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

Stacy Mozer
  1. I can’t wait to read this book…I love fairy tales for the modern day.

  2. Fascinating premise!!!

  3. Sounds like a super fun story! I’m looking forward to reading it!

  4. Terrific interview. I like her take away from the old fairy tales. Great idea.

  5. Sounds great! Would love to win for my kids.

  6. Love this interview! I’d go with the wicked stepmother from Cinderella for a villain mentor 🙂

  7. I would choose Maleficent, mostly because she’s creepy and evil and mysterious! And I’d love to get my hands on this book…it looks awesome!

  8. Love the premise of Flunked, kinda reminds me of how the villains of Once Upon a Time are trying to get their happy ending. Such fun!

  9. If I had to choose one villain mentor… Hmmm that’s tough but probably Captain Hook. He had his hand taken from him and was picked on by a bunch of kids all while being stalked by a crazed gator , but never gave up his dream of getting Peter Pan.

  10. Ooh. This book looks so good. I would love to hear how the evil step mother is doing and maleficient. I’ll definately enter the givaway.

  11. Love the idea of getting the villains perspective! And if I had to have a villain mentor, it would have to be the witch from Hansel & Gretel. You gotta respect her commitment and attention to detail. I mean it’s a whole house of candy! Talk about complicated.