Looking Back on CWIM: The 1998 Edition
In which I Interview Judy Blume and edit Richard Peck...
There were some intimidating moments as I worked on the 1998 CWIM. First Richard Peck agreed to write a feature for me Looking at YA Past & Present (which he composed on a typewriter just as he did his novels) and I went through revisions with him. It was my fifth edition of CWIM, I was still in my twenties, and I feeling a little like a baby editor.
But that was nothing compared to interviewing the woman who arguably had more influence on my childhood than anyone else: Judy Blume.
I met Judy at an SCBWI conference autograph party to which I arrived ridiculously early so I could be at the front of her line. As I said in my article intro, after she told me she was open to doing an interview, "I ran up to my hotel room and called my husband, my mom, my sister and a few of my girlfriends to tell them I talked to Judy Blume and somehow managed not to wet my pants." (After the book came out and Judy got her copy, she sent me a letter thanking me for the interview. It said "I'm so glad you didn't wet your pants," which she underlined in the purple pen she used to sign her name. I framed the letter and hung it next to my bookcase.)
Here is part of our conversation from the 1998 CWIM in which we talked about teen sex, birth control, my chubby childhood, and masturbation, among other things:
What's your advice for writer who are tackling [controversial subjects]?
For me the best thing is to not even know there's a problem, and to write from the place deep inside, where you're not thinking about anything but telling the best story you can tell. And if it becomes an issue, deal with it afterwards. One of the great fears, with this climate of censorship we have today, is that writers will censor themselves and the losers will be the kids. Writers are hungry. They want to be published. If they think they can't be published by writing about something, then maybe they won't write about it.
The '70s was a very writer- and kid-friendly time because there was less fear in the marketplace and more concern about publishing the best books and getting them to the kids, books kids could really relate to. All publishing has changed drastically in the last couple of years. The whole marketplace--everything has changed. That's a topic I'm probably not even qualified to talk about, but it's become much more like the movie business--it's driven by the bottom line. It's all economics, the way things are marketed now. So if you just look at children's publishing--has it changed? Yes. Is there more fear now in publishing? I don't know. There was, but maybe now people are sick of pandering to the censors.
If you would have begun writing in, say, 1995 instead of the late '60s, do you think it would have been more difficult for you to get your work published?
I don't know... I don't know. I think a fresh voice and good writing is always welcome--somebody is going to find you and nurture you. I don't know that everyone will be nurtured as a writer as well as I was because they all won't have Dick Jackson [her first editor]. And that was a very lucky break for me.
But there's always room for that fresh voice and that new way of seeing things. And certainly the hardest thing about writing when you've written twenty-some books is to be fresh and spontaneous. You know more about writing. You've got a lot more experience. But to be fresh and find a new voice is hard.
My new book [Summer Sisters] has been hardest book I've ever written. It's probably been through 20 drafts. That's not good for spontaneity. I wrote in in first person present, first person past, third person present, third person past, first and third mixed, and it just became a nightmare. It's not a warm and cozy book. It's pretty tough, and the friendship is not your basic wonderful friendship. It's a difficult book. But it's a story I needed to tell at the time, so there it is. I got myself into a real tough spot by again doing something that didn't neatly fit into any category. If you tell a story you want to tell, and the story doesn't fit in a category, even if you're Judy Blume, you're going to have a lot of trouble.
That's generally a problem with YA, isnt' it?
Yes. Nobody know what it is anymore. "YA" is ridiculous. YAs are read by 10-year-olds. The book I'm working on now is not meant for 10-year-olds, so how do you publish something YA and say I want 16-36s to read this book? That why my new book had been back and forth and back and forth--nobody's known what to do with it. I think the publisher has probably come up with a wise plan, but it's a new plan, and it's a scary plan for them and the marketers--to publish something adult and try to reach a specific audience, especially in today's marketplace. And I won't to do this again, I tell you that! My adult books have been hard for me, because I haven't known as I was writing them that they were. And I don't think that's bad. I think as you write you should just tell a story and not wonder, "Who is this for?" Even though eventually, you have to ask.