My mother gave me all of her childhood books: the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, the copy of Daddy’s Little Girl that, legend has it, was marked with the tears my grandmother shed while reading this somewhat-maudlin tale of love and loss.
My mother had saved these books for me because she knew this essential truth: little girls love to read. They especially love to read books that feel like secrets, adult secrets, or perhaps their own secrets being quietly recited back to them. Hence, nine-year-old me stealing a copy of Lolita and finishing the whole thing despite having understood only scattered phrases.
When we, as young women, are given the space to read, the act becomes a happy, private corner we can return to for the rest of our lives. We develop this love of reading by turning to stories that speak to the most special, secret parts of us. And here comes Judy Blume.
As a child I went through many reading phases: Holocaust fiction, Victorian sagas, sci-fi (the result of a fascination with the futuristic architecture of the basement bookshop on St. Marks Place where my dad bought his paperback Dune novels). But Judy Blume was never a phase, because she had books that were just right for each of my selves: the fourth-grader trying to understand why I was so annoying to the people around me (the Fudge books); the seventh-grader begging for breasts (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Deenie); the teenager trying to understand the fervent, feverish love I felt for my friends (Summer Sisters). And there Judy Blume was, on the back page, smiling wide in a riding jacket with her signature cap of curls.
When I visit Blume in her Upper West Side home, that same face answers the door. Stunned by her familiarity, I follow her into a sunny living room filled with perfectly aged books and a husband who isn’t aging so badly himself. Her view is something to aspire to. Our ensuing conversation is a reminder of so much: the hilarious misperceptions of the innocent, the transformative power of art, and why it’s essential to eat a good breakfast.
I. IN THAT OTHER PLACE
LENA DUNHAM: It’s kind of impossible to overstate how much what you do has made it possible for me and so many women I admire to make their work. It’s informed our perspective, and I wanted to tell you a brief anecdote, which is that I, like a lot of children, had a babysitter who was reading Forever. She was staying with us for the summer and reading it in her room. And I had read a lot of your other books, the ones that my parents deemed age-appropriate, and my parents are pretty liberal but they were just trying to look out for my innocence or whatever. But my babysitter had Forever and I said, “Well, I’ve read Judy Blume books, can I borrow that?” And she said, “No, this one’s not appropriate for you,” which obviously got me really worked up, so I took it from her.
JUDY BLUME: How old were you?
LD: I was eight. But I was a very precocious reader; I read a lot of things I didn’t understand. Like I read Lolita when I was nine.
JB: But it didn’t matter, because it went right over your head. That’s why I tell parents not to worry.
LD: Exactly. I had no clue what anybody was talking about. I don’t think any of the depictions of sex were more to me than just, like, an image of two people’s arms rubbing together; I just had no clue. But I took Forever to the bathroom to read and then I heard my mom coming—we were at our country house—and so I stuck it under the toilet and went running out. I went back later to check for it and it was gone. I was freaked out. My babysitter came up to me and she said, “Did you take my copy of Forever? I saw it in the bathroom, under the toilet.” And I told her that my cat had put it there, which at the time seemed like a really great excuse.
JB: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger. Did you read that?
LD: Totally! It’s funny, I’ve generated and written down all these questions for you, but I’m so curious about everything you have to say that the conversation could take up anywhere.
JB: Anywhere. That’s OK.
LD: So you’ve written for a range of ages, you’ve written for adults, it sounds like the novel you’re writing now is an adult novel.
LD: You’ve written for children and you’ve written for that crazy in-between place, and I think your work for teenagers is the stuff that’s resonated the most with me, even though I’m very attached to the younger characters you’ve created. I just want to know—
JB: When you say “teenagers,” what books do you mean? Because I think the books you’re talking about are read by preteens.
LD: I think of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
JB: Right. Preteen, or what’s called “tween” now.
LD: Because I guess it’s about the preteen experience.
