Jon and Pamela Voelkel trekked out of the jungle to drop by the virtual offices of Manga Maniac Cafe and chat about their thrilling adventure, The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld. Read on to learn more about protagonist Max Murphy, the rainforest, and their plans for future installments of the story.
Describe yourselves in 140 characters or less.
Writers, illustrators, Maya geeks, adventurers, parents, and demon scrabble players.
Can you tell us a little about your new book, The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld?
It’s a nail-biting but also funny adventure story, set in central America. The hero is a city boy from Boston, Massachusetts called Max Murphy. When he finds himself lost and alone in the perilous rainforest, he’s rescued by the heroine, a modern Maya girl called Lola. Together Max and Lola embark on a quest to solve a mystery involving ancient Maya magic, a mighty king, and the twelve Lords of Death. Along the way, they discover much about each other – and themselves.
How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
The story for Middleworld partly came out of Jon’s childhood in South and Central America, and partly from a bedtime story he made up for our children called The Monkey Girl. We wanted to put a boy from a big city – who spends his time plugged into iPods, laptops and video games – into an alien environment and have him discover that there are many different ways to live your life. It was important to us that the smartest person in the book is Lola, a modern Maya girl. She’s based on some of the women we’ve met on our travels in Central America; she’s fearless, practical and extremely clever. But she’s also conflicted between the old ways and the new.
What have you learned about yourselves through your characters?
In many ways, writing the book was therapy for Jon. He always complained about growing up in the wilds, instead of a big city and bright lights. But through the character of Max, he has come to understand how lucky he was to have that experience. For Pamela, the learning has been more tangible. In order to put herself in Max’s shoes, she has had to conquer many of her fears and get in touch with her more adventurous side.
Is there a message you want readers to come away with after reading the book?
It’s more important that the readers enjoy the whirlwind journey and get wrapped up in the story. But it would be fantastic if they came away with a newfound respect for the rainforest and a stronger commitment to using renewable resources. There’s also a message about the importance of community and connecting with other people. And, of course, if any young reader should catch our enthusiasm for the Maya and decide to become an archaeologist and dig out some of the thousands of Maya structures that have yet to be excavated, that would be the icing on the cake!
What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
When we started researching the Maya, we discovered that much of the information is unreliable. It was only about 30 years ago that archaeologists finally cracked the code and began to fully understand Maya glyphs. So people have had a long time in which to make things up about the Maya and impose their own agendas. To make sure our book is up-to-date and accurate, we have everything checked by an archaeologist at Harvard.
I love the illustrations in the book. Who drew them, and how much input did you have on the drawings?
We have unlimited input because we do them ourselves – mostly Jon’s work. For the full-page illustrations, we take a gazillion photographs, put them together to build the scene, then draw on top of them. We particularly try to bring alive the Maya aesthetic for people who may not be familiar with it.
How do you collaborate when you are writing? How do you settle plot disagreements?
We hammer out the plot together and Pamela does most of the writing. We usually let the characters solve the plot disagreements. Of all the possible things that could happen, only a few will be true to character. Of course, we can – and do – argue for days about it. But eventually a resolution will appear that feels right. Both of us have to feel right because we both know the characters inside out – they’re like family members.
Did you have to do a lot of research to write The Jaguar Stones?
Absolutely. We had to research the ancient Maya, the modern Maya and life in the rainforest. We’ve made several trips down to Central America with our children, where we’ve canoed underground rivers, tracked howler monkeys in the jungle, explored cave systems, climbed pyramids and visited over 30 Maya sites. We’ve read just about every book ever written about the Maya and Jon has learned to read and write Maya glyphs.
Which character are you most like?
Jon says that when he was younger, he was like Max at the beginning of the book – when he’s selfish and materialistic. Pamela shares Max’s terror of creepy-crawlies and dark caves and musty pyramids. We would hope that we’re not anything like Max’s parents. (Although Pamela likes wearing scarves and Jon has grown a beard.)
Can you tell us a little about Max’s next big adventure?
For the Jaguar Stones Book 2, Max and Lola go to Spain on the trail of the conquistadors. The story hits the ground running and we promise that it’s even faster and funnier than Book 1. It’s called The End of the World Club.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Jon plays in a rock n roll band. Pamela is usually planning the next trip to Central America.
Thank you so much for stopping by to answer these questions! I am looking forward to Max’s next big adventure!
You can learn more about the Voelkels and the Jaguar Stones by visiting their website here. You can order the book from Amazon (by clicking the link below) or from your favorite bookseller.
Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is looking forward to a family vacation. But his parents, both archaeologists and Maya experts, announce a change in plan. They must leave immediately for a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier. Max will go to summer camp. Max is furious. When he’s mysteriously summoned to San Xavier, he thinks they’ve had a change of heart.
Upon his arrival, Max’s wild adventure in the tropical rainforests of San Xavier begins. During his journey, he will unlock ancient secrets and meet strangers who are connected to him in ways he could never have imagined. For fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to this pampered teenager. Can Max rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save the world from the Lords of Death, who now control the power of the Jaguar Stones in their villainous hands? The scene is set for a roller-coaster ride of suspense and terror, as the good guys and the bad guys face off against a background of haunted temples, zombie armies, and even human sacrifice!