Transcript of Live Chat
November 19th, 2002
NYPL: Good afternoon, Judy and welcome. We're so thrilled that you are going to answer our questions. We love reading your books and we are so happy that Fudge is back!
Judy: Hi everyone! I'm glad to be joining you today. I'll be doing my own typing so if I make mistakes you'll know I'm going really fast, okay?
Random People: How did you decide to become an author?
Judy: Oh...that's a tough question. I always had stories inside my head and one day I just decided to start writing them down. I didn't actually decide.
Dove Sword: What was it like to see your very first book published and in your hands?
Judy: It was SO exciting! The first thing I did was sniff the pages, the way I did at the public library when I was little.
Rachael: Hi Judy, I'm Rachael from Brooklyn. My question is where did you grow up and did you have friends like the ones in your books? Margaret is my favorite.
Judy: Thanks, Rachael. I grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. And I did have friends like the girls in "Margaret."
Lynnja: You've been writing books for kids for a long time--do you get more complaints from parents about the content of your books now than 20 years ago?
Judy: More complaints during the 80's than the 70's; I'm not sure about now. There are still some that I hear about. The problem is, you don't always know when someone is trying to ban a book. We depend on teachers and librarians letting us know. Sometimes, of course, I hear directly from parents who don't like what I've written. I try to write back and explain if the parent has written a thoughtful letter.
Jill B: Who is your favorite character that you've created?
Judy: That's like asking a mother which child is her favorite--each one is special in her/his own way. It usually depends on the day you ask me. I suppose if I were forced to choose, I'd say Fudge because he's brought me so many readers; Margaret because she was my first character that kids identified with; and Sally Freedman because she's the character who's most like me.
Nancy: How old were you when you wrote your first book?
Judy: I was in my mid-twenties. But my first book wasn't published until I was around 30.
Rachael: Is there any one person who was truly an inspiration during your career as a writer?
Judy: In the beginning I would go to the library and bring home stacks of books and I'd divide them into piles--these are books I really love and I'd like to write this way. Those authors were Louise Fitzhugh and EL Konigsburg and especially Beverly Cleary. I used to laugh so hard reading her books I'd fall off the sofa!
Joseph: What is your favorite kind of literature? What genre would you consider your books to be?
Judy: I like to read fiction best and I like to write fiction, too.
Leda: What is your favorite children's book, after your own?
Judy: I have a really hard time choosing favorites There are so many good books. So, I'm sorry, but I can't answer that question. I can tell you that when I was young I loved the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.
Ted: What is your favorite adult book?
Judy: Oh, no! No favorite questions, okay? I really can't answer them. Ask me anything else.
Emmett: Do you like writing for children or for adults more?
Judy: I like both. I enjoy the challenge of going back and forth. And that way I never ever get bored.
Helaine: I would love to hear about "Double Fudge." Can you give us an idea of what it's all about?
Judy: "Double Fudge" was fun to write! In this book Fudge is obsessed by money. He sings about it, makes his own Fudge Bucks and asks everyone embarrassing questions about how much money they have. Not only that, but the family meets up with long lost cousins in Washington, D.C. And they have twin girls Peter's age. Their names are Flora and Fauna and they love to sing and dance...in public! They have a little brother and Fudge doesn't like it at all when he learns that he's not the only Farley Drexel Hatcher in the world!
Lora J: What inspired you to write another Fudge book? P.S. I have loved your books since I was a young girl. Thanks so much for giving the world such wonderful stories.
Judy: Thanks, Lora J! I was inspired by my grandson. He's in 5th grade now, but when he was in 3rd grade he begged and pleaded for another book about Fudge. So I told him, "If I get another idea I promise I'll write one. But don't be disappointed because I doubt an idea will come to me." So I was SOOOO glad when I did get an idea!
GRW: Are you going to write any more books about Peter and Fudge?
Judy: That's what my grandson asks every time I see him. Really, I doubt it. But you never know...
Jones: We are students at P.S. 89 Queens, in the after school program. We would like to know how you feel when you write?
Judy: On the best days, it's as if you are lost in another world. You don't know where the words are coming from. It's as if there's another part of your brain, a secret part, that just takes over. On less good days it can be very frustrating.
