An Interview with Jen Calonita, author of Flunked; Fairy Tale Reform School

Flunked Cover

Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Jen! Tell us how you came up with the idea for Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School?

Whenever I’d read a fairy tale or see a fairy tale movie, instead of focusing on the happy ending, I was fixated on the villains. If they didn’t die, what happened to them? Did they go to fairy tale jail? Were they banished to a foreign land? What if they–gasp–said they were sorry? From that seed, the idea for Fairy Tale Reform School was born. I liked the idea of it being run by some of the biggest former baddies in the fairy tale world — the wicked stepmother, evil queen, big bad wolf and the sea siren. But of course, villains being good can be harder than it seems.

You used many well known fairy tale characters in the story. Why did you decide to make Gilly, a shoemakers daughter, your main character?

I wanted a character that readers could relate to and I find the best way to do that is explore a character with flaws. Gilly is certainly the most flawed character I’ve written, but I absolutely adore her because she’s real. Stealing comes easily for her so she thinks that makes it okay, which it’s not. She also thinks her prejudices against royals are justified. They aren’t either. Nothing is as clear cut as it seems and Gilly struggles to realize that doing the easy thing doesn’t make it the right thing. She has to learn to think about more than just herself.

One of the things I found interesting were the profiles of the staff of Fairy Tale Reform School. What made you decide to put those in?

I’ve always been a fan of books that had supplemental material. I feel like it really helps with the world building. Since Gilly is the one who tells the story, we don’t always get to see how the villains became so “good.” The HappilyEverAfterScrolls allow us to tell the villains’ story in a fun way. The scrolls were so much fun to work on.

This is your first middle grade series. What did you like about writing for this audience? Any challenges?

I’m loving writing for this age group. My boys are 10 and 6 and they’ve been begging me to write something they could read. I find it’s great to have a sounding board for that age group in my own home! When I was working on Flunked, I’d go to my older son and read chapters and he’d tell me if they were exciting enough or if they needed more action. Sometimes I’d think I was being perfectly clear about a scene and he’d say, “I don’t get it.” It really helped me gear the story to his age group.

Do you have a favorite middle grade book or series?

Well, I know I’m not alone in my love for the Harry Potter series. The greatest thing has happened in our house–my oldest son started reading it and fell in love with the world too. We got to read several of the books together and I wouldn’t allow him to watch the movies till he’d finished the books. I didn’t want him to lose out on a moment of it. Seeing him enjoy it as much as I did was something I’ll never forget. Either was getting to go to Universal in February and explore Diagon Alley. It was incredible seeing this world come to life in front of our eyes.

I also really love Sarah Mylnowski’s Whatever After series and Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series. We’re BIG Disney people in our house!

What’s next for Gilly and her friends? Any hints?

The sequel to FLUNKED will be out around this time next year and I can tell you the school will be getting a new teacher with some swashbuckling teaching methods. Hint, hint. I can’t wait for readers to experience Gilly’s next big adventure.

Thanks so much for being here, Jen. To celebrate Flunked’s release, Jen is holding a rafflecopter giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Epistolary Middle-Grade Novel – A Big Word for “Lots of Fun!”

This post is about the epistolary middle grade novel.

WAIT! Don’t stop reading just because that word sounds so, well, boring. And academic. Because I promise, epistolary middle grade novels are some of the most entertaining books out there!

But first, the academics:  Dictionary.com defines the word epistolary [ih-pis-tl-er-ee] as an adjective meaning:  of, relating to, or consisting of letters.

See? Novels made of letters! Who doesn’t love reading letters?

Actually, the epistolary middle grade  novel can consist of much more. Diary entries, newspaper clippings, even advertisements can be sprinkled about, giving these novels a lighter feel and making them a visual feast.  These days, we can add emails, text messages and social media posts to the list of devices used in contemporary epistolary novels.

Here’s one of my all-time faves!

regarding the fountain web small

That’s the cover. But, it’s the interior of the epistolary novel that is always so delicious!

regarding the fountain inside web small

Sisters Kate and Sarah Klise blend written and visual storytelling in such a fun and inviting way! Mixed fonts, lots of drawings, short snippets of this and that all contribute to this book (and to its numerous sequels that ask us to please regard other plumbing essentials, such as the sink and, yes, the privy, too).

Another great EMGN (my new acronym! Like it?) is  Jennifer L. Holm and  Elicia Castaldi‘s Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff.  Believe me, the “stuff” this book is made of is way better than meatloaf!

middle school meat loaf web small

Epistolary novels are not only entertaining to read, I’ve decided they must be a blast to write as well.  Mixed-Up Files member Greg R. Fishbone recently confirmed my hunch. He told me how much fun it was writing his epistolary middle grade novel The Penguins of Doom, From the Desk of Septina Nash.

the penguins of doom web small

I could go on and on from Caddie Woodlawn to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Let’s keep the list going. Add in the comments below your favorite – EMGN –  Epistolary Middle-Grade  Novel.

Michelle Houts is the author of four middle grade books, fiction and nonfiction. She loves getting and sending letters so much that she started the 52 Letters in a Year Challenge. So far, she has heard from letter-writers as far away as Germany and as old as 72. She hopes one day to try her hand at writing an EMGN.

Never Judge A Reader By The Cover

We’re not supposed to like reading.
We’re not supposed to like writing.
We appear to be big, dumb jocks.
We look somewhat scary.
We act somewhat scary.
We get tagged as Neanderthals.
From our look, we are
supposed to like certain things,
do certain things,
and act a particular way.
Because of the way we look,
we are judged at first glance,
judged to a stereotype.

As a kid, I was a husky, could-not-sit-still introvert, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers and flipping through the pictures. I am a more accomplished reader now, but
roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity of mine.

One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I  lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly, it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I was so proud of the first several lines of that sheet being filled in. I was a reader.

I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated and handed me back my sheet. She jumped to the conclusion this big, little kid standing on the other side of her desk was a cheater, not a reader. I was so embarrassed and so mad as my first real reading success melted right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.

I would like to offer an invitation to everyone who has ever swum upstream against the current of stereotype. An invitation to celebrate a love of books and literature despite how we look or act, especially those of us “Neanderthals” who like to read middle-grade literature.

I fall into the category of dumb jock stereotype. I guess a big, football lineman-type, sport-crazy athlete, and coach, with a somewhat scary visage that often makes little kids cry, cannot also be an intellectually driven, reader and writer of literature. People look at people like me and naturally think, “He’s a Neanderthal.”

  • Maybe it’s the truck driver looks? (Which, by the way, was the Hollywood descriptor of my extras casting photo when I was given a part as an extra in a movie back in my college days.)
  • Maybe it’s the occasional ranting and raving?
  • Maybe it’s the Kansas twang of my dialect or the silent “g” in “-ing”?
  • Maybe it’s the smile or the scowl which split time on my face?

To celebrate the fight against this stereotype, I invite you to join me in a little Twitter fun and Tweet what you are currently reading. Inspired by one of my favorite comic book heroes, The Incredible Hulk, I celebrate reading and literature every Wednesday by tweeting the book(s) I am currently reading under the hashtag, #MeReadBook. If there is also an audio-book in the mix, that title is tweeted under the hashtag, #MeHearBook.

Celebrate reading and celebrate readers—whatever they look or sound like.

Above all else, pass the word.

Never judge a book (or a reader) by the cover.

Major Writers of America pic