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