We met with popular Long Island author Jen Calonita recently. She came by our school to talk about her latest book, "Flunked." We loved the book and had a great time talking with Jen.
Where did the inspiration for the book "Flunked" come from?
I have always loved fairy tales and as a kid I loved the Disney fairy tales so much, but I don't know about you guys, but whenever I'd watch Cinderella and I'd see Cinderella go off in the coach I'd think, "Well what happened to her wicked stepmom?" And in some versions of the fairy tales you'd hear what happened to her. But a lot of times you just never heard from the villain again. And I've always believed in second chances. And I thought, "What would happen if some of these famous villains got a chance to reform themselves and turn over a new leaf and then open up a reform school for other kids in the fairy tale world who are kind of on the wrong path?"
What is your favorite fairy tale?
I love "Beauty and the Beast" and I love "Cinderella." Those are probably my two favorite fairy tales.
Is there going to be a sequel to "Flunked"?
There is. I'm actually writing it right now. When I leave you guys I have to go somewhere quiet to write so that I don't go home and get distracted. Because that can happen and the sequel is going to be called "Charmed" and that will come out next March. And then we'll see if people like it, then maybe there will be more.
Do you have a favorite character in your book "Flunked"?
It's always been Gilly. I think what's really fun about Gilly is that she's not your average protagonist. Usually when you have a main character they're always very likable. But I find Gilly at the beginning is not very likable because when we first meet her she's in the middle of stealing something at a store and then we kind of learn there's a reason why she's stealing and she changes a lot over the course of the book. I think that's what I like about her. She always maintains that pluckiness and she's very spunky. So in that way she stays true to herself, but she also learns that doing the easy thing, stealing, is not always the right thing.
What did it feel like when you published your first book?
I was so excited to go to Barnes & Noble and see my book in the store, to see it on the shelf there, see my picture inside. My son was very little at the time, he was only a year old, but just to hold it up and say, "This is Mom's book!" was very exciting for me because I've always wanted to be a writer. When I was your age I was already writing and we had a school journal and I'd write for that and then in high school I wrote for the school newspaper and I just wrote as much as I could, wherever I could. So I never really thought I would become an author. I always wanted to work for Newsday. That was always my dream, and I wanted to be a Kidsday reporter and then I went to college and I wound up working in magazines and from there I decided to try writing a book.
What makes a good author?
I think a good author reads as much as they write. I think the more you read the better you write because it's always exciting to see how another author gets their ideas and how they form a story and my books I always feel bad because my books always have a lot of folded down pages and sometimes I circle words. Whenever I'm reading another author's book I'm always amazed how they form a sentence or how they describe a scene. I think a good author also maps out their story. So at home in my office I have a wall of Post-its right now in all different colors and I'm mapping out "Flunked 2."
Growing up, what were your favorite books and what books would you like to see become movies?
My favorite books were the "Little House on the Prairie" books and I loved "Anne of Green Gables" and Beverly Cleary and "Fudge" and "Super Fudge." I loved them so much. And then when I was a little bit older there was this series called "Sweet Valley High" and this was one of the first series, like Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don't be afraid of criticism. When your teachers hand you back papers and maybe they marked it up, told you how you can improve on a story or how you can make changes, try to look at that as great advice. Because that's what my editor does with me. When I handed in "Flunked," I had to do another four drafts of the book. And at first it was a little bit scary, but when I'd read my editor's notes I'd see she made a lot of sense. Sometimes when you're working on a story, you're so close to the material you don't see the flaws. So always be willing to seek out other people's advice.