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Interview: Robin Friedman

THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT is a realistic, modern-day romantic comedy about a high school boy who has never, ever gone on a date - and his two best friends, one boy and one girl, who decide that senior year is high time to change his dateless status. (Read my full-length book review.) The book gets its name from the website Reed's buddies set up for him.

Fittingly, Robin Friedman, the author of PROJECT, contacted me after she found my blog online. I hope you have as much fun reading this interview as I had conducting it, and that you have as much fun reading the book when it comes out in April as Robin had writing it!

Was it easy or difficult for you to get into the mindset of a seventeen-year-old guy?

It was easy for me to write from a boy's point of view, but it was hard for me to trust my own instincts, which is why I showed the novel to several teenage boys, for their feedback. My editor, who very conveniently has a seventeen-year-old son, did the same, and I was thrilled to get "the okay" from this audience, whose input I value so much.

Throughout all of Reed's dates and mistakes, he doesn't do anything really beyond kissing. The story's focus is on the emotional aspect of dating rather than the physical. (I'd give this book a PG rating only because of the beverages served at the party.) Did you intend to keep the content and tone light and clean?

That was a deliberate move on my part. I wholeheartedly support authors who write mature content and language, but I wanted my story to be wholesome, sweet, and innocent, because it seemed to best reflect my main character's personality.

Ronnie and Lonnie, Reed's best friends, create THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT website: The book contains posts made at the site as well as IM conversations between the teenaged characters. What tips can you give young readers regarding internet safety?

This is a very important issue for both teens and adults, with so much of our world today being "wired." I would advise teens to never reveal any personal information online, to turn to an adult for help when something seems bizarre, intrusive, or uncomfortable, to never meet anyone in person that they met online without thoroughly discussing it with adults first,and to always realize people on the other end of the computer may not be who they say they are.

The real site includes Dating Disasters. How did you entice authors to submit their ultra-embarrassing real-life stories?

I am so fortunate to belong to several online communities of terrific fellow-authors, and they are always adventurous, generous, and helpful! I admire their courage and creativity . . . you'll notice I didn't reveal a Dating Disaster of my own!

As opposed to PYGMALION and stories of that nature, where the character changes to be more socially acceptable, Reed's physical changes were more natural and accidental. How important was it to you to convey that he did not intend to be popular nor to change his appearance?

This was very important to me. Reed says several times in the novel that he’s still the same person inside, and in the end, that's the part that matters. I wanted to show the superficiality of appearance, but also its realism. Study after study shows "beautiful people" get better breaks in life. That said, our standards of beauty are always evolving, and while it's certainly admirable to take pride in one's appearance, it's more important to devote the same energy – or more – to our insides.

I love that your email address ties-in with the book, but I don't want to give too much away. Feel free to address it - no pun intended - if you'd like.

I love to garden, and one of my favorite plants is flowering onion, which is an astonishingly huge purple globe that sits on a tall green stalk. But that name was taken! So I impulsively chose something else.

You have three published books now, having previously released the tween novel HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION and the picture book THE SILENT WITNESS. Who is the intended audience for your next book, FINDING WONDER WOMAN?

FINDING WONDER WOMAN is another tween novel with a female protagonist.

Roxanne, who is thirteen years old and was born in Israel, wants nothing more than to be American. As American as Wonder Woman and all the other All-American people she sees on TV — The Brady Bunch, Little House on the Prairie — which Roxanne prefers to real life.

But when new neighbors move into the house next door - called "The Cursed House" because something terrible always happens to anyone who lives there - Roxanne learns the true meaning of fitting in.

(Note: At the time of this interview, the book was titled FINDING WONDER WOMAN. The title was later changed to THE IMPORTANCE OF WINGS.)

Intriguing. Will you ever tackle adult fiction?

I would like to write adult fiction someday. I've got some ideas, but first I need to get all these tween/teen stories out of my system. I love being able to write both tween and teen novels – and the occasional picture book. I just sold a teen novel which is about a seventeen-year-old boy who develops bulimia. It will be published by Flux in 2008.

(Note: At the time of this interview, the book was titled PURGE. The title was later changed to NOTHING. Click here to read my review of Nothing.)

Congratulations! I will definitely be reading that book. As a journalist, do you prefer to write freelance pieces, throw them to the wall, and see what sticks, or work on specific assignments?

Both! Working on assignment is more secure, like being under contract with a book, but is often more deadline-oriented and topic-narrow. Writing "on spec" is risky because your submission may not be accepted, but that's what persistence is for! Journalism is the perfect point/counterpoint to being a fiction writer. Many novelists, in fact, started in journalism – or remain in it. It constantly exercises the writing muscles, teaches you to meet deadlines, forces you to interact with all kinds of people (helpful and hostile), and makes you a stickler about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It makes writing seem like a comfortable second nature rather than a scary foreign activity.

It's evident that you love New Jersey. Your novel, set in Jersey, is peppered with state factoids and incorporates the state motto contest. What's the most hilarious piece of Jersey trivia you can think of?

I didn't always love New Jersey! Like most New Jerseyans, I considered our state to be a joke. But the more I traveled, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was being unfair to the Garden State. It was like that old saying: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," or, "The grass is always greener on the other side." So I totally embraced my Jersey-ness and have never looked back!

Indeed. Your website and business card proudly state, "Author, Journalist, and Jersey Girl." What makes a true Jersey Girl?

- She had to have big hair at one point in her life (and admit it).
- She has to love pizza.
- She has to be able to name at least three Jersey celebrities.
- She has to have a favorite Shore spot.
- She has to maintain a healthy distrust of New York.

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

1. Charlotte's Web
2. Gone with the Wind
3. The Once and Future King
4. Truman
5. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books
6. The Power of One
7. Speak
8. Looking for Alaska
9. Breathing Underwater
10. Twilight

Visit the author's official website and MySpace. At the book's website,, you can read the first chapter of the book, discover the dating disasters of other YA authors, and read an interview with the author conducted by the book's main characters.

Read my 2010 interview with Robin Friedman.
Tags: books, interviews

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