Sunday, January 24, 2016

week #3 - Character Development

It’s no secret that plot and character development are the keys to writing great fiction. Today, I wanted to focus on character.

There’s an arc that needs to happen with the characters you write, whether your writing a 400-page novel or a ten-page short story. The character has to change. This doesn’t mean they have to become better or learn something (although this can be satisfying for a reader)  but they do have to begin one way and end another way.

(An example of how a character can start on a high note but end on a low note can be found in my short story, Plush, originally published in Booth Literary in February, 2014. Here, the main character goes from being full of pride, boasting that he ranked as the number one cuddler at his job to feeling defeated by the end of the story, when he realizes how immobile his life really is.)

One great tip that is oft repeated is to make sure your likeable characters have an unlikeable trait and that your antagonists have something we can all relate to. This ensure that you are writing well-rounded characters.

But where does one get the inspiration for their characters? The answer is simple: all around us.

Writing can be a primarily private exercise. This is why I have loved my time at the Annenberg. It has transformed the privatization of my writing life into a public engagement. I am used to being at my home office, sometimes in pajamas, shutting out the the rest of the world, so that I can better enter the world in my head. But you can’t write in a bubble forever. And I think that one of the best strategies to overcome writer’s block is to get out into the world and observe. Writers are like ornithologists tracking birds - like Jane Goodall following primates. We are the recorders of human behavior in all of its grit and glory.

I spend a good amount of my time here on the veranda overlooking the beach. People pass by the beach path on bike, segway (the non self-igniting kind), roller skates and on foot. Each person I see could easily turn into a character if I took the time to flesh them out. One woman that particularly struck me the other day was dancing her way down the bike path. Dancing! I had to know more.

What kind of music was she listening to?
Did she dance around all the time or just on this bike path?
Did anyone ever tell her to stop?
Did she do this often or was today the first day she was inspired to dance?
Had she been formally trained as a dancer?

It doesn’t matter what the real answers are to these questions. I am a fiction writer. I get to fill in the lines. She is someone who will stick with me for a long time and should you find a woman dancing through life in the pages of my next book – you’ll know who inspired it.

In the meantime, here are some tools for writing memorable characters:

Writing Prompt:
I hope I get a chance to meet some of you at my first office hours on Monday, January 25th from 11-2. Feel free to bring in anything you're working on (ideas or on paper). I’ve offered a possible writing prompt at the end of my last blog entry or riffing off of today’s entry, feel free to come in with a character description and we can talk about your character and how they will change over the course of your story.

Please note: My office hours on Monday February 15th have been CANCELLED and instead I will hold office hours that week on Thursday, February 18th from 11-2. Please make note of this change.

Monday, January 18, 2016

week #2 - Dog Day Afternoons


There aren’t supposed to be dogs on the beach (except in the case of service dogs.)

But they come in droves in the morning and evening. On leash. Off leash. Greeting each other with a sniff.

There is something so satisfying seeing a dog run free on a beach. (I’m not encouraging it; I’m simply making an observation. ) It brings out their feral side - the part of a dog that just is without us having to push anything on them. Not a bright red rubber chew toy. Not a prize-winning haircut. And certainly not a dog stroller.

Here are my two rescue dogs, Dingo (1 1/2 years old) and Reba (12 years old).

Over eleven years ago, I began writing the dog column for the Los Feliz Ledger. It was a way for me to become involved in my local community at the time as well as learn more about the puppy I had recently adopted from the South Los Angeles animal shelter.

Somewhere along the line, I wrote a column about the K-9Connections program in Santa Monica, which planted the seeds for a novel that would later bloom into my second young adult novel, Strays, published in May 2015.

Strays deals with a teenage girl with anger management issues who is sentenced to a summer rehabilitating aggressive dogs. It follows the evolution of her relationship with a pit bull named Roman and traces the symbiotic nature of the friendship they develop.

It feels only natural then that my first event at the Annenberg involve dogs.

 Please join me Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 6:30 pm for Animal and Human Partnerships: On the Page and in the Real World.

See below for the event description:

Stories featuring the human-animal bond are well represented in literature. What makes these stories so compelling? How do they play out in real life? Join three members of the community as they discuss the educational and social impact when dogs are paired with people facing challenges. Jennifer Caloyeras is the author of the novel, Strays, which explores a girl with anger management issues who is sentenced to a summer rehabilitating aggressive dogs. Dr. Bidhan Roy is a professor at Cal State Los Angeles and a volunteer at Paws for Life and WordsUncaged where he teaches inmates at Lancaster Maximum Security Prison. In this program, both students and inmates hone their writing skills and work with training rescue dogs. Juliet Beynon serves as Project Director at k-9 connection, an OPCC project based in Santa Monica, where teens get a chance to break through life barriers by training and bonding with homeless dogs. 

Click here to register for this event.

I am thrilled to announce that Strays was nominated for a Dog Writers Association of America DWAA Pat Santi Memorial Friends of Rescue award! I looking forward to being in a room full of dog writers at the awards ceremony in New York.  

And please remember, I will be holding my first office hours on Monday, January 25th from 11-2 in my artist in residency office in the Marion Davies beach house. Stuck on what to write? Bring me a short paragraph about how you were united with your rescue dog! We can go over it together and then I will feature it on my "Meet the Dogs" section of my blog. I'd be more than happy to look at any other writing or discuss a project during my office hours.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Greetings from my Beachside Office

Hello! My name is Jennifer Caloyeras and I am thrilled to be the current writer in residence at the Annenberg Community Beach House.

 My second young adult novel, Strays, was released in May, 2015. My short stories have been published in Booth, Storm Cellar and other literary magazines. I hold a M.A. in English from Cal State Los Angeles and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. I am a Los Angeles native and I’ve always had a close connection with Santa Monica; it’s where I went to high school and where my children currently go to elementary school. I will be spending my time at the beach house working on my first adult novel, currently titled, Time May Change Me, about a mother grappling with raising her transgender daughter. I am so excited to be here!

The anticipation of spending each day at the beach got me thinking about novels set at the beach. The ones that immediately come to mind are: the fisherman’s struggle off the coast of Florida in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the great white shark in Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Scotland’s Isle of Skye in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, one of my childhood favorites, Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and more recently, representations of Cape Cod in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. I set my own novel, Strays, along the California coastline in Santa Cruz.

Recalling an image of the beach doesn’t conjure the same image for everyone. Beaches can be as vast and varying as people - with or without berms, rocks, sand, dunes, grass, inhabitants. The beach always seems to signify some sort of border - between human and nature, continent and abyss. The beach is simultaneously a beginning and an end. 

Whatever your imagined beach looks likes, I look forward to sharing this beach in Santa Monica with you for the duration of my tenure. Please come visit me at office hours starting on January 25th from 11-2. (and Mondays thereafter, with the exception of February 15th, which will be moved to a different day.)

Here are some other places to find me on social media:

My author website

Twitter: Jencaloyeras
My Facebook author page

What book beaches have had the greatest impact on you?

p.s. Saturday, January 16th 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Santa Clarita Public Library

I will be participating in the third annual Celebration of Local Authors at the Santa Clarita Public Library on January 16th from 10 - 3. There will be panels, readings and activities for children and adults. Stop by and say hello! I will be speaking on the young adult panel from 10:15-10:45 in the community room.