I was a big fan of author Pamela Jaye Smith long before I met her in person. Her books Power of the Dark Side: Creating Great Villains, Dangerous Situations, & Dramatic Conflict, Inner Drives: How to Write and Create Characters Using the Eight Classic Centers of Motivation, and Symbols * Images * Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media, have all helped me improve my own craft of writing.
I was thrilled when I met Pamela in person during her Screenwriting 411 Workshop at Barnes & Noble.
Lena and myself with Author Pamela Jaye Smith
CBWLA Workshop with Pamela Jaye Smith and Kathie Fong Yoneda
I have yet to meet author Reece Michaelson in person, but I have no doubt she will be just as wonderful in person as she is in our various email correspondences.
I’ll have the pleasure of finally meeting Reece and hearing both her and Pamela speak at our CBWLA Workshop this coming August 17th, 2013. These two authors will be discussing Potent World-Making: What’s Myth Got to Do With It? And if you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can register for Pamela and Reece’s workshop by clicking on this link.
Without further delay, I present Pamela Jaye Smith and Reece Michaelson, authors of The Journals of Petra Volare – Scroll I: From the Shadows.
PETRA VOLARE CO-AUTHOR PAMELA JAYE SMITH
PETRA VOLARE CO-AUTHOR REECE MICHAELSON
1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourselves.
RM: -Taught myself to ride a unicycle at 12.
-Was a writing teacher at a 17th Century Dutch castle in the Netherlands for 2 semesters.
-Lived for a year with the widow of the metallurgist who helped invent the atom
bomb, gained interesting insights into some of the people responsible for one of the most profoundly impactful inventions of our time (she herself was a notable historian who wrote A Peril and A Hope, a scholarly treatment of the subject).
PJS: -Have driven an Army tank and an offshore oil rig.
-Walked on the Arctic Ocean [when there was still sea ice up there].
-Dove for my own sushi in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
2. Where did you get the idea to write THE JOURNALS OF PETRA VOLARE?
RM: A successful Hollywood writer told me in an interview that she felt if people didn’t like where their life was, they should change their archetype. When I researched what an archetype was, none of the female ones felt applicable to me, they were somehow very restrictive. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I always had to “translate” my reading experiences of adventures. So I decided to create a new archetype. When I mentioned it to Pamela Jaye, her positive response told me I might be on a worthwhile track. At the time, I was living in the desert, with a relentless, searing sun…and within a month, I heard in my head “Icarus’s Sister” and then Petra’s final lines of Scroll I: “I was born to fly, and I am not afraid of the sun…Time To Fly…”
PJS: I’ve always liked the things that Reece writes and have worked with her as a consultant on a couple of her projects. So when she said she wanted to create a new archetype for young girls I was immediately on board. From my own studies in comparative mythology I have worked with archetypes in story consulting and in personal myth and image consulting. Having also taught actors how to use the archetypes in their performances and how to align with them in their real lives, I have seen the results of this transformation first hand. So Reece and I were on the same enthusiastic track about using myth to address modern situations.
3. What sets THE JOURNALS OF PETRA VOLARE apart from other middle grade fiction books? What did you hope to accomplish by writing Petra’s story?
RM: Firstly, Petra is specifically designed to be a new archetype for girls (and women!), a kid who deliberately and courageously steps out from the shadows, in the way we see women today stepping forward to claim their most creative destinies. The hope is to assist that momentum. As such, we expect our readers will be smart, inquisitive, inventive people who enjoy being challenged, so we’ve maintained a level of complexity that requires a bit of stretching. One of our reviewers, a middle grade teacher from Virginia, spoke to this aspect: “I have read hundreds of young adult novels over the years and this one is so different from any that I have read.…There are many books out there for young adults that don’t give the reader any credit to do some problem solving and make choices. This journey that Petra goes on allows the reader to be by her side the whole time. At times, I even felt the frustration she was going through and became impatient for her to resolve issues.”
Another difference is that this is an inventor’s sketchbook as well as a journal, so just as her historical male counterparts (e.g., Leonardo da Vinci) allowed us a window into their thought processes, Petra lets us participate in hers. Women and girls have been inventing tremendously valuable things since the beginning of time, but we don’t tend to hear much about it or see their processes. This is our way of inciting the girls of the 21st Century to grab that torch and run—or fly—toward their most amazing, contributive selves.
PJS: The American education system is a wasteland, with a few oases here and there. I serve on a couple of think tanks [Boeing Workforce Development, Birth to Work, and the Entertainment Industries Council] that are dedicated to bringing science, technology, engineering and math to more young people. The STEM programs are working all across the country to address the need for kids of every age to learn critical thinking skills, to engage their curiosity, to encourage the scientific method, and to inspire them to careers in science. Reece’s ideas for who Petra Volare is and what she does fit perfectly with the goals of STEM.
