Interview with Award-Winning Author Robin Friedman
Robin Friedman is the award-winning author of five books for children and teens, as well as a working journalist and freelance writer. She has written more than one hundred articles about the science of chocolate, Amish cooking, road rage, SOPRANOS actor Federico Castelluccio, the prom, mystery authors Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, and square dancing, among many other topics.
Her books include THE IMPORTANCE OF WINGS, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award; NOTHING, an ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults; THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT; THE SILENT WITNESS: A TRUE STORY OF THE CIVIL WAR; and HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION: AND LIVED TO WRITE THE STORY. Visit her at website for photos, interviews, press materials, and book excerpts.
What’s your idea of a good time?
In the summertime, sitting on the porch with iced tea and a great book. In the winter, sitting in front of the fireplace with hot chocolate and a great book. I tend to enjoy quiet, peaceful activities the most, but once in a while I do like getting all dressed up (and blinged out!), going to a lively party, and sipping a delicious cocktail (anything with champagne as an ingredient). I love the festiveness of champagne, and I love the word itself too, “champagne.”
Name one thing that drives you crazy.
I specifically hate it when drivers stop to rubberneck, for all sorts of reasons, one being traffic, but more importantly, because I find the behavior ugly. I generally hate it when people follow a crowd, and especially without thinking. This “herd mentality” can be stupid, and also dangerous.
Name one thing you can’t live without.
Beauty. The hopefulness of a new day and its beautiful sunrise, a spider’s web coated with dew, the purring of a contented cat, the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Small and large things, the everyday, and the unexpected, but especially the everyday.
What’s your motto in life?
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few.” –George Washington
If you were a road sign, what would you be?
SLOW. I tell myself every day to slow down and take it all in. There’s no destination to reach, in the abstract sense, but the journey is very, very real, and anything that makes it more meaningful all adds up in the end.
What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?
Kindness. It takes so much character to endure all of life’s relentless disappointments and failures, and still be a caring person with empathy for others. Life can certainly wear down the sheen of our youthful expectations; with character we can try to polish it back to a graceful wisdom.
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?
I’ve been trying to express myself through writing since I was five years old. Writing is the outlet that I use to view the world, the external one, and my own internal one. It’s the prism through which I make sense of things, especially when those things, be they experiences, emotions, thoughts, or needs, are difficult to understand, or witness, or tolerate.
What book are you reading right now?
THE GREATER JOURNEY by David McCullough. It’s about the Americans in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries, who visited what was at that time the greatest city in the world, in order to bring back their knowledge to help their new country, the United States. Samuel Morse, for instance, got the idea for the telegraph, and his Morse Code, while in Paris. David McCullough is my favorite author. I’m a huge fan of American history, especially anything having to do with George Washington and the American Revolution. History helps me understand what those before me have overcome. As a society, we tend to be present- and future-oriented, but I find the past to hold immeasurable wisdom.
Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?
Too many times to count, to be honest. Publishing today is a Big Business (it wasn’t always) that can be inhospitable to authors at times. Like other industries, it has evolved to be somewhat unforgiving. It certainly isn’t a gentle place for people who might be sensitive. I keep going because I love writing, the privacy of my own creativity, as opposed to the public business of modern publishing.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I seem to need two ideas when I start writing a novel. For my first book, a middle-grade novel called HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION: AND LIVED TO WRITE THE STORY, I combined my husband’s stories about being a kid over the summer at a swim club with a contest for the best opening line of a novel. The result was a boy who wants to write a novel over the summer, but keeps being dragged into shenanigans with friends at the local swim club.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I tend to collect a bunch of material (names of characters, title for a book, setting, plot) and when it feels like I have “enough,” I sit down to write the first chapter. If that goes smoothly, I’ll write the next, and the next, and so on. I don’t outline, but at the end of every chapter, I’ll jot down notes for the following chapter. I guess it’s sort of a variation of taking “one day at a time.” I usually have a vague idea of the ending; it comes into clearer focus as I write toward it, like a camera lens, which I find kind of neat. Writing is actually a fun process that totally engages me; I love it! That’s why I keep writing, I guess, in answer to a previous question, about giving up on the publishing industry. It’s just something I enjoy.
What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.
I’ve been told that I capture dialogue really well, which I’m proud of, actually, because so many writers have trouble with stilted, unnatural-sounding speech. It’s almost a cliché for a writer to have problems writing authentic dialogue. Maybe I should have been a screenwriter or playwright, but those industries are even tougher than book publishing!
What books have most influenced your life?
Reading has always been my passion, especially when I was a child. I read all the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the BETSY-TACY-TIB books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Even as a child, I seemed to gravitate to books set in the past. I also liked C.S. Lewis and Judy Blume.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? And what comes easily?
Sometimes I’ll write something and wonder what a reader might think of it, which is inevitable, but really limiting. Self-censorship has a place, I suppose, but it’s always preferable to write without considering the reaction of others. That kind of limitation can really dampen a writer’s creativity.
What comes easily for me is that when I’m familiar with a character or setting or situation, the writing flows so fast that my fingers on the keyboard often have trouble keeping up with my brain. In those cases, I just have to get down the words in shorthand or abbreviations, as quickly as possible, and go back to fill them out later.
Who’s your favorite author and why?
David McCullough, who writes about American history, because he has the rare gift among historians, and nonfiction authors generally, in fashioning a narrative that reads like fiction. He’ll write about a Revolutionary War battle with all the drama, suspense, and breathtaking gasps of a 3-D action film.
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