Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia, all the while dreaming of a boring life in suburbia. Eventually, having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the jungle, he rolled up his hammock and decamped to Europe. Meanwhile, growing up in a sedate seaside town in northern England, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of travel and adventure. The authors’ first book in the Jaguar Stones series, Middleworld, was an Al Roker Book Club pick. The rest is history!
Jon and Pam dropped by the MUF to talk about what it’s like to finish the last book, The Lost City, in their Jaguar Stones series. As it turns out, their book coincides with the end of something else as well.
When we first started writing the Jaguar Stones books, our son was about the same age as our main character. Max. Before I go further, I am honor-bound to tell you that our son, wary of exactly this type of article, has forbidden us to ever say that Max’s angry outbursts in the first book, MIDDLEWORLD, were modelled on his own. But I can tell you that there were times when I deliberately riled up our son to watch (and record) his reaction. We even plunked all three of our children down in the jungle to see how they (and Max) would cope in the wild. In many ways, Max became our imaginary fourth child. Then we got to know some modern Maya kids better and Lola, Max’s feisty Maya sidekick in the books, became our imaginary fifth child. Whenever something happened at home, I’d be thinking: “What would Max and Lola do in this situation?”
Our son is now a charming, even-tempered senior at college. And Max has grown-up too. Only one year has passed in the story, where seven years have passed in real life, but Max has learned a lot about connecting with other people. Lola was always more self-assured, but even she’s been tested to her limits. And we hope that, in trying to present the story of her people, particularly the true story of the Spanish Conquest in Book Two, THE END OF THE WORLD CLUB, we might persuade readers to rethink what they know about the Maya.
Jon and I have grown too. When we started, we were unsure that we could pull this off. In between reading books on the Maya, we read books on how to write books. For Jon, it was sometimes uncomfortable because plotting the story involved revisiting episodes in his childhood in Latin America that he’d rather forget, such as a terrifying plane crash in the jungle that’s recreated in Book Three, THE RIVER OF NO RETURN. He’s also learned to read and write Maya glyphs. It was this obsession with authenticity that led him to become an illustrator. He was determined that the illustrations in our books would help children to understand the Maya world. If glyphs were involved, as they often are, he wanted to be sure that they said what they were supposed to say.
For me, the experience of researching the books was life-changing. I used to travel with heavy suitcases, a hairdryer and an adaptor plug. Now I’ve learned to survive with a small bag and no electricity. But more than that, like Max in the books, I’ve shed some other baggage – such as my preconceptions about the Maya.
Our children, who’ve accompanied us on almost all our trips to Central America, are weary of climbing pyramids and glad the books are done. Our youngest campaigns almost daily for her dream vacation in Hawaii. But like it or not, along the way, she’s learned enough to singlehandedly man a table at Archaeology Day in the Boston Museum of Science, while her dad and I were speaking in the theater.
If I’m honest, it’s astonishing to me that we’ve been lucky enough to have four books published. Book by book, I grew in confidence, and felt more like an author and less like a charlatan. I’m hugely proud that the finished series is as funny and action-packed and sneakily educational as we hoped it would be – thanks in no small part, of course, to our editors at Egmont USA. They even allowed us to expand our trilogy into a quadrilogy (is that a thing?) when the story overran.
But now it’s really done. In fact, we wrote the last paragraph years ago when we were working on the first book. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned since then, it’s that real life cannot be planned as easily. Just this week, for example, Egmont USA announced they were closing their doors. So for us, the release of THE LOST CITY and the end of the Jaguar Stones series is about sadness and happiness and gratitude and uncertainty and hope for the future. Just like real life, really.
(Publisher’s note: The books will still be available from your favorite retailer.)
Congrats, Jon and Pam, and best wishes on your next ventures! To win paperbacks of the first three books AND a hardcover of the new one, please leave a comment below.