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Conceal, Don’t Feel: Interview with Jen Calonita

As we have discussed, your stories pay homage to the classic Disney tales we know and love while simultaneously writing old characters into new adventures, as well as introducing us to new characters. How do you strike the balance between “out with the old and in with the new”?

You want to stay true to the characters readers love, of course, but it’s also important to throw them into new situations that make the story feel fresh. With Snow White, I loved the idea of her saving the prince and I wanted her to have a hand in defeating the Evil Queen herself. With Anna and Elsa, their story is so wrapped up in their love for one another as sisters. It made me wonder what would happen if the two of them didn’t know they were sisters. How would their love overcome that obstacle and bring them back to one another? 

We love that you included references to the Joan of Arc portrait and Anna’s love of sandwiches. What are some of your favorite tidbits from Frozen that you chose to include?

Oh, I love that Joan of Arc portrait! And Anna’s love of sandwiches! There are so many moments in the film that feel too iconic not to include (the above two included). I wanted to make sure we included “Marshmallow” (the snow monster at Elsa’s castle) and Wandering Oaken’s and Grand Pabbie’s troll family as well as Kristoff and Sven’s “unusual” relationship. I wanted to include it all!

In terms of maintaining some of the “old”, you capture the spirit of the characters as we have come to know them in Disney’s films. For example, in Conceal, Don’t Feel, Anna remains whimsically wonderful, and Olaf’s jokes are in sync with those he makes in Frozen. Was it important for you to maintain the same “feel” of the classic Disney characters, and if so, why?

I really appreciate you saying that because it was so important to me that the characters remained true to themselves while going on new journeys. It just didn’t seem possible to create a new story for our favorite characters without keeping Olaf’s childlike wonder or Anna’s goofy-but-upbeat nature. Those characteristics that the filmmakers gave me are what we fell in love with the first time around. I wanted to make sure that rang true in the book as well.

Your heroines are strong, independent women – and perhaps they have always been – though you give them a more pronounced, confident voice. An obvious example is Snow and Elsa openly engaging in trade negotiations as part of their Calonita stories. I also love this extract I pulled from Conceal, Don’t Feel: “As she suspected, no answers came. She would have to figure this out on her own.” Was communicating these qualities for your heroines to your readers a conscious decision you made before you began writing?

Thank you for saying that. It was important to me that Elsa and Snow came across as confident women in charge of their own destinies. We truly see a different side of Snow in Mirror, Mirror because this time around, she’s awake and aware of the Evil Queen’s intentions for her kingdom. She won’t allow the Evil Queen to continue her reign. Her voice is a powerful tool in rallying the kingdom to help her fight while in Conceal, Don’t Feel, we get to see Elsa learning a lot about ruling from her father. It was fun to get to create new moments for Elsa where we could see her learning how to rule and being a part of the decisions that would shape her kingdom.

Similarly, you give the King and Queen of Arendelle much bigger roles than the film gives them – particularly the Queen. It was so refreshing to see a multidimensional mother figure emerge in your story! How and why did you chose to develop these characters in the way they appear in Conceal, Don’t Feel?

Not to give too much away, but the twist to the story sends the queen on a very difficult path that I think readers will enjoy. As a mom myself, I could really feel for Queen Iduna’s plight in Conceal, Don’t Feel, and I was constantly trying to put myself in her shoes to see how she’d react. I even got to write a scene from the queen’s point of view, which is included in the exclusive Barnes and Noble edition of the book. 

The way the chapters are broken up between Elsa and Anna also conveys a profound sense of separation between the characters. Did you always plan on structuring Conceal, Don’t Feel this way?

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted both Anna and Elsa to tell this story, but since the twist to the story keeps the sisters apart, their separation was necessary. At first, that made me nervous—it’s so much fun watching Elsa and Anna play off each other. But for this story, the separation allowed me to explore their innermost thoughts and fears in a new way. I figured, if the separation worked well in one of my favorite movies (Sleepless in Seattle), it could work here as well! And as always, the girls’ love for one another eventually leads them home. 

How did your writing and research approaches to Conceal, Don’t Feel differ from Mirror, Mirror, if at all?

With Mirror, Mirror, I got to create a whole backstory for the Evil Queen that did not exist before. We meet her as a young girl and learn she’s actually Snow’s mother’s sister. The two girls’ heartbreaking childhood sends both of them on different paths—The Evil Queen eventually becoming obsessed with power and greed while Snow’s mom is kind and caring to her subjects. Watching Snow grow up in the Evil Queen’s shadow made for an interesting story. But with Frozen, I was taking a familiar story that I loved so much and spinning it out in a new way. 

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