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.

The Gift of Reading: Guest Post from Pamela Voelkel

A special guest post from Pamela Voelkel

For me as a child in England, reading was a solitary pleasure. It took me where I wanted to be, which was away from my family. We didn’t have many books in the house, just a guide to window-dressing, an anthology of animal stories, a children’s atlas and a book of 365 stories sent over by my aunt in California (which gave me my lifelong obsession with galoshes, both the word and the overshoe concept).

My grandparents had a big old glass-fronted bookcase, filled with beautifully bound classics like Dickens, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Little Women and the Angela Brazil schoolgirl stories. I ploughed manfully through them all, loving the feel of the books and the way the illustrations were called “plates”, and the gold type on their spines, even when I didn’t love the stories. After my grandparents died, the bookcase was sold and I cried for it. As surely as Professor Diggory’s wardrobe led to Narnia, that bookcase had been my door to another world. So I never associated reading with togetherness or cosiness; for me, it was about escape.

Then I grew up, got married, and had a baby who didn’t sleep for the first five years. Reading with him was the only thing that kept me sane, and soon we’d amassed a huge library of picture books, many of them about diggers and bulldozers. Two more children followed, girls this time, and the books acquired a pinker, more glittery tinge. But everyone agreed on the family favorites: The Owl Babies, The Runaway Beard, Dinosaur Bob, The Cats of Mrs Calamari, Arnie the Doughnut, and Mr Popper’s Penguins.

Bedtime reading was my favorite part of the day and I dreaded the time when the kids would grow out of it.
But guess what? At seventeen and fourteen, our oldest kids are still not too old for a book at bedtime. Sure, they often have too much homework or better things to do. But when we can, we prop up the pillows and read together as lovely lazy luxury.

Of course, my husband and son dive into Bernard Cornwell or Philip Reeve instead of books about diggers. Our older daughter has long abandoned fairytale princesses in favor of the harsh realities of Suzanne Collins and Laurie Halse Anderson. (Sometimes, if the realities are too uncomfortably harsh, we read them separately and talk about them at bedtime.) But the pleasures of reading aloud are the same as they always were.

And that’s been the revelation for me.

That no matter how frenzied the day nor how snarky the dinner conversation, books bring us together again. Today, instead of loving books for letting me escape as I did as a child, I love them for grounding me in the precious here and now. Books begin new conversations with my kids, they give us shared ground, and they open the way for sleepy confidences that would never be aired in the bright light of morning.

Pamela Voelkel is one half of the writing duo behind The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld and The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club

The End of the World Club (Jaguar Stones #2) by J&P Voelkel

The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club is the second book in J&P Voelkel’s Jaquar Stones series. I read the first book right after it was published by Egmont and absolutely loved it. It’s fresh take on a part of history that a lot of tweens/teens are not familiar with. My connection with monarch butterflies and Mexico also helped me to fall in love with the Mayan setting of the series.

The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club will be published at the end of this month. Just as exciting as the first book in the series, this time the series moves to Spain. However, Mayan folklore continues to be woven throughout the story,despite the change in venue. And the The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club is full of adventure! I actually found myself enjoying Max and Lola more in this book. Maybe because they were both out of their comfort zones and running amok in Spain, maybe because I knew the back story and just fell into the story this time. Regardless, both of them grew on me a lot.

Don’t worry- this book is full of laughs, too. In many ways, the series reminds me of Rick Riordan’s writing. Full of adventure, laughs, and interesting history, I would not hesitate to hand the Jaguar Stones books to readers who are waiting for Riordan’s next book. The history is fascinating, the Mayans folklore is just “gross” enough, and the characters will make you laugh out loud. (Come on, a king and a queen stuck in the bodies of monkeys? How do you not burst out laughing?)

Highly recommended for tween/teen readers.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of publicist

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