Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Miss New Jersey

Key West -- okay, so I'm not exactly Miss New Jersey. But I've just found out I'm in the 2010 Class of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Does that count?

This is how I heard the news -- an early morning phone call from Bill Yankee, my friend and personal trainer in Key West --who always wanted to be the first, he said, to congratulate someone who'd made it into the NJ Hall of Fame. He found this wildly funny. You know, all those New Jersey jokes. (Bill is from Cleveland so plenty of opportunities to get back at him.) Hey, I'm in good company -- Philip Roth (our mothers went to high school together) and many others, including Jack Nicholson and Susan Sarandon (who knew they, too, were raised in the Garden State?).

Good thing I've never denied my roots. And why would I? I spent my first 37 years living in New Jersey. And my next book will take place in Elizabeth (my home town) in the 1950's.

(Here I am in 1956 with my sister editors of High Spots, Battin High school's paper. From left: Joanne, Judy, Mary, and Ellen. Mary and I were co-feature editors.)

But will I ever get back to that book? Since my last blog, and even before it, I've been working long hours on the screenplay for Tiger Eyes. Larry (my son) and I are collaborating on this project. We had a three day working session in Key West a few weeks ago, where we were joined by our UK producer. After presenting our first draft to her, Ilene had some good and very welcome ideas for us (kind of like working with a creative book editor). I'd already filled four notebooks with various drafts -- and that was before the official first draft.

I'm about to go into hiding again to tackle the next draft. Then it will go back to Larry for his input, and finally, to Ilene. You'd think this would be easier -- after all, I wrote the book, I know the characters, I like to write dialogue -- but it's not easy. So much of screen writing is about structure. Larry is good at structure. So is Ilene. I'm more about character. But all three of us want to see the best scenes, the scenes that tell the story on the screen -- and it's such an emotional story. A get-out-your-hanky kind of story. So we're fighting to keep the schmaltz out of it. I dislike emotionally manipulative movies, the ones that tell you how and when to feel. But I'm not opposed to a good cry, as long as it comes naturally, from the characters and their story. I'm thankful for Jason, Davey's little brother, who brings in some much needed humor.

So you'll understand, I hope, if I don't get to post another blog between now and the holidays, though I'll try.

George and I had Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Key West (Randy, Larry, and Elliot were together in Boston, and Amanda and Jim were in New Mexico) then drove up to Miami for a long weekend -- stayed in a hotel in South Beach and celebrated our 30th anniversary. Nice. Romantic. Seems like yesterday that we met in Santa Fe.

(Here we are 30 years ago)

Hope you were all able to enjoy your Thanksgiving weekends, too. I've discovered this year how much I love sweet potatoes.

Not the icky sweetened, marshmallowed recipes, but a simply baked sweet potato, cubed and tossed with whole wheat pasta, olive oil, parsley (lots of it) basil, and parmesan cheese. I'm not much of a cook but this is my latest favorite meal. Yum! And did you know, sweet potatoes are one of the best foods you can eat?

It's been ages since the NCAC event in New York in October but I promised I'd post photos and a video of some of our special performers. To see it all

Whew! That's a lot of catching up.

One more thing -- get well soon to SCBWI's beloved Lin Oliver who had emergency surgery a few weeks ago. If I know Lin, she'll be racing around before we know it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fantasy Fest '09

Key West -- Halloween is a week long holiday in this town. And it's not all for the kids. People come from all over to celebrate. Some locals hide-out for the week, others are happy to join in the fun. This year Fantasy Fest celebrated its 30th anniversary with a worthy theme - Villains, Vixens, and Vampires. (Reminds me of the title of Carolyn Mackler's great YA novel, Vegan, Virgin, Valentine).

Let's start with the Pet Masquerade on the grounds of the newly renovated Casa Marina
Hotel, where kids were definitely welcome. I've never seen so many dogs behave themselves so well. And let me tell you, it was hot. As in 90 degrees with high
humidity. (The doggie in the toilet, upper left, was my favorite.) Fortunately the humans behaved, too.

Then on to the traditional Costume Parade. Someone described it as a lot of 60-somethings letting it all hang out. Well, yes! Early in the evening, anyway. Fantastic body painting. (I read somewhere that every year there are emergency trips to the dermatologist caused by allergic reactions to body painting.)

A friend said to me, "I’ve been thinking a lot about our notions of creativity and self expression. When you think in those terms (and get beyond narrow aesthetics of beauty) it really is quite amazing." I think that's an interesting take on this year's parade.

I'm not showing any of the triple x-rated costumes here. I'll leave that to your imaginations. And in case you're wondering, No, George and I didn't dress up. And we didn't stay for the late night craziness either. Sorry.

Hope you all had a fun time, too. Or at least your kids did. In Key West everyone (who wants to) gets to be a kid again at Fantasy Fest.

