online adaptation of
Alexander, read by author
Judith Viorst with the
here to play
Author, Judith Viorst
is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children
as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very
Bad Day, her most famous children's book, was first published in 1972
and has since sold over two million copies. Ms. Viorst received a B.A.
in History from Rutgers University, and she is also a graduate of the
Washington Psychoanalytic Institute where she is a research affiliate.
She began her career as a poet and has since completed six collections
of poems for adults. Her first novel for adults, Murdering Mr. Monti,
was published in 1994 and her most recent work of non-fiction, Imperfect
Control, was published in January 1998 by Simon and Schuster. Her
book Necessary Losses, published in 1986, appeared for almost two
years on The New York Times best-seller list in hardcover and paperback.
Ms. Viorst's children's books include The Tenth Good Thing About Barney,
The Alphabet From Z to A, and the "Alexander" stories: Alexander,
Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday, Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear
Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move and, of course, Alexander and the
Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Ms. Viorst lectures widely
on a variety of topics, ranging from the subjects of loss and control
to children's literature. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband
Milton, a political writer. They have three sons, Anthony, Nicholas and
Alexander, and two perfect grandchildren, Miranda and Brandeis.
We know that
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is
based on the experiences of your son. What was it that influenced your
decision to write a children's book about Alexander?
the youngest of my three sons, seemed to be having A LOT of bad days.
He fell out of trees, fell off of chairs, broke his wrist, knocked out
his front teeth, and, in addition to these breaks and bruises, was involved
in a variety of non-physical disasters and disappointments. I thought
that the notion of "a bad day," could serve for him, and for all kids,
as it does for adults, a "container" function, suggesting that this daythis
bad newswould (honest and truly!) come to an end. I was also tacitly
suggesting in the book that everyone, just not our hapless hero, sometimes
has bad days and that neither the fictional nor the real-life Alexander
has been singled out for a unique fate. Furthermore, these bad days happen
everywhere, even in Australia, and since we can't escape them we might
as well muddle through them and maybe even try (at some point) to laugh
process you used to adapt Alexander the book into Alexander
through the book episode by episode as the narrator told his sad story.
I wanted to keep that narration virtually word for word, which I did,
while fleshing out the events Alexander describes. And so I gave dialogue
to his brothers, parents, friends, etc., and put in a lot of dramatic
action, showing as well as telling Alexander's story.
you know that Alexander should not be a play, but a musical?
As long as I was opening
up Alexander's story, I decided it would be fun to also have his story
told through songs. And since I love writing lyrics, the thought of making
this a musical was irresistible.
did you team up with Shelly Markham? How did the two of you work together
on the music? Did you write the music and the lyrics together, or was
one part written before the other?
At firstbecause Shelly lives in L.A. and I live in Washington,
D.C.we worked over the phone (he played the piano and sang to me)
and with tapes. Later he came to D.C. and we finished our work in a room
at the Kennedy Center. Shelly indulges me by letting me, in most instances,
write the lyrics first, after which he composes the music to fit my works.
But there are exceptions. With one song THE SWEETEST OF NIGHTS AND FINEST
OF DAYS, he added a musical "bridge" between the second and third verses,
after which I needed to write lyrics to fit that music. I also changed
lyrics when we found that though they were easy to read they were hard
to sing. For instance, in SHOES, I changed Won't fall off when you
cough shoes to Stay on when you cough shoes, and Won't get
soaked when you wade shoes to Stay dry when you wade shoes.
The first versions were a real mouthfultoo hard to sing and to understand.