[ skip to navigation ]

Robin Friedman : author and journalist

How I Survived
My Summer Vacation...

And Lived to Write the Story


Chapter 1


"Out of all the things I could have done that morning, who would have guessed that waking up was the worst choice."

I stared at my words until they began to blur into strange black shapes. A great opening line for a novel, I thought foolishly, grinning like an idiot and feeling oh-so-pleased with myself.

My writing book said to get that all-important opening line down on paper. It had taken me a week just to think of it. That's O.K. The book said it wouldn't be easy. Well, I wish the book had said something about the second sentence, too. It spent a whole chapter on the opening line but didn't utter a peep about the second sentence.

The next five minutes passed in slow motion while I struggled to think of another line. I stared out my window for inspiration, but our overgrown backyard offered up nothing. I looked at the roof, the fence, the driveway, the old oak tree, the herb garden.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

My eyes came to rest on the writing book next to me on the desk. GET RICH QUICK! the title screamed in bold, gold-stamped letters. Write a Bestseller in Less Than a Year it promised underneath the title in smaller type.

Less than a year? At this rate it would take a century.

I looked around my room at the clothes on the floor, the old posters on the wall, the model airplane I built when I was eight. I stared at my goldfish, who swam quietly in the bubbling water.

"What do you think, guys?" I asked them.

They didn't answer.

I sighed.

If I was really going to write a novel this summer, then I had to write a second sentence. And a third, and a fourth, and a thousandth. But it was hopeless as usual, I thought in my patented grumpy way.

A few more minutes passed as I silently groped for inspiration. A bushy-tailed squirrel raced across the lawn under my window, momentarily giving me an idea, but as soon as it was gone, so was my idea.

"This isn't working," I said out loud. I pulled out the sheet of paper from my typewriter. I read the great opening line again, sighed again, and tore the paper into a million pieces. I fed another sheet of paper into the typewriter, trying to control my rapid breathing.

Stay calm, I told myself. It's going to be O.K. Panicking is for wimps.

The aroma of coffee began to drift into my room, which could only mean one thing. Dad was downstairs in the kitchen, preparing his signature breakfast dish: scrambled tofu with fig sauce.

Though all kids claim to have this problem, my parents are a true embarrassment to me.

"Jackie! Grub's ready! Come on down!"

It was Dad, ready for breakfast at 9 A.M. on the dot, as usual. He always cooks precisely on the hour, whether it's lunch at 12 noon or dinner at 6 P.M. Mom says it's a compulsion. I say it's insanity.

"Just a second!" I yelled down irritably.

Grub's ready. I hate when Dad says that. Believe me, grub in our house is true grub. Nothing edible is served here. Besides, it was just like my parents to interrupt my work - and right when I was on a roll.

I glared in the direction of the stairs, as if Mom and Dad were standing on the landing with their wheat-germ muffins and scrambled tofu with fig sauce in hand. Their idea of eating breakfast together on Saturday mornings has always gotten on my nerves, but this summer it was bugging me extra good.

I got up, stretched, and involuntarily let out a yelp that sounded like the bark of Mr. Conrad's toy poodle. I went over to the full-length mirror on the back of my door and examined myself carefully. My hair was sticking up every way possible but I left it alone. No sense trying to mat it down just to eat grub with Mom and Dad.

I walked over to the fishtank and sprinkled some goldfish food into the water. Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, and Dashiell Hammett swam to the surface, lapping up the food hurriedly, their mouths making tiny Os. It was at times like these that I needed my famous-writer-inspired fish to inspire me. But they didn't.

Sighing again, I dragged my body down the stairs and into the kitchen, getting angrier with each step.

"You know, I've been thinking," I said as I took a seat at the table. "I may be outgrowing Saturday morning breakfasts. After all, I'll be in high school next fall. I think we should reconsider its place in the family routine."

"Lighten up, Jackie," Dad replied, stirring his coffee. "Have a muffin." Though both my parents are committed to "healthful eating," Dad has a severe weakness for coffee, which he drinks black. I've never understood why he stirs it, since he never adds anything. Another compulsion, I guess.

I made a face as he passed me a plate of his infamous, deformed-looking, sawdust-tasting wheat-germ muffins. I might as well have been performing for my goldfish, though, because Dad didn't look at me. I passed the plate back to him, muffins intact.

Have a muffin, he says. That was Dad's answer to everything. Well, it wasn't going to do the trick this time. It might have worked when I was ten or eleven, but now that I was thirteen, I knew better. And I knew what I wanted. I had sworn a blood oath on the lives of my goldfish that by the end of the summer I'd have written the great American novel. I had wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Writing was what I loved. I was great at it, in fact.

As if reading my mind, Dad turned to me and said, "Are you thinking about your great American novel again?"

I involuntarily clenched my fists but told myself to be cool.

Mom didn't seem to hear me or Dad. Before I could respond, she interrupted cheerfully. "We have great news for you," she said, pouring Chinese green tea into a little white cup.

My stomach muscles tensed as I waited to hear this so-called great news. I was sure it would be another diversion from my writing. Mom and Dad don't take my writing seriously. You'd think that being editors themselves, they would support me. But no.

"You're going to love this, Jackie," Dad said in a singsong voice that reminded me of story time in kindergarten. "We're sending you to the best computer camp in the state this summer."

A few seconds of silence followed. "What ?!" I finally said, in a voice that sounded like a frog croak.

"Diamond Jubilee Computer Camp," Mom said, enunciating each word carefully. "You'll love it. Guaranteed." She grinned at me. "If you do well, we'll even buy you a computer," she added in a playful tone.

I made a face. I didn't want a computer and I didn't want to go to Diamond Jubilee Computer Camp. I bet this camp started on Monday. They always sprang camp on me at the last minute — I should've known this summer would be no different.

Mom and Dad grinned at each other, then picked up their forks and started on the tofu. As far as they were concerned, the matter was closed. The only sound that followed was the clink of silverware against plates.

"Jackie, dear," Mom said, smiling gently, "your tofu's getting cold."

Well, as far as I was concerned, this summer I wasn't going to let them do it. "I am NOT going to computer camp," I said fiercely, rising from my chair in slow motion. "I'm not going to any kind of camp! Last year it was science camp, the year before it was tennis camp. No... more... camps! I'm staying in my room all summer and writing my novel!"

Both of them stared at me wordlessly, their forks frozen in midair.

"And I don't want any muffins — or tofu!"

With that, I stormed out.