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#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.

MATT: Congratulations on wrapping up the Jaguar Stones series! Finishing a book, just by itself, is a huge accomplishment. Finishing a series is massive. How does it feel to be done?

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!

MATT: Deal

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.

#LastListEgmont: Bree Despain and Anne Bustard are “Fish Out of Water”

Today as a part of our weeklong look at #LastListEgmont, authors Bree Despain and Anne Bustard share their stories in a joint interview.

Bree: On the surface, our books seem pretty different—Anywhere but Paradise is a middle grade story about a girl who moves to Hawaii in 1960, while my book The Eternity Key is YA about an underworld prince who is sent to our modern day world to complete a quest—but what they do have in common is the “fish out of water” theme. You’ve written that Anywhere but Paradise is informed by your childhood in Hawaii. How was your experience the same or different from Peggy Sue’s? Have you ever been the new kid at school?

Anne:  Hawaii-born, I moved to California when I was two, and returned to start sixth grade. Unlike Peggy Sue’s, my reentry was pineapple sweet. Hikes with my cousins, visits with my grandparents, hula lessons, new friends, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay . . . Yes, I was the new kid at school, but it was not traumatic.

Until the next year. Intermediate school overwhelmed me. A girl threatened to beat me up on the last day of school. She called it Kill Haole (white people) Day. I was petrified. For the whole year. On the last day, like Peggy Sue, I witnessed a couple of fights. Unlike her, I was spared.

What about you? How have your own experiences informed the “fish out of water” aspect? Was it fun writing about a prince who has never been around girls before?

Bree: Of course, I’ve never been an underworld prince who finds himself the new guy at a prestigious high school for the kids of the rich and famous, but I do know what it’s like to feel like you don’t belong. I’m very introverted and danced to the beat of my own drum in middle school and high school so it was easy to draw on those feelings of social awkwardness to inform Haden’s character. In fact, writing Haden is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a character. As part of his quest, he has to convince a certain girl to fall in love with him, but he knows very little about the mortal world, and even less about dating, girls, and love. I have him turn to the internet for advice on a few occasions—with some pretty epically disastrous results.

You know, another thing we have in common is that my dad was an American who grew up on a Polynesian island. He lived in New Zealand from 1950 to 1960. Your novel is set in the 1960. What role did research play in its creation?

Anne: What a fascinating childhood your dad must have had! Primary research was an enormous part of my process, a never-ending part, in fact. And I loved it.

From the Honolulu Advertiser, I gleaned a sense of current events, hairstyles, popular foods, prices, movies, TV and more. I also studied high school yearbooks.

I read books about Hawaii, interviewed the principal at my former intermediate school, contacted tsunami experts, and dug through archives. I verified facts with the Honolulu Zoo, the quarantine facility, a Hawaiian language expert, and a Texas epidemiologist.

Your series is inspired by Greek mythology. Did you do a lot of research for your books? Tell us a little bit about the myths you use in your books and how you came to choose them.

Bree: I studied a lot of mythology while working on the Into the Dark series. The first book, The Shadow Prince, is based on two myths: Persephone and Hades and Orpheus and Eurydice. I was especially intrigued by early interpretations of Persephone’s story that say she chose of her own free will to go with Hades into the Underworld in order to become the queen of the dead, and wasn’t kidnapped as the conventional version of the myth says. I wanted to explore this theme of choosing to follow someone into the dark (or the unknown) for the sake of love as both Persephone and Orpheus did. In the second book, The Eternity Key, I also get to play with the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

So another thing our books have in common is that both of our main characters have a cat that is very important to them. Can you tell us a little about the cat in your story? Are you a cat person?

Anne: I am 100% a cat person! Howdy is based on my current kitty, a feral named Sweet Baby James, who didn’t purr for over two years.

I’ve heard people say that the cat in your story is one of their favorite characters. Please tell us about Brimstone.

Bree: I love Brimstone. She’s a runty little Hellcat that Haden saved when her mother abandoned her. Now she is Haden’s best friend and acts like a protective big sister—and even tries to help Haden out with the ladies. She’s teeny tiny, about the size of a two month old kitten, but don’t let her size fool you—and never get a hellcat angry!

Okay, so let’s talk about our differences for a moment. I’ve never written for the middle grade audience. What’s it like being a debut middle grade author?