And so it goes...
xx Judy

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goodbye, Norma Fox Mazer

Key West -- So sad that my old friend and colleague Norma Fox Mazer has died. I can't remember the first time I met Norma -- probably in the early '70s. I do remember bringing home her first book, I Trissy, for Randy to read. And every book after that for a long time. She was an amazing writer. An honest writer. The story she contributed to Places I Never Meant to Be, Original Stories by Censored Writers, still haunts me. It was the story of a mother and a daughter. Norma had three daughters and a son of her own, and she was an expert at capturing those sometimes difficult relationships in her work.

Norma was a natural beauty with a smile that made everyone else smile. The last time I saw her, at a Newbery dinner a year or two ago, she looked exactly the same to me -- an ageless pixie with Pippi Longstocking braids. I think of her in jeans and hiking boots - that was her look no matter where she went. We had a conversation once, about aging, and she wondered how girls who grow up knowing they are cute handle it. She didn't think she was handling it all that well.

We saw each other a couple of times a year in those days. When I moved to New Mexico we corresponded. (Remember snail mail?) When I was going through a particularly rough time in my personal life, Norma wrote and said she would never stay in a marriage where she wasn't treated right. She and Harry were together for close to 60 years. Just a girl when they met, post WWII, they had grown together, had four children together, become writers together, met with success together.

Yet Norma loved the simple life -- gardening, writing, family. She once told me she was giving her grandchildren old fashioned packages of clay for the holidays. She bemoaned the fact that modern children didn't know the joys of making things on their own, of creating from very little. I'd forgotten until then how much I'd enjoyed using clay of different colors as a child. How I would play for hours, pretending to be a butcher, lining up chickens and briskets and hot dogs all made from clay. Norma never forgot.

When she and Harry decided to come south for the winter, George and I were thrilled. South meant an apartment in New York. We thought we'd get to spend more time with them. But then we moved to Key West and eventually Norma and Harry moved to Vermont.

Norma was a no bullshit person. She was herself - always. When I heard over the summer that she was gravely ill, I didn't want to believe it. I wanted her to stay the same so that next time our paths crossed we'd wave to each other and she would smile that smile and we'd make a plan to spend time together yakking about everything. How sad that the chance for catching up is gone.

Those of us who started writing in the 70's have lost a brave, talented, original friend. Her family has lost a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister. But her books will live on and let's hope future generations will get to read them.

Goodbye, old friend.

Read the obituary below.

And visit Norma's website. It's like spending time with her in person.

Monday, October 12, 2009

And now -- Ta Da!

New York -- The big event is approaching.

Monday night (October 19th) at City Winery in New York, the 35th Anniversary Celebration of the National Coalition Against Censorship with a show featuring fabulous actors, comics, musicians, reading from and riffing on my books. Am I anxious? You know I am. I've put away everything else on my plate to concentrate on finding the best passages to read, the funniest anecdotes and one liners from letters. And who knows what surprises the standups will have? So come one, come all! If you're desperate to attend but can't afford a ticket you can come just for the show. Go to for details. And if you can't manage that (it's a benefit after all and for a great cause) send me an email and I'll see what I can do. But no promises.

Check out Ayelet Waldman's email blast about the event.

If you can't be there in person I promise to tell you all about it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday in the Park with George

New York -- tell me it's not true! Tell me summer isn't over!

In case you're thinking Judy must have had the greatest time because she hasn't blogged in two months, think again. In my last blog I told you about a producer who was coming to the Vineyard to talk about a screen adaptation based on Tiger Eyes. Our meeting went well and the next day Larry and I sat down to talk about the screenplay and how we were going to collaborate. Flash forward two drafts -- and weeks of 12 hour working days -- and there's still a lot of work to do. Stay tuned...

Oh, did I mention stress? And how I got Shingles -- yes, that dreaded condition often associated with stress? I couldn't believe it. Thought it was a spider bite. Went to the walk-in clinic where a doc told me, Unequivocally, this is not shingles. Guess what? He was wrong. Luckily, I was seen by another doc the following day and got on the meds in time. I had just enough discomfort/pain to understand what a bad case could be like. Not fun. I'm telling all my friends (of a certain age) to get the vaccine. I meant to get it last spring. So much for good intentions.

Every winter in Key West I accept professional invitations for the following fall. I feel it's my obligation to my publishers and my readers -- you know, Get out there and show them you're still kicking! But this fall it's out of hand. Some people can handle all this easily. I find I can't - not anymore - and especially not when it involves writing talks, even five minute talks. This is crazy, because I've given a million talks. But it's stressing me out.
On Sunday George took a look at me (well, I was lying on the floor then, after a long day at the computer) and he ordered me to get dressed. The sun was shining and we were going to the park. Here we are in a rowboat. $12 and I felt I was in heaven. The greatest mini-vacation ever. Thank you, George! You're the best.

Yesterday I was at Yale, doing a "Master's Tea." This was fun. I like meeting with/talking with college students. I like an informal Q&A. And the students who came to the tea were a lively, interesting group -- mainly young women but a handful of guys, too. Last time I spoke at Yale was right after 9-11, a really tough time for all of us. But Yale has had a tough beginning to a new school year with the murder of a graduate student. Even though it wasn't a campus crime, even though it could have happened anywhere, it was shocking, painful, and unbearably sad. Especially hard on the freshmen, I think, who've just come to college, just started classes. But I know they're going to get through this. They'll be okay.

