An Interview with Aimee Friedman
Are there any particular authors/books that inspired you to become a writer?
AF: Growing up, I was a huge Ann M. Martin fan -- I waited breathlessly for each new installment of the Baby-Sitters Club, and I devoured all her single titles, too -- dog-eared paperbacks that still sit on my shelf, their spines tattered from years of rereading. I remember looking at the author bio in the back of one of these books, and learning that Ann was a "freelance writer." This idea seemed wondrous to me -- that someone could make it their life's work to just write, every single day. It was like being told that daydreaming could be a full-time job. I'd always written for pleasure, but it must have been around this time -- when I was about nine years old -- when becoming a real, professional writer began to take shape in my mind.
What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
This is a tricky question not only because I feel like I still have so much to learn about writing myself, but because everybody develops as a writer in their own way, and what's good for some -- say, setting a strict writing schedule, or keeping a journal -- may not work for others. Probably the most across-the-board advice I could offer, though, is to read, read, read. Read as much as you can and as often as you can, whether it's curl-up-in-bed-with-tea classics like Pride and Prejudice, fun beach reads like Summer Boys, short books, long books, graphic novels, whatever keeps your brain engaged. You will learn from other writers' triumphs and mistakes. And I believe you can find a good deal of inspiration -- and eventually your own voice and writing style -- this way.
Do you have a particular writing philosophy that you follow?
I believe fiercely in writing about what most excites or interests you -- not, say, what you feel you 'should' be writing, or what is proper or appropriate. Your own writing needs to compel you, needs to be something you yourself would love reading. I always feel that, as a writer, your characters and story ideas should make your heart pound -- then readers' hearts will pound, as well!
Did you ever take writing courses?
I took many writing classes in college, and they were extremely helpful and eye-opening. It was in these courses that I started to understand writing as a deliberate craft, to see the shapes and textures that made up stories. I had the good fortune to have very smart, supportive, and insightful professors who were able to teach me these things. Writing classes can also be beneficial because they set deadlines for you; if you have to hand in a complete story to your teacher by the end of the month, you will start working faster than anything!
How can teens relate South Beach/French Kiss to their own lives?
Though both these novels have an element of fantasy about them - most teenage girls don't have the opportunity to jet off to exotic locales all that often! - what readers always say to me is that they relate to the characters themselves, and to the friendships and relationships in the book. A lot of readers, for instance, have told me that they see themselves in Holly - they relate to her shyness, her protective parents, her hesitation when it comes to taking a risk. And I'm sure many readers can relate to the pain of growing apart from a friend - of having a childhood friend who changes, or discovers boys sooner than you do. These are all universal themes - they just happen to take place in fabulous settings like Miami and Paris!
What kind of feedback have you gotten about South Beach/French Kiss from teens? Do you ever get ideas for plots or characters from your fans?
First let me just say that I love hearing from my readers. Writing is such a solitary activity, and it's thrilling to find out how people respond to the words and characters and stories that I've put together in the privacy of my room. Teens have been so enthusiastic and positive about these books, which only makes me want to write more and more. For instance, I didn't initially write South Beach with a sequel in mind, but I got several questions from readers wanting to know what happened to Alexa and Holly and their respective boyfriends, so out of that grew French Kiss.
How do you research your books?
I used to think of 'research' as sitting in a musty, dusty library, bent over a stack of ancient textbooks. But, in reality, being a writer means that 'research' is everywhere and everything -- just by interacting with and observing people and places, you are gathering material for your stories. For South Beach and French Kiss, my research was particularly sweet, because I got to travel! Before I started writing French Kiss, I went to Paris for a few days to visit friends and reacquaint myself with the city. I went on long, meandering walks across the bridges, scribbled lots of notes, and sat in cafes and spied on people, noticing their habits and clothing and gestures... I often think that to be a writer you have to be something of a spy, which is what makes the work so much fun. I also do some research online, which mainly involves Googling stuff to make sure I'm spelling or referencing it correctly.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes! As soon as I learned HOW to write, it was my absolute favorite thing to do. When I was in elementary school, I spent all my free time -- hours, or whole days sometimes -- filling up spiral-bound notebooks with very long stories (I called them 'novels'). Nothing made me happier than creating those worlds for myself -- though reading did come in a close second. That's probably why I'm now both an editor and a writer-- this way, I get to combine my two greatest loves.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine?
My writing routine is sort of unconventional because I work full-time as an editor (see above!). I wish I could say I wake up before dawn every morning, do yoga, and write for a few solid hours before beginning my day - which is what I obsessively imagine is the healthy, ideal thing to do. Instead, I'm a night owl -- after work, I'll usually have dinner with friends, maybe read or watch TV to unwind, and then stay up writing very late. I actually prefer writing at night -- there's an energy that's not there in the daytime. When I'm working on a tight deadline, I'll write on weekends, too. It's definitely a challenge making the time for writing, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
What do you like best about writing books for teens?
I think it's an exciting time to be writing for teens, because the market has really exploded in recent years. There's so much freedom, so many opportunities, in terms of what you can write about. Teens are very sophisticated now, so there are lots of topics you can explore that you couldn't ten years ago. Also, I love how teens and young readers respond to books in general with so much sincerity and passion -- I remember myself as a teenager, and I approached books with the same kind of intensity. It's sometimes harder to find adult readers who get as excited about fictional characters and stories.
What authors do you admire? As a young reader, what were some of your favorite books?
Where do I start? I'll read almost anything by Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Michael Chabon, Kate DiCamillo, Philip Roth, Armistead Maupin, Art Spiegelman, Ian McEwan, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Sophie Kinsella, and many more... In terms of my favorite books growing up, well, you already know how much I adored Ann M. Martin. I also really liked good old-fashioned teen horror, like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike -- I just enjoyed scaring myself silly. Some other beloved books: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Catcher in the Rye, the All of a Kind Family series, Behind the Attic Wall, Just as Long as We're Together (really any Judy Blume), To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Secret Garden. I recommend them all!
How do your books stand out in the ever-growing Teen category?
My books owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Gossip Girl series, which really kicked off this whole new model of fun, glossy, sophisticated teen fiction. But I think South Beach and French Kiss are different from other books in this vein because the two books are, at their core, about friendship. About this complicated, wonderful, interesting friendship that Alexa and Holly share. I like to think that my books have heart -- warmth -- and go beyond the "mean girls" model of young women being catty or cruel to each other. I feel it's so important for teens to take away positive, empowering images of themselves -- and the world they inhabit -- from the fiction they read. I can only hope that, in some small way, my books accomplish that.