Friday, June 15, 2007

Jen Calonita - Former Entertainment Journalist & Now Bestselling Author Of "Secret Of My Hollywood Life: On Location"

Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing her views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Jen Calonita, she is the author of “Secrets of My Hollywood Life: On Location” which is the second book in the series.

Ms. Calonita was working for Mademoiselle when she was tapped by Teen People where over the last eight years she is risen to the post of senior entertainment editor. Her career accomplishments also include stints at Entertainment Weekly, Marie Claire and Glamour Magazine as entertainment journalist.

Her list of interviews includes such notables as: Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block, Ashton Kutcher, J. Lo, and Donald Trump. She has a knack for knowing the inside track of the high profile Hollywood youth sets.

EI: Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Please tell us more about Jen Calonita -- the woman behind the journalist & the author?

JC: I’ve always loved writing. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and submitted articles to teen magazines. I always thought I would go for a writing career after college, but I figured it would be with magazines (which it was). I never envisioned myself becoming an author.

EI: Ms. Calonita, how did you get started in publishing? Did you set your sites right after college?

JC: I graduated Boston College and got my first job at Mademoiselle magazine (which is no longer in business). It was a great place to learn the ropes. From there, I went to Teen People, where I worked as an entertainment editor for five years.

EI: Do you express your inner self in your writing or do the personas you create exist only in your imagination?

JC: I like to say I’m able to tap into my inner-13-year-old. The things I write about are usually things I’ve experienced (like the celebrity world while I was at Teen People) or things that happened to me during high school. I bet most writers would say that high school and college gave them their best material!

EI: Please tell our readers something about your experience as a Senior Entertainment Editor for Teen People? What was the career path that leads you to that level?

JC: I worked my way up from an associate to a senior editor over the years based on my experience and hard work. I loved working at that magazine (which is also no longer around, sadly). I felt like we really put out a magazine that appealed to all kinds of teens and covered everything they were thinking about. I loved writing about TV and movies and knowing what was coming up sixth months, or a year from now in the world of entertainment.

EI: What about your experience as an entertainment journalist for Glamour, Marie Claire and Entertainment Weekly? How did you manage to be in the limelight?

JC: Well, EW and Glamour I’ve only written for once. Marie Claire several times. I write for TV Guide sometimes and do some work for some custom publishing magazines. I love doing magazine writing. When you’re an author, it’s just yourself in a room typing and it can get a little lonely. Working on magazine pieces and doing celeb interviews makes me feel a little more connected. But as a writer, you don’t get too much attention—unless you tick somebody off!

EI: Do you think that your experience as an editor helped you succeed as a writer?

JC: Definitely. When I’m editing my books now, I love the process. I think because I came from the editing world and I’m so used to working and reworking a piece, it’s a little bit easier for me to wrap my head around changes. I can picture how I want to fix things and where I want to move different plot points.

EI: Do you still write for periodicals? What are the do's and don'ts of writing for periodicals, and how does the discipline differ from writing novels?

JC: See answer number five.

EI: What is your response to the public perception that writers’ creative insight and energy is frequently the product of personal conflict?

JC: I would say that probably is true half of the time. I’m always fascinated by people like J.K. Rowling, who created a whole new world that mesmorized readers. I know I find my best material writing from things I’ve experienced or witnessed.

EI: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

JC: I would say just keep working at it. The more you practice, the more you get down on paper, the easier the words will flow.

EI: What surprised you most about the publishing process from the writer's perspective?

Probably how much you work alone. In the magazine world, I could write an article and ten people would look at it and edit it and give me comments BEFORE I reworked the piece! As an author, you submit a broad proposal and then once it’s approved, just start writing. Someone doesn’t look at it chapter by chapter or plot point by plot point until the whole book is finished (at least in my experience).

EI: Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

JC: Sometime the middle of the book can be the hardest. I know how I want to start and I know how I want to finish it, but sometimes I get a little lost in the middle and am not quite sure how to keep the momentum going. That’s why I work off outlines as much as I can so that I stay focused. I’m not really sure what I focus more on—character or plot, but I do know I like to paint a picture of the scene so that the reader feels like he/she is there.

EI: Would you describe yourself as a confident writer, always ready to face the next new challenge? Either in front of a TV camera, famous celebrity or an editor? Do you have to psyche yourself up to try different venues?

JC: Over the years I’ve gotten used to interviewing celebrities and figuring out what you can ask and what you can’t, but sometimes when I’m about to interview a star I really like, I still do get nervous!

EI: You are well known in the writing community as the beautiful, smart, celebrity journalist. You have interviewed Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Ashton Kutcher, J. Lo, Donald Trump to name a few... and now a novelist? How do you manage being the center of public attention and the limelight?. Do you ever feel pressure or insecure, or are you able to separate all that from your own creative process?