On Thursday George and I will head down to Washington for the National Book Festival. When I accepted this invitation I thought, Oh good -- a big party celebrating books! Well, yes - it will be that. But it will also be three days of interviews, signings, and talks. Every moment is scheduled. My first talk will be Friday night at the opening ceremonies. I'm honored to be one of five writers who'll speak at this event. President and Mrs. Obama are the co-chairs of the festival. I wonder if they'll be there in person? I hope so! If you're in the area, join us on the Mall! If not, I'll let you know how it goes.

Coming up on October 4 -- I'll be at Symphony Space in NY. It will be a family day celebrating books and readers and I'll be reading from Friend or Fiend?, the latest in my Pain&Great One Series.

The biggest event of the season for me -- a celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the National Coalition Against Censorship on October 19 in New York. There will be a show called Judy Blume & Friends, a night of comedy. We've got great talent lined up. Actors, stand up comics, musicians. If you're going to be in the city try to come. It's a benefit so tickets are pricier than say, seeing a movie, but what a good cause.

Banned Books Week begins on Saturday! Check out my last year's post, Don't Read That Book, of October 5. And READ a banned book. Support your local teachers, librarians, students and writers when a book comes under fire. Those who would censor rarely read the whole book. They take words out of context and try to scare the rest of us. Don't let them scare you!

Is this a great poster or what?

xx Judy

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

That Was Easy!

MVY -- a month has passed since my last blog entry. I don't like to think about this because it means summer on the Vineyard is almost half over and what have I done so far? Not a lot. I haven't even been out in my kayak. I thought today might be the day. It's sunny at last -- a nice change from the wettest summer I can remember. A perfect summer day, actually.

Or, I could be reading in the hammock (I'm in the middle of a charming novel - Family Man - by Elinor Lipman.) And no, I've not been lolling about just relaxing. Remind me, how do you do that again? And I haven't been entertaining guests because so far we haven't had any -- unless you count family.

Let's see -- Larry's in residence (he works all day but he prefers doing it here). Randy comes every weekend after work. Elliot's been living here and working at The FARM Institute, baling hay and weed whacking and doing other things that require muscles, preferably young muscles. When he's not working he's off on the college tour.

Two days ago we took him to Providence, to see Brown. He liked it. He'll apply, along with 25,000 others. Can you believe that? 25,000 kids apply to Brown for 1500 places in the freshman class? Maybe it's that way at all the schools he's visiting. No wonder high school seniors are stressed. There was one mother on our tour who didn't stop asking questions. Our tour guide made a comment, she had a question. By the end of the tour I wanted to -- let's just say, shake her. I felt for her son who moved farther and farther away from her. Some parents ask about safety. I think it's mainly parents with daughters. We heard this at Columbia, too. I guess it has to do with fear of the city -- any city.

I find this all very interesting. It's especially interesting how the students don't talk to one another on these tours or at the info sessions. Most don't talk with their parents (or in our case, grandparents) either. I have to be careful. Randy told me to stand in the back of the tour group and warned me not to ask questions. The tour is supposed to be for the students. But I haven't heard any of the students asking questions. Of course everything they could possibly want to know is online and those who have done their homework have read up on each school he/she is visiting. Then there's the info session, where a college admission officer (at Brown she was young, enthusiastic, adorable, a cheerleader for the school) tells you everything you already heard on the tour, or are about to hear on the tour. She saves the admissions process and how they reach their decisions until the end, maybe the last three minutes. That's when she tells you about the 25,000 other kids who are applying with you.

Still, I had never seen Brown or spent any time in Providence. We got to have lunch with an old friend who teaches history there. He's the husband of a young writer friend of mine. They actually met when they were students at Brown. Sweet, as Elliot would say. I find myself saying this all the time now. I also find myself saying That was easy! because a friend of Larry's gave him that push-the-red-button gadget from Staples and when you do, a deep voice says, That was easy! George and I can't help ourselves. It's the perfect answer to everything. Except maybe being accepted to college.

George is in Key West this week to oversee the construction process of the 4th screening room at the Tropic Cinema. He was down two weeks ago, too. He's more than excited. He loves what he's doing. He wishes he were in Key West for the summer. I joke, "I'll see you in October." But I know he'll be back at the end of this week. Then we'll say, That was easy!

Tomorrow Larry and I will be meeting with a producer who's coming to the Vineyard to talk about adapting Tiger Eyes for the screen. Larry has always wanted to direct a movie version of Tiger Eyes. And of all my books I think it could work well. This would mean we'd have to write a screenplay over the summer (and as I've already pointed out, summer is almost half over). Because of this I haven't looked at the novel I was researching and starting to write before we left Key West. Earlier I thought it would be a productive summer -- that I'd be sitting in my little cabin working away -- that I'd even have a good start on a first draft by summer's end. But a month has gone by and here I sit (in my writing cabin, mostly answering e-mail). This is starting to depress me. Not seriously. But a little. If we're going to write the screenplay, then let's get to it! Okay, I'll know more tomorrow after our meeting, right?