JB: It is, and they’re all read by kids so young now.
LD: Do you consider any of your novels specifically for teens? Maybe Tiger Eyes?
JB: Certainly Forever would be published today as YA [young adult]. There was no YA category then. They didn’t know what to do with the book. And maybe Tiger Eyes would be a very young YA, but the others, the ones that I think meant something to you, they’re what we call “middle-grade” books now.
LD: I think I read them probably when I was in fifth and sixth grade, and I considered myself to be above—whether this was true or not—I considered myself to be well in advance of my classmates, so I was reading elicit teenage property.
LD: Which maybe was just satisfying for me. And I know, like, Iggie’s House, for example, I read when I was in third grade, which was earlier on. And Iggie’s House was your first book, right?
JB: My first for middle-graders, she said, rolling her eyes.
LD: Is it hard for you to read your old work? Do you ever do it?
JB: I do, not all of it, but the ones I like. Every now and then if I’m cleaning things out, I’ll pull a book off a shelf, open it up, and say, “How did I know that? I don’t know that anymore.” Because when you’re writing, you know, you’re in that other place, you don’t even know what you know.
LD: So I wanted to ask you what made you want to start writing for younger readers. What was the thing that first inspired you to speak to that audience?
JB: It’s what I knew. It’s what I remembered. I was in my twenties, but my experiences as an adult were limited. I identified more with kids than with the adults in my life. And I was desperate for a creative outlet. I wasn’t happy following my mother’s prescription for me. The ’50s-mother prescription for the daughter is: you go to college to meet a husband, because if you don’t find him in college, you’re never going to find him.
LD: And then you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of getting married. All of that.
JB: And so I married really young, although not as young as some. I was twenty-one.
LD: Which to me sounds like a baby.
JB: Yes, it’s very young. What did I know? I knew nothing. I had finished my junior year at NYU and there I was, married. And then the next step is you have a baby, and you have another baby, and I liked babies, but I was missing something, that creative something.
LD: Had you always written? Had you always been a storyteller?
JB: A secret storyteller. I never shared; I never wrote them down; they were always rolling around inside my head. I remember being nine and having stories, great stories, very melodramatic stories.
LD: Did they take the form of characters for you? When you had these stories, were they people you created with sagas and characters whom you’d birthed?
JB: I think they were fed by what I was seeing at the movies, because in those days I went to the movies every week with my parents. Movies weren’t rated then, so I went to see everything. There was nothing they had to worry about me seeing. They were character-driven stories, and I would come home and act out every part. So when I played and when my stories ran around in my head, they were melodramas and they did not feature kids.
LD: I was always really encouraged to write stories, which was a kind of part of the education that I had.
JB: You were lucky.
LD: I was really lucky. But looking back on the kinds of things I chose to write about, it was all families who gave up their daughter for adoption, then she became a pauper, then she came back to kill them all. It was all, like, so heavy, so deeply heavy, and I called them all novels no matter how short they were. Always.
JB: That was great for you that you were encouraged. I mean, it wasn’t that we were discouraged, but there was no creative writing in school at all. I don’t remember any of that.
LD: So then when you felt it was finally time to write something down, what was the impetus for you making the leap from secret storyteller to public storyteller?
JB: I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. I was reading my little children rhyming picture books at bedtime, so at night, when I was washing the after-dinner dishes, I’d make up rhyming stories. Imitation Dr. Seuss stories. They were really bad. I have some in a box right down there.
JB: Yes, and it says on the box—it’s a note to my kids—it says, “When I die, if you ever publish these I will come back and haunt you.” They cannot be seen.
LD: So then after—you write Iggie’s House and it had this…
JB: Well, Iggie’s House was my third published book, I think. Wasn’t it? Maybe it was my second. The first one—you’re going to make me say this—was The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo. It was a picture storybook.
LD: Which I’m not familiar with.
