Featured Book of the Week/Middleworld by J & P Voelkel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


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! (Summary from Powell's Books)


Jon and I would like to thank you very much for choosing Middleworld for your Battle of the Books.  We had a blast writing it and, for me in particular, being an author is a dream that I never thought would come true.

The problem was that I got bad advice early on.  A teacher told me that great writers always write about what they know. For me, as a kid, that was like a door slamming in my face. I hated the world I knew. I had an unhappy childhood because my mother was very ill for most of it and I had no desire to write about it, ever.

Some people find that writing about their problems helps them feel better. I found it just made everything more real and more painful. I wanted to pretend that none of it was happening and I escaped by reading books. Adventure stories, boarding school stories, anything where kids lived in worlds without parents. (In those days, at my school anyway, they didn't have books about unhappy families - no Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins to reassure me that other kids’ lives weren’t perfect either.)

When I left college, I looked for jobs with writer in the title.  For twenty-five years I wrote catalog captions, book reviews, and advertising copy. I was resigned to never writing a book because I didn't want to write about what I knew. Then my husband, who was not a writer by trade, became obsessed with the idea of us writing a book based on his childhood.  He'd had a wildly adventurous time growing up in Latin America and had always kept our children entranced with his action-packed bedtime stories. 

It was the perfect solution! I would get to know his world! And now, thanks to the many trips we've taken down to Central America to research the rainforest and the Maya, it’s become my world too. (And that of our three children.) We’ve tracked howler monkeys in the jungle, made our own tortillas, and sailed down the mighty Usumacinta river with crocodiles watching from the bank. We've got to know many famous archaeologists, and made friends with teachers, librarians and booksellers all over America.

I wish I could go back to that unhappy little kid I used to be and tell her that it would all work out.  That one day she'd have exciting adventures, and a happy family, and finally get to write books.  But the funny thing is that The Jaguar Stones trilogy is about a lonely boy and a girl who’s had to grow up too quickly. Okay, so he’s from Boston and she’s a Maya, but – guess what? – in some ways, they’re both me. 

So my advice to students who want to be writers is this: remember that the story of your childhood is not the story of your life. But whether you’re having an interesting youth like Jon’s or a miserable one like mine, remember how you feel right now - because one day you’ll want to write about someone who feels the same way.  And if you’re brave enough to follow where your new story leads you, you’ll find yourself in places that you never dreamed existed.

Enjoy the adventure!


Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia. He was not a natural-born adventurer and found life in the jungle difficult, to say the least. Having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the middle of the rainforest, he escaped to college in Minneapolis and went on to business school in Barcelona. After working in advertising agencies in Spain, Holland and England, he started his own agency in London with four other partners - one of whom would be his future wife. In 2001, the London Financial Times named him one of the top fifty creative minds in Britain.

While Jon was battling the daily perils of the jungle, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of adventure in a sedate seaside town in the north of England where nothing ever happened.  After graduating from Leeds University in English Language and Literature, she fled to London to take any job with “writer” in the title.  After stints reviewing books, writing catalogs and penning speech bubbles for photo-romances, she became an advertising copywriter. As Creative Director of Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, she helped the agency win literally hundreds of creative awards.

In 2001, the Voelkels moved to rural Vermont and began work on ‘Middleworld’, the first book they have written together. In an interesting male/female collaboration, Jon plots out the action (much of it based on his own childhood memories and the bedtime stories he tells their three children), then Pamela fleshes out the characters and decides how they feel about things. (Author Bio from authors website)

I want to thank J & P Voelkel for being a part of the featured book of the week and encourage all you book battlers to visit their wonderful website to learn more about their lives and books. 

I am also very excited to tell you that the next book in this exciting series is due to be released in December, so you will have a chance to go on another thrilling adventure with Max and Lola.

1 Delicious Comments:

Rockwood South Middle School said...

We're glad Pamela Voelkel didn't take her teacher's bad advice and we're glad she didn't give up on her dream. Middleworld is an exciting read and learning about the Mayan culture is fascinating.

Comment & Question to the authors: We think it would be difficult to write a book with someone else. Do you have different writing styles? How do you blend them together?

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