After reading and reviewing Jennifer Caloyeras’ inspiring YA novel “Strays,” I just had to have an interview with her to get answers for some of my burning questions. Below is a summary of the novel and her answers to my questions. Enjoy!
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’ 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.
Q: Why did you choose to write this novel?
A: The novel came about because of a few different factors. First of all, I have been the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger. While I was researching a column many years ago, I came across a non-profit organization in Santa Monica called K-9 Connection that pairs up at-risk teens and rescue dogs. I thought it was a fascinating concept that would make a good novel. Also, about ten years ago, I was struggling with my own rescue dog, a pit mix that had redirected aggression issues. While Strays is a completely fictitious story, it was inspired by reality.
Q: Why did you decide to name the novel Strays?
A: Interestingly enough, this was not the original title of my novel. I had originally titled it Hothead and the Dog Days of Summer. Often times a publisher will suggest a title change if they think it will be more marketable. After some lengthy discussions, my publishers and I decided that a shorter title would get the same concept across and look more succinct on the page. I’m happy with the change, and I think the cover looks particularly great!
Q: What are your opinions on the way in which threats are handled in schools? Do you think that the schools are taking unjust preventative measures or do you think that students should be able to express themselves?
A: I think school can swing either way. I think the worst thing a school can do is vilify a student for expressing themselves. I think teenagers span a wide range of emotions daily and this is all part of being that age. If you punish a student for expressing themselves in a healthy way, what you’re saying is, “That feeling isn’t right, keep it to yourself.” I think teens who are given this message silence their own feelings until they bubble over at unexpected moments. Of course if a teacher feels threatened, they should protect themselves and the school community, but my hope would be that teachers and administrators go through training on how to spot the difference. I think this is why classes in the arts and creative writing classes in particular have always been a safe haven for students to express themselves and for their feelings to be explored and taken seriously.
Q: You touch on a lot of social topics in your novel; how much research did you have to do write Strays?
A: I did a lot of research to write this novel, ranging from the juvenile judicial system and pit-bull education to teen aggression disorders. Researching has always been one of my favorite parts about being a writer.
Q: Out of all the characters in your novel, who did you like writing about the most and why?
A: This is a hard one to answer! I try to write characters that I can connect to–even if it’s just a part of them that I have a connection with. Iris was my rock in the story, but I had a lot of fun writing Talbot because, unlike Iris, she is such a free spirit and there’s an inherent danger there.
Q: Was Perry’s character based off of someone or was she purely fictional?
A: Perry is an amalgam of all of the amazing English teachers I had throughout my life (and I’ve really had the luxury of having so many.) I taught English at both the elementary school and college level and I think Perry is the idealized version of the teacher I wanted to be – not a teacher who just delivers information, but one that really fosters critical thinking. I think that’s one of the greatest tools a teacher can pass along to their students.
Q: Did you have any alternative endings to Strays or did you always know how you were going to end it?
A: I had a couple of different scenarios worked out. At first, I wanted Roman to end up with Iris. That seemed the most predictable. It felt too easy, wrapped up too neatly. That’s not how life is and that’s certainly not how life is for Iris Moody. So I pulled back and thought about having Roman end up with Perry. Again, it felt a little too convenient. Perry is a small dog person. In graduate school I remember hearing that endings should be both surprising and inevitable. I felt as though the ending I went with fit this criteria.
Q: Do you devise a plot first or just write and see where an idea takes you?
A: I used to just sit down and write without a plan. And this works if I don’t have a timeframe in mind to finish a project. But now, I’m juggling all of the various schedules in my family of four and without a plan, things just don’t get done. So now, I plan. I outline. I make writing schedules and I stick to them. That being said, whenever I think I know where I’m going, the story will take me somewhere else.
Q: Indie books are quite popular these days; what are your reasons for choosing traditional publishing?
A: I like the idea of book publishing as a collaborative endeavor. I think writing can be intrinsically isolating, and I was drawn to the idea of working with enthusiastic publishers with great editorial advice. While I do spend much of my time participating in blog tours, interviews and all the other things that self-published authors do as well, I am also happy to be part of something bigger than just my own book.
Q: Why did you choose to publish your book with Ashland Creek Press?
A: I was really struck by Ashland Creek Press’s commitment to animals and environment. It’s a part of their mission statement and their body of work shows the kind of important and compassionate writing they foster. I was thrilled to be a part of their press.
Q: Do you think that the cover of a novel plays a big part in it being bought by readers?
A: They say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but people do. Most of the writers I know have had the experience of feeling completely out of control regarding their covers. I felt so fortunate to work with a publisher that really valued my opinion regarding the cover. They use an amazing designer that actually reads the books he designs for. He ended up showing us four potential covers, which all were wonderful and worked for my novel for different reasons. In the end, we went with the most that represented the story the most and that had the potential for the broadest audience appeal. I love my cover!
Q: What book(s) are you currently reading?
A: Funny you should ask. I was recently away on vacation and broke my foot (don’t go hiking in flip flops, people!) so I made it through about five books in seven days! Some books I’ve enjoyed recently are: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi, Mislaid by Nell Zink, In Case of Emergency by Courtney Moreno and Mosquitoland by David Arnold.
Q: Writer’s block has stumped even the greatest authors. Do you get writer’s block and, if so, how do you deal with it?
A: Yes. Writer’s block is a signal to me that I need to take a break. I stop writing when I have writer’s block. I take the dogs for a walk. Take a hike. Anything to clear my head. Oftentimes I will think about where I’m stuck in my novel before falling asleep. It’s my way of signaling to my brain to “work it out!” in my sleep and that often works! I wake up refreshed with a bunch of new ideas floating around.
Q: You’re a dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger and the Larchmont Ledger. What kind of topics do you talk about in your column?
A: I cover all sorts of things from health topics to training tips to local activities for dogs in Los Angeles. I’ve been writing for the Ledger for over ten years and I’m always amazed that there’s always so much more to write about when it comes to dogs.
Q: Will there be a sequel to Strays? Are you writing any other books currently?
A: I think Iris’s story has come to an end, so I don’t foresee a sequel in the future.
I am currently working on a few projects. One is my first attempt at a children’s chapter book. And the other is a dystopian young adult novel.
Want to learn more about the author? Check out the links below:
Author website: www.jennifercaloyeras.com/home
Author Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Jennifer-Caloyeras/651747724948017
Author Twitter: @
Author Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/3048559.Jennifer_Caloyeras