JB: Just as well. That was the first one that was published and then maybe, yes, then I guess it was Iggie’s House and then it was Margaret.
LD: Did it suddenly just feel like your life had changed and you were a writer and that was what you would do from now on? Was it hard to make the transition from mother to working woman?
JB: I didn’t know I was really a writer until I read a review of Margaret in the New York Times, then I thought, Oh my god, maybe I can really do this. Charles Strauss, who wrote the music for Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, said almost the same thing. “I never know if anything is good until I read that somebody says it is, and then I think, Oh, maybe this is good.”
LD: And you related to that?
JB: I did, because I didn’t know what I was doing. It can be good, when you don’t know what you’re doing and it’s spontaneous and you’re not afraid. You don’t know enough to be afraid. You can be fearless.
LD: Well, it’s an exhilarating feeling.
JB: Like you—I hope you’ll be fearless forever. I was a fearful child and can sometimes be a fearful adult, but I’m still fearless in my writing, so I know there’s that other person inside me.
LD: My boyfriend’s a musician, and I think when he’s onstage it’s the only time when he’s not worrying, so that’s the reason he keeps doing it—because it gives him that sort of experience of weightlessness that I only get out of being deep into writing something or really lost in a moment on set. It’s available to me in these select moments through my work.
JB: And isn’t that great?
LD: It’s the most wonderful thing that can happen.
JB: To me, too. When you ask, Did writing change my life? It totally changed my life. It gave me my life.
LD: Everything opened up.
JB: Although I was still a suburban woman living in New Jersey with a husband who had ’50s expectations for me, and two little children. But I had this secret life where I was writing.
LD: It often takes a moment for the bravery you express in your work and your personal life to catch up with each other. Often one thing supersedes the other. I know that that was my experience for sure. I didn’t feel like my life matched the pleasure that I got from my work for a few years at least.
JB: But it’s great that you’ve found that now, because you’re young. And to find that now is just fabulous.
LD: It’s amazing, and I’m sure there will be moments when I feel like I didn’t, because it all comes in and out of focus.
II. A BLANK PAGE IS THE CRUELEST THING KNOWN TO HUMANITY
LD: This novel that’s inspired by, I guess you’d call it a news story—was it a public event that happened?
JB: Yes, a series of events. I remember it. I was thirteen at the time.
LD: Are you allowed to tell us about it at all, or is it a secret right now?
JB: I don’t think it’s a great idea to talk about it yet.
LD: That makes so much sense, because you have to protect your experience of writing about it and keep your energy close to you.
JB: I’ve talked more about this book than any book I’ve ever written, the opposite of what I’d advise any writer to do. When George was writing his books, he liked talking about them with friends, and I would say, “Don’t do that,” because if you talk about it then you won’t need to write it down.
LD: That’s such an interesting perspective.
JB: I think it’s true. I’ve talked too much about this novel.
LD: Maybe trying to work through your thoughts about it or understand why you need to write about it?
JB: No, it’s because I’m excited. And frustrated, too. Because I want to focus on the book. I want to finish it. And life keeps getting in the way. I can’t wait to get to Key West and into a routine.
LD: Do you have your office set up there?
JB: Yes, it’s so beautiful.
LD: That’s wonderful.
JB: I’ve always loved my own little office spaces, no matter what they were like, no matter how tiny they were.
LD: It’s the Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own concept. It’s really important.
JB: It is.
LD: Do you have a writing routine every day? Do you have a way that you structure your routine?
JB: I do. Do you?
LD: No. I wish I did.
JB: Oh, you don’t?
LD: I write at all different times, I write in my bed, I write at the table; I need to get it together. Or maybe I don’t?
JB: But it’s working for you. Why change it if it’s working?
LD: Because I feel admiration. I just read this book called Daily Rituals; it’s super amazing. It outlines the rituals of artists and scientists and various productive people, and I am very turned on by people who eat lunch at the same time every day and get to look forward to those things. I feel like my body doesn’t have a rhythm and therefore I am somehow not strong enough to do everything I need to do.