Did I say that I flew to Chicago for the annual ALA convention? And I didn't get sick. Imagine that! Flying around in the summer is easier on your sinuses. Fewer colds and coughs. Plus Randy has taught me to carry Chlorox (or any other brand) wipes with me and to use them to clean my tray table, arm rests, even headrest. I know this sounds anal or something but if you saw what came off (the amount of dirt, etc) you'd do it, too.

The new modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute was the setting for the gala dinner honoring Judith Krug (see my April 14, 2009 blog). A bittersweet night. Judith would rather have been there than be memorialized. In presenting the award to her posthumously I told the story of the jacket and how, now, thanks to her family, that jacket hangs in my closet. I got almost to the end before I broke down. Judith would not have liked that. Or maybe under these circumstances she'd have been okay with it. Who can possibly fill her shoes? There's no one like her.

I also got the chance to meet Florence Parry Heide at the Random House dinner. She was celebrating her 90th birthday with a new book coming out. (She wrote The Shrinking of Treehorn, a deliciously funny book that my kids enjoyed, and many many kids since then). I asked her if writers ever get to retire. She looked at me and said, Never! And I hope you never think about it again. I had a million questions for her but there was no time to ask them. She was as lovely, clear-eyed, and witty as I imagine she's always been.

And that brings me to tonight's dinner. What shall I make for Elliot? Maybe pasta. Then I can push the red button and hear That was easy!

Hope you're having, if not an easy summer, at least a good one.
xx Judy

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big City Saga

MVY -- We spent three weeks in New York between Key West and Martha's Vineyard. The weather may have been dreary but the city certainly wasn't. Arrived at our apt (after a weekend in Baltimore) on a damp Saturday night. Took me half an hour to realize my travel purse was missing. It contained my wallet with driver's license, credit cards, iPhone, a couple of prescription meds, a can of Simply Saline, a tube of Polysporin ointment and whatever else I'd managed to stuff into its many zippered compartments. I was also carrying a black shoulder purse, a garment bag, and had a small wheelie in the trunk of the cab.

I remembered the story a caterer once told me - of how she'd left a beatifully decorated platter of crudites in the trunk of a taxi. At the time I'd thought, What a ditz!

George dialed my cell phone and left a message while I called the taxi commission to report my missing travel purse. They gave me two phone numbers where taxi drivers can turn in packages/purses/etc. They reminded me always to ask for a receipt when getting out of a cab, or at least to make a note of the taxi number, listed on the back of the front seat for all passengers to see. You'd think this was my first time in the city.

I called the train station, thinking I could have left my purse on the train, because George was with me and he paid for the taxi, which means I wouldn't have needed my wallet so wouldn't have noticed my travel purse was missing. But the very nice woman on the other end of the phone said the train I'd traveled on had already been sent to the yard for cleaning and wouldn't be available for a search until Monday morning.

By now more than an hour had gone by. We were about to cancel my credit cards when the phone rang and a guy asked if we were missing a gray purse. He said he'd found one exactly where the taxi had dropped us off. He was coming off work at a neighboring building and there it was, in the street. He took it with him on the subway to Queens and when he got off he saw that a recent call had been made to my iPhone so he called back. He offered to return the purse the next morning at 11am in front of the Barnes&Noble (how fitting is that?) on 68th St and Broadway, near the subway stop. George told him there would be a reward and asked for his name. Bernard, he answered.

Was this for real? We went out for breakfast the next morning, stopped at the ATM for reward money, then planted ourselves in front of B&N. I expected a guy wearing my bag over his shoulder for easy identification. But the young man who approached us was carrying an Abercrombie shopping bag. He recognized me from my photo ID. He gave me my purse. I hugged him and gave him the reward. He explained the purse must have been run over because the can of Simply Saline had exploded so he'd thrown it out before it soaked everything. We chatted for a while about his summer job, working in one of the big apartment houses right near mine. I said I'd like to write a letter to the board of the building where he was working, commending him.

Later I told my story to one of the doormen at our building who said he knew everyone working at the building where Bernard was working for the summer. The next day he reported there was no one named Bernard working there. Either way, and wherever he works, Bernard is my hero and I'd give him a reference any day. Thanks, Bernard!

This should be the end of the story, right? But ten days later I did it again. This time I was carrying the small black purse in the photo above, getting out of a taxi at exactly the same place. Got up to our apt and realized I had no key, which meant - oh no - I had no purse!

When I was about 14 I lost my key so many times my father (who'd had enough of me coming home and ringing the bell after he and my mother were asleep) punched a hole in the corner of my wallet and attached my key. Since then I've hardly lost anything. Really. And I've never forgotten anything in a cab. Well, maybe a cheapie umbrella, but who hasn't?

