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‘VIP I’m With the Band’ author Jen Calonita talks series, boy bands

Jen Calonita poses with Kidsday reporters, from left,

Jen Calonita poses with Kidsday reporters, from left, Gianna Maresco, Lily Kaelin, Katherine Jakubowsky and Avery Rubino. Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

Author Jen Calonita came to our school! She visited our class recently to talk to us about her new book, “VIP I’m With the Band,” and all her other great books. Jen is a Long Islander, too!

Who helped you develop the book “VIP I’m With the Band”?

When I was 12 the most amazing thing that could ever have happened to me is if I had gotten to go on the road with my favorite band. That didn’t happen, but I did write my favorite band a letter and I asked them to come and see my middle school dance and they couldn’t come. But I did get a postcard back from one of the boy band member’s mom months later explaining that the band was on tour in Europe and they couldn’t come to the dance, and I was so excited because I thought, “This is amazing. I finally reached the band I had loved forever.” So when I started thinking about what I would love to write a book about, I thought I would love to write about what would happen if I did get to go on the road with the band. And having been an entertainment editor before I wrote books, I used to get to go on the road with different music acts like Justin Timberlake, hang out backstage with his group *NSYNC, and I found that boy band members are a lot like boys your age. And I will say they eat a ton backstage. They could never stop snacking, they play basketball, they have Nerf gun battles, they ride around in golf carts and they’re just kind of overgrown boys. So I wanted to write about that world. I thought it would be a lot of fun.

How did you come up with their names?

Usually when I come up with character names, I use names of kids I actually know. Believe it or not, you run out of names as an author because you never want to use the same name twice for a main character because it will remind you of another book you read. So with “I’m With the Band,” Mackenzie was a name I always liked, and then for the boys I just tried to think of other boys I knew. I actually know a Zander and I know a Heath, and then for the girls . . . my friend just had a baby named Scarlett last year. So I named one of the girls Scarlett. And Jillian is a fifth-grader at my son’s school. I’m always trying to use names of kids I know. But the band name, Perfect Storm, I just tried to think of something that would feel like a boy band name and Perfect Storm just seemed so much like a boy band.

Do you ever get writers block, and if so what do you do to make it go away?

I think every writer gets writers block. I think sometimes writers block can be just me being scared to take the next step in the book. I always recommend that — to you guys, too — if you’re working on a paper for school and you’re having trouble, showing it to someone you really trust can really help you work through the problems and sometimes you just have to take a break for a little bit. Sometimes I have to turn away from the computer, have a snack, walk my Chihuahua, and then go back and start writing again. There’s a few different things you can do. But we all get it.

When you were younger did you know you were going to be a writer, and if not, what did you want to be?

Well, my mom found this paper I wrote in fourth grade. It was my three wishes if I ever met a genie. My first two wishes were dreadful. My first wish, there were these dolls called Cabbage Patch Kids when I was little. This was my first wish to a genie, not a great first wish. I asked for every Cabbage Patch Kid doll and would give some away for free. Not great. My second wish was for a mansion, a speed boat, a lake and a pool. I will tell you, 95 percent of the authors I know don’t have those things. I still very much would like the pool because I love to swim and I would love to invent a waterproof laptop so I could write while I was in the pool. That would make me so happy. But my third wish from fourth grade was I wish I could be a writer for young readers. I think it’s pretty cool that something I started thinking about back in fourth grade is something I grew up to get to do. I would say I always wanted to write. I always thought I would grow up and work at Newsday. And I desperately wanted to be a Kidsday reporter, but Kidsday never came to my school.

Is the next book that you’re writing, “VIP Battle of the Band,” based on “VIP I’m With the Band”?