JB: I would not mess around with what you do right now.
JB: No, because look at how productive you are.
LD: That’s so nice to hear.
JB: So you’re writing how many episodes of Girls at a time?
LD: Lots, twelve, and then working on a book. I just jam it in whenever it makes sense.
JB: I can’t do that. First of all, I can only focus on one creative project at a time. I wish I could focus on two, because I really only write a couple of hours a day. Here’s my schedule.
LD: OK, I’m so excited.
LD: I really am. This is the juice that we all want…
JB: I’m sorry it’s not more exciting. I get up, I go for a power walk, two miles, wherever I am.
JB: It’s not really.
LD: It’s a really healthy thing to do.
JB: It opens you up. It’s a very good time for thinking.
LD: For thinking and focusing.
JB: And then I have my breakfast, which is my favorite meal of the day.
LD: What do you eat? Do you eat the same thing every day?
JB: Yes. Well, almost.
LD: Are we allowed to know what it is? I’m fascinated by people’s breakfasts.
JB: Yes. I eat my cereal, which is currently Barbara’s Original high fiber, with a sliced banana and blueberries—carefully washed blueberries—and skim milk and then maybe a piece of toast or a half a piece of toast and a cup of tea. That’s a lot of breakfast.
LD: That sounds wonderful.
JB: And then I do my morning toilet. Now, here’s the thing. That takes longer and longer, although I don’t wear any makeup and I don’t know why it takes longer. I have a theory. It’s because I have a radio in the bathroom and I love to listen to NPR in the morning. In Key West, Diane Rehm comes on at 10 a.m. I have to fight the urge to listen to the whole show. Then I go to my office.
LD: Which is in your home?
JB: Yes, but in Key West it’s in another little building.
LD: Oh, beautiful.
JB: Not very far away, just steps.
LD: But enough that there is some kind of separation between your home and your work space.
JB: Yes. I open the glass doors in front of my desk and it’s like working in a garden.
LD: It sounds so nice.
JB: It is pretty great. It’s my favorite place to work that I’ve ever had. I stay there until lunch. And on a first draft, lunch is earlier and earlier.
LD: I really understand.
JB: I hate first drafts.
LD: So much more fun when you have anything on the page.
LD: It’s the greatest. Even, like, when I’m writing a script, just having the slug lines for the scenes makes me feel like it’s possible, but a blank page is the cruelest thing known to humanity.
JB: And scary.
JB: So I scribble in a notebook before I start, and I do a lot of scribbling during the whole process. My best ideas still come from scribbling.
III. YOU CONCEIVE A WORLD
LD: I’m always trying to figure this out: your books have covered so many big issues, so many big cultural issues, whether you intended them to or not, and I wondered if you ever conceive something as, I would like to write about this subject—racism, puberty, bullying—or whether you conceive a character, you conceive a world, and then it happens to speak to that particularly sensual need for people to discuss that topic.
JB: I think you hit on it when you said, “You conceive a world.” Because I don’t really know exactly how it happens, but I don’t like the idea that I would ever have thought, I’m going to write about racism or puberty or bullying. I know where some of the ideas came from. Blubber came from stories that my daughter told me when she came home from fifth grade. There was a kid in the class who was being bullied. We didn’t even call it bullying then. It was like victimization in the classroom. The word bully was so out, was so not in use for all those years, and now it’s back, big-time.
LD: It’s a hugely discussed topic right now.
JB: It’s huge. I don’t know that you can ever really get rid of it—the way kids behave toward one another—but it’s good to bring it out in the open.
LD: It is, and I think that as our country becomes more tolerant as a whole of certain things—hopefully becomes more tolerant—certain kinds of bullying will be passé and unacceptable and it will be taught in homes that it’s not OK to make fun of a kid because he’s gay or it’s not OK to make fun of a girl because she’s fat, but that we’re living in a culture where so many people’s parents supported those beliefs that there wasn’t any infrastructure for children to understand right and wrong in those situations, if that makes sense.