I was tired, embarrassed, and angry at myself when I called George at the office and told him I'd done it again. But George actually sounded pleased because he'd just signed up for an iPhone tracking system and now he could try it out. He dialed it up while I was still on the line. Aha! It's in midtown, on 48th St. But it's.... And that's when he clicked the fatal button. It not only ended the tracking program, it "wiped my phone"(meaning no data and totally dead).

This time we knew I was cooked. I'd had my Florida driver's license with me but just one credit card which George promptly cancelled. Yes, my key was in the purse but there was no NY address or phone number. That was good. It meant we wouldn't have to call a locksmith to re-key our apartment. By now I had a headache and I lay down to rest.

An hour later the phone rang. It was my literary agent's assistant asking if I'd lost my purse. What?! She gave me a phone number and the name of a guy to call. When I asked how he'd tracked me down he said he'd found my driver's license, googled me, went to my website, found my agent's name and number and called her. This guy was as good as Nancy Drew! I told him I'd come to his place (he lived on the Upper East Side) to retrieve my purse, but he volunteered to drop it off at my building since he had a meeting in my neighborhood (Upper West).

My headache lifted. Things like this just don't happen, do they? Twice in three weeks?

I waited outside while the doormen guessed what kind of car he'd be driving. We were all surprised when a vintage red Porsche pulled up in front of the building with a cute dog in the passenger seat. (Okay, I admit I didn't know it was a vintage Porsche.)He got out of the car. I almost knocked him down with a big hug (actually, he was a lot bigger than me and there was no chance of me knocking him down). He pulled my purse out of the car. He'd found it in the street on 39th St as he was boarding a bus. He'd tried my iPhone but couldn't get it to work (thanks to -- ta da! --the "wipe" button). We chatted for a while. He refused any reward but accepted a signed book for his 19 year old daughter.

Another hero! What a city! Am I lucky or what?

On the Vineyard I bought myself a summer bag, one that practically screams to be noticed. George says it's the ugliest purse he's ever seen. He says if he has to look at that all summer he'll be nauseous until Labor Day. I said I'd get another and give this away if he feels that strongly about it.

It's been a couple of days now and I don't see any signs that he's feeling sick. His appetite is just fine. He ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch.

I have to travel to Chicago next week. The ugly bag won't be going with me. A friend suggests I pin my purse to my underwear instead. Stay tuned....
xx Judy

Friday, May 29, 2009

SAT (For Better or Worse)

Key West -- It's that time of year for those of you who will be applying to college in the fall. You have to take them. You have no choice (well, almost no choice). But look at it this way. You can't possibly do as poorly as I did. (More about that in a minute.)

A few years ago I was asked to give the commencement address at Mount Holyoke College. Usually I think long and hard about accepting such an invitation. But not this time. From the moment their invitation reached me I didn’t think twice. They had no way of knowing this, but they'd given me a second chance.

To explain I have to take you back to 1956 when I was a senior at Battin High school in Elizabeth, NJ, the only all girls public high school in the state. When it came time to apply to colleges I knew next to nothing about the different schools, though I’d heard there were a lot of boys in Boston and boys were high on my list (but that's another story). I knew very little about the College Boards (SAT) either, except you had to take them. We didn’t have Kaplan courses or coaches to prepare us then, and our teachers never mentioned them.

I can still remember that sunny Saturday morning in May when my mother dropped me off at the Pingry School, site of the dreaded test. I remember opening the booklet and reading the first paragraph of the first essay. I remember it not making any sense to me. I read it again, or tried to, but by then my heart was pounding, my mouth, dry. The words on the page began to blur together. I had a fantasy of getting up from my seat and calmly walking out of the building, calmly walking away from Elizabeth, NJ.

Instead, I flipped through the test, the panic inside me rising – then I picked up my number 2 pencil and filled in all the little circles at random. No kidding. I really did that. When the test results came in my high school guidance counselor, who had never spoken to me before, called me into her office.

“You have to take the College Boards again,” she told me. “You’ve got the grades. You’ve got the activities. But I want you to go to Mount Holyoke and you’ll never get in with this score.” (I think it was something like 350 -- that's probably as low a score as you can get -- which is why I don't recommend random answers.)

The only thing I knew about Mount Holyoke was they required the Afternoon Boards. (That's what we called the achievement tests) so I told the guidance counselor, “Never – I’m never taking any of those tests again.” She shook her head. “What a waste.”

Cut to that invitation from Mount Holyoke. When I read they had the funding to try a different way of identifying students who might do well there -- that for three years they weren't going to require standardized test scores -- I knew I was going to give that commencement speech. And when I did I told them why that day meant so much to me. It wasn't just that I was there at last – it was that today I might even be accepted as a freshman. I thanked them for that on behalf of all of us whose minds work differently. I got my honorary degree and that day remains a highlight of my life.

I've been arguing against judging prospective students by their SAT scores for years. Doesn't test creativity, doesn't prove how well a student will do at college or at life.

