Author Interview: Robin Friedman on The Girlfriend Project

The Girlfriend Project by Robin Friedman (Bloomsbury, 2007). From the promo copy: Reed Walton, seventeen-year-old Ultimate Nice Guy, has never had a girlfriend or even kissed a girl. At this rate, the Princeton-bound senior may be headed for the priesthood. But Reed’s next-door neighbors and best friends since kindergarten, Lonnie and Ronnie White, have hatched a plan on the day before senior year starts at Marlborough Regional High School. And, ready or not, The Girlfriend Project is about to change Reed’s life in ways he can’t imagine.”

Robin Friedman has worked as a children’s book editor, freelance writer, newspaper reporter, and advertising copywriter. Her novel How I Survived My Summer Vacation (Cricket, 2000) has been published in three countries. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, Joel, and their cats, Peppercorn, Peaches, and Butterscotch.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I had never written anything for teens before (my first book, How I Survived My Summer Vacation (Cricket, 2000), is for tweens, and my second book, The Silent Witness (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), is for children), but every time I went to a conference–or even a Barnes and Noble or Borders–I was struck by how vibrant, robust, and exciting the YA market seemed to be. I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

Most of the YA novels I read revolved around girl protagonists and girl stories. It started me thinking about what it would be like to write a modern romance from a boy’s point of view.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The writing part was a complete joy for me! It was thrilling and fun and exhilarating; I wrote the entire novel in two months.

But, then, it took a year for it to be accepted, and another year for it to be published.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I was floored by how many editors told me it was too “tame,” meaning too wholesome and innocent. That just astounded me.

I was also disappointed by how many editors wanted the main character to be a girl (that was the whole point!) and how many commented that it was too light-hearted.

Sometimes I really had to scratch my head at comments like that, and it made it hard to keep believing in it. I almost lost my faith many times, and almost gave up entirely in the end.

What were your earliest literary influences?

I loved Judy Blume (author interview), the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and anything having to do with King Arthur.

Did you face any challenges to finding success?

I’ve been in this business for twelve years and suffered many failures along the way. The Girlfriend Project is my second novel, but it took me seven years from my first novel to get another book published.

When my first book was published, it was in a climate before Harry Potter, chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Barnes & Noble, and the Internet. Those things were around, but they hadn’t quite established themselves as the powerhouses they are today. They literally changed everything, and it took me a long time to accept the loss of the kinder, gentler publishing industry I knew.

Today’s publishing industry is aggressive, competitive, and often rough-and-tumble, but it also contains genuine gems that we didn’t have before, such as the camaraderie and companionship offered by online communities (such as yours!) that make supportive connections possible. I’m so grateful for that.

What gives you the greatest joy in your writing life?

There’s so much. The actual writing part is so engrossing, joyful, and magical that I wish I could bottle it and take it out when I need a sip!

I love the discussions that I have with my editors, in which they treat my characters as “real people;” that still tickles me every time. I love to read reviews in which the reviewer understood my intent–and result. I love meeting readers and other people who are passionate about books.

I get a thrill from the smallest thing, like holding my book for the first time, to the biggest thing, like finding out it will be translated into Chinese (that’s my good news from last week!).

What encouragement helped you along the way?

Sometimes I couldn’t bear to go into a bookstore, because it would only remind me of my lack of success. Conferences such as BEA (Book Expo America) would often reduce me to tears.

The only encouragement I had–with the exception of the devotion of all the people in my life–was my own very real need to write.

I think that quality is something all of us have, ultimately. Whether we’re published or not, successful or not, mid-list or front-list, creating stories with words is where our passions lie, and nothing can ever change that, or take it away from us.

What can your readers expect from you next?

My next YA novel, Purge, is about a seventeen-year-old boy who develops bulimia. It will be published by Flux in 2008.

Finding Wonder Woman, my next tween novel, is about a thirteen-year-old Israeli immigrant girl who learns the true meaning of fitting in. It will be published by Charlesbridge in 2010.