Monday afternoon I am making Chicken Ala King for dinner, listening to NPR, when Judy Blume just happens to join me in the kitchen. I have tuned into Talk of the Nation in the middle of the segment, but when it dawns on me that the mild-mannered woman Neal Conan is interviewing is in fact Judy Blume, the room kind of spins around for a minute. It is the same kind of response I had when I discovered that Rhoald Dahl's daughter Ophelia runs a charity that aids Haiti, or, more recently, that Stalin had a daughter living in, of all places, Wisconsin. Dumbfounded, I listen as callers dial in and ask Mrs. Blume writing questions, as if she is actually a real person. In my mind, she is a work of fiction - like Sheila the Great or Superfudge. But, obviously, she's not - because she's politely answering questions and relaying the story of how, when she was starting out, she squeezed in a couple of hours of writing when her children were in school. Like me.
I listen as she tells about the time she went to the book section of a department store and was surprised to find that the clerk had shelved Are You There God? It's Me,Margaret next to the bibles. To me, it doesn't seem like such an error in judgment. I grew up reading Blume's books, It's Me, Margaret among them, back when the mysteries of maturation were too taboo and forbidden to actually talk about. At the time, those books served as a bible of sorts - before menstruation became a nuisance and I discovered that the exercise accompanying the chant "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" isn't as effective as I'd hoped.
The funny thing is, Monday in the kitchen, Judy Blume managed to assist me through my post-adolescent phase, too. She gave one of those callers some writing advice, and, for me, it rang true:
"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in — the first couple of times, anyway — and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going.
"You know what? The thing is that nobody writes unless they have to. So if you have to write because it's inside you, then you will."
Check out the whole interview here.