Anne: It’s a dream come true! Ever since I was in elementary school, middle grade novels have been my favorite books to read. And now, that I’ll have one with my name on the cover, well, it’s happy tears time. Everyone has been so supportive. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.

What about you? The Eternity Key is your 5th published book. That’s awesome! Will you share a memorable experience you’ve had with a reader in person at signings, book festivals, conferences or online?

Bree: A few months after my first book was published, I got an email from a teenage girl whose best friend had been in an ATV accident and was in a coma. Every day, this girl had been bringing my book to the hospital and reading it out loud to her comatose friend. After a couple of weeks, her friend woke up—and one of the first things she said is that she wanted to know what had happened to Grace and Daniel (my characters) so she decided to wake up. I got this email while I was sitting in the lobby at a big writing conference and I just started bawling. I had no idea something I’d written could have that kind of impact on someone’s life.

Finally, I’ve noticed that your book has a special dedication. Who is your book dedicated to and why?

Anne: Before I answer your question, I’ve got to say Wow! to your last response. What an incredibly beautiful and touching story about the power of words. Your words. They were and are a great gift.

I dedicated the book to Leilehua, my forever friend from Hawaii. We met in hula class and still talk all the time, though not on the bench at the back of Mrs. Beamer’s studio while sharing a package of red licorice.

Bree: That’s a great dedication! I am so glad I got this opportunity to interview you. I will for sure be picking up a copy of Anywhere but Paradise on March 31st. Actually, I will pick up two copies–one for me and my kids, and one for my dad. I know he’ll love reading your book.

Anne: Mahalo nui loa, Bree! Thank you very much for your enthusiasm and conversation. I’m excited to read The Eternity Key. Happy launch day, almost. I’ve circled April 28th on my calendar.

Bree and Anne: Thank you so much for having us on Teen Librarian Toolbox! It has been an absolute pleasure.

Meet our Guest Bloggers:

Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. A former co-owner of a children’s-only bookstore, Anne has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is the author of the award-winning picture book, Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly(Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Anne now lives in Austin, Texas.

Website: www. annebustard.com
Facebook: www.facebook/annebustard
Bree Despain is the author of the Dark Divine trilogy and the upcoming Into The Dark trilogy.  Bree rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, two young sons, and her beloved TiVo. (Photo credit: Opiefoto)

Publisher’s Book Descriptions

Anywhere but Paradise

Moving from Texas to Hawaii in 1960,12-year-old Peggy Sue faces a difficult transition when she is bulled as one of the few haole (white) students in her school. This lyrical debut novel is perfect for Common Core classroom connections.

It’s 1960 and Peggy Sue has just been transplanted from Texas to Hawaii for her father’s new job. Her cat, Howdy, is stuck in animal quarantine, and she’s baffled by Hawaiian customs and words. Worst of all, eighth grader Kiki Kahana targets Peggy Sue because she is haole–white–warning her that unless she does what Kiki wants, she will be a victim on “kill haole day,” the last day of school. Peggy Sue’s home ec teacher insists that she help Kiki with her sewing project or risk failing. Life looks bleak until Peggy Sue meets Malina, whose mother gives hula lessons. But when her parents take a trip to Hilo, leaving Peggy Sue at Malina’s, life takes an unexpected twist in the form of a tsunami. Peggy Sue is knocked unconscious and wakes to learn that her parents safety and whereabouts are unknown. Peggy Sue has to summon all her courage to have hope that they will return safely.

The Eternity Key (Into the Dark book 2)

Fan-favorite author Bree Despain continues her modern-day romance trilogy inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades with this second book in her Into the Dark series.

Haden Lord, the disgraced Prince of the Underrealm, has chosen love over honor and will do everything in his power to protect Daphne Raines, the human girl he was supposed to bring to the Underrealm. Haden’s choice is put to the test as the Skylords and a figure from his past arrive in Olympus Hills with a plan that could destroy all of the realms.

Embracing her destiny as the Cypher, Daphne begins to understand the immense power of her musical ability to control the elements, but she must come to terms with her feelings for Haden and what she must sacrifice in order to protect him and her friends.

Believing the Key of Hades is the only thing that can stop the Underrealm Court from releasing the monstrous Keres on the mortal world, Haden, Daphne, and their friends set out to find the Key before Persephone’s Gate opens again on the spring equinox.