Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My American Idol

I'm fresh off the SCBWI Conference, which was this past weekend in my hometown, Los Angeles.  I'll be bringing you a full conference report, probably in two or three parts, over the next few days.  There were some fantastic sessions and keynote speeches, and much inspiration being doled out by the likes of Libba Bray (who's probably still showering from all the gushing I did all over her), Laurie Halse Anderson, Bruce Coville, Donna Jo Napoli, Gary Paulsen, Richard Peck...and many other worthy idols.

But I'm devoting this post to what was, for me, the highlight of the conference.

The author John Green was supposed to give a keynote on the second day of the conference, but unfortunately he had to have gallbladder surgery.  So it was announced that there would be a "once in a lifetime" surprise in place of him.  I leaned over to my friend.  "Maybe it's J.K!"

"Ooooh!" she said.  "Maybe it is!"

Okay, we didn't really think it was J.K. Rowling.  And it wasn't.  But the surprise speaker was someone who has been an idol for me since I learned to read.  Someone who is even more legendary than J.K., has been writing for decades longer, and quite literally paved the way for today's YA (hey, that rhymes!).  She was writing YA before it even existed as a genre.

Judy Blume.
Judy Freaking Blume, people!  Judy DeenieForeverAreYouThereGodIt'sMeMargaretSuperfudge Blume!

Uh, yeah.  I almost peed myself.

First, let me tell you that I read ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET so many times the book fell apart.  Her books shaped my childhood.  I read them over and over again because the characters were just like me.

So when Judy bounded on stage - 73 years old and looking not a day over fifty - I was practically in tears.  Lin Oliver, the Executive Director & co-founder of SCBWI, interviewed her one-on-one, and said that she - like most women writers - had a girl crush on Judy.  I am definitely in that camp!

As Judy (yeah, I'm totally on a first-name basis with her) talked about her life and works, she had this beautiful, childlike awe at the path her life took, a real youthfulness, and a completely unassuming manner.  She talked about being a stay-at-home mom with two babies in the sixties, and how she was expected to be completely filled by that life.  But she wasn't, and the depression started to eat away at her and brought on a series of mysterious illnesses.  So she started to write.

She talked about not having the answers...just like us.  She talked about going through twenty-three (TWENTY-THREE!) drafts of SUMMER SISTERS...and what writer can't relate to that?  She talked about the fear...something we all go through.  In other words, JUDY BLUME IS JUST LIKE US. 

So here are some words of wisdom from Judy Blume:

- Your story starts on the day that something different happens.  (Though sometimes it takes you pages and pages to find that right day.)

-The best way out is through.  Write your way through the whole first draft, no matter how sucky it is.

-It doesn't get easier.  It's *a little* easier for her now because she knows how to do it, but IT (the writing, the process, the editing) doesn't get any easier.

Judy has been a member of SCBWI almost since its inception in 1971 (this year was the 40th Anniversary Conference).  She praised the organization for being a haven for writers and talked about how she wished there had been an SCBWI when she had started writing.  And that was one of the biggest things I took away from the conference: community.  We - you, me, Judy Blume, Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson - are all part of a community of writers.  We nurture, encourage and challenge each other.  There was no WE (published) and THEM (pre-published) at the conference, even from a multi-published, million-dollar, bestselling author like Judy Blume.  She gets up every day, goes to her computer, and opens a vein just like the rest of us.

So yeah.  Getting to see Judy Blume, live and in-person, was a once-in-a-lifetime event.  (Although I hope she comes back to future SCBWI Conferences!)  But you know what was even better than hearing her speak about her writing?  Watching her do "I must...I must...I must increase my bust!"  That will stay with me forever!

(And if you're a boy, you have no idea what I'm talking about.)

More from SCBWI tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. Judy was beyond awesome! What an inspiration she is!
    Great post Nicole!