In 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 City, is 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.
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.