JB: I hope you’re right.
LD: That’s my utopian dream.
JB: That’s a good dream.
LD: So you never approach a book thinking, I need to bring this subject into the light? You approach a book from a character place and it happens to speak to the issue?
JB: I think so. It’s different with each book. I don’t really understand where ideas come from. I don’t want to know. I mean, with Margaret I remembered so clearly. I had an incredible memory of my own childhood, and I thought, I’m going to write a book and I’m going to tell the truth, but it was just my truth, it was just what I knew to be true about sixth grade.
LD: And it happened to become this sort of bible for girls going through that experience, which must have been incredibly satisfying and also somewhat overwhelming, to be suddenly the voice assigned to young women developing breasts in the world.
JB: I guess I was writing about a universal experience without knowing it. I wasn’t overwhelmed until later, after many books, when kids started writing expecting me to have all the answers for them.
LD: Feminism and issues surrounding being female always, but particularly right now at this complicated cultural moment—I guess every moment is a complicated cultural moment, but this is the one where I’m alive—it’s a huge part of what’s important to me, but it’s not all that’s important to me, and you must feel the same way. I feel so much more than my gender and I feel so much more than my relationship to my body and my relationship to men, but suddenly you’re asked to be an expert.
JB: Oh my goodness, yes, you’re the expert, right? Of a whole generation.
LD: And then there’s this whole backlash of people who feel like you’re not representing them accurately, and you want to say as elegantly you can, “I wasn’t trying to represent you, I was just doing what I could do to make being alive easier for me.”
LD: And if it helped anyone and it made them feel comforted in the process, then it’s the greatest thing you can ask for.
JB: But there’s no book or play or series or anything that speaks to everyone, because then it wouldn’t speak to anyone. And that’s what I say when people want to ban books from the library. If all you leave in the library are books that you think speak to everyone, what are you going to have? You’ll have nothing. And when you spoke about having read Lolita, I mean, you got it just right. This is what I’ve been yapping about: let the kids read the books. If they have a question, they’ll come to you. If they don’t, they’ll just read right over it. Carolyn Mackler, a YA writer, tells this great story about reading Deenie, who has a special place—
LD: I love Deenie.
JB: Thank you. And so Carolyn made up her special place and it was right here [points at her forearm]. And she rubbed it and rubbed it and waited for the good feeling [laughs]. I love that story because it’s so sweet. You know? She was, like, nine years old.
LD: That’s so sweet. Like, I thought babies were made because a guy and a girl put their arms together and the sperm and egg met through the pores of their skin, and I remember telling that to my mom and she was like, “It doesn’t not make sense.” She was like, “It’s scientific, it’s not a stork, it has some bearing in reality, but it’s not going to work.”
JB: How old were you?
LD: Probably five? I learned about sex pretty early. I remember my friend Amanda DeLauro explained it to me when I was six.
JB: She told you how babies were made?
LD: She told me how babies were made. Then I went home and told my parents, “Oh my god, Amanda said this ridiculous thing, can you believe how stupid this is? She’s insane.” At which point they kind of looked at each other and went, “Well, actually, we’ve been meaning to tell you.” And I couldn’t believe it. I went into my room alone and I was just like, How can I even continue on this earth with this terrible, terrible knowledge?
IV. SEX GAMES
LD: What emotions did having books banned elicit for you?
JB: It didn’t happen in the ’70s, so I had a whole decade without an organized effort to ban my books. So when it happened big-time following the presidential election of 1980, I felt completely alone, and that was scary and depressing until I discovered the National Coalition Against Censorship, and I was like [gasps], “I’m not alone! I’m not alone!”
LD: I just saw that you put together a collection of stories by authors that had been banned.
