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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Writer: New Jersey’s a ‘hot’ setting

By JACQUELINE LINDSAY, Staff Writer | The Warren Reporter | November 17, 2006

Local author Robin Friedman was inspired to write her newest teen novel, THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT, in just two short months. The hardcover book, being published by Walker & Company, owned by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in New York, will be released in April of 2007.

“Something happened. It was an amazing experience,” Friedman says. “It never happens this fast…obviously I was inspired.”

Friedman attributes her “magical” writing experience to the fact that the book is set in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where she grew up, and the main character was inspired by conversations she had with her teenage brother, Jonathan, to whom the book is dedicated. The story is about a 17-year-old boy who never had a girlfriend or even kissed a girl, and what he does about the dilemma. A subplot focuses on the New Jersey motto contest and other prominent details the Garden State is known for.

“I feel like I’m helping to promote New Jersey and I’m doing it in a funny way,” the author says. “That’s a new trend in novels — to ground the book in a real place. New Jersey is hot all of a sudden for a setting.”

Friedman’s next novel, THE CURSED HOUSE, will be published in 2009 by Charlesbridge Publishing in Cambridge, Mass. She says the book is partly autobiographical because it is about an Israeli-American girl in the 1980s, who lives in Staten Island, N.Y.

“She wants to be American more than anything else and she doesn’t fit in because of her immigrant background,” the author says.

Friedman, who was born in Israel, moved to the United States with her family at age 5. Quickly conquering the language, she soon began writing short stories, which she sold for 50 cents. She lived in Staten Island and then moved to New Jersey. She earned a master’s in education from Rutgers University, and after graduating, worked as a children’s book editor, advertising copywriter and feature writer. Today she is a successful children’s book author and editor-in-chief of a group of style magazines – BLUSH, STYLE, CELEBRATE! and others.

Even with her busy schedule, Friedman manages to get up early some days to write for an hour in her home with her three cats around her. Her first book, HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION…AND LIVED TO TELL THE STORY, was published in 2000 and is about a 13-year-old boy who wants to write the great American novel, but suffers writer’s block. Her next book, THE SILENT WITNESS: A TRUE STORY OF THE CIVIL WAR, was published in 2005 and chronicles the true story of a Southern family during the war as seen through the eyes of the youngest daughter.

THE FENCE and its sequel THE NECKLACE were both published in 2005. They were inspired by conversations with her father-in-law, who grew up in the Catskills, where the books are set. She enjoyed the process so much she rose at 4 a.m. each day to write and had difficulty giving up the characters when the first book was finished, thus the sequel. The books took two and a half years to write.

Set in the 1930s, THE FENCE follows the lives of 15-year-old cousins Cassandra and Esther Schreiber, who live in side-by-side hotels of feuding families separated by a fence. Conflict between the two girls arises when a handsome, mysterious boy from New York arrives. THE NECKLACE is a bittersweet love story of 18-year-old Chip Ackerman, who must leave the girl he loves to return to the Lower East Side in New York City to face challenges and conflicts of love and loyalty.

“It was a really interesting slice of life and little known, especially for kids,” Friedman says of the era. “I was so inspired. It was literally one of the best times I ever had in my life.”

Friedman tells fellow writers they need to have “thick skin, be persistent and get to know other people” to be successful. “Don’t write expecting to be published, write because you love it,” she says. “You can’t chase the success part of it…you have to be into the craft part of it.”