By creating a fictional character who actually does use her curiosity, her inventiveness and her adventurousness to solve important problems and actually save lives, I hope we inspire more young girls, and boys, to be daring, to think for themselves, and to be visionary.
4. In THE JOURNALS OF PETRA VOLARE SCROLL 1: FROM THE SHADOWS, you focus on the mythological story of Icarus and Daedalus. Why did you choose this particular mythology for Petra’s story?
RM: It chose us! Myths operate at a level that intellect can only retroactively explain. That’s why they’re so powerful! But this myth—if you read it carefully and follow the breadcrumbs (like Ariadne’s Thread!)—is actually a remarkably contemporary personal story, a story of quirky family dynamics and choices, flawed people, dreams and ambitions, and (as in the case of Pasiphae, for example) unjust besmirchment of one’s character in the press. The stuff of 21st Century life, and therefore very relatable.
PJS: I think Reece says that well. When I was first exposed to the Iliad and the Odyssey in the 4th grade I thought it was just like what went on in my small Texas town: rigged beauty contests, unfaithful spouses, unruly children, pouting athletes, and a few brave acts. Besides the sociological significance Reece mentions, the whole Minotaur myth is also quite symbolic and mystical. The half-man half-bull Minotaur is symbolic of the constellation Taurus the bull. The warrior hero Theseus is symbolic of the constellation Aries. Theseus slaying the Minotaur symbolizes the precession of the equinoxes as we moved from the zodiacal sign of Taurus into that of Aries. So, too, we crafted Petra Volare to be an agent-of-change in that time and place. There are so many story threads in the complex fabric of Minoan Crete that it seemed a perfect setting from which to reach forward and backward in time.
5. What are some of your other favorite mythological stories?
RM: So many of them seem to be about women who either punish unfairly or come to a bad end after being uppity, I think we need some new ones. (Take note, Petra Volare readers!) But if pressed, I’d say the myth about Tiresias, the Theban seer who got blinded but was then given the gift of second sight, was turned into a woman for 7 years then got turned back to a man, was given 7 lifetimes, and after he died, he became a consultant to Odysseus. Sounds like a shaman/shamaness who ended up having some terrific insights after all that! Ovid’s description of the Phoenix is also very cool.
PJS: My favourite myth is about the Teutonic warrior goddess Brunhilde, one of the Valkyries who rides her horse above the battlefield and picks up the dying warriors to carry them off to Valhalla, where they eat, drink, and tell war stories for eternity. The daughter of king god Wodin, she disobeys his orders to throw a battle in one direction because she knows his heart desires a different outcome. It is an example of being brave enough to do what you know is right, even in the face of power. She of course gets punished, but negotiates a version of punishment that reflects her self-determination, valour and integrity. It’s good myth for women of our time, and has lots of high passion and drama, so it’s fun as well.
6. If you could spend one day with any of the characters in your story, who would you pick? Why?
RM: Phoenicia, hands down – her knowledge is so broad and unabashedly profound as well as extremely practical, I’d love to follow her around and take notes. Also, since she transcends time via lucid dreaming, I’d ask her to teach me the basics of that and help me find out which myths and legends would be best for Petra to encounter for future Scrolls in the series!
PJS: I’d choose Petros the sailor. I like that he is strong and smart, yet soft-spoken. He makes time in his busy days to teach Petra about the sea, sea creatures, winds, and currents. He has a dog Gerlach who he seems to honour quite as much as some of the humans in the story. Petros is wise, perceptive, and kind. I think one would learn an awfully lot of interesting and valuable information spending a day with him. And you know it would be fun.
7. Written in first person, the story of PETRA VOLARE is told in the form of journal entries. How did you go about writing the story? Did you divide chapters or sections of the book, or did you have a different writing process?
RM: Prior to writing, we gathered images and phrases that we associated with the myth, then, with our visionary friend Laura (Petra’s goddessmother) and a potential artist for the book, we had a creative brainstorming session on the sands of Laguna Beach—a mythical-feeling place! Pamela poured forth an abundance of spot-on story ideas and imagery, and by the end of the meeting we had this 2’x3’ paper with all the ideas, phrases, snippets, and images needed to dive in. I wrote the first draft in about 5 weeks. Very intuitive, no planning, just a lot of listening. My Buddhist practice deeply influenced this part of the work, so the material came out of my life rather than out of my head or a plan/outline. I’d hear entries or “see” them—not necessarily in sequential order— and I wrote like crazy to catch what was unfolding almost literally in front of me. Better than TV! Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want to Write was helpful for capturing the material and staying true to Petra’s voice. After the first draft, Pamela Jaye (and subsequently also some fantastic readers) asked superb questions that allowed Petra’s replies to zip completely around my predilection for analyzing things to death. It consistently felt as though this story was telling itself and my job was to capture the words and move from the ether to the page.
