The Jaguar Stones: An Interview on the Last List Blog Hop!

I’m honored to have visitors Jon and Pamela Voelkel on the blog today, as part of the Last List Bog Hop, hosted by The Cuddlebuggery Book Blog.

J&P at Calakmul biosphere, Mexico

Cuddlebuggery organized this hop to help promote the work of 8 Middle Grade and YA authors whose book launches have been impacted by the sudden closing of their publisher, Egmont.

Thanks so much for joining us, Pamela and Jon, and congratulations on the release! I‘ve read and loved this series and loved pitching it to my students, so The Jaguar Stones: The Lost City is already on the list for our library’s next purchase. I can’t wait to read it myself!

jag final layout

Me: You’ve shared in other interviews  that your research involves plenty of travel to specific sites to learn more about the locale, the culture and the history, and that you’re committed to gaining accurate information.How does museum research differ from those on-the-ground experiences? [By the way, here’s another Last List piece that’s out today, in which Pamela talks more about travel for research.]

J&P: That’s a great question because, much as we love traveling, the only place to see ancient Maya artifacts is in a museum. Of course, there are some great museums in Central America, but there’s also plenty to see in the USA. The best exhibits (like Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed now on at Boston Museum of Science) combine amazing collections with fun interactive exhibits that give us great ideas for our school presentations. The Hidden Worlds exhibit even contains an inscribed Maya ring found by the archaeologist who fact-checks our books!

Me: How exciting! While you might not remember, Pamela, I have chatted with you on Twitter about some of your museum visits, and felt I’ve gotten to experience vicariously that feeling of awe at seeing the artifacts as you spoke about seeing them. Here’s my next question. Many of us work in isolation when we work with ideas to create a story. What is it like working on a manuscript with another person, especially a spouse?

J&P: It’s a luxury to have a writing partner who knows every aspect of the story in intricate detail (including the unwritten bits). But I do think that if we didn’t know each other so well, if we were in a writing group for example, we might be more polite when we’re thrashing out ideas. We’re both strong-willed people so things can get a little heated. More often than not, we come up with a third way that’s better than either of our original ideas. In the beginning, we used to write alternate chapters. These days, now that our characters are firmly established, we tend to work separately, with Pamela doing most of the writing and Jon doing most of the illustrating. It’s also really nice to have someone to go on school visits with – if one of us blanks or the technology breaks down, the other one can cover. Writing books together has the advantages and disadvantages of any mom and pop business; our kids have been known to complain that we worry more about our characters than we do about them!

Me:  Well, they can’t say their life is humdrum, I imagine… What was your worst moment on a research trip? Your most exciting?

J&P : The worst moments tend to be travel related. Like the time we arrived at a tiny airport after two weeks in the rainforest to discover that the airline had arbitrarily cancelled our tickets on the one and only weekly flight out. Or the hour of terror down a narrow cliffside road in the highlands of Chiapas as our a speed demon taxi driver drove in the face of oncoming traffic, passed buses on blind corners and never once put his foot on the brake. The most exciting moment was either encountering jaguar tracks or standing at the edge of a cenote (sinkhole) at dusk as three million fruit bats came out to feed. They spiraled out of a deep cave at the bottom of the sinkhole and rose up in a swirling tornado before heading off in all directions. The air was shimmering with bats and all the while shrieking hawks swooped down to pick them off for their own dinner.

Me: Wow. Maybe I need to write different sorts of books so I can have experiences like that. Then again, maybe not! The Jaguar Stones series is ending, as is your relationship with your publisher. Our deepest sympathies for your uncertainty on that. Normally, we’d ask what projects are up next, but we know that your work might be somewhat in limbo. In the best possible scenario, are there other stories waiting to come out?

J&P: Nobody becomes an author for job security! We’re feeling lucky that The Lost City was always intended to be the final book in the Jaguar Stones series, and now all four books are out and they all have beautiful new covers! We’re also grateful that Egmont are still sending us to the Tucson Festival of Books and our planned book tour in California. (Full schedule on our website.) And now it looks like Egmont have found a buyer, so hopefully, all the books and authors on their list will have a happy ending. As to the future, who knows? We’ll leave it our agent to worry about practicalities. We’re excited about our next project and we know it’s our job simply to produce the best manuscript we can. If our new book is good enough, it will find a publisher. If not, it won’t. That’s just the reality of life as a writer.

Me: Thanks so much for that. Producing the best manuscript you can has made for lots of happy readers so far! As we finish, I’d like to ask you what I ask everyone who visits on my blog. What are your favorite books to read?

J&P: As the Jaguar Stones books were inspired by a bedtime story, we’ll choose our favourite family bedtime reading. Our two older children loved Larklight by Philip Reeve and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Our youngest is obsessed with The Penderwicks. Thanks so much for sharing with us today! We wish you all the best in your next adventures, both in life and in writing your books!

Here’s more about the authors and the last book in The Jaguar Stones series:

Jon and Pamela (J&P) Voelkel are the author-illustrators of the Jaguar Stones series; Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating. Their books tell the story of a city boy and a jungle girl – a mirror image of Jon’s wild childhood in Latin America and Pamela’s altogether tamer upbringing in an English seaside town. The Voelkels met in London, where they both worked at the same advertising agency, and now live in Vermont.

To research the Jaguar Stones, they and their three adventure-loving children have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on Today.

You can connect with the Jon and Pamela here:

And last but not least, it’s all about the books! Here’s what The Lost City is about.

With his parents in jail and his best friend ignoring him, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy was pretty sure things couldn’t get much worse. But that was before a parade of Maya monsters crashed through his house and the Queen of the Bats tried to sink her fangs into his neck…

Meanwhile, down in the Maya underworld, the evil Death Lords have realized they’ll never conquer the mortal world without conquering social media. So with the bad guys on a charm offensive, it’s up to Max and his Maya friend Lola to reveal the terrible truth before it’s too late.

This epic conclusion to the Jaguar Stones series takes Max and Lola on their wildest adventure yet, north from the teeming rainforest to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.

Thanks again to the Voelkels for visiting today. Wishing you all the best!

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About vst3in

I am a writer, avid reader, library techie, birder and runner. I make felt and teach others. I love colors and textures and birds and books. I'm working on a historical novel and reading lots of books for young people. I am running to get stronger, and I sail with my husband. This blog contains thoughts about all these things.
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