So why am I kvelling (beaming, swelling with pride) that my grandson has just received his SAT scores and they hit the top? (He would not be happy if I told you his actual scores.) Partly because it's amazing to me that anyone with at least some of my genes could come up with scores like these. Especially in math! He actually likes standarized tests.

My husband says -- "You, of all people, Judy -- who've railed against these tests for years -- how can you be so impressed?" Sorry, George -- can't help it. I know it doesn't predict how you're going to do at real life. I mean, Amanda hated the SAT almost as much as I did. She graduated from U New Mexico and guess what? She's a huge success at life and has a thriving career as a political consultant. Much in demand. Nobody ever stops to ask how she did in her SAT.

I cut a story by Sara Rimer out of the New York Times on Monday, September 29, 2008. The headline reads:

Study of Standardized Admissions Tests Is Big Draw at College Conference

5,500 college admissions officials and high school guidance counselors gathered in Seattle at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The main event was William R. Fitzsimmons's first public presentation of the findings of the Study of the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission. Basically, after he said the SAT had many advantages, he affirmed that they and other standardized admissions tests are "incredibly imprecise" when it comes to measuring academic ability and how well students will perform in college.

I'm sure the debate will go on for years. I have to thank NYU for accepting me as a student despite my dismal scores (and Boston U, and Syracuse). I was a good student. So is Elliot and I know he'll do well wherever he goes. Those scores of his may mean he has more options and it's always good to have more options. While test results don't tell the whole story (and he knows that) I'm a grandparent first, so I'm entitled to celebrate, right?

Which brings me back to the SAT. A stressful time for many of you, I know, especially today when everything might depend on financial aid. But try not to worry. If you want to go to college, if you're determined, you will. And you'll enjoy it, wherever you go. Wishing you well.
xx Judy

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day

Key West -- I still think of Mother's Day as a holiday celebrating my mother, my grandmother, and my Aunt Frances. When I was young all three would get orchid corsages and and we'd go to dinner at the Tavern Restaurant in Newark, where my father knew the owner. (Actually, everyone knew the owner, but I was just a kid and didn't know that.) It's funny, because I'm writing about the Tavern now, in the novel I've just started. As for orchids, they grow everywhere in Key West (which doesn't make them any less magical). When they're done blooming in a pot, just snip off the stem at the fourth joint, tie them to a tree, and they'll bloom for seasons to come.

I realize my children and grandson have different ideas of Mother's Day. Randy likes to shop and I don't -- or let's just say I like pretty things but I don't like going into stores, so unless it's easy to find, forget it. This is why Randy sends me something to wear each year. On Friday her package arrived with a lovely and delicate summer sweater. I talked to all four of my dear ones on Sunday (well, maybe talked is the wrong way of putting it because I have total laryngitis -- can't make a sound -- not fun, though I don't feel at all sick).

Larry told me he was sending a donation to Planned Parenthood this year because he'd seen the fund raising letter I'd signed suggesting that this would be a good way to honor your mother. (I've pasted a copy of the letter.)

How did such a gentle letter become the major brouhaha it did? Ask the vocal anti-choice crowd. I shouldn't have been surprised when the hateful e-mails flooded our office computer the next day saying things like....

You're killing off your customers.

You'll burn in hell.

You are a baby killer.

Then there's this argument in various forms:

-- I was a great fan of your books, growing up. They meant a lot to me but now that I know you support Planned Parenthood I would never let my childen read them. I'm going to tell our school principal, the librarian, and the teachers they should boycott your books, or burn them.

I want to ask these parents if they check to make sure all the books their children are reading are written by people wh0 support only those organizations and charities that they personally support. But I don't. I don't respond to hate mail.

It might have stopped there if Planned Parenthood hadn't sent out a second e-mail blast -- letting their supporters know I was under siege. They meant well, I know, and I'm the one who gave them permission, not stopping to think that this would fan the flames.

The next day, another story appeared in the anti-choice online zine, and along with another round of hate emails, came hundreds of supportive messages from those who believe in Planned Parenthood. Somehow word got out that I'd received death threats and the media jumped all over the story
. The bloggers and twitterers were all abuzz. To set the record straight, I didn't get any serious death threats. Sure, there were emails reminding me what happened at this or that abortion clinic -- but this isn't the first time I was a target of the extreme right.

Despite what some people think, Planned Parenthood isn’t an abortion clinic. It is a health center that provides people with the proper tools to make the best, most informed decisions for them. It’s a place that offers breast cancer screenings, pelvic exams, pregnancy testing and planning, affordable birth control, STD testing, HPV vaccines, testicular cancer screenings for men, as well as issues of male infertility, education for all, and, yes, choice. Sometimes that means abortions.

May also is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Surely the best way to avoid abortion, and reduce the numbers of unwanted babies born to teen mothers, is through sexuality education. But to those opposed to anything but abstinence education Planned Parenthood is well, evil.

