Hercules was one of my favorite movies as a kid. To be honest, most Disney movies were my favorite as a kid. But I did sing “Go the Distance” for an audition when I was sixteen, so it’s safe to say that the film has always held a special place in my heart. So it should really come as no surprise that I was instantly intrigued by the newest inclusion to Disney’s A Twisted Tale collection. If you haven’t heard of the A Twisted Tale anthology series, it is a collection of “what-if” spin-offs based on your favorite Disney films, and Go the Distance gives readers a chance to explore a scenario where Megara goes on a quest to become a goddess.
Be sure to check out my interview with Jen Calonita, the author of Go the Distance, below the review!
Go the Distance is a Delightful Quest to Embark on
One of the highlights of Go the Distance is that so much of the book is centered around female friendships. Megara is assisted by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite; Megara is sent on a quest to rescue Katerina from the Underworld; the Underworld has a new (and exciting!) goddess on the scene; Megara faces the grief of losing her mother as a child. Female characters are the central force that propels the story forward. I loved that Calonita ensured that Megara’s decision to pursue becoming a goddess wasn’t solely bound to her desire to be with Hercules, but because she was worthy of becoming a goddess by her own merits.
Megara’s quest was just as fun to read, as Hercules’ quest was fun to watch. She is given the opportunity to succeed, to fail, to lean on the assistance of others, to face destiny on her own, and essentially forge her own path into the halls of Mt. Olympus. Every page brings with it new delights, and because of that, this book is 100% a page-turner. I read through it in an afternoon and I was mightly disappointed when I reached the last pages of Megara’s journey.
There is so much about this book that I would love to see expanded on at some point in the future. Calonita has such a fun and light way of writing that is easy to read and engage with. With so many iconic characters to play with, she managed to keep each and every one of Hercules’ characters perfectly in-character and I could hear their voices as I read.
Go the Distance is a Young Adult book that is perfect for the young adult or an adult like myself who loves reading new tales about their favorite Disney characters. The whole A Twisted Tale collection is a must-read, but I have a particular soft spot for Jen Calonita’s twisted tales.
A Chat with Go The Distance Author Jen Calonita
Maggie Lovitt (ML): I rewatched Hercules while reading Go the Distance and you nailed every character’s voice. Approximately how many times did you rewatch Hercules while writing?
Jen Calonita (JC): When I'm working on A Twisted Tale book, I tend to rewatch the source material a lot! I love to get the characters' voices in my head so I can hear them when I'm writing a new story. Phil–aka Danny DeVito — was particularly fun to write, as was Hades — aka James Woods — of course!
ML: When it comes to writing a book, are you someone who wants to start putting pen to paper (or words to a Google doc) as soon as you have an idea, or are you an outliner?
JC: I'm an outliner. I'm actually a post-it note outliner! I spend weeks jotting down story ideas on post-it notes and stick them all on a foam board. Then after a few weeks, I stare at all the ideas on the board and start to move them around till a story starts to take shape. I think of every book like a puzzle and it's my job to figure out where all the pieces belong. An outline definitely helps me do that.
ML: What were some of your favorite aspects of Hercules that you were able to include in Go the Distance? Are there any that you wish you could’ve included, but weren’t able to?
JC: I loved working in the Fates and finding ways to take a single line — like the one Hades tosses to Meg when he's talking about how he got a hold of her soul — and turning it into a whole storyline. Figuring out who Meg's first love was and why she would have given up her soul for him was so intriguing to me. As for anything I wanted to include but couldn't, I did originally have more lines for Pain and Panic, but they didn't really work so I had to pull back a bit.
ML: Were there any resources outside of Hercules that you used while writing Go the Distance?
JC: Absolutely. I studied up on a lot of Greek myths and actually borrowed my high schooler's Greek mythology book he was studying! I loved reading up on the 12 Trials of Hercules and figuring out a way to work some of them into Meg's journey.
ML: Megara may be a damsel, she may be in distress, but she’s no damsel in distress. When you were writing Go the Distance, how did you keep Megara’s spunk and ethos true to her Hercules persona?
JC: Meg is such a strong female character with amazing lines and a distinct personality that I really wanted to showcase in the book. She's also someone who has been burned by love before so I tried to find a way to show how conflicted she was about having this sudden happiness with Hercules after all that had happened. She almost doesn't believe it's possible.
ML: I loved that so much of the story centered around female characters. Was this an intentional choice, or something that evolved as you started writing?
JC: Yes. The movie Hercules followed Wonder Boy's journey. This story is Meg's first and foremost. If she wants to be with Wonder Boy, she has to take on the challenge of an epic quest and along the way she gets guidance from Hera, Athena, and other gods. I love that this story has so much girl power!
ML: I have always balked at the fact that the goddess of spring is nowhere to be found in Hercules, so thank you for including her in Go the Distance. I would love to see the Persephone and Hades story you created explored further someday. What inspired you to include Persephone in your story?
JC: Thank you! The more I read about Hades, and Greek myths, the more I knew I had to include Persephone. She's such an important part of this story, I don't want to give too much away. I will say that readers who pick up the Barnes and Noble exclusive version of Go the Distance will find a bonus chapter written from Persephone's point of view.
ML: You have written two other novels for the “Twisted Tale” series, do you have any other characters you’d like to explore for the series?
JC: Honestly it's a privilege to be trusted with any Disney film and character! I'm always up for trying a new A Twisted Tale and I love reading the other books in the series written by Liz Braswell and Elizabeth Lim. We try to create stories the fans can really get behind and I'm always hopeful they will love the twists we come up with.
ML: I noticed on the back flap of the book that you have dogs named Captain Jack Sparrow and Ben Kenobi… are those Disney properties that you would like to write for one day?
JC: We are such a Disney family! We got our chihuahua Jack right after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out. My husband and I were such huge fans. Then a few years ago we rescued a second chihuahua puppy and my kids wanted to name him. Everyone in the house loves Star Wars so wanted to give him a name from the films. I couldn't imagine yelling for “Obi-Wan” so we chose Ben as his name instead! I'm such a fan of Star Wars, Marvel, Pirates…basically I love everything Disney comes up with so I'm always up for writing about those properties as well.
ML: Once Go the Distance comes out, what’s next for you?
JC: I'm kicking off a new middle-grade Disney series called the Lost Legends and the first book will focus on a 12-year-old orphan who goes by the name of Eugene Fitzherbert. You might know him better as Flynn Rider! I can't wait for people to meet young Eugene/Flynn. The Rise of Flynn Rider comes out this September.
You can pre-order Go the Distance today or pick it up at your local bookstore on April 6th, 2021.