well.
Yeah. That was a long time ago. That book cost me a lot: three years. I thought it was going to be six months. It was very hard.
I'm not familiar with the book.
It's out of print, actually. It's in print in England. It was letters that children had written to me. And the only way I could think of doing it was doing topic by topic and relating it somehow to my own life and that was so hard.
It sounds like a cool book.
It was a nice book. It got probably the best reviews of anything I've ever written and it sold two copies. It was published probably not at the right time.
I understand that you and George are actively involved with a Web site for your books. Has that been an interesting process?
We went around a browsed a lot of other authors. And we thought the sites were too static, you know. Not really dynamic. And at the time we were doing it for the kids. They keep writing and wanting information.
Now all the letters that are coming in to the Summer Sisters site are so wonderful. I love those letters from the 20 and 30-somethings. I would say that -- so far -- this is the most fun I've had doing a book tour. For a couple of reasons. One is that they're letting me spend two nights in each city instead of that horrendous city-a-day where you're always in a state of complete exhaustion. And the other is the fun of knowing that whatever happens to me during the day -- good or bad or indifferent -- I get to write it down and put it in my Anxiety Diary and it's out there. And maybe nobody in the world cares, but I've always found that kind of writing to be cathartic. And people are following it. They know where you're going to be and when you're going to be there. It's so immediate! We'll get a letter from someone who says 'I'm going to come and see you at this signing,' and then you write that down, and when you're there you say, 'Are you here Melanie?' and you meet this person.
So that's all making this tour more fun and fresh. But I can also see why I quit in 1986, because I did something like six of these in three years. Two of them were in England and there must have been two books in a row and I had to do hardcover and paperback and I understand why I said, 'That's it. I'm not going to do this anymore.' Because you do burn out. This is okay. I don't know if I'll ever do it again because I don't know if I'll have the energy. But I'm meeting very different readers. I'm meeting these generations who really are grown up now who grew up on my books. Some of them have kids and they bring their kids and that's exciting. It's fun.
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.