As a college junior, about to be married, I asked my family doctor who to call to get information about birth control. He suggested Planned Parenthood, although it had a different name in 1959. I trembled as I made that call and ultimately hung up before I'd set up an appointment. I'd had a bad experience with a gynecologist at 14. At 21, I was still a virgin -- fear of pregnancy kept many of us virgins in those days. We had other ways of being sexual but we avoided intercourse, knowing if you got pregnant you were going to have the baby, like at least three of my high school classmates, smart girls who nevertheless found themselves pregnant before graduation. Abortion was illegal then. They were forced into hasty marriages and while the rest of us went off to college, they became parents before they were ready.

Ultimately I went to a doctor in NJ who knew my family doctor. He fitted me for a diaphragm and I went off on my honeymoon without the fear that I would become pregnant before we were ready to have children. There are many reasons I wish I'd gone to Planned Parenthood and not to that sexist doctor, who, it turns out, was a religious fanatic himself. Reasons I won't go into here. I wish I'd known then that at Planned Parenthood women are treated with respect.

When I read the Planned Parenthood online teen Q&A I feel glad that today's young women and men have a place to go to get information. I wish it had been there for me.

So Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there, and grandmothers, and special aunts, and thanks to all of you who sent messages of support. There are times when you have to stand up for what you believe in. It means a lot that so many of you stood with me.

xx Judy

Monday, April 27, 2009

Buzz buzz...

Key West -- Starting today (and for the next two weeks) I'll be answering questions and responding to comments on Join me there if you can. I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun. Of course I won't be there 24/7 because I've started to actually write my new book. For a month or more I've been doing research, a process I've enjoyed. The real writing part isn't that enjoyable. At least not yet. Right now I'm wishing I'd never started. I'd forgotten how impossible first drafts are for me. George tells me I say this every time I start a new book. Maybe. I find myself thinking, thinking, thinking about my characters all day -- except for tap class (which is Friday and Saturday mornings). In tap class I'm always trying to make my feet do what my mind wants them to do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. I'm never sure what sounds my feet will make until Bruce, our teacher, calls on us individually.

I'm forcing myself to sit at my desk for a couple of hours every day, even if all I do is scribble in my notebook. Scribbling is how I get my best ideas. I think I have the voice of my first main character. There will be three characters telling this story -- at least that's what I think. I don't know much more than that. Stay tuned...

Did I mention I was bitten in the leg by a friend's small dog two weekends ago? The dog didn't like me twirling around the dance floor with his master, or do we say mistress if the master is a woman? Or do we say human or person? He bit right through my stretch capris. It was a very small bite and has healed nicely. And the night before that I was hit in the face by a flying nut from a walnut tree. I know -- it sounds funny -- but it didn't feel funny. My grandmother would have said, "Bad things happen in threes." (And it's true, I did turn my ankle on a balance box at the gym the next day.) Which takes me back to the subject of my book where bad things actually do happen in threes.

I'm thrilled to hear that Summer Sisters has just been published in the UK and so far the reviews and comments have been really good. I have to remind myself how many times I wanted to quit while I was writing that book. And how glad I am now that I didn't. The one to the left is the UK cover. The one on the right is the US cover.

Key West is totally gorgeous right now. At night you can catch the scent of jasmine. I love to sit outside listening to music for an hour after dinner. How lucky am I to spend 7 months a year here! See you on Randombuzzers, I hope.
xx Judy

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Losing Judith Krug

Friends of intellectual freedom have lost a dynamic leader. Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom since 1967, and one of the founders of the Freedom to Read Foundation, was my hero. When I saw her in Chicago last September, she said, "Don't worry about me. I'm too mean to die." That was her fierce warrior persona. That was her let's laugh about this and talk about something else way of dealing with her illness. She had had surgery and chemo for stomach cancer but there she was, cheering us on -- a group of writers gathered to commemorate Banned Books Week, an event started by Judith in 1982. There she was, fighting for the rights of young readers as enthusiastically as ever. I teased her for wearing what I called a "Sarah Palin" jacket (actually, a jacket I coveted and even tried on in NY before realizing that all the jackets in my favorite sportswear section of my favorite department store were the very jackets Sarah was sporting on the campaign trail). Judy begged forgiveness explaining that she really wanted that jacket and we laughed together.

We met in Atlanta in 1982 at a Fred Friendly Seminar moderated by Benno Schmidt, then a colleague of George's at Columbia Law School. I was nervous. Out of my element. I felt as if I were back in 4th grade praying the teacher wouldn't call on me. Benno did call on me and I stumbled through a couple of answers then watched in awe as the articulate speaker on the opposite side of the table said exactly what I was thinking, only so much better. I remember thinking, Wow, she's brilliant! She can speak on my behalf anytime. That was my introduction to Judy Krug, and the beginning of a long friendship, both professional, and personal. It was hard to say "no" to Judy when she asked you to do something, even if you didn't want to fly to Chicago in September because you were trying to write a book. Because Judy would always be there for you if you needed her.

