Interview: Jen Calonita
Current Mood: good
Current Song: Woman of the Year score music
In the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, teenaged actress Kaitlin burke deals with drama on and off the set of Family Affair, a primetime television show she's worked on since she was a toddler. Though the series is pure fiction, it was inspired in part by the author's work in the entertainment industry. As a former journalist and editor for such magazines as Teen People, Jen Calonita knows all about the famous faces and hot places in Los Angeles and New York, but now she's happy as a clam to be an author, hanging out at home with her son and writing stories for pre-teens and teens.
Kaitlin lives a pretty clean life (no drinking, no drugs, none of that) and has a decent head on her shoulders. I loved that about her! Was that a conscious choice on your behalf to keep the series appropriate for younger readers and to have a leading lady who was possibly more of a role model than some of today's real-life teen celebs?
I did consciously want Kaitlin to survive her teen years in Hollywood without major drama. I feel like there are so many teen actresses that have good heads on their shoulders and who do shy away from the spotlight when they're not working and they just get lumped in with everyone else. Yes, everyone is going to be in the tabloids at some point, but so would we if we lived our lives in front of a camera. When I was modeling Kaitlin, I thought of girls like Amanda Bynes, Hilary Duff, and recent celebs like Ashley Tisdale. And yes, I did want the series to be fun, but also be something that tweens and teens could read without facing the wrath of their parents!
The fourth book in the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, Paparazzi Princess, is due out in March 2009. The title makes me wonder if Kaitlin will be acting out.
Ah, yes. Kaitlin will be acting out a little -- in the Kaitlin way, of course. It's hard to describe without giving too much away since there is a major reveal at the end of book three, but yes, in Paparazzi Princess, Kaitlin befriends two Hollywood girls known for partying and shopping and she gets a little swept away with it all. She's looking for an escape from reality, but of course, you can't do that without consequences. It's really fun and I had a blast writing it.
Kaitlin will take a trip to the East Coast in the sixth book, Secrets of My Hollywood Life: In New York. When will that be released?
Spring 2010. I haven't started writing it yet, but I'm excited to have Kaitlin in New York, which is my stomping ground, and have her experience some of the sights and sounds of the city -- with a little drama thrown in along the way!
Do you have a set number of books planned in the Secrets line, or is the length of the series wholly dependent upon contracts and/or sales?
Right now, we have plans for six Secrets -- the sixth plot hasn't been revealed yet, but I think we're just watching and waiting to see what fans think before we give Kaitlin an expiration date. I personally love writing about her and her world so I'm in no rush to see it all come to an end just yet.
You have another novel coming out next year, Sleepaway Girls, which is unrelated to Secrets. What's the target age for readers? Will it be the start of a new series?
Sleepaway Girls is meant for the same audience as Secrets. It's totally separate from Kaitlin's world and right now it's just meant to be a single book, not a series. We'll see what happens. It's set at sleepaway camp so there is always a chance you could do another summer! The book is about a camp counselor in training named Sam who has never done the sleepaway thing before and is a bit overwhelmed by the camp world and all that goes along with it. I enjoyed writing the dynamic between sam and her new friends/bunkmates. It was nice to have Sam be part of a huge group rather than just have one or two close people to confide in the way Kaitlin does.
Were you ever a camp counselor or a CIT (Counselor-in-Training) like Sam?
I was never a CIT, but I was a counselor at a day camp on Long Island. I was stuck with the computer group, which I know sounds lame, but it was the only opening they had! I did it for two summers and just loved it. It was so cool meeting people from other schools and opening my world up to new experiences.
Before you were a novelist, you worked your way up the publishing ranks as an entertainment journalist and ultimately became a Senior Entertainment Editor at Teen People. What did you love most about the magazine world?
I loved being semi-"inside." I loved knowing what movies were coming out when, who the hot up and coming actors were, seeing TV shows before they aired. I loved picking and choosing shows and movies to cover that I thought our readers would be into. I like to say I'm still sixteen at heart and I think that helped a lot with that job and the one I have now writing novels.
Is it odd to now be the person answering the questions rather than asking them?
Yes, it is kind of strange. I'm always worrying about my quotes. I know they live on forever and I don't want to regret anything I've said!
When, why, and how did you make the transition from writing for magazines to writing fiction?
I was expecting my son, Tyler, and I wanted to spend more time at home after he was born. I couldn't keep up with the hectic work schedule and the commute and I noticed a lot of my colleagues had started writing books. I had always thought it would be fun to write about some of the experiences I had at Teen People with teen stars and the idea for Kaitlin's world was born. I was lucky enough to talk with an editor at Little, Brown that agreed to look at my proposal and the rest is history.
After your work as a journalist, do you find the field of novel writing to be too solitary for your tastes, or do welcome having time to yourself? In either realm, did you or do you mind working under deadline?
I like setting my own schedule and I like having a deadline. I work better when I know there is an end date ahead of me. Sometimes I miss having people right down the hall to bounce ideas off of, but for the most part, I love working alone and all that it entails. I love that when I'm done writing, Tyler is usually in another room and we can go off and do our own thing when I'm done. I feel really blessed to have that reality.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Oh, they change all the time so I couldn't come up with a top ten, but here are some of my recent and long-time favorites:
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Homecoming by Cynthia Voight
The Harry Potter books (particularly book three and book seven)
The Bras and Broomsticks series by Sarah Mlynowski
Anything and everything by Sophie Kinsella - I love the shopaholics books with a passion! They really make me laugh.
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot - I think she's such a great writer and she really knows her audience.
Visit Jen Calonita at her website.
Check out my booklist called But I DO Want to Be Famous! for more about the Secrets series and similar titles.