Happy Valentine’s Day! “How Not to Kill Your Co-Author” by the Voelkels

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.03.18 PMIn February of 2009 I visited the monarch overwintering grounds in Central Mexico and had the opportunity to work with many Mesoamericans.  When I stumbled on Jon and Pamela Voelkel’s Jaguar Stones series after that trip, I was immediately hooked.  A rip-roaring adventure set in Central America, the series is perfect for middle grade and YA readers who also love Rick Riordan’s books.  The fourth book in the series, The Jaguar Stones: The Lost Cityis available now!

I met Jon and Pam at NCTE this year, after many years of chatting about monarchs on Twitter and just missing each other at various conferences.  They are just as wonderful as you would imagine! Jon and Pamela were kind enough to stop by the blog today and in honor of Valentine’s Day they are writing about their relationship as co-authors.


 

HOW NOT TO KILL YOUR CO-AUTHOR

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Pamela Voelkel, co-author (with her husband, Jon) of the Jaguar Stones series, reveals her hard-won secrets of working in relative harmony

One night, just when we’d started thinking about writing a book together, Jon and I went to a book launch at our local bookstore. The authors were Melinda and Robert Blanchard, owners of a restaurant in Anguilla and a salad dressing business in our little town. Their talk mesmerized me. They said they’d always been prepared to work longer and harder than everyone else, but their big advantage was that, being a couple, they could pursue their dream twenty-four hours a day. As Jon and I walked home through the rain, I figured that formula could work for us too.

We’d worked together before in advertising, but never in the same department or even on the same floor. I was the Creative Director, he was the Planning Director. The idea of writing a book was all his. It was based on a series of bedtime stories he used to tell our three children, which in turn had grown out of stories from his own childhood in Latin America. Jon wrote the first draft, which was like a junior James Bond, full of explosions, very little conversation and no female characters. But I loved the story about a city boy lost in the Maya rainforest – and it seemed to me that middle-schoolers would love it too.

We passed the manuscript back and forth for months, Jon writing the action scenes, me concentrating on dialogue and characters. We must have written that first draft twenty or thirty times. Along the way, we read books about the Maya and travelled in the rainforest. Then we discovered that Maya archaeology had moved on and the books were out of date, so we had to start again. It really helped to have two of us to share the required reading.

J&P wedding pic

This is one of our wonderfully wacky wedding photos. We got married in Bogota, Colombia, and the photographer neglected to mention that he’d be dropping in random backgrounds. Other shots show us standing in fields of flowers and on mountaintops at sunset, but this one is the tackiest. You can see the photographer in the mirror. And by the way, please admire my rock-hard helmet of hair, courtesy of a local beauty salon. It’s the most uncomfortable wedding photo ever!

Do we ever want to kill each other? Only every single time we debate plot points. But more often than not, we settle on a third way that comes out of the logic of the story. We’re both bossy, opinionated people and, if I’m honest, we can lock horns about anything. We’re like that couple in Woody Allen’s Radio Days. “You’re wrong, I tell you. The Atlantic is greater than the Pacific.” So maybe it’s good that we can channel our differing points of view into one narrative. I hope that the force of our feelings strengthens the story. Where solo authors have to listen to voices in their head, we can talk out loud in the kitchen. Our children sometimes complain that we refer to our characters as if they were members of the family. Which, of course, to us, they are.

For all my argumentative ways, I’m not a confident person. I don’t think I would have survived the rocky road to publication on my own. Even back in my advertising days, what I loved most was working in teams and trading ideas and brainstorming. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy book tours on my own, or presenting in schools. It’s so great to have someone who can cover for you when you forget what to say, or who can keep talking while you hunt for the dongle. Plus it’s much more fun to have a co-author to eat dinner with in the hotel at the end of the day.

These days, our roles have diverged slightly, which gives us a little more breathing room. Now Jon does most of the illustrating and I do most of the writing. He has a passion for ancient Maya glyphs, I have a passion for modern Maya culture. But we will always have one thing in common. Neither of us ever, ever, says: ”No. It can’t be done.”

We totally believe that between us, if we put our minds to it, we can do anything, ANYTHING. We have never forgotten that rainy night when we listened to the Blanchards at our local bookstore and vowed to dream big and work hard and stick to our guns and find a way to tell the story that was in our heads. Now our books are in that very same bookstore window.

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

I was intrigued by the cover of You Are My Only when I saw it on the Egmont table at BEA. I flipped it over to read the blurb and was immediately taken in. I am a crime buff- Law and Order addict, news junkie, you name it. I knew You Are My Only was a book for me.

This is a dual narrative.  The chapters alternate between two seemingly independent stories and I was equally taken by both.  It’s obvious that the stories will intersect at some point, but it’s unclear how that merger will come about.  I kept thinking I had it figured out, but Kephart kept me on my toes.

Emmy Rane is married at nineteen and has a baby by twenty.  She is trapped in a loveless marriage, feeling more useless as each day goes by.  Her singular joy in life is Baby.  While she struggles to be  the best mom she can be, she does a great job.  But everything changes the day that she leaves Baby in the yard for a few seconds while she runs into the house.  When she returns to the yard, Baby is gone.  All that remains is a single sock.  She spends the rest of her life blaming herself for Baby’s kidnapping and what she assumes is her eventual death.

Sophie is fourteen years old and homeschooled by a somewhat eccentric mother.  They move constantly, always trying to hide from what her mother refers to as “the No Good”.  But their latest home is different.  Sophie befriends the boy next door, gaining her first real friend.  His elderly aunts treat her as their own and soon Sophie is sneaking out of the house to spend time with them, always worried that her mother will find out and whisk them away to a new home.

This isn’t an action-filled book, despite the blurb.  It’s quiet, meditative.  Both narrative arcs are engrossing.  I found myself loving each story individually.  Whenever the narrative changed I would be upset leaving that character behind. But then, within a few sentences, I was equally as engrossed in the alternate story.  Kephart chooses her words carefully and the prose is gorgeous.  I found myself savoring each descriptive sentence while fighting the urge to fly through the book to reach the conclusion.

Highly recommended.  Available in October.

*copy received at BEA

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