Molly talks with Carol Weston

Molly:
Carol Weston; I've just read/reviewed your book Melanie in Manhattan. Please will you tell us why you chose this particular setting/genre for this work?

Carol:
I chose to write about Manhattan because I've lived here since 1985 and I love New York City. I chose to write in diary form, because fourth and fifth graders like to feel that they are in on Melanie Martin's deepest darkest innermost secrets. And in a diary, Melanie can confess all.

Molly:
I like the format too! This is not the first book of yours that I have reviewed. Please if you will, tell us which of your books you are most happy with. And why.

Carol:
I'm happy with my very first book, Girl talk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You. I've revised it three times and the fourth edition just came out. Over the past twenty (!) years, I've received many letters from women and girls who found the book very helpful either during a crisis or a generally difficult adolescence. For Girls Only and For Teens Only were fun to research because I loved having an excuse to go searching for good quotes. And my Melanie Martin novels? Well, the day The Diary of Melanie Martin got accepted for publication was one of the happiest days of my professional life. I'd wanted to write fiction for so very long! Of the series, the most autobiographical novel may be With Love >From Spain, Melanie Martin, which is set partly in Madrid, where I used to live.

Molly:
Most interesting. I find your books are filled with rich details, how much time do you usually spend doing background research before you begin a new book and what does your research involve?

Carol:
All my books require a deceptive amount of research. If I have Melanie's mom, the art teacher, say something about Velazquez or van Gogh, I want to be sure it is correct! I never write about a country I haven't spent time in, and I read a lot of travel and art books when I'm working on my books. It also helps that I have experts, friends, and kids read my manuscripts before I turn them in.

Molly:
Sounds like a good plan you have working for you there. Carol, beginning writers may not realize how difficult it is to get a book together. How long would you say it takes on average for you to write a book from start to finish?

Carol:
On average? A year. For me, the writing is not the hard part. The hard part is figuring out what I want to write and then revising, revising, revising. I've been the "Dear Carol" of Girls' Life Magazine for over ten years, and each new book is not necessarily easier to write than the one that came before, I will say that I can write my advice column more easily now than I could when I was first starting out. Nothing's simple, though!

Molly:
How true. I find that I particularly enjoy writing series because when one book is finished I don't have to say goodbye to the characters I know as friends,rather I follow them as they enter their next adventure. I know your book is part of a series. Why do you like to write series?

Carol:
Same reason you like reading them! I really know the Martin family, so my hope is that they can keep squiring me around to other countries. It would be hard to let go of Melanie, Miranda, Marc, and Matt the Brat! And you gotta love their last name, right, Ms. Martin?

Molly:
Indeed I do! Carol, what did you attend to first? Write your book or seek out an agent or a publisher? And, if you will please tell us of trials or successes you may have had in trying to find agent or publisher.

Carol:
Ay yi yi, it's hard to find agents and publishers, but you can't sell a novel you haven't written. I've gotten lots of rejection letters over the years. Writers need talent, sure, but they also need courage and persistence. I'm glad I didn't give up. But don't imagine that your favorite children's authors are rich. The superfamous (J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, etc.) may be, but most of us do not exactly live off our royalties. In fact, we're glad for paid speaking engagements and are grateful to reviewers (like you!) and to kids who just naturally spread the word. As for advice for aspiring writers, it's smart to attend conferences such as the one given each spring by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, or each summer by The Writing Center at Marymount College.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators can also provide encouragement, tips, and camaraderie. And jkelman.com is a site in which a friend of mine answers writers' frequently asked questions.

Molly:
Sounds like excellent advice. Now Carol, please tell us something about yourself, about your life.

Carol:
A big question! I'm a mom of two wonderful girls and I've been married to the same man for nearly 25 years! He's a writer too--a playwright. When I was Melanie's age, I hadn't traveled, but once I started, you couldn't stop me. I spent twelfth grade in France on a program called School Year Abroad, then studied French and Spanish comparative literature at Yale, before getting an MA in Spanish from Middlebury. I've lived in Armonk (NY), German Village (OH), Evanston (IL), and the Upper West Side (NY). I keep scrapbooks, love to read, love cats and cards and skiing, and am not particularly deft at driving or cooking. Oh, but I do make wonderful chocolate chip cookies! :-) (The recipe is in Melanie Martin Goes Dutch.) I have two big brothers and my parents were both writers. My mom, Marybeth Weston, was the garden editor of House & Garden Magazine, and my dad wrote for newspapers, radio, and TV. He died when I was 25 and I still miss him!

Molly:
You have a gratifying life filled with fascinating people for certain! Carol, what rewards do you find from being a writer?

Carol:
Being a writer is not always a good way to make a living-- but it *is* a good life. When the writing is going well, it feels really good. Like: "Wow, I got that down." I like writing something I think is funny. Or poignant. Or smart. I also like not having a boss (except myself) so I can work a lot but take time off when I need to. I also like the fan mail from kids who were reluctant readers or, who "hated" reading, until they met Melanie. What's not always rewarding is that writers don't just write books, they have to help get the word out - - a whole separate challenge.

Molly:
Now lets turn to another area, do you plan to do book signings within the next few weeks? Do you enjoy signings?

Carol:
I do enjoy signings and school visits and I try to pepper my calendar with events because this offsets the solitude that is also part of this profession. Check my website, carolweston.com, for forthcoming events. For instance, I'll be speaking later this year (2005) in NYC, TN, and CA. At schools, I address kids, teens, parents, and / or faculty. And I'm giving talks to Girl Scout leaders in the fall. All this makes my life richer, and I hope that by talking to kids and adults, I'm imparting helpful advice.

Molly:
Thank You Carol Weston for a most interesting, informative interview. Now what one bit of advice do you have for beginning writers?

Carol:
Keep writing! Try to reach deep inside and tell us a story about yourself that tells us something about ourselves.
 

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2005 by Molly Martin