I recently had the opportunity to read and review Jennifer Caloyeras’ new novel, Strays. She generously sent me a copy and answered a few questions for me. Now she’d like to give one of you a copy of her book – for FREE! All you have to do is, in the Facebook comments section, tell us your best story about a stray. On Sunday we’ll pick a winner, so keep an eye on your “other” inbox!
Without giving away too much of the story (I hate spoilers), here is a mini review:
Iris Moody is withdrawn and angry – your typical sullen teenager, right? Well, like most teens, she has every right to be feeling temperamental. She’s misunderstood, underappreciated, and finding herself in tumultuous situations that make her yearn to be anywhere but here.
Iris is incredibly perceptive and wise, but lacking in the self-awareness and confidence she needs to help cope with life’s ever-mounting quandaries. She’s terrified of dogs – particularly pit bulls. But perhaps her encounter with a pit bull is just the catalyst she needs to take control of her life…
I also had the chance to chat with Jennifer and ask a few questions:
Melanie: What compelled you to write a story involving stray dogs – particularly a pit bull? Are you involved in animal rescue?
Jennifer: There were a few circumstances that led to this particular novel being written. I was writing the dog column for the Los Feliz Ledger eight years ago when I came across a non-profit based in Santa Monica called K-9 Connection. They take at-risk youth and pair them with rescue dogs that need to be trained. I thought this was a really compelling coupling that would make a great premise for a young adult novel. I was also an owner of an aggressive pit-mix named Willie, so I knew firsthand what it was like to work with this kind of dog and all of the emotions that go along with that.
M: Do you see a bit of yourself in Iris? Are any of the characters or events based on people or experiences in your life?
J: I think I tend to take more of the emotional impact of a situation and add it to my books rather than an actual situation. Iris has issues dealing with her anger, but unlike Roman, the three-legged pit bull in the story, she tends to keep her anger inside until it festers. I think I tend to do the same. I’m working on it! I definitely share Iris’s love of literature and her appreciation of a good teacher. I’ve been lucky enough to have so many wonderful teachers throughout my life.
M: What was your writing process for Strays? Did you develop Iris’ character first, and then create a plot, or did you mold your characters around a story?
J: I had a vague notion of what the plot would look like, but it wasn’t until Iris’s character was really hammered out that knew the details of where the plot had to go in order to best tell her story. The sub plot involving her summer school English teacher, Perry, who introduces her to Angela Carter’s short fiction stories as a means to further understand her own story, wasn’t added until after a complete draft was written. I tend to write in layers. The prime story first and then I’ll add additional threads that support the main narrative.
M: Both Strays and your other young adult novel Urban Falcon focus on 16-year-olds. Is there something about this particular age that has left an impression upon you?
J: I think the teenage years in general are often a time of “firsts.” First kiss. First relationship. There’s an identity search that happens during these years that fascinates me. There’s also a sense of urgency – every emotion seems heightened due to hormones but also because life starts coming at you so quickly in high school.
M: Who do you feel were the most inspirational writers when you were 16? Who are your favorites now?
J: I always loved everything we read in English class. I remember being particularly moved by John Gardner’s Grendel, which tells the story of Beowolf from the monster’s point of view. I became fascinated by the stories of the “other” – those that are marginalized. This became a thread I followed throughout my academic life in college and in graduate school. In high school, I loved anything written by Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I still have my copies of these books on my shelf and I love seeing what I wrote in the margins as a high school student. It gives me such great insight as to who I was back then and what I thought was important.
I still love all of those books to this day. I am an avid reader (check out my Goodreads page!) and I read everything from novels to young adult to short fiction collections. I particularly love Lorrie Moore, George Saunders and John Ashbury’s poetry. I just finished A.M. Homes’s May We Be Forgiven and I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. In the YA world, David Arnold’s Mosquitoland is sitting on my bookshelf and I can’t wait to read it!
M: Do you see yourself writing any future books about dogs?
J: I think that dogs are so ubiquitous, I’m sure another dog will make an appearance in a future novel. As for a novel set around a particular dog, I’m not so sure.
M: What’s the best memory you have about a dog?
J: There are too many to recount! I’ve been lucky to have had so many great dogs in my life! (In fact, I even dedicated my novel, Strays, to the dogs in my life.) I particularly love hiking with my dogs. There’s nothing better than seeing pure joy on my dogs’ faces!
To purchase Strays, please click here.
To learn more about Jennifer, please visit her website: www.jennifercaloyeras.com
Here are her other social media outlets:
Twitter: @jencaloyeras <https://twitter.com/jencaloyeras>