Sora Journal

Twisted Tales with Jen Calonita

By Sora Schools

Jen Calonita, New York Times bestselling author of Fairy Tale Reform School and Disney's Twisted Tale Series, shared her love for writing about all things fairy tales with Sora Middle School students. The students chatted with Jen and heard all about how she started her career and her process for developing bestselling ideas. Jen even led the students through a writing workshop to create their own Twisted Fairy Tale Masterpiece!  

Jen’s Background

Jen shared that growing up, she thought she didn’t enjoy reading and didn’t like any of the books she checked out of the school library. Then, a teacher helped her find something that fit her interests rather than reading what her friends liked, and she loved Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.

In her early career, Jen worked at magazines. She wanted to be a writer but started off running errands and assisting the team instead of writing. “You have to prove yourself,” she shared. Eventually, she was able to go out on assignments.

Jen with NSYNC
Jen with NSYNC

One of Jen’s earliest books, Secrets of My Hollywood Life, was inspired by working at Teen People and wondering what it would be like to be a former child star wanting to give up being in the spotlight. She met with a publisher at a company in the same building as her office and got advice to start writing the stories she thought of instead of documenting ideas. 

Jen’s Writing Process

Jen shared her best advice with the Sora Middle School students: just write. 

“Sometimes we have great ideas but don’t know how to execute them,” she said. “I take tons of notes. I’m always thinking, where does this story take place, who tells the story, what do my characters want, and I’m going to be a little bit mean and not give the characters everything they want. Because that makes the readers turn the page.”

Jen shared that “one of the things I love are stories that are real but have a touch of magic in them.” Over the course of her career, she’s written stories based on fairy tales and has even worked with Disney to create new stories based on existing Disney characters. 

Twisting Fairy Tales on the Spot - Writing Workshop  

In the writing workshop, Jen led students through the process of reimagining a fairy tale or fictional character and how to create their own new classics. Working as a group, Jen helped students determine which characters they wanted to be heroes and villains, and what those characters wanted. 

Some questions that Jen asked to help get the students thinking for their collaborative process were: How do you want to tell the story - is this a prequel, original story, or maybe a snapshot moment in time from the character’s younger years?; Do you want to take characters who are heroes and make them villains or vice versa?; What do the characters want? 

Questions & Advice

Her advice for the writing process included mapping things out on Post-it notes. That way, you can move things around and see everything laid out in one place. 

A student asked what to do if you get stuck while writing. Jen shared that she likes to go for a walk, and you may just end up thinking of what you want to write next. 

Thank you, Jen, for meeting with our Middle School writing enthusiasts!