JB: Places I Never Meant to Be, original stories by banned authors.
LD: So it must have made you feel alone and angry, and did it make you feel sort of concerned about our cultural state as a whole?
JB: Yes, I thought it was crazy. Like really and truly.
LD: It’s like a sci-fi novel.
JB: Really. My thoughts were: This is America, we don’t ban books here! But of course I know a lot better now. And I wasn’t the only one. Norma Klein was writing at the same time and her books were being challenged and sometimes, banned. So many of us. But when you say to me, No, you can’t do this, I say, Oh yes, I can!
LD: I have the same problem. I have an authority problem.
JB: Is that what it is? It’s like, You can’t tell me what to do. Do not tell me what to do and do not tell me what I can’t do.
LD: It’s the worst. It’s the worst, and I always get this feeling of, You don’t know what you’re dealing with.
JB: Because we can do it!
LD: That’s the best. And so it didn’t make you—of course it didn’t make you want to shift the focus of your writing at all.
LD: How could it, because that would only happen if you were like… It’s so crazy to me—this has just occurred to me, by the way—that we’re living in a world where your books were ever banned and now Fifty Shades of Grey is being read in high schools. It’s just a wild—
JB: That’s being challenged, too, I’m sure. I haven’t read it. Have you read it?
LD: No, I haven’t read it, and I feel like maybe I should. It’s like I don’t have an elicit, confused relationship to my sexuality, so I don’t need a book like that right now in my life, and I don’t need to be—from what I hear, it’s not a way I need to be turned on or a hole that needs to be filled in me, and I don’t think it would be that exciting to me. I also like to read good books and I don’t have enough time to do it, so it’s hard for me to imagine willingly submitting myself to a trilogy that I’ve been told is at the fourth-grade reading level. I wish that author all the success in the world, but it’s just not for me.
JB: I have no interest in it, either, which is interesting, because when I was twelve, and I was going through my parents’ bookshelves, I found the most wonderful books, by the best writers, and within those wonderful books were scenes that were real turn-ons.
LD: Oh my god, it was all I thought about. I had specific books I had that had pages I knew had sex on them that I would go and read. And a lot of them now that I look at, a lot of them were really perverse books. One of them was The End of Alice by A. M. Homes, which is about an adult pedophile, but I didn’t get that. I just got the: Oh, people are touching each other, like it wasn’t connecting for me in that way. I’d be a lot more upset by reading The End of Alice now than I was as an eleven- or twelve-year-old. But YA fiction didn’t exist when you began.
JB: It didn’t exist when I was growing up, either.
LD: So then what was the media that connected for you when you were the age that you’re writing about?
JB: Radio, early TV, movies, music, magazines, newspapers. And books. By twelve, I was in my parents’ bookshelves. And this is something I’ve been saying a lot lately, but I’m going to say it anyway, which is that my parents gave me the gift of letting me know that reading is a good thing. My mother was afraid of everything, but she was never afraid that I was reading, or about what I was reading.
LD: She knew that there was no harm that could befall you from reading.
JB: It was something to celebrate. She was a reader. My father was a reader. They were proud of me for being a reader.
LD: And so you were pretty quickly reading adult novels.
JB: And finding whatever I found in them. It was exciting; it was the world of grown-ups. I was very interested in the word of grown-ups. But I wasn’t just looking for hot scenes, I was reading great stories. O’Hara, Bellow, Salinger. Their books inspired me; they’ve stayed with me all these years.
LD: You’ve written and are writing a novel for an adult, you’ve written novels for children, what can you do in an adult novel that you can’t do in a book for younger readers, besides just speak frankly about sex? Is there a narrative approach that’s different, or is it just about subject matter?
