Welcome Carol Weston, author of the new novel AVA AND TACO CAT. On top of her middle grade novel writing career, Weston is also the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine and a prodigious letter writer to The New York Times (40 published and counting). She’s here to discuss palindromes, Judy Blume and where she got the inspiration for Ava’s hometown.
Why kids’ books?
Back in college, when I studied French and Spanish literature, I dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t imagine that I’d find my voice while impersonating a fifth grader. And yet I am so happy that after numerous magazine articles and books for teens and adults, I started writing for children. When my own daughters were little, I wrote a series about Melanie Martin and her brother Matt the Brat, and now I tell the tales of Ava Wren and her sister Pip and their word-nerd parents. Melanie lived in Manhattan; Ava lives in Misty Oaks.
Why Misty Oaks?
For 21 years, I’ve been the Dear Carol advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine. About five years ago, I received a snail mail letter and I remember noticing that the return address was “Misty Oaks.” Misty Oaks! It is evocative, isn’t it? Somehow a seed was planted. When I’m overwhelmed with my real life, I tell my husband, “I’m going to Misty Oaks,” then head into our daughter Emme’s room–now our guest room–and I wrestle with the latest manuscript. Fiction writing is hard work but oddly calming too.
Did you say Emme?
Yes! Emme is our second daughter. It’s not Emma or Emily; it’s Emme. When she was ten and grownups misheard her name, I’d sometimes hear her say, “It’s E-M-M-E. It’s a palindrome.” Maybe that planted a seed too! Note: Emme is now a grownup herself and she’s an important reader for me. I’m about to hand her the third Ava book, AVA XOX, to get her notes and input. It’s wonderfully lucky to have trusted family members read a manuscript before my “real” editors. Emme gives me great feedback and knows she can say, “This page doesn’t work” and that I will still love her to pieces.
What can you tell us about the new book?
In AVA AND TACO CAT (note the palindrome!), fifth grade Ava really really wants a cat, but when she and Pip sneak into the rescue center, complications begin. Ava becomes obsessed with her new pet, and her semi-neglected best friend Maybelle ends up making a new friend. This is hard on Ava (as it is on so many kids that age). To distract herself, Ava starts collaborating with Pip on a picturebook about fish. Ava rhymes and Pip draws, and they have high hopes that it will get published. But nope, nothing is that easy and there are lots of twists and turns before things work out.
Things work out?
Hey, it’s a kids’ book! One of my favorite things about writing for kids is that it’s not like a Shakespeare play where you almost expect corpses to litter the stage at the end. No way. Lots of page-turning adventures, but when you are reading a book for kids, spoiler alert, things usually do turn out okay.
Even for their picturebook?
Oh no! Alphabet Fish does not go the distance. Nor should it. Truth told, I found a similarly fishy manuscript in an old file in my filing cabinet –so maybe I did aspire to write for kids sooner than I’d remembered. But without telling you much more, let me say that when Ava finally starts to write about a subject closer to her heart, the story she tells finds a much wider audience. Including one person who–oops, I’d better stop before I spill too much!
Is there one living children’s book author you admire?
There are many! But Judy Blume is right up there. Here’s a photo of her with me back when my girls were… girls.