Interview sponsored by Jennifer Caloyeras
The Children’s Book Review | September 21, 2015
The Children’s Book Review: Strays: A Novel is an engaging story for the young adult audience about a beautiful human-animal bond and the comfort this bond provides for an angry teen. Before we talk about your book, can you tell us about yourself and how you came to be an author?
Jennifer Caloyeras: Sure! Thanks so much for having me. I am a Los Angeles native and I live here with my husband and two sons – ages 6 and 9. I actually started out as a songwriter before becoming a writer. After I completed my MA in English, I really missed the daily ritual of writing. I thought, hm…how could I keep it up? Aha! I’ll write creatively instead of academically! This led me to enroll in a MFA program in creative writing. I loved it! One of the first classes I took was a writing for young adults course and the project I started in that class became my first young adult novel, Urban Falcon. And as a fun fact, my dad and my sister are both writers as well!
Which five words do you feel best describe Strays?
Friendship, understanding, funny, first love (I’m cheating with two words here!) and dogs.
The main character, sixteen-year-old Iris Moody, is dealing with some anger issues. It’s fair to say that she has a lot to be angry about. Will you talk to us a little bit about Iris’s character and how her journey of self-discovery could inspire readers?
I think that anger can manifest in so many different ways. In Iris’s case, she keeps her anger buried deep. And she has a lot to be angry about. Her mother has passed away and her father has moved her to a new city. Her dad is a workaholic and doesn’t pay very much attention to her. Her friends have isolated her, her ex-boyfriend has a new girlfriend and Ms. Schneider, one of the meanest English teachers, is threatening to fail her. Over the course of the story, Iris learns the importance of expressing her anger in healthy ways. I think that all readers have dealt with anger and disappointment at some point in their lives. I think it’s important to know that it’s okay and normal to feel all of these feelings. What’s telling is how you choose to express them.
With anger as the main theme behind the story, can you tell us a little bit about how and why you chose to focus on this specific emotion for your novel?
I’ve answered part of this above, but Iris is accused of making a threat against her English teacher at school, which lands her in some hot water. She is sentenced to a summer rehabilitating aggressive dogs and it’s here that she meets Roman, a three-legged pit bull who also has anger management issues. Through training Roman and by learning about his history Iris is better able to understand him. She takes this lesson and begins applying it to her own life.
Did your experience as a dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger help you in creating the relationship between Iris and the three-legged pit bull Roman, who is also overcoming his own dark past?
Absolutely! It’s actually part of the reason why this book was written. Many years ago I wrote a dog column covering a non-profit organization in Santa Monica called K-9 connections that takes at-risk youth and places them with dogs that are up for adoption. As I wrote this column I thought, “that would make a great premise for a novel!” I also had personal experience with a rescue pit bull that had redirected aggression, so when he couldn’t reach the thing he wanted to attack (a barking dog, for example) he’d instead try to bite the person on the other end of his leash. It was a very emotionally challenging time for us trying to rehabilitate this dog.
How long did it take you to write the story and can you describe your writing process?
The novel took five years from the moment of inception to the day it was published. That included lots of daydreaming about the characters, research, outlining and many, many drafts, plus the time it took to sell the book and work with the publishers.
I like to work on multiple projects at once, so at any given time I’m usually finishing up revisions on a piece, writing a second piece and mulling over an idea for a third. I also tend to work with a plan, so I spend quite a while plotting things out before I write. Once I start writing, that original plan usually goes in a completely new direction and I’m always surprised by where the story takes me.
What has been the best response you have received from a reader of Strays, so far?
I love that so many people are moved by the story. Many people have said that they cried at the end and that makes me happy that my words could elicit that type of response.
If you were to define the ultimate reader for Strays, who would it be and what are their interests? In short, who is the intended audience?
I think it’s a story that works for anyone from middle grade through adults. Dog lovers will especially enjoy the book. But I also think it’s a chance for people who stand outside of this to learn something new in this slice of life story.
Who designed the great book cover and what went into getting the look just right?
The cover was designed by the amazing Matt Smith. He actually designed four very different cover concepts (all of them wonderful!) But we went with this one as we felt it best represented the book. He is a cover designer that always reads the entirety of the book he is designing, which, from what I hear, is pretty unusual. During school visits, I show the students the other three potential covers and we talk about intended audience for those covers and which one they would buy if they saw it on a shelf (the current cover always wins., phew!)
What’s next for you? Do you have any more young adult books in the pipeline?
I am working on two projects right now. The first is a children’s chapter book (think Harry Potter meets Charlotte’s Web) and the second is another young adult novel, this time set in a dystopian world. I’m really excited about both of them!
About the Author
Jennifer Caloyeras is a novelist and short fiction writer living in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an M.A. in English Literature from California State University Los Angeles and an M.F.A. in creative writing through the University of British Columbia.
She is the author of two young adult novels: Strays (2015) and Urban Falcon (2009). Her short stories have been published in Monday Night Literary, Wilde Magazine, Storm Cellar and Booth. She has been a college instructor, elementary school teacher and camp counselor. She is the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger and the Larchmont Ledger.
Jennifer is available for school visits and book club meetings.
Written by Jennifer Caloyeras
Publisher’s Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody has a problem controlling her temper–but then, she has a lot to be angry about. Dead mother. Workaholic father. Dumped by her boyfriend. Failing English.
When a note in Iris’s journal is mistaken as a threat against her English teacher, she finds herself in trouble not only with school authorities but with the law.
In addition to summer school, dog-phobic Iris is sentenced to an entire summer of community service, rehabilitating troubled dogs. Iris believes she is nothing like Roman, the three-legged pit bull who is struggling to overcome his own dark past, not to mention the other humans in the program. But when Roman’s life is on the line, Iris learns that counting on the help of others may be the only way to save him.
With sparkling prose and delightful humor, Jennifer Caloyeras’s novel beautifully portrays the human-animal bond.
Ages 10+ | Ashland Creek Press | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1618220370
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