She’s a beloved author of young-adult and children’s books whose career spans six decades. Her novels–notable for tackling mature themes like racism and teen sex—are multi-generational favorites, passed from mothers to daughters (and even granddaughters). But it wasn’t until this year that one of her books has made the transition to the big screen.
The film, Tiger Eyes, is based on Blume’s 1981 novel of the same name and tells the story of a teenage girl, Davey, trying to come to terms with her father’s untimely death. Blume, 75, co-wrote the script with her son, Lawrence, who also directed. It opens in select theaters across the U.S. — and will be viewable through iTunes, DirecTV and In-Demand — on June 7.
Ahead of the movie’s release, Blume spoke with TIME about the filmmaking process, working with family, and her love of Twitter.
TIME: I’m definitely not alone when I say I’ve been a big fan of yours since, well, pretty much since I started reading. Does having such a devoted fan base add any pressure when it comes to adapting a beloved book like Tiger Eyes for the big screen?
JUDY BLUME: It added to Larry’s pressure. He calls himself Lawrence professionally, but I call him Larry. I’ve heard him say this, that it added pressure because he didn’t want to disappoint my fans. But we both aimed for the movie to be true to the characters and the emotions of the story. Because a book is a book and a movie is a movie—they’re different. We didn’t get out-of-hand schmaltzy—because, you know, it’s a sad story–and I think that’s thanks to the wonders of Willa Holland [who plays Davey]. She’s just not a sentimental kind of actress. And she could do it all with her face—she could show exactly what the character was thinking inside. She saved me pages of dialogue—because her face showed everything, I didn’t have to write her inner monologue.
A lot of your work deals with difficult parent-child relationships, including Tiger Eyes. Did any issues come up when you were writing the script with your son?
No, no, no. I never thought that. Larry and I have learned to separate that. We’re Judy and Larry when we’re working together. He says we get along better professionally, but I don’t think that’s true. But it was interesting, because we were a mother and a son working together and we had [cast] a real-life father [actor Russell Means] and son [Tatanka Means, who plays Wolf in the movie] to play father and son in the movie. And there was something very tender about that, watching them perform. You know, [Russell] got sick and died after [the film wrapped] and so maybe that was the only time they got to really do it like that. But no, family relationships didn’t come up on the set.
What was it about the novel Tiger Eyes that led you and Larry to think it would make a good movie?
We just always knew that Tiger Eyes was the one. We lived in New Mexico and it’s very visual, very beautiful. And the landscape is a central part of the story. And I think it has more story than some of my other books. Another one that Larry is just dying to make is Summer Sisters, but we didn’t have the budget. I think it’s good that we did Tiger Eyes.
If the opportunity arose, do you think you’d be interested in turning any of your other novels into films?
Well I love movies, so it’s funny that we never have [adapted more of my work]. If I were younger, I would love to do more movies. Maybe I will, I don’t know. I hope Larry will. I hope he gets the chance to do Summer Sisters, because it’s one that he says he understands in the way he understood Tiger Eyes.
You’re widely considered the godmother of young-adult genre. Which YA writers do you admire?
I do not consider myself the godmother of YA, by the way. Most of my early books were younger, you know—they were kids on the cusp. YA—and what YA has really evolved into, or maybe has always been—is about teenage characters. I’ve almost never written about teenage characters except for Forever and Tiger Eyes. And it’s strange, because the book that I’m writing now is a novel. I don’t know how it will be published, I’m not ready for that yet, I’m just trying to tell the story. But it has a lot of teenage characters in it. It takes place in the ‘50s, so it has very different feel.
Now, a lot of my writer friends do write YA. And I admire them and encourage them and love them. But it’s hard to mention some names because there are so many of them.
That’s understandable. I’m just always curious to hear what authors enjoy and read themselves.
I can tell you what I read! I read fiction. I read some YA but not a lot. I’m absolutely not sitting in judgment, but I’m not interested in werewolves or dystopia or really a lot of the fantasy-fiction that’s out there right now. I like real-life stuff. But that’s just me. That’s what I like to read, that’s what I like to write.
You also like Twitter. I think you have one of the best Twitter bios out there.
My husband gets all the credit for the Twitter bio. But Twitter is fun. It’s chatty. I feel that I’ve made a lot of friends. I consider [the people I follow] friends—and I’ve never even met them. I follow them everyday. But I do believe you have to be careful when you’re out promoting something—like this movie—not to overload your Twitter buddies with it.
I love the connection. I follow people I’ve never heard of and never would have heard of. And a lot of them are really very funny and clever. Some of them are writers and have the problems that all writers have. I never know, I just like something and I click and follow.
I read somewhere that you were only paid a $1000 advance for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret back in 1970. What do you think now of first-time writers – and even established writers—self-publishing their work and avoiding traditional publishing houses altogether?
A lot of people I know have very, very strong thoughts on that and I don’t, really. I’m a person who thinks whatever works, works. And for me, an editor—a wise editor— is absolutely essential to my process. If Dick Jackson hadn’t found me in the slush pile and worked with me and taught me everything I know about revision and how much I actually love that process of revising… I need that! I need that today! Writing and putting it out there [without an editor], you’re going to have a lot of misses. But I know it’s frustrating to write, and not be able to find a traditional publisher. And, from what I hear, it’s getting more and more difficult. So, you know, maybe like tweeting. A way of sharing.