Yes. So I love writing series. I’m somebody who really loves a character and wants to spend more time with them. So it was really nice to get to continue this story in “Battle of the Bands,” and in the second book, which comes out this July, which is perfect for summer reading, Mac is going back on the road with the band and she’s going out with an opening act that is called Thunder and Lightning. And it turns out Thunder and Lightning really wants to be like the band Perfect Storm and kind of steal their thunder so to speak. So Mac is having a tough time because the bands are fighting and she’s trying to keep them from fighting. And somebody keeps reading her diary and getting a hold of it and learning all her secrets. So she’s trying to figure out who. I’m excited about that book as well.

How do you think of the story ideas?

I think for me it’s just having always loved music and having worked in Hollywood for a little bit. It just seemed like I would love to write something I knew a lot about and since I knew a lot about loving a boy band and going on the road with different music acts, it seemed like a really fun story to get to write and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to creating a character that was a lot like me at age 12. That’s been fun, too.

What was the best part about writing this book?

I think I loved seeing the reactions of some of my friends and family when they get to read the book because they say, ‘Oh my goodness, Mac is you’ and I think I was a lot like Mac. So it’s kind of fun to get to go back in that world and I think in my head, in a lot of ways, I’m still kind of 12.

When did you get an interest in running?

That only really started a few years ago. I actually was on track in high school and I was the distance runner. I loved Disney World and when I heard about Run Disney and how you can run in Disney through all the parks I thought, ‘I want to run through Disney.’ And the only way I could do that is if I could train myself to run a half-marathon. So last February I ran the Disney Princess half-marathon and I wore a tutu and a Cinderella shirt and I loved the costume. And I loved running through the parks and it was so much fun that I ran in Disney again this past November for another half.

Are any of your other books based on true events?

I have a series called “Secrets of My Hollywood Life,” which came out almost 10 years ago, but it’s about a girl who grows up in Hollywood, who’s never quite sure if she wants to stay in Hollywood or give it all up and have a regular life. That was really based on my time working at a magazine called Teen People, where I got to interview a lot of teen stars and just kind of see how they handled being a teen and having a big career. So that would definitely be based on my old job.

Do you ever challenge yourself to write a certain amount in one day?

I do try during the week to write at least 1,500 words a day. I feel it’s good to have some kind of idea of how I’m doing because if not, like anybody else, I get distracted. There’s other things I could be doing. So I do try to hit a word count, and I do try to write every day of the week, Monday through Friday, for several hours at least because it’s good to, the only way you’re going to get better at writing is if you keep doing it.

Where do you usually write your books?

I love to write in my office at home and my Chihuahua is kind of like my sidekick and he will hang out in the office with me. I like having the company. Sometimes though I find I’m really distracted and it’s good for me to go out and write where there’s people. Sometimes I’ll go sit at Panera Bread or I’ll go sit at a Starbucks, and sometimes even though there’s a lot of noise around me, I feel like being outside the house where I can’t do anything but write can be a good thing.

How many races did you run in?

I’ve run in the two half-marathons and then I did a few 10Ks here on Long Island. But a lot of times my friends will ask me to sign up for races here on Long island, and I think I don’t want to run on the Parkway, I don’t want to run through town. I love running. I just love running through Disney. So I’m going to have to break out of that, but for now it’s been really fun.

Now that we know this book is in a series, do you plan on adding any other books to it?

I would love to add more books in the “VIP” series. This band, the Perfect Storm, would just be starting out. We really haven’t hit it big yet, not as big of a group like One Direction, Five Seconds of Summer. Though I feel like letting Mac go along on their journey as they kind of explode. It would be a lot of fun. I think if the readers want more “VIP” books, I’d love it.

Did you ever get to meet your dream band New Kids on the Block?

I did. I met my favorite band member Joey McIntyre. I got to interview him when I was at Teen People magazine, and funny thing is, I got to interview a lot of big celebrities and I’ve been in these really big situations where you think I would be nervous and I wasn’t. But when I met Joey I was really, really nervous because I kept thinking for years I slept on a pillowcase with his face on it and now I’m sitting like this talking to him and it was really hard to talk to him and form a sentence because I built this whole world in my mind, “What would happen if I ever met Joey McIntyre?” It was kind of a strange experience.

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