I move a lot and as a result I often have boxes of unpacked books, I opened one recently and came across this fragile paperback classic from Judy Blume:
THEN AGAIN MAYBE I WON’T
Growing up, I read every single one of her books – for some reason I kept this one — It’s even a 1st edition, before they put pictures on the cover — unfortunately it is not in good shape, missing its front cover and the pages are literally the same color as the declaration of independence, which is kind of cool considering the theme of their main character, Tony Miglione.
Something else that struck me was the chapters don’t have names — or numbers, they break when Tony changes his train of thought.
Taken from her official Bio on her site:
She has also written three novels for adults, Summer Sisters; Smart Women; and Wifey, all of them New York Times bestsellers. More than 80 million copies of her books have been sold, and her work has been translated into thirty-one languages. She receives thousands of letters a year from readers of all ages who share their feelings and concerns with her….
…She is the editor of Places I Never Meant To Be, Original Stories by Censored Writers.
Most recently Judy has completed a four book series — The Pain & the Great One books — for young readers, illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist James Stevenson, and she has begun work on a new YA novel.
THEN AGAIN MAYBE I WON’T starts with a slice of life moment that expands outward as we learn of Tony’s job, friends, family lost, family living situations and personalities – and how ingrained they are with their professions and habits – which is an important set-up.
There is a very slight set-up of ‘it’s enough to give me a stomach ache’, which of course is the thread that sews the story together.
In fact, all of the set-ups are very subtle, but they are there. This is important to realize, because even though literary purists and human prudes look down their noses at the author’s remarkable body of work there is no mistaking she knows what she is doing, it’s just not her style to shoot you in the face with it. (Please consider this agents, editors and emerging writers)
After 2 ½ pages we know Tony is going into Junior high, his family is thrifty, he’s not very tall – yet which could be a problem because basketball is his favorite sport, he’s logical and always thinking.
Even though he’s a kid with a lot of access to wrong choices, on page 4 we know that he’s very conscientious – and honest – another important set-up.
A page or more is then dedicated to Grandma, then another two on his brother’s new baby and finally by the end of page 10 we learn about the brother lost in Vietnam, named Vinnie.
All of this is done via 1st person narration. In Judy Blume’s case this is her specialty, getting the reader to visualize and feel like they are really in the room with the protagonist.
I’d love to know why her bestselling books were never adapted to film (one was made into a 23 minute movie, directed by her son and it really wasn’t one of her better known pieces), I venture to guess it is because of the 1st person narrative. It is really so much better when left to the imagination of the reader. But still with ALL the adaptations out there on popular source material Judy Blume’s seems natural. Must be the awkward story lines of boners and menstruation and religion that made producers back off because even 1st person narratives have been proven to work, with DIARY OF A WHIMPY KID successfully making the transition and especially with television, look at THE WONDER YEARS and its modern edgier sibling, MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE – but then again they could never come up with a successful adaptation for CATCHER IN THE RYE either — I digress.
Pick up a Judy Blume novel if you are writing 1st person narrative.
Do the 1st 10 pages bookend and inform the end? – it’s not a mirror scene but it certainly wraps up the serving slice nicely and of course ALL of the set-ups are played out and paid off, and really how much longer could we stay in his head without getting claustrophobic?
Take a peak inside the book on Amazon:
I do wonder why I kept this after all these years as opposed to some other favorite books I read, I can only guess it was because she gave me a rare, though subtle look, at male puberty — perhaps I’ll pass it onto my six-year-old son in a few years.
Then again maybe I won’t… (he’s had binoculars since he was 2 and is pretty solid with a video camera)
For further reading, on why Judy Blume is [still] relevant, popular and controversial (and more to the point I’d like to make for writers to please stop writing dystopian, vampires attacking angels on mars before they fall in love with mermaids), this article was written quite sometime ago but it endures just as she does.
Lot’s of award winning screenplay stuff coming up, stay tooned…