Judy Blume loves to read. She has stacks of books piled around her house. They fill bookshelves, clutter the kitchen counter and sit precariously on coffee tables, leaving no room for coffee cups. "I wrote to Dave Eggers this winter," she said, gesturing to his book, The What of the What, which sat at the top of one pile. "He e-mailed back!"
She confessed that she still gets nervous around other writers, particularly if she has not yet met them.
One writer at the top of her list to meet is Beverly Clearly. She came close a few years ago when their mail was mixed up. Mrs. Cleary, author of the classic Ramona Quimby books, received a letter from one of the many students writing to Ms. Blume. The student wanted Ms. Blume to send along something from her trash bin. "Beverly wrote back, ‘You cannot give in to these demands! You have to stand up for yourself,' " Ms. Blume remembered. "She was tough."
In a few weeks, Judy Blume will set off on a book tour to promote Soupy Saturdays, her newest book, along with the Pain and the Great One. She will stop in San Francisco, Mrs. Cleary's home city. "I wonder if she would see me," the author mused out loud in an interview this week at her Tashmoo home. "That would be something I'd really like to do."
For 38 years, Ms. Blume has been engaging thousands of young readers. She answers letters diligently and genuinely delights in meeting her readers. She is a fantasy maker. But on Monday she curled up on her sofa and talked about her own dreams. Dream one - meet Beverly Cleary.
Soupy Saturdays hits bookstores on Tuesday. It is something of another dream for Ms. Blume. A few years ago, the author discovered her writing had taken a back burner. She was spending too much time editing scripts for movie deals that never seemed to go anywhere. "I finally just said, ‘I can't stand it anymore! I want to go back in a little room - because wherever I am, I work in a little room - and write something that I know will happen.' " So she wrote. Double Fudge, her first book in four years and the last in the Fudge series, came out in 2002. Dream two - get back into that little room.
"I never stop writing," she said, looking out at the boats blowing about in the pond on an uncharacteristically cool and windy August day. "If something comes, I just write it and put it away. It gives me a sense of security." One day a story came to her about losing a tooth. She raced to her laptop and started writing. As she did, she realized the characters were the same ones that had starred in her 1984 picture book, The Pain and the Great One. "My daughter was the Great One," she said. She had written the original story on a day long before the book was published, when the rain had trapped her two children, six and eight, inside. "She called him [her brother] The Pain," she said, speaking of her daughter who is now in her 40s, "and said, ‘I am the Great One, the older sister.'"
Ms. Blume had long hoped to revisit the characters, but other projects or house renovations - she loves renovation almost as much as books - always intervened. "Finally, George put a moratorium on renovations," she said of her husband. Without a project, she resurrected the tooth story and began writing more. The stories flowed. Soon there were too many for one book. The release of Soupy Saturdays, a collection of seven stories, each taking place on a Saturday, marks the beginning of a four-book series inspired by her children when they were young. Next summer, the second in the series, Cool Zone, comes out. A collection about going places will follow and the fourth is still a mystery. Dream three - bring back the Pain and the Great One.
Ms. Blume will celebrate the release of her first book in five years at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Tuesday. "I told my publisher, ‘I want to go to the Bunch of Grapes!' I don't even think they knew about it," she said. The bookstore is one of her favorites on an Island she likes to call home. She and her husband George Cooper first came in 1983 for a summer vacation. They rented a dark, old cabin on Lake Tashmoo, a house that inspired the Vineyard home in Ms. Blume's 1998 New York Times best seller, Summer Sisters.
The couple did not return for seven years. "We went everyplace else looking for the perfect spot," she said. In their seventh attempt, she found herself wrapped in an Afghan blanket in the middle of August in Maine. "I said, ‘That is it! I can't stand the cold anymore! We have to go back to the Vineyard!' " They came back and rented for the next three summers before finding what they were looking for - two properties, both for sale, overlooking Tashmoo. Between the two were three cabins, one big house and a dock. They set up the big house for their children, moved into one of the cabins, transformed another into Ms. Blume's writing studio and bought a boat. Dream four - the perfect home.
Ms. Blume's studio looks out on the water and is filled with papers, her small laptop barely visible. "This is how I do my best work, scribbles," she said, flipping over some typed pages, every last inch of which were covered with handwritten notes. "I'm a scribbler. I think writers are, we have to be, observers and perceptive. I think it's really important to be out and about listening and observing. I don't think you write fiction unless you're really truly fascinated by people," she said.
When she embarks on her book tour the day after Labor Day ("They tried to get me to go on tour before Labor Day. I said no way") she will meet hundreds of people around the country who have grown up on her books. She dreams about meeting them now, as adult readers, and meeting their children, the next Blume generation. Talking with children is her favorite, she said. It keeps her own memories alive.
"I have a dream of publishing my childhood memories," she said. But her ultimate dream is dream five - on the stage. "I dream of seeing Sally as a musical," she said about her twelfth book and the one she considers her most autobiographical, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself.
"I would love to see that done. That really is the biggest fantasy," she said.
Judy Blume will sign and discuss Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One Tuesday at 4 p.m. upstairs at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Main street in Vineyard Haven.