Carol Weis is an actor, teacher, and children’s entertainer, who once ran a restaurant kitchen, a grade-school library, and a home-baking business, and now writes poetry, essays, memoir, and children’s books. Her writing has appeared online at Salon, SMITH Magazine,Clean Sheets, and Literary Mama, in various local publications, and has been read as commentary on public radio. Her chapbook, DIVORCE PAPERS (Bull Thistle Press, 2002), led her to develop the school-touring program, ‘Poems Have Feelings, Too!’ Her children’s book, WHEN THE COWS GOT LOOSE, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006.
Carol is a touring author, known affectionately as the Cow-Lady, performing over 140 library, school and bookstore events since her picture book’s release. She also runs a freelance editing service, fills in for absent teachers, and works as a writer-in-residence in local elementary and middle schools, as part of the Creative Minds Initiative, sponsored by grants from the Massachusetts Culture Council. She lives with her daughter, Maggie, with whom she’s written a mother/daughter memoir. Most evenings, you’ll find Carol pedaling down the bike trail in search of the right words.
If the plane you were flying in was about to crash, who would you like to be sitting beside?
My daughter. We both agree we’d want to have each other’s hand to hold in a plane crash.
If you could add one feature to your cell phone, what would it be?
Cell phone service.
What was the worst grade you’ve ever received? Best?
My worst grade was an F, in Intro to Shakespeare. The teacher was so bad I lost interest. I retook the course that summer, with an engaging professor, and got an A. Now one of my teaching gigs is at Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s summer theater camp, where there are no grades.
What are you thinking about right now?
Doing a decent job, answering these questions.
What one person or object best represents the 80’s?
My darling daughter, who was born in 1984. Other than that momentous event, it has to be Michael Jackson.
What is the most shocking sight you’ve ever witnessed?
I’d have to say the half-naked guy, who was helicoptering, while passing us on the Jersey Turnpike.
If there is life on Mars, what celebrity might resemble the Martians?
What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone?
Mimic what they say. We did it as kids and drove each other crazy.
What is a song that you could listen to all day, every day, on repeat?
Though there are many songs I dearly love, far too many to list here, there’s not one I would want to listen to all day, every day. Mostly, I like quiet, to hear what my characters are saying to me.
What do you do too much of?
I check email and Facebook far too much. And stay up way too late…
What do you do too little of?
I don’t eat enough chocolate.
If you could make up a school subject, what would it be?
I’d love to see a course offered in kindness and compassion. As a teacher, I always try to model those behaviors whenever I can.
What latest trend simply baffles you?
I just saw a piece on Colbert about Rollin’ Coal. Why would anyone choose to do that?
What bad habit will you purposely never quit?
Eating too little chocolate.
If you had to choose, what is the most important quality in a relationship—humor, smarts, personality, looks, money, or mutual interests?
Humor, because laughter is truly the best medicine. If you can’t laugh through hard times, you’ll be miserable much of your life.
Does your writing reflect your personality?
In my children’s writing, my characters are usually based on some aspect of my personality. A tad quirky, leaning towards rebellious, goofy whenever possible, always passionate, and somewhat unique. My personal writing (poetry, essays, and memoir) reflects who I am at that moment in time, or who I was in an earlier period of life.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I get on my bicycle and pedal wildly down the bike trail, or take a brisk walk. Movement helps me to get unstuck. Though, sometimes patience is the only thing that works, as I wait for the creative well to refill.
What is your typical day like?
I don’t really have a typical day, because I wear so many hats — writer, editor, teacher, touring author, writer-in-residence, are but a few. In most cases, I start my day reading a chapter of the book I’m into, and then check email and Facebook, while munching on apple slices. After a bowl of Kashi, I put on my hat-of-the-day and proceed from there. A bike ride and/or walk are essential to my day. And then, my daughter and I have dinner together, often watching the reruns of The Daily Show and Colbert Report, and I always end my day with a book in my hands.
Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?
I had a very different vision for the artwork in When the Cows Got Loose, but was thrilled when I saw Ard Hoyt’s whimsical illustrations. He has such a wonderful sense of humor.
Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?
A little of both. My husband and I split up when my daughter was five, and I needed a way to fill the void and process the pain, so I started writing. I found it did both.
Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?
Ideas come to me when I’m soaking in a hot bath, doing deep breathing, riding down the bike trail, or taking a walk. For me, relaxation is key to keeping the flow moving and inviting in the muse.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
I’ve had lots of cheerleaders along the way. Included in that team is my daughter, my writing group, my sister, and many other supportive friends, including countless new and old friends on Facebook. I started writing 23 years ago, and have wanted to quit at least once a year since then. But the desire to quit is always fleeting, and I never act on it. I guess you’d call me a lifer.
If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?
My greatest fear is running out of words or things to say. I can’t imagine not writing, but I have recently become interested in photography. And I’ve always expressed my creative side through cooking.
What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the author you are today?
Financial security. As a single Mom, my daughter and I gave up a lot so I could write.
What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?
As Anne Lamott says, don’t be afraid to write a shitty first draft. Revising will help to cure that. And Susan Jeffers words always inspire me. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?
Always be true to who you are.
Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?
I first started writing poetry after hearing Billy Collins recite The Best Cigarette. He was funny. I wanted to write like him. Children’s books appealed to my inner child. I started writing them when I joined a group led by Jane Yolen, one of my mentors. I also write personal essays, commentary, and memoir. I vary my style, depending on the form, and the piece of work I’m creating. Right now I’m working on a memoir and doing a lot of experimenting with structure and POV.
When do you feel the most energized?
At night. I come from a family of owls.
How much of your own life is reflected in your work?
My picture book is based on the day the cows escaped the farm, down the road from where we lived. I started writing the next day, after seeing the deep hoof marks they left in our lawn. My poetry chapbook captures bits of my divorce. Writing those poems helped me get through it. Everything I write contains a morsel of my life.
Do you have family members who like to write too?
My daughter co-wrote a mother/daughter memoir with me, and I have some cousins who also write. My sister-in-law has been writing something in her head for years, which I’ve been trying to coax her to write down.
What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?
My childhood was difficult. When I was three, my mom was hospitalized with TB for 18 months, and for another year when I was six. We were farmed out, which deeply impacted my view of the world and how I traversed it. And yes, it shows up in my writing.
Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?
Everything I write fills me with a great amount of satisfaction and pride. I scored 423 in my verbal SATs. I mean, don’t they give you 200 for just writing your name? In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I’d become a writer. Let alone a published one. Sister Juanita, one of my high school English teachers, is surely rolling over in her grave.
When did you realize that you had a gift for writing?
It took many years to own the title of writer or to even call myself one. I got glimpses of it when my first poems were published, and fully embraced my writer-self when Simon & Schuster released my first children’s book.