Lip balm for extra moisturizing? Check. Lactaid to help digest the occasional sweet? Check. Pocket mirror to ensure the pearly whites remain food-free? Check. Smartphone because you never know when an inspirational tweet will pop up? Check.
Judy Blume has logged a tremendous number of miles in the last two years in her quest to see her 1981 novel, "Tiger Eyes," turned into a feature film, and the petite yet peppy grandmother is now powering through the final leg of her journey with the well-stocked purse of a road warrior. Though Blume has sold more than 80 million books since her first was published nearly 45 years ago, she knows the $2-million movie "Tiger Eyes," about grief told through the eyes of a teenager from the cliffs of New Mexico, needs all the help it can get.
With no big studio behind the movie, it's up to Blume and her son, Lawrence, who directed the film, to get the word out to her legion of followers. They must reach both the "nostalgia readers," who found adolescence a little less painful with Blume and her characters by their side, and a new crop of fans who are connecting to tales like "Superfudge" and "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" with equal enthusiasm — though many weren't even born when the books were written.
On this trip in late May, Blume has already donned a set of floral pajamas for an afternoon taping of Chelsea Handler's talk show (the comedian titled her second book, "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea," in a twisted homage to the author).
After a midday interview at Shutters in Santa Monica, Blume will head to CineFamily's Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, where devotees including writer-actress Nia Vardalos, singer Michelle Branch, "The Office's" Kate Flannery and others will be on hand for a screening of "Tiger Eyes" and a celebration for the author.
"It's been tough. There's no studio. No money. No budget for marketing," admitted Blume, who co-produced and co-wrote the movie with her son. "Do I want to go on TV? Not really. It doesn't look so bad, I guess. I think it's good to tell people about the movie. Maybe the story [audiences] love is that I'm 75 and I still walk and talk."
Blume does a lot more than that. She's writing her 29th book. She continues to mentor writers including Rachel Vail, Carolyn Mackler and Kristen-Paige Madonia. And she is an avid social media user (@judyblume), tweeting daily musings often to her more than 90,000 followers, including Patton Oswalt, Judd Apatow and Zooey Deschanel. (Sample tweet from her recent trip to LA: "What!? They have Magnolia bakery in L.A.? Who knew? Even though I gave up cupcakes a year ago I had to stop in for old time's sake.")
Despite the march of time and technology, Blume's novels remain invaluable blueprints to surviving the trials of teenagedom: everything from understanding bullying ("Blubber") to menstruation ("Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret") to healthful, consensual sex ("Forever").
"We had a wonderful screening in New York recently," said Blume. "Afterwards, Larry and I do our dog-and-pony show, and one woman after another stood up. 'I'm 34.' 'I'm 44.' Then one young lady stood up and said, 'I'm 13, and this is my favorite book.'"
In an era when Hollywood is optioning children's novels for adaptation at a record pace, though, perhaps the most frequent query Blume gets on the publicity trail is: "What took you so long to finally make a movie?"
Open to adaptations
Eating lunch with Judy Blume is like ordering a meal with Meg Ryan's character from "When Harry Met Sally," minus the fake orgasm.
The author, whose narrow frame belies her great capacity for emotion and empathy, settles on a chicken Caesar salad "her way," which once dissected means no garlic croutons, no dressing, just lettuce, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and lemon. She sniffs the oil to make sure no canola has slipped in. (She's allergic.)
Blume, who saw her 1975 book "Forever" turned into a TV movie and previously partnered with her son on an ABC adaptation of "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great," insisted that she has a cavalier attitude toward her work and would eagerly allow another of her books to be adapted into a film, even without her involvement, should the opportunity come her way. She's particularly keen to see "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself" — a story about an imaginative fifth-grader living in Miami Beach in 1947 — on the big screen and onstage.
"I'm open," said Blume. "I think 'Wifey' should be a movie. I don't need to write it. I don't need to be involved in it. And I'm on a big 'Sally Freedman' kick right now because what I want really deep inside is a musical — a Broadway-type musical based on 'Sally Freedman.' And I know just how to do it."
But the fastidiousness that Blume displays over lunch clearly carried over to the making of "Tiger Eyes." Even though she said she's proud of the finished product, she has some criticisms of the PG-13 drama, filmed over just 22 days in Los Alamos, N.M., in fall 2010: Her favorite scene in the book, she says, doesn't resonate nearly as well on the screen: She wishes her heroine, Davey, was dressed in a different color tone for a climactic moment in the film, and even though she insisted on appearing in a cameo, it's a decision she regrets, concerned that her presence takes the audience out of the movie.
"[My scene] leads up to a really important moment in the movie, so I'm kind of sorry," she said. "If people know me, it really ruins the screening. I think I shouldn't have done it."