PJS: I totally enjoyed the brainstorming sessions we had, especially when they were on the beach. We certainly had a number of touch points in incidences and characters as well as what we wanted Petra Volare to learn from each. Reece did an amazing impressive job writing a very rich first draft. It did not need much structure shifting and just some adjustments here and there to keep the plot flowing and the voice consistent.
8. THE JOURNALS OF PETRA VOLARE SCROLL 1: FROM THE SHADOWS is the first in a seven book series. Have you plotted out the other books or the entire series? When is the next book coming out?
RM: So glad you noticed that it’s a series, and thank you for mentioning it! We’ve been busy getting Scroll I into the world, so future books have had to take a back seat for the moment. That said, there are titles for all but the 7th (final) Scroll, and we have been collecting snippets of ideas and amassing tons of research. This summer we’ll be sketching things out; we’ve had some contest winners on our website and at book signings who will be naming characters in future books, which is sure to take us in some interesting and exciting directions. We’ll have to get back to you on when the next Scroll is coming out, although of course we’re thrilled that many of our readers have asked the same question!
PJS: I’m so looking forward to pulling those visions for the next books down into more a solid sense of story. We have an abundance of ideas, concepts, locales, and characters so the real challenge will be how to select the best ones for each Scroll [book]. And how fun it will be to dig deeper into more myths and explore the stories behind them.
9. What are some of the perks and difficulties of having someone co-author a book with you?
RM: When the Someone who is co-authoring is Pamela Jaye, it’s mostly just perks: exponentially increased creativity, insights that lead to outside-the-box approaches, depth of understanding about myths and potential possibilities and realities, wind beneath the wings, and honestly, SO much fun. Really, the only difficulty: it’s way too much fun and we have to stop with the ideas at some point so the book gets written!
PJS: Thank you, Reece. My pleasure. I have written with other people for many years, but mostly on screenplays. This was only the second time I was a co-author on a fiction book. The perks were similar to those for scripts: someone to bounce ideas off of, another mind to fill in blanks, a different perspective on scenes and characters, and a check on the tendency to over-write initial drafts. The difficulty is that a fiction book really needs to have a core narrator with a strong identifiable voice. It was not a problem working with Reece because it was always the plan for her to write the actual words of the story. But I can see that if the relationship were different there might be conflicts over who writes what, what stays in, who decides, etc. Happily, it is an easy pleasure to collaborate with Reece.
10. Tell us about your individual paths to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?
RM: This first book in the Petra Volare series was self-published, because friends were clamoring to see it in print, and there’s no longer the major stigma surrounding self- publishing. In fact it’s a great way to build an audience, especially if you take the time and energy to create a strong presence on the web (e.g., we have www.petravolare.com and a Facebook page as well, which has led to both a global audience and resultant sales). And that leads to the coolest thing: being able to meet and talk with people – especially young people – who share a love of storytelling and reading. It’s the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was 6 years old and realized what “reading” was.
PJS: There are a couple of cool things to me. Seeing your ideas become a reality you can hold in your hands. Being able to hand your book to others as a means of passing on your vision. Hearing that others appreciate your story and the characters. Knowing we are helping young people see the possibilities open to them.
11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
RM: When I’m in research mode, I visit used bookstores and see what jumps out at me, and spend hours on etymological treasure hunts on the internet when I should be sleeping. I’ll also leaf through Pamela Jaye’s books to get my creative thinking going because I always find some nugget, some aspect of applied myth that opens new doors. When it’s time to write, I do my Buddhist chanting an extra hour or two to bring forth my best creative courage and ability to listen, then dive into the writing until I don’t ‘hear’ anymore for that day. Don’t know that this is quirky, but when stuck, I visit distant lands via YouTube or I go out for a walk and pay attention to what catches my eye/ear.
PJS: Don’t we all wish that we had all the time in the world just to work on our stories? But most of us have other obligations of work, family, etc. When there is time to write my own fiction it is like stepping out of the busy marketplace and into a calming paradise. Ideally on those writing days I work from 7-ish until about 2pm and then check emails and see what else is going on that I need to take care of. Depending on what’s happening, I go back to writing and do not check in on the outside world again until after 6pm. Incense, candles, and a sense of quiet really help me focus. And I like to play music that reflects the type of story. Once when writing some combat sequences I played Marine marching chants. Another time I used toy spaceships to choreograph a battle [Yep, I have toy space ships. That comes with being a Trekkie and a fan-girl-quasi-geek, doesn’t it?]
