#LastListEgmont: Jaguar Stones, Pirate Adventures, and a New Publisher, Matt Myklusch and Jon and Pamela Voelkel interview
Matt Myklusch and Jon and Pamela Voelkel first met on a panel at the Texas Library Association. At the time, the Voelkels were promoting their action-packed Jaguar Stones series, and Matt was doing the same for his superhero adventure books, The Jack Blank Adventures. Now, a couple years later, with Jon and Pamela Voelkel releasing The Lost City, the epic Jaguar Stones conclusion, and Matt launching Seaborne, the first book in a new series of his own, the three of them caught up to talk about their new books… and now, a new publisher too.
J&P: Hey, Matt, congratulations to you too! As we’re sure you found with Jack Blank, it’s bittersweet to finish a series. In our case, it’s a delayed ending because the Jaguar Stones was planned as a trilogy, but the story took on a life of its own. Now with the fourth and final book, The Lost City, we end exactly where we always wanted to be. (We wrote the very last paragraph way back when we were working on Middleworld, the first book in the series.) So we’re elated that everything worked out, but we’re sad to say goodbye to characters who’ve become part of our family. It’s been fantastic to hear from readers who’ve stayed with us through the four books and get their take. Happy to say that no one predicted the ending!
MATT: I know that feeling! Personally, I felt tons of pressure when I was writing the final book in my Jack Blank trilogy. Did you guys feel anything different while you were writing this one?
J&P: For us, we probably felt most pressure for The End of the World Club, which was the second book. Middleworld – the first Jaguar Stones book and the first book we’d ever written together – got great reviews and we wanted to make sure the follow-up lived up to it. Moreover, our local children’s librarian had told us in no uncertain terms that she expected a proper story with a beginning, a middle and an end – not just a bridging book. By the third and fourth books, the story was writing itself. All we had to do was keep up with the characters.
MATT: I’m sure the series goes out with a bang. Tell me all about The Lost City.
J&P: By the end of the third Jaguar Stones book, The River of No Return, our readers have been on a wild ride through the Maya rainforest. Our two main characters – Max, a fourteen year old boy from Boston, and Lola, a Maya girl of about the same age – have failed once again to save the world from the ancient Maya Lords of Death. The forest is being destroyed, the wildlife is endangered, and Max has received an invitation to his own funeral.
For The Lost City, we turn everything on its head and journey from Central America via New Orleans to a Native American city on the Mississippi River. The bad guys have realized they can’t take over the world without mastering social media, so they trick Max and Lola into helping them. Meanwhile Lola, who used to be the brave one, loses heart, so Max has to step up to the plate. Literally – because the final showdown takes place in Fenway Park.
It was so much fun to write, and we hope our readers will agree that it’s the fastest, funniest, most fantabulous Jaguar Stones book yet. The Lost City has everything: a parade of Maya monsters, a phantom riverboat, an alien spaceship, a howler monkey on rollerskates, the triumphant return of Thunderclaw the Chicken of Death, and the legendary Boston Red Sox!
MATT: I’m a Yankees fan, but I won’t hold that against you. It sounds a fun ride. Congratulations again on realizing your grand vision!
J&P: Thank you. We’re sad to say goodbye to the Jaguar Stones, but excited about our next project. You’re ahead of us in that respect, so please tell us what to expect! After pouring so much energy into your first series, how did you feel about starting something new?
MATT: On one hand, I was fired up to be flexing new creative muscles. I had lived with the characters of the Jack Blank universe, and been consumed by their story for so long, it was refreshing to turn the page and do something completely different.
On the other hand, I was starting from scratch again for the first time in years. I suddenly remembered what a giant task it is to create a whole world from the ground up. You need to figure out the rules of your world. What’s possible? What’s not possible? When you are writing the second or third book in a series, you go in with that infrastructure already built. With Seaborne, I had to get to know new characters again, each with their own voices, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. I had to figure out the right tone and voice for the story too. I’m always worried I’m going to ruin a great idea, so when it came time to start writing, I had a few false starts. It took me a little longer than usual to find my groove.
J&P: Now we’re intrigued! Tell us more about Seaborne. And by the way, we LOVE that cover!
MATT: Thank you! Me too. Matt Armstron, the illustrator, did a terrific job.
Seaborne is the story of a boy raised by pirates and forced into a life of crime. 13-year-old Dean Seaborne is a spy for One-Eyed Jack, the ruthless Pirate King. His job is to sneak onto ships and find out what they are carrying, or infiltrate crews before raids. Dean’s great at what he does, but he hates doing it. He feels like the angel of death, delivering ships into the hands of One-Eyed Jack’s men.
When Dean gets caught trying to run away, he nearly ends up fed to the sharks. One-Eyed Jack only spares his life because he’s got a line on the greatest treasure in all the Caribbean— an island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince. What he doesn’t know is, he might be exactly who he’s pretending to be.
J&P: Sounds amazing! We saw the National Theatre production of Treasure Island in London over the holidays and Seaborne has that same feeling of danger, thrills, and classic adventures. Was it easy for you to plunge into the pirate world? How was the writing process? Did you do anything differently this time around?
MATT: I learned to trust myself and my voice, for one thing. This book is set in the early 1700’s— the golden age of piracy. For some reason, that led to me writing the first draft in an “old timey narrator” voice that wasn’t my own. When people read it they felt like something was missing, and that thing was me. I got 100 pages in before I realized I was doing something wrong, but I think I got it right in the end.
Also, this was the first book I had to do a lot of research on. My earlier books had completely imaginary locations from start to finish. I had to educate myself for this one. Not too much, but more than I’m used to. You guys do a ton of research. Tell me about the background work you did for Jaguar Stones series.
