In Rosie Colored Glasses, 11-year-old Willow loves her wild, free, Pixy Stix-obsessed, rules-be-damned mother, Rosie, and time spent with her rigid father, Rex, only seems to create more heartbreak. But Wolfson alternates Willow’s narration with the story of Rex and Rosie as they fall in love 12 years ago, revealing a charming, opposites-attract romance marred by Rosie’s opioid abuse. As Willow begins to grow up, she also starts to see her parents with clear eyes. As past and present converge, the reader discovers that for all the dysfunction in this family, there is also a tremendous depth of love—but that may not be enough.
Wolfson explores some of the most difficult questions of the modern American family with fierce empathy, tenderness and understanding. Here, she talks about different kinds of love, looking back on her own childhood and more.
Briefly, I’d love if you could share why this book is so personal and important for you.
In many ways, the story of Rosie Colored Glasses is my own story. I started writing this book after a telling the true and much, much shorter version of my story at The Moth, a live storytelling event, in San Francisco. The experience was life-changing. I had never before tried to weave together the experiences of my life, let alone talk about them to a room of strangers. Shortly after getting off the stage, a woman approached me and asked whether I ever considered writing something long-form. That teeny, tiny nudge got me to put pen to paper on the story that eventually became Rosie Colored Glasses.
“Getting into my parents’ heads certainly helped me build more empathy for them, and I wanted readers to enjoy this same process.”
As the story moves back and forth between Willow’s perspective and her parents’, the reader learns a lot about this love story, and we learn it a lot quicker than Willow does. Why did you want to explore this story from two different perspectives?
This choice says a lot about my own process and journey writing this novel. This book started out as a reflection on my childhood experiences, now as an adult. As I revisited the events of my past, I realized there must have been a lot to the story that I missed, being so young as the events unfolded. I started to really contemplate what those events must have been like for the other people involved in them—most notably, my mother and my father. In some ways it was very challenging to get back into those painful memories. But in other ways, it was very comforting to think about the ways in which my parents were both trying to take care of me during that time. Getting into my parents’ heads certainly helped me build more empathy for them, and I wanted readers to enjoy this same process.
Willow grows up a little bit throughout this book, as she learns about different kinds of love. Do remember having a similar realization as a child?
I do. But I also am not under any illusion that this experience is specific to me. I believe that every child’s transition to adulthood includes some realization that their parents are fallible humans. It’s why I believe that although all the characters in Rosie Colored Glasses have some very specific peculiarities and weaknesses, the story is ultimately very universal.
For all the mistakes made by the characters of this book, it’s clear that you, as their creator, have a lot of compassion for them. How would you describe your relationship to your characters?
In the early days of writing Rosie Colored Glasses, I got advice from a writing teacher to “write what you hate.” It makes for dynamic interactions and unexpected behaviors—everything an author wants in her writing. But somewhere along the way of spending hours and hours with these characters—thinking through their motivations and developing their core essence—you fall in love with them and you want them to have some good inside. I think part of the writing process is reflected in Rosie Colored Glasses. It also helped that the characters corresponded to real humans that I know and love.
One of the beautiful themes throughout the book is the different ways we show each other love—and how they can be misinterpreted or even missed entirely. What are the ways you find yourself giving love to those around you? Is writing part of that process?
My response is probably going to reveal something a bit embarrassing about me, but I am actually a big fan of the 5 Love Languages. To use the terminology, I’m big on giving quality time, physical touch and words of affirmation. And I prefer getting quality time above all else!
What are some of your favorite literary love stories? Do you prefer a happily-ever-after, or something more complicated?
I typically go for the darkest, twistiest stories I can find, but if we’re talking about favorites, I’ll pick a classic. “Beauty and the Beast” was my childhood favorite, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one I return to most often. In this beautiful but tragic story, Eurydice is taken into the underworld after being bit by a snake, and Orpheus goes to retrieve her. Hades, god of the underworld, tells Orpheus that he will allow Eurydice to follow him out of the underworld but only if Orpheus agrees not to look back at her before coming into the light. Tragically, Orpheus can’t help but look back, and Eurydice is gone forever.
What are you working on next?
I am currently putting the final touches on a second novel. This one also contemplates family dynamics from multiple perspectives and draws from my past experiences. Something that Rosie Colored Glasses does not touch upon, but remains a very important part of my personal story and relationship to my concept of family, is my stepmother, stepsiblings and half-sister. This next work explores how blood ties families together, or doesn’t.