JC: “beautiful, smart, celebrity journalist”? Wow, um, can I quote you on that? Seriously though, there are so many other writers/editors who do exactly what I do on a much bigger scale that I admire so much. I really don’t spend much time in the spotlight, let alone the limelight. In front of a flashlight, maybe, but that’s about it.

EI: When you look back on your enormously successful career as a journalist with Mademoiselle, & Teen People is there anything you would’ve done differently? If so, what and why? If not, how do you manage to move forward without regrets?

JC: I’m really happy with the experience I had at both magazines. They allowed me to do everything I dreamed of doing—let my ideas be heard, let me write about stars, travel…I couldn’t have asked for better jobs.

EI: You have articles published in different publications such Marie Claire, Glamour to name a few... Would you recommend for new writers to submit short stories to magazines to gain an understanding and acquire experience in the world of publishing? For those just discovering your work, could you briefly summarize your backlist, highlighting as you see fit? Would you please tell your fans more about it?

JC: I’m not sure I can remember every article I’ve written, but I have written for the magazines mentioned in questions above and I do have two books out now. As for magazines, I would pitch and pitch and pitch some more any magazine you want to write for. I still pitch, and get turned down, all the time! But you just have to keep submitting your ideas so that editors can see how dedicated you are. Hopefully one day one of your ideas sticks with them and they want to use it.

EI: Now... let’s shift gears here for a second. Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced to publish your first novel “Secret Of My Hollywood Life?”

JC: I was extremely fortunate that an editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers agreed to have coffee with me so that I could tell her my idea for a novel. I was even more lucky that she agreed to read the proposal, which wasn’t even written yet, when I was done. After a few months of rewrites and changes, they hired me to write Secrets I and II.

EI: What inspired you to write these cool stories? And what is your response to the public perception about your creative insight with your book? Is there anything about you that you would do differently, knowing what you do now? Are any of the characters in the story actually based on real people in your life?

JC: The characters in Secrets have traits, or experience similar things that have happened to stars I’ve interviewed over the years. That’s where the title “Secrets” came from—the secrets in the book that Kaitlin reveals are real secrets that stars have told me, over the years, about life in Hollywood.

EI: How much of ‘Kaitlin Burke is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with her character? What was your biggest challenge?

JC: I’m starting to plot out where Kaitlin might go if there is a Secrets four and I love figuring out what her next move should be. Kaitlin is almost like a real person to me at this point and I’m very careful about what I want to happen to her next.

EI: Please tell us about Kaitlin Burke, Sky Mackenzie and Drew Thomas? What was your biggest challenge in developing these characters? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

JC: Kaitlin and Sky are costars on a hot TV show that are constantly fighting over fame, jobs and guys. I wanted the two of them to have the same struggles girls in high schools all over America face, just on a much more public platform. Living in the constant glare of the spotlight has to be really difficult and I wanted readers to see that struggle that Kaitlin faces—how can she balance her uber-cool life in Hollywood with the time to do normal teen things that every girl wants to do?

Drew is supposed to be the Hollywood climber who will do anything to get his name in the papers. I’ve met quite a few Drew’s over the years…

EI: Please tell us about ' Secret of My Hollywood Life: On Location' the 2nd in the series. Would you care to share a little a bit about it?

JC: In “On Location,” Kaitlin is spending the summer shooting a movie with her favorite director, Hutch Adams and her costar, Drew Thomas, who happens to be her ex. He desperately wants to get back together so that he can get more face time in US Weekly. Kaitlin already has a new boyfriend, Austin, who is as unHollywood as they come, and she’s a bit nervous about introducing him to her world and to Drew. And of course, Sky is back to cause more mischief as well.

EI: If you were allowed total control of a Hollywood adaptation of 'Secret of My Hollywood Life', which actors would you cast? And who would you want to direct?

JC: Wow, I’d love to see Secrets on the big screen! I get this question a lot and I have to say, for Kaitlin, I love Ashley Tisdale. She just seems like she’d be perfect. Lookswise, I modeled Austin after Chad Michael Murray, but by the time, if ever, we ever do a Secrets movie, he’d probably be too old to play him!

EI: Would you give us a hint about your upcoming 3rd series “Secrets of My Hollywood Life: Family Affair, due spring 2008? What can you tell us about it?” Are there anymore wacky stories about Kaitlin’s entourage?

JC: In Secrets III, Kaitlin is happy to be back on the set of her hit TV show and can’t wait for her life to get back to normal after a hectic summer. Too bad there’s a hot, new young actress on the set who wants the spotlight all to herself. Now Kaitlin and Sky, the two sworn enemies, have to work together take down an even bigger diva than the two of them combined.

EI: Ms. Calonita, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

JC: Thank you so much for asking me! My advice is to write—as much as you can—about anything and everything. Write what you know and the words and ideas will start flowing. You never know where they’ll take you.

To learn more about Jen Calonita, please visit her at:

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