J&P: In fact, we fell into the massive research project by accident. We’d originally planned a wild adventure story about a city boy lost in the jungle – with Maya pyramids as a cool background. Jon had grown up in South and Central America, so he already knew the terrain. We went down to Belize with our kids for one week, so Pamela could get a feel for it too. And that changed everything. We learned so much about the ancient Maya and met so many modern Maya people that they took over the story.
After that, we went down to Belize or Guatemala or Mexico every year. Sometimes twice a year. We became the kind of people who hang out at archaeology conferences. Jon even took a course at Harvard to learn how to read and write Maya glyphs. In our minds at least, the Jaguar Stones became more than an adventure series; it became the story of a boy from Boston and a modern Maya girl who are trying to understand each other’s worlds.
For Book Four, The Lost City, we followed the Mississippi from New Orleans to an ancient American city called Cahokia, just across the river from St Louis. It’s an amazing place and it’s hard to understand why it’s not as famous as, say, Mount Rushmore or Plymouth Rock. It was fascinating to look at the parallels between the pyramid builders of North and Central America. We’ll really miss researching the Jaguar Stones books because they’ve taken us to places we could never have imagined. Book Four also took us to the legendary Fenway Park. Neither of us knew the first thing about baseball before writing the book, but now we’re both diehard Red Sox fans!
MATT: Again, I’m going to let that slide ;]
The only field trips I did for this book were to a resort in Turks and Caicos, but I did do some reading. I know nothing about sailing or ships, so I had to research that kind of thing. I wanted to get the lingo down right, but I decided not to bother learning which empires controlled which islands in the Caribbean back in 1704. It was easier to use fictional islands like St. Diogenes, and port towns like Bartleby Bay. No one can tell me I got the facts wrong about places that don’t exist.
I guess it’s not surprising that I still made some mistakes. For example, I thought a “league” was six feet, but it’s actually about 3 miles. (This was not a problem until I had my main characters swimming a league or two underwater in cave). One of my readers caught that error in an ARC that Egmont sent out. We corrected that in the final version.
J&P: Good catch! And now that our mutual publisher, Egmont, has been bought by Lerner, how are you feeling about the future? What does this news mean for Seaborne?
MATT: I know it means that Book 1 will have a home with a fully operational, US based publisher who has been putting out quality books for over 50 years. That’s a very good thing. There’s a much better chance that the Seaborne series will continue now. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that I approached this series the same way that Indiana Jones is a series. Each story was meant to be a standalone adventure, so whatever happens with Book 2, it’s going to be okay. The people who pick up this book are going to get a complete story with no loose ends.
My hope is that Dean Seaborne will keep sailing for adventure. I’m going to miss working with the Egmont team, but I’m very excited about the opportunities at Lerner.
J&P: What’s been astonishing is how Egmont authors have rallied together to promote each other’s books under the #lastlistegmont – and how much love we’ve all got from the publishing world. Speaking personally, we’ve been blown away by the support from bloggers, booksellers, librarians and booklovers we’ve never even met!
MATT: Absolutely. I love the way we banded together to help each other’s books succeed. And, we all got to share the great news about Lerner too. That was a nice moment. Speaking of the Last Listers, (or maybe now the Last Lerners?), anyone reading this can get information on all our books at egmontslastlist.tumblr.com. I would urge everyone to check out those books, and also visit JaguarStones.com and MattMyklusch.com for more on The Lost City and Seaborne: The Lost Prince. It’s been great talking to you guys again!
J&P: Maybe see you in Turks and Caicos next time!
Meet Our Guest Bloggers:
Matt Myklusch is a middle-grade fantasy/adventure author and the creator of SEABORNE (Egmont USA), and THE JACK BLANK ADVENTURES (Simon & Schuster, Aladdin). When he’s not busy writing about kite-boarding pirates, superheroes, and robot-zombies, Matt hosts THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY PODCAST, speaking with other authors about their creative process and path to publication. Matt lives in New Jersey with his wife and family, where he is always hard at work on his next book.
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.
- Twitter: @pvoelkel @jaguarstones
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/JP-Voelkel
- Website: www.jaguarstones.com
Publisher’s Book Descriptions:
The Lost City (Jaguar Stones book 4)
The epic conclusion to the exciting Jaguar Stones series and a rip-roaring adventure into the heart of America!
With his parents in jail and the Maya Death Lords in possession of all five Jaguar Stones, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is pretty sure that he’ll never get to leave the rainforest. But the Lords of Death have a problem–a new king calling himself Great Sun claims to have the Jaguar Stones, too. And they want Max to prove the guy’s a fraud. Or else.
Now, Max, and Lola, the mysterious girl who befriends him, are off on another wild adventure that will take them from Central America to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.
But one thing Max should have learned after all of this dealings with the Death Lords — they never keep their promises.
Seaborne #1: The Lost Prince
Middle-grade adventure readers will love this fresh take on classic pirate tropes. Fans of Percy Jackson and The Chronicles of Egg will enjoy Dean Seaborne’s adventures on the sea.
Dean Seaborne is thrown off his ship by the Pirate King and given one last chance to redeem himself before he meets Davy Jones’s locker. He has to spy on the Pirate King’s biggest rival, Gentleman Jack Harper, and find the treasure hidden on the mysterious island of Zenhala.
Once on Zenhala, Dean finds that the inhabitants of the island think he is the lost prince who went missing 13 year ago. In order to fulfill his mission for the Pirate King, Dean undergoes intense and fantastical trials to prove he is the lost prince. But the longer Dean stays on the island, the more he questions his mission.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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