My favourite writing situation – which I would love to be able to repeat again and again – is to spend months at a time doing nothing but working on a particular novel or short story every day. In one two month period I wrote a fairly rich first draft of a 400 page novel. Now…to edit it…. Would that we all had regular writers’ retreats, but then I look at how many great stories were written by people working at banks, selling insurance, raising a large family – and am reminded that once the writing bug has bitten you, there seems to be no cure but to write, write, write.
12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?
RM: Oh, here’s where the quirky thing kicks in. Doing research is my main hobby/sport/craft—that’s where any non-dayjob time goes. I READ about hobbies, sports and crafts, and talk with people about their pursuits and passions. I’m fortunate to know a lot of fascinating people, so simply listening to them is a fun activity in itself! And I either do yard work or go for beach walks to integrate it all. I’ve never understood the need for being well-rounded; hyper focus really works for me. I’m a bit like Petra that way!
PJS: When not writing I am usually reading, keeping up with the media industry (since I’m a story and script consultant and speaker) and visiting with friends at dinner parties or soirees. I also enjoy walking or driving around the narrow winding streets of the Hollywood Hills right behind my apartment. World travel also appeals to me and my passport is always ready.
13. Are you currently working on any other projects?
RM: Always, although PV trumps. I’m developing a book series with a friend who is an amateur horologist (timekeeping) and am seeking a publisher for a non-fiction book co-written with the former CEO of Volvo, entitled “Your Success GPS,” a how-to about getting great mentors who can help accelerate your career.
PJS: I’ve seen some of the preliminary work on Reece’s “Your Success GPS” and I look forward to it being done as I know it will be very valuable. Currently I am co-writing a book for media-makers with a long-time colleague and friend, Monty Hayes McMillan. Our book is “Show me the Love!” and is about the many different kinds of love you can have in your stories: family, friends, romantic, pets, country, adventure, learning, and many more. It is great fun to do and the research is so interesting as we are including the anthropological and psychological backgrounds for each different category of “love”. I’m also working on getting some of my short stories ready to e-publish, and finishing part four of a five-part novel, “Kurultai”, about a group of people who reincarnate together over the centuries and millennia. That’s really fun as it gives me such a variety of worlds to explore.
14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?
RM: If you’re considering self-publishing, it’s worth investing both money and time in obtaining superb front cover art and ensuring that the back of the book looks equally inviting and professional. Thanks to our tremendously talented artist Gail Jorden, we’ve had tremendous positive feedback about this aspect of Petra Volare, even to the point where people find the cover art so gorgeous and intriguing that they’re excited to get a copy for that alone. First impressions really do matter: the book is carried by a number of independent bookstores based on the owners’ first impression— loving the “look and feel” of the book.
PJS: I totally agree with Reece about the covers. Too often it is too obvious that a book is self-published, but a professionally designed cover can make all the difference in how your book is perceived out in the marketplace.
Besides that – edit, edit, edit. Content edit, copy edit, and then copy edit again. Too many books these days have typos, misused words, incorrect grammar, homonyms, and other distracting mistakes. Too many errors can ruin the reading experience and call into question the professionalism of the writer as well as the value of the material itself.
RM: I’d second that! Pamela Jaye is, as always, spot-on – and I’d add that it’s useful to edit your work with different questions in mind each time, so you have different eyes; and if you can afford it, have a professional editor go through it, then check it yourself before it goes out. [We had a prototype of the book made, which is not inexpensive, but it allowed us the chance to edit one last time before lots of copies got made. It was a very valuable investment, though, because there was something none of us caught.]
15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
RM: I learned a lot from Petra Volare about what it is to believe in yourself and your talents without being arrogant about it, even if your dreams are huge. Her motivation, almost always, is to use her creativity to contribute to the people in her world, and to be mindful of the long-term consequences of inventions. And she doesn’t back away from hard work, even if it requires more patience than she wants to have. Good lessons for anyone, but especially useful if you are someone who wants to accomplish the best version of your own aspirations. Also be sure to express appreciation to those who help you along the way–it’s not only good manners, it creates positive bridges and good fortune, both of which are critical to success.
PJS: Learn to look for the mysteries behind everything. And to see and seek out the science of everything. Read and watch shows about how stuff is made. Get out into nature and explore: the beach, hills, forests, desert, the city, small towns…where ever you live, find something new to investigate every day. Write about what you found, make drawings or photos, pass on your insights to others. Make your own mind your strongest and best computer. Make your own imagination your richest entertainment device. Stay curious, stay inventive, stay adventurous!
RM & PJS: Thank you so much, Nutschell, for inviting us to interview for your fabulous blog and allowing us to meet your readers. We wish you and all your readers great success in all your creative endeavors!!
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