Thursday, April 22, 2021

Interview: Author Jen Calonita Talks Meg’s Journey To Become a Greek God in ‘Go the Distance’ [EXCLUSIVE]

What if instead of Hercules becoming mortal, Meg is sent on a quest to become a god so she can join Hercules on Mount Olympus? That’s the premise behind the latest installment in Disney Book’s A Twisted Tale series, Go the Distance written by Jen Calonita. Meg embarks on a journey set by her for Hera and learns about herself and faces her past while panning for her future. She’s joined by some familiar faces along the way and meets a few new ones that will impact her story more than she knows. We were able to chat with Calonita about bringing Meg’s story to life, the twists and turns, and Greek mythology! Check out the interview below.

Nerds and Beyond: This is now your third book within the A Twisted Tale series, congratulations. What was the research process like for Meg’s tale, both for the character and the historical elements?

Jen Calonita: The minute I knew I was going to get to tackle Hercules, I ran to the bookstore to get a Greek mythology overview book! And then I marked it up and read it cover to cover. There are so many incredible Greek myths, and so many stories you can pull from. I almost had too much to work with and then had to pull back! For Meg, it involved a lot of rewatching Hercules and catching things about the characters I hadn’t noticed before.  

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Nerds and Beyond: You do a fantastic job of really fleshing out Meg’s character and her past in a way that feels natural to the flow of the book. Did you find it difficult to work those memories into her ongoing journey?

Calonita: Thank you! Well, as a writer, you always worry about how you’re going to introduce flashbacks — you don’t want to throw the readers with the timeline —  but for Meg, it felt so necessary. When we meet her in the movie, she is Hades’ charge, right? She’s sold her soul and now she’s working for him. So who was she before she started working for Hades? We don’t see that in the movie, so creating Meg’s story felt very important. How did her own childhood and her own lost loves play into the character we meet in the film? 

Nerds and Beyond: Confession, I rewatched Hercules immediately after reading the book, and I love how you created Meg’s entire story of losing her soul from one small line Hades says. What was the process like to build her whole story from that little moment in the movie?

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Calonita: Ahh…that was a gem I couldn’t pass up! The minute I rewatched the film and saw that scene — where Hades reminds Meg that he owns her, so to speak, as she gave up her soul for her boyfriend who then turned around and moved on to someone else — I knew I had to use it. How crushing to think the man you loved dropped you the second you gave up everything for him. Is there more to the story? Is Hades telling Meg the truth? What doesn’t Meg know? That was so much fun to figure out.

Nerds and Beyond: Meg is joined by Pegasus and Phil on her quest. Did you know from the start that you wanted them to be part of her story?

Calonita: Absolutely. Pegasus is Hercules’ best bud, so to speak, and I knew any journey Meg went on would be aided by a pegasus at her side. (It’s easier to get around ancient Greece when you have transportation!) I just knew Hercules would lend her Pegasus. Just like I knew with Meg going on a quest, that Hercules would suggest she meet up with Phil. Meg isn’t thrilled about that part. Her and Phil aren’t the best of friends so they both have to open up to one another in this book. 

Nerds and Beyond: She also has quite a connection to music throughout the story which I really enjoyed. What inspired that aspect?

Calonita: Music and the arts is such a big part of Greek mythology and when I stumbled across a story saying Athena might have been the one who inspired the flute, I knew I had to find a way to work it into the story. 

Nerds and Beyond: How did you come up with the three tasks for Meg’s quest? 

Calonita: All quests involve tasks and three is such a crucial number. It felt fitting! But truthfully, Meg needed to overcome several obstacles in order to learn more about herself and her love for Hercules. I feel like each task in the story teaches her something new about herself.  

Nerds and Beyond: I loved how you worked in the mythological story of Hades and Persephone. What inspired that wonderful little twist?

Calonita: Hades is such a fun villain in the Disney universe. I hear James Woods’ voice, and as much as we’re supposed to fear the God of the Underworld, we also can’t help but laugh. He talks fast, he’s cracking wisecracks, he’s amusing. And so it felt fitting that if he was going to have a hand in Meg’s new story, he needed his own. And we needed to still find him hard to hate. Thankfully Hades and Persephone have a long history in Greek mythology so I was able to work that into this story. 

Nerds and Beyond: Continuing with that, we also meet several other gods on Meg’s journey. How did you decide who would be invested in her quest? Were any of them personal favorites from mythology?

Calonita: I’ve always loved Athena. I knew no epic quest would be complete without her, but it was fun to draw on some other Greek gods whose jobs really fit into Meg’s story. But I don’t want to give too much away…

Nerds and Beyond: Meg undergoes some amazing character development that still felt true to her spunky personality. How did you balance growing her character while also retaining those parts of her personality we know and love from the original movie?

Calonita: It’s funny, but you know how some actors who play a famous character — like Spider-Man — will say they never watch the other Spider-Man actors in the role so they can create their own? I feel like I was constantly pulling up clips of Meg from Hercules and watching and rewatching them to try to really nail her perfect attitude. She’s so self-assured, and sarcastic at times, and I wanted that to come across. But we needed to find her vulnerable side too. 

Nerds and Beyond: Other than Meg, was there any particular character you really enjoyed writing?

Calonita: Phil! And Hades! Both of them, really. Hearing Danny Devito and James Woods in your head is pretty funny. After a while, their lines could almost write themselves. 

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers will take away from Go the Distance?

Calonita: I hope readers will see that I love the story of Hercules, and Meg, as much as they do. I’m a true fan of all things Disney, so to have the chance to get to put a twist on a movie I know and love means so much to me. I just really hope they embrace this story about Meg. It’s so much fun to see her take center stage. 

Nerds and Beyond: If you could tackle another character for the A Twisted Tales series in the future, who would you choose and why?

Calonita: Hmm…I do think it would be fun to tackle Tarzan and write it from Jane’s point of view. I have also always been an Enchanted fan and I’d love to know more about Giselle and her backstory. 

Nerds and Beyond: What’s next for you once Go the Distance is out in the world?

Calonita: I’m thrilled to be working on a new series with Disney called the Lost Legends. Each book focuses on a different male Disney hero at age 12 and the first book is called The Rise of Flynn Rider. We’re going to see how Eugene Fitzherbert becomes the guy we love in Tangled. It was the most fun I ever had working on a book.

Go the Distance is available now for pre-order and will be available everywhere on April 6. Also be sure to check out our review of Go the Distance!

Brianna
Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09

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