JB: Well, the process isn’t any different, it’s equally awful. For an older audience I like to use different viewpoints, to skip around, to experiment in a way I haven’t done when writing for younger readers. This book that I’m writing now, it’s interesting because in 1952 the main characters are fifteen and eighteen, so one might think, Oh, it’s a YA book, but I don’t think it is. I hate categories. I think kids should read whatever they want to read, so I’m hoping that fifteen-year-olds who read and enjoyed Summer Sisters will read this one, too. It’s too soon to say more now.
LD: Summer Sisters was actually—I was excited to tell you this—it was a huge influence on Girls, because it was the first thing I ever consumed that looked at the way female friendship can be glorious and can be complicated and a worse betrayal than something romantic. It showed these archetypes of femininity, then totally sort of individuated them and exploded them, and I wonder if that book was brooding in you for a long time or whether it was based on particular experiences you had based on female friendship.
JB: It’s probably my least autobiographical book. The whole idea started when I was in my kayak—this is when we lived on Martha’s Vineyard—and I was rowing around the pond, and I heard an explosion. I don’t like sudden loud noises; they scare me.
LD: Who does?
JB: Right, and then all these people came running down the hill and jumped into the water in their finery, including a bride and groom, and that’s where it all started. I thought it would be a children’s or even a YA book about two girls from very different backgrounds who summer together. Then it just kept going and going and they kept getting older.
LD: And then when the lesbianism took root it was time to move it to an adult level?
JB: That’s what you think it is?
LD: I don’t think it’s that at all. I don’t think they’re lesbians, I just mean there is sexual exploration that takes place between them. I think it’s the complexity, I think it’s like so many female friendships. It’s impossible to put a title on what exists between those two characters.
JB: I wanted to include their sexual experiments. I played sex games with my friends when we were young.
LD: Me too, maybe when we were, like, five to seven. Once I was, like, seven I was like—
JB: No, we were older, we were twelve. So, you know, we could experience sexual feelings, though I don’t think we had a clue what they were. I wanted Caitlin and Vix to do that, too.
LD: I loved it. I remember it made me feel better because so many of my friends at school were doing that stuff and doing that on sleepovers, but I just didn’t feel ready. It wasn’t like I had any judgment of it being two women. It would have scared me as much if not more—
JB: But how did you know they were doing it?
LD: They did it in front of me.
JB: On sleepovers?
LD: On sleepovers.
JB: Oh no, we didn’t do that.
LD: It was a communal thing of making out and touching each other. It was, like, a three-month period in which the word sleepover was code for: let’s get together and touch each other’s vaginas, and I was haunted. I remember going home and feeling like I couldn’t tell my mother, even though she would have understood and probably laughed.
JB: Little-girl orgies.
LD: Little-girl orgies, yeah.
JB: Ours were so private and secret, oh my god.
LD: I think about how comforting… Summer Sisters comforted me just because I was like, OK, the things I’ve seen with my eyes are not so terrible. And even though I knew adult gay people and had absolutely no issue with it, it was like somehow I just couldn’t articulate what made me so uncomfortable about the space I shared with my friends becoming a sexual space, and it was very healing for me to read that and feel like it was a part of other friendships, even fictional friendships that I admired.
JB: But here’s the thing: any book means different things to different readers, and I’ve heard from many lesbians who thank me for it, and they do consider it a lesbian story because Caitlin and Vix do love each other. When we tried to break it down for a movie, which we’ve never been able to do, Larry, my son, always says it’s a love story. It’s girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl finds girl.
LD: But that book was so… I thought about it often as I wrote about these females characters who loved each other and hated each other and were sort of in love with each other.
JB: Well, yes, that’s why we love your characters.
LD: That’s the goal, that they would be as fully realized and take us on as much of a journey as that book did.
JB: See, I never got to live with friends as a young woman out of college. I was already married.
LD: You were already married and with children.
JB: I had Randy at twenty-three and Larry at twenty-five so I never had that experience of being a young woman living on her own. It’s just such an exciting idea for me. Maybe that’s why I love your show so much. I get to live it vicariously.