This is the woman who defended what we wrote, who defended the librarians who selected our books for their collections, and most importantly, who defended the rights of our young readers. For four decades she used her abundant energy and knowledge to protect the Constitutional rights of citizens granted under the First Amendment. She raced around the country speaking out wherever and whenever she was needed. Let's just call her amazing, because she was.

"We're the only country in the world where everybody has access to the library and everything in it," she told The Washington Post in 1994. "If you don't like something, okay, tell your kids you don't want them to read it. That works. It really works. Every once in a while, the kids are going to defy you. But so what?" That quote is so Judith! It's part of why I loved her. Like Madeline, my first literary heroine, Judy Krug showed no fear.

The loss to our community of writers, librarians, and readers everywhere is too great to contemplate. The loss to her husband, children, and grandchildren is even greater.

On Sunday, July 12, at the annual ALA convention in Chicago, Judy will be posthumously awarded the William J. Brennan Award during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Freedom to Read Foundation at the Chicago Museum of Art. Judy hoped she'd be there to accept her award in person. I hoped so, too, and not only because I'll be presenting that award to her. If you can, join us in this tribute to a true freedom fighter.

Goodbye, old friend. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mother Nature

Key West -- it's good to be back! Isn't that half the reason we go away -- so we can appreciate how good it feels to be home again?

This is how lucky we were --just missed some brutal spring storms in New Orleans. And those of you who know me know I'm phobic about thunderstorms. Like a frightened dog, I need to be in a small space and low to the floor. We didn't have a dog at our hotel in New Orleans but we did have Clarice, the hotel cat.

Clarice would come to our room via the open window in the early morning, make herself at home on our bed, and hang around until after breakfast - the most delicious buttermilk biscuits ever -- still warm from sitting on a hot stone in a covered basket -- with strawberry jam on the side. What a way to start the day! Loved staying at this small hotel in the middle of the French Quarter.

This is the window Clarice used at the The Soniat House

BeignetsWe were there to see old friends, Richard and Annie, and what a good visit we had. Annie gave us a tour of the city, focusing on the areas that were hardest hit by Katrina. After our tour we sat down at Cafe du Monde to try a New Orleans beignet. At first I was skeptical. After all, they're made of fried dough -- but as George pointed out, I love doughnuts (yes, but am always sorry after indulging) -- but these were something else -- light and incredibly delicious, topped with powdered sugar.

A highlight of my visit to New Orleans was getting to see a KIPP school up close. Jonathan Bertsch was my enthusiastic guide.

We dropped in to say hello to classes from Pre-K to 8th grade. The 5th graders had a lot of questions for me, including "Do you make a lot of money?" I always try to explain that writers are paid royalties, a percentage of the price of the book. They understood 10% but couldn't believe how many copies you'd have to sell to support yourself as a writer. (Sad but true!)

From New Orleans we drove to Hattiesburg and Southern Miss (for those who don't know, as I didn't until a few days ago, that's what the locals call the University of Southern Mississippi) for the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival. George and I were invited to stay at the President's house and now I understand what southern hospitality really means. Dr. Saunders and her staff couldn't have been more generous and welcoming. Plus I got to spend time with Pat Scales, uber librarian, and defender of intellectual freedom.

Also enjoyed being with Arthur Yorinks, who's as witty in person as he is in his books. Check out Hey, Al, and you'll see what I mean.

You want more luck when it comes to weather, how's this? On Thursday, the day of the medallion presentation (I joined an impressive list of former winners for lifelong contributions to the field of children's literature, some of whom inspired me when I was starting out, so was really thrilled and very appreciative) -- but back to stormy weather -- the radar showed two major storms, one on each side of Hattiesburg. Each time George checked, the storms were moving closer and closer. We heard that schools were dismissing students at noon, adults were scurrying for cover, and as we pulled up to the theater where I'd be speaking, the sky turned black. You think I was nervous about my speech? Not compared to what was happening with Mother Nature. I imagined stepping up to the mic just as the power went out. I'd be alone on stage in darkness, lightning flashing all around and...and....

But the presentation went as scheduled, I received my medallion from Southern Miss Provost Bob Lyman. I'd sent a smiling photo for the engraver but teeth weren't his specialty, so he artistically closed my mouth. When I had to come up with an idea for the reverse side of the medal I thought about my most autobiographical book, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, which takes place in Miami Beach, and how, these days, when I sit at my desk in Key West I look out at my tropical garden. So palm trees made sense.

I not only survived my talk, I even enjoyed myself. And when we left the building an hour later, the sky was blue. The storms had converged north of Hattiesburg. Can't tell you how relieved I was! Off we went to the book signing at the campus B&N. Signed for the next two hours.

After a party that night, we packed up, and the next morning at 7:30 left for the airport (a two hour drive to New Orleans) but with Pat Scales along for company it felt more like 15 minutes. Pat and I will be together again at ALA in Chicago in July. Children's book people are a friendly group. It's good to hang out with them -- makes you proud to be a part of their world.
xx Judy