Carol Weston is the author of a new novel for older kids, Speed of Life. Her other books include Girltalk, Ava and Pip and The Diary of Melanie Martin. She is the "Dear Carol" advice columnist at Girls' Life magazine.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Speed of Life, and for your main character, Sofia?
A: For me, a novel is like a plant. It grows slowly and needs a lot of tending and pruning. I came up with the idea for Speed of Life because I knew a young mother in Spain who died of an aneurysm.
While I missed my friend, my heart broke for her young daughter. I’m an advice columnist and I often hear from girls who are grieving and are utterly bereft and at sea. So I wanted to shine a light on that terrible abyss but also to give hope.
Sometimes girls email me at Girls’ Life and say, “My dad died a month ago and I’m still sad. When will I get over it?” The answer is that you never get over the death of a beloved parent, but you learn how to live with the loss and how to add new people to your life.
Q: What do you think the book says about grief, and also about love?
A: Each chapter is a month, and after 12 months, Sofia is in a totally different place. She thought her life was over, but at 15, it is just beginning. I was 25 when my father died in his sleep, and while I still miss him, I got to where I can look back and be glad I had such a wonderful loving dad. Love doesn’t end when life ends; it’s still there, it never dies.
I also wanted Sofia to have new love in her life, which is where Sam comes in. They meet at a lake and he shows her how to skip stones and says it’s easy: All you have to do is defy gravity. I wanted Sofia and Sam to kiss and have it be incredible and have her see that she could dare to open her heart again.
Q: Who do you see as the perfect audience for this novel?
A: Ideal audience? Eighth grade may be the sweet spot, girls who are feeling anxious about the high school years ahead.
Of course when you write an MG/YA novel for age 11 and up, you secretly hope that everyone will like it. My Ava and Pip and Melanie Martin books are for kids, but I think adults can easily enjoy Speed of Life, which is about adolescents.
Speed of Life will also work for anyone wondering about stepfamilies, or city versus suburbs, or private school versus public school, or being a kid in New York City. Sofia experiences it all.
Q: Do you know how your novels will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I like to know the ending of my books before I begin. I think it’s important to know the destination of your journey. But do I make changes? Constantly. My mantra is “Write and rewrite until you get it right.”
Speed of Life started out as a novel in third person told from four people’s points of view (Sofia, Alexa, Kate, Gregg). I rewrote and revised this book for years. It’s very close to my heart (I have some Sofia and Kate in me, and I've lived in Spain, Manhattan and Armonk). I didn’t want to press Print or Send until it was truly ready.
And as you can see from the Acknowledgments, I was lucky to have many early readers. I find feedback and “fresh eyes” helpful and encouraging.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on historical fiction—a first for me. I’ve been obsessed by Velázquez for decades, and it’s time to answer that call. Last fall, I went back to the Prado in Madrid to revisit some of his masterpieces. (My husband and I met in Madrid when I was getting my masters from Middlebury.)
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My husband, Rob, is a playwright and also does props for SNL. My daughter Lizzi co-founded BirchBenders Micro-Pancakery and my daughter Emme works at NBC archives. My dear old cat, Mike, now needs a little insulin twice a day. What else can I tell you? Hmmm. I have zero sense of direction, and I make scrumptious chocolate chip cookies.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb