Carol Weston is the author of sixteen books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has been the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls' Life magazine since it launched in 1994. Her latest novel, Speed of Life, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review as “perceptive, funny and moving.” A summa cum laude graduate of Yale with an MA in Spanish from Middlebury College, she has also written for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Brides, Parents, American Way, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, McCall’s and Redbook.

Stay Thirsty Magazine was delighted to visit with Carol Weston at her home in Manhattan for these Five Questions about her newest book.

STAY THIRSTY: In your latest novel, Speed of Life, you tell the story of a fourteen-year-old girl that Julia Alvarez called “full of cariƱo, funny, and heartfelt, and (spoiler alert) not just for teens” and that the New York Post called “a sweet, moving tale about grief and growing up.” What motivated you to write about the loss of a parent by a young teenage girl?

CAROL WESTON: My dad died when I was 25, and my life split into Before/After. My mom remarried—twice!—and I celebrated her weddings, but I remember when her third husband said, “You’re like a daughter to me,” and I knew I could never reply in kind. Because I’m an advice columnist, I’ve received scores of letters from girls who reach out shortly after the death of a parent to say, “I still haven’t gotten over it.” I say: “You’ll never get over it. But you will get through it.”

STAY THIRSTY: How did your own experience as the “Dear Carol” columnist for Girls’ Life magazine color the life and times of your lead character, Sofia?

CAROL WESTON: Eighth grade is hard even when things are perfect. But it’s a particularly terrible time to lose your mom. I’ve been “Dear Carol” for a quarter century, and I have two daughters, so I know what girls think about. Poor Sofia is mourning, but she’s also trying to figure out how to cope with crushes, make new friends, deal with puberty, even move. I poured my “Dear Carol” experience into “Dear Kate,” too. It was fun to write about an advice columnist who does not have all the answers.

STAY THIRSTY: In this coming-of-age story, you track Sofia’s personal and emotional growth over the course of exactly one year. How did you craft your story so that it would ring true to adolescent girls?

CAROL WESTON: I’ve always liked thinking about time. How a minute can disappear—or feel like forever. When my dad died, someone wrote in a condolence note, “Time doesn’t heal but it helps,” and I found that comforting. So I liked the idea of each chapter being one month and of taking my characters on a long journey in a short time. On New Year’s Day at the start of the novel, Sofia is a mess. She and her dad are taking down their tree—“undecorating”—and while “Christmas had sucked,” Sofia still doesn’t want it to be over. Sofia’s friends have been supportive, but hey, her mom died last year, shouldn’t she have bounced back by now? Answer: No. Sofia has to heal at her own pace, you can’t rush grief or recharge like a cellphone. By ninth grade, she is whole again. She still misses her mom—she always will—but she has found new love in both a boyfriend and future stepmom.

Carol Weston

STAY THIRSTY: You dedicated Speed of Life to your parents. How has your own journey in dealing with loss influenced your life and your writing?

CAROL WESTON: Speed of Life was not speedy to write—it took ten years from idea to publication! I changed the point of view from four people, third-person, to one person, first-person. (I know, right?) But I believe an author’s job is to write and rewrite until we get it right. As Orwell said, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” I began by channeling how I felt when my dad died, but by the time I finished, I’d had to say goodbye to my mom too, so I’d learned even more about how to get to where memories bring comfort instead of pain.

STAY THIRSTY: Of all of the teenage issues that you address in this book, which two are the most significant on the emotional well-being of teenage girls?

CAROL WESTON: To love and be loved—in all ways. Friendship, family, romance. Most best friends in grade school don’t see eye-to-eye in middle school. This is as it should be, but… ouch. And middle school parties? They’re a minefield. First kiss. First beer. Sofia is half-Spanish, and she introduces this novel by saying, “Warning, this is sort of a sad story. At least at first…” As she tells it, “Childhood was a piece of cake. Being a kid in New York City and spending summers in Spain, that was all pretty perfect, looking back. But being fourteen was like climbing a mountain in the rain…in flip-flops. This book does have funny parts. And I learned two giant facts. Number one: everything can change in an instant—for worse, sure, but also for better. Number two: sometimes, if you just keep climbing, you get an amazing view. You see what’s behind you and what’s ahead of you, and—the big surprise—what’s inside you.”

(Carol Weston photo credit: Jordan Matter and Maria Traversa)



All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.