Tiger Eyes: Did you ever write a book you weren't too happy with?
Judy: I tend to be easy on myself once the books are published. I think I'd do a better job with "Iggie's House" if I were writing it today. That was my first longer book and I have so much more experience now.
Ben: Do you go to the movies, and have you seen the new Harry Potter movie?
Judy: I love movies! I haven't seen the new Harry Potter yet, but I will. My grandson saw it last Friday night and says it's better than the first.
Legomaster10: Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Judy: Ideas come from everywhere--they come from what you see and hear and imagine. My husband says I have too much imagination, but I don't think a writer can have too much imagination! Another thing all writers have in common is we're all observers. We pay attention to detail. If I saw you on a bus, I'd be watching and listening. I'm a people person. I never get tired of watching people, especially young people. I hope you don't mind.
Ann36: How do you feel your writing has changed over the years?
Judy: In the beginning everything was spontaneous. I'm a more skilled writer now, but after 23 books it's harder to be fresh and that's really important to me. I don't want to write the same thing over and over again.
Ilene: Can you tell us a bit about The Kids Fund and where the proceeds go?
Judy: The Kids Fund has changed over the years. We do our own outreach now and help community groups that work with kids.
Adriane: Have you ever hit a mental block in your writings? How did you deal with that?
Judy: I don't believe in writer's block. There are good days when you're writing and less good days. I've learned that if it's not happening to walk away and return later. I doodle a lot and often get my best ideas with a pencil in my hand while I'm doodling. The problem is, sometimes I lose my doodles and that's bad!
Rene: What was the most difficult book for you to write and why?
Judy: "Summer Sisters" was as painful an experience as I've ever had writing. It went through 20 drafts--literally--and there were times over that three year period when I thought about burning it. I'm very glad (now) that I stayed with it.
Tracey: Please tell us a bit about your picture books and what age they are recommended for?
Judy: I love picture books. I think some of the best people in children's books are the ones who create their own picture books. I wish I could say I'm one of them, but I'm not. I like "The Pain and the Great One," about a brother and sister who are 6 and 8. They're based on my children when they were those ages. Otherwise, I really haven't done any picture books.
Emily: Do you ever feel like writing something completely different such as fantasy?
Judy: I have to go with what comes naturally to me. Fantasy isn't my thing. I did enjoy the Oz books when I was growing up and certainly my grandson and I read Harry Potter together. You write what you can as well as you can.
Susan Lindgren: How did you get the idea for "Freckle Juice"?
Judy: When my daughter was very young, she liked to play in the bathtub. She would mix baby powder and shampoo and soap together and pat it on her face. When I asked what she was doing, she said, "I'm making freckle juice." That's how I got the idea for the title of the book. But then I had to come up with a story to go with it!
Ellen: Which books would you recommend for my fourth grader?
Judy: if we're talking about my books, I'd say the Fudge books. Start with "Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing," and work your way up to "Double Fudge."
Barry: Where can I find your books? Can they be ordered online?
Judy: My books can be found at any bookstore, the online bookstores, or your public library.
Dove Sword: Have you ever been in a bookstore or library or bus, even, and heard people talking about one of your books without knowing you were right there?
Judy: Yes! And that's so weird. Sometimes I'll say, "I wrote that book," and the person will look at you as if you're really strange. One time that happened to my daughter on a plane. She was sitting next to a girl who was reading one of my books and my daughter said, "My mother wrote that book." And the girl started to quiz my daughter, asking her all sorts of questions, like what are the names of Judy's children and where did she grow up. My daughter thought it was so funny. She and this girl made friends.
Bernice605: Is "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" your diary?
Judy: Not at all. I did base the character of Margaret on the 6th grader I was, but not her family and not her religious dilemma. I just wanted to tell a story that honest and truthful.
Fudge Fan: Judy, why did you make the Howie Hatchers--children who are home schooled--seem like nerds?
Judy: You know, several people have asked me that. It has nothing to do with home schooling, really. It's just that Cousin Howie is so eccentric. Everything about him is over the top. I like Flora and Fauna a lot. Remember, these are characters in a book. They don't necessarily reflect my opinions.
Donut: My favorite book ever is "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." If you were writing it now, would it be the same?
Judy: That's a difficult question to answer because, as I've said, the character of Margaret is based on me when I was that age. I like to think people don't change inside. Sure, her mother might have a job today, but that's not what the book is really about. It's about Margaret's inner life, her innermost feelings, thoughts and concerns.
Sara: I loved the character Fudge because he was funny. Do you know anyone who is like him?
Judy: In the first Fudge book, Fudge was based on my son, Larry, when he was a toddler. After that, Fudge took on a life of his own and I just go with it.
Smith: What is harder to write, funny stories or serious stories?
Judy: Funny stories are because they either come or they don't.
Sarah: Have you ever thought of creating a new character in your books?
Judy: I try to create new characters in each book I write. That's what makes writing fun and interesting for me.
Tuolumne: What is your process for writing? Do you use a pencil or pen or computer? Where do you write?
Judy: I use a computer, but before I begin each new book I keep a notebook. I write down everything that comes to mind during that period before I actually begin. It might take months or weeks. That notebook is my security blanket so that I never have to face a blank screen (or blank page). But I print out often and my best ideas usually come with a pencil in my hand. I write all over the first draft pages. Sometimes I can't read my own handwriting. That's a problem! I write each book about five times before you see it as a finished book, and sometimes a book will go through even more drafts than that. But this is very different from homework. This is fun. I like revising much, much better than getting down a first draft. The first draft is just getting the pieces to the puzzle. Then I get to put the puzzle together!
Chantal: Do you visit schools? If you do, do you enjoy talking with children?
Judy: I love to talk with children. I try to visit schools but it's hard for me to travel when I'm trying to write. Some authors are able to do both. I'm lucky that so many children visit my website. At least I get to talk with them that way. Or this way too!
Samantha: Are you writing any new books for young adults soon?
Judy: Right now I'm taking a break. Between books is my time to read, read, read. I'm looking forward to having some time for that this winter.
Frank: How did it feel to be honored with the Margaret A. Edwards award? A truly deserving accomplishment!
Judy: Thanks, Frank! I was truly honored, but I have to say I was very surprised it was for my book "Forever."
Anne: I would like to have my stories published. Do you have any tips or advice?
Judy: Never give up! And remember, determination is as important as talent.
Karianna: What are some of your other hobbies?
Judy: I love movies, and theater, and kayaking, reading, biking, walking--oh, and dancing. I love to dance!
Tiger Eyes: Do you have any regrets of being a writer?
Judy: I've been way too lucky to have regrets. But these days I stop and think before I start a new book and ask myself do I really want to spend the next year or two or three with these characters because if I don't, then I shouldn't be writing about them. I think as you grow older you realize you only have time for so many more books. But no, I have no regrets. I just have lots of ideas!
Susan Lindgren: Thank you for putting your picture in the back of your books. It's fun to know what the author of the book we're reading looks like. Do you always use the same picture?
Judy: I have a new picture on the back of "Double Fudge." It was hard to give up my last picture because I really liked it. I thought it looked like me (on a good day with good lighting).
Susan Lindgren: We journal every day. Do you encourage young writers to journal on a daily basis?
Judy: That's a hard question for me to answer because we weren't encouraged to write when I was at school. I kept a diary as a teenager but I never would have shared it with anyone. Still, I think it's very good practice to write things down. Keeping a journal is easier for some people than others. But I have no objections.
Erin858: Did you ever have a dream of your books?
Judy: You know, I've heard that some authors do dream their books and I would love that if it happened to me, but so far it hasn't. Sometimes I'll get a good idea during the night and if I don't write it down, I won't remember it the next morning.
NYPL: Thanks for a great chat! We are almost out of time--do you have any parting words for us?
Judy: Wow...this went soooo fast! I only hope I was able to answer your questions. I've no idea what I said. But thanks so much for your patience and your thoughtful questions. This was fun!
NYPL: Thank you so much for spending the afternoon with us. We hope that you are planning to write lots more books!