P.J. is the author of The Forgotten Worlds Trilogy: The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree Press, October 2008), The Navel of the World (Children's Brains and Yummy Books, October 2009) and the upcoming Necropolis (Fall 2010). in addition to being an Awesome Inkie, P.J. has a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering and she'll kick your butt solving a Rubik's Cube.
Yay, P.J.! So fantastic for me to get to conduct this interview. First off, I know you have a really interesting story about your path to publication. Could you share?
PJ: I always laugh that I was not the kid who carried around a notebook and wrote short stories. I was the kid who sat at home in front of her Commodore 64 (a really old computer) and taught herself to program in BASIC (a really old computer language). But after 15 years in Electrical Engineering, one day I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I'd had the idea of writing my own fantasy book someday, and that day seemed like the right day to give it a shot. I've written pretty much daily ever since and love it!
OMG, I totally had a Commodore 64. You'd spend two hours typing in this long, convoluted code just to watch a pixel bounce around the screen and change colors. (Yes kids, that's what the early days of computers was like...) Ah, memories.
But speaking of geeky hobbies, I loved all the gizmos and gadgets you came up with for the citizens of Lemuria.
PJ: The funny thing is that after I created them, I wanted them for myself. I love Rubik's Cubes and had a blast coming up with the Kinetic Orb, which is a Rubik's Cube for smart people. The geodine would be an excellent GPS device, and the lumitube would be useful especially if I could use it to eavesdrop on other people (like editors and agents).
I'd buy that in a HEARTBEAT. I mean, um...
So your Forgotten Worlds Trilogy is heavily rooted in mythology, something else I've been known to geek out about. Was there a specific inspiration in how you took traditional myths and gave them your own twist?
PJ: Even amidst all the engineering fun, I held onto a love of all things mythology. I love how each civilization has its own stories to explain the magical world around us, and how all these stories have similar roots. For The Forgotten Worlds trilogy, I took a spark from one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, "Who Mourns For Adonis." This was the episode where the Enterprise found Apollo on a planet, and he tried to make them worship him. I always loved the idea of superhumans forming the belief system for the ancient gods. Like how would beings with extra powers be viewed by humans? Would they think they were gods? So I took this thought and used it to form the mythological beliefs for the world in THE EMERALD TABLET and THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD.
So the lesson here is, Television Is Wonderful. :) But seriously, its not all boob tube inspiration. I'm guessing your writing and plotting involves a great deal of research.
PJ: Well, there's research and then there's research. I dig around on the Internet plenty, spending days and weeks going from link to link to link seeing what will spark an idea. But I also love getting on scene as much as I can. With a hidden continent, this isn't terribly possible, but I always look for those fun, unique experiences. I've found field trips to be some of the best ways to get ideas. I can tour sewage treatment plants, recycling plants, and go to Renaissance Faires, and get a great behind-the-scenes view at all sorts of amazing things.
Lesson #2: Not only is television wonderful, but the Internet is too! Woo hoo! Alright, let's move on to the first book in the trilogy, THE EMERALD TABLET. There's so much to love about this novel, but one of the aspects that really reached out and grabbed me was the voice of your main character, Benjamin Holt. I just loved him.
PJ: Thanks! With a close third person, it was a bit more challenging to get totally inside his head than first person, but the POV felt right for these novels. I like to think of Benjamin as the kid with special powers in school who always had to hide those powers. And then, once summer school hit, he found out his powers really weren't so special after all. The contradiction here was fun to play around with and helped shape him into the character he is.
Well you did a fantastic job (*cough* I'm jealous *cough*). Now in addition to Benjamin's voice, there were two really interesting themes I took away from THE EMERALD TABLET. The first I thought was so important to the MG/YA reader - the idea of finding out who you are. Benjamin and his friends Andy, Gary, Heidi and Iva have a lot to learn when they are pulled into this new world, trying to figure out how they fit in.
PJ: So like Benjamin, all the kids go through a similar discovery. Though special in the normal world, they really aren't special once they're around a bunch of other kids like them. And like any kid going through a change in their life, these kids needed to learn to adapt. They had to accept what they excelled at, and practice at what they didn't. And they had to accept that others would be better than them at certain things. Growing up, sometimes the scales can seem so unfair. Certain kids seem to be good at everything, while others flounder. It's nothing new, and all kids see it. I like to hope that as kids read the books, they'll get a glimpse of themselves in the characters.
Please, I saw a piece of myself in your characters. Although I don't have super cool powers like your Telegens. How much fun was it to develop those "talents" in your characters?
PJ: So much fun! Ever since I first saw those TV shows with the zener cards and people guessing what was on the other side, I've been fascinated with the idea of extrasensory powers. I gave up all hope of telekinesis for myself many years ago, but I love leaving open the possibility that these powers really exist in others.
Like the second scene in Ghostbusters? Totally wished I could do that as a kid. But I think I got sidetracked. The other theme I really picked up on was the idea that Good and Evil are not always so easily distinguishable. The way your Lemurians have dealt with their enemy Atlantis seemed like the right thing to do to protect Humans, but it isn't always so easy to see right from wrong sometimes, right?
PJ: While writing, it became evident that even though for generations the Lemurians were convinced they were the good guys, imprisoning an entire other continent was not the right answer, especially since the main population of people from Atlantis were not really evil; they had bad government and thus had suffered for ages. What seemed like a good decision at the time (to sink the continent of Atlantis) was not in fact the right answer. Some other balance had to be found. Years went on with everyone really knowing this, but nobody being sure how to solve the problem. And then one day Benjamin Holt was given the task to do just that.
The second book in the trilogy THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD deals with one of my favorite fantasy elements: time travel. I think we've all dreamed of being able to travel to a different time and place. First of all, you have an interesting new spin on the "mechanics" of time travel that I bet everyone would love to hear. Then tell me, how did you decide which time periods to use?
PJ: Yay for time travel! I've always wanted to write a time travel story. I made time travel such that not everyone could do it, there were limitations, and there were consequences. And then I added fun. The telemagnifiers needed for time travel posed a challenge in themselves. They're hard-to-find, unique objects. And as for where they would travel, I knew it had to be Troy. What better time than going back to the world of the Iliad and Odyssey? I always say the one author I'd love to meet is Homer.
I also loved that your characters were a little older, a little wiser and a little more aware of their feelings towards one another. How was it developing Benjamin and his friends beyond Book 1?
PJ: This was an unexpected delight in writing a sequel. I knew the characters so much better by NAVEL, and as they were a year older, being able to play around with romance was an added benefit. Kids emotions can run so rampant during these years. I tried to glimpse inside the minds of both the gals and guys, and keep the relationships forefront in NAVEL.
Benjamin and Heidi? Benjamin and Heidi? (hee hee) Alright, one more question before I let you go. The third and final book in the trilogy NECROPOLIS comes out next year - then what?
PJ: I'll keep writing! Everything I write so far has mythology in it, so it's safe to say whatever it is will be fantasy. I'm working on both MG and YA projects, so hopefully look for something new in both those age ranges!