WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
Janelle: I’ve always loved books. Always. Even as a child, I loved books so much that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m lucky to be living that dream. In addition to Pack-n-Go Girls, I’ve written ten other books, including The Virus, a political thriller that was a Colorado Humanities for the Book finalist; Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book selection; and its sequel, Never Enough Flamingos.
Lisa: I guess I was always a writer, but I didn’t really know it. When I was in 5th grade, I wrote my first book for a class project. It was called The Case of the Missing Diamonds. I’ve always had stories in my head, so I kept writing them down. Then one day I decided it would be fun to share the stories with others. Everyone has stories in their head. What’s your story?
WAS THERE A TEACHER OR OTHER MENTOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING?
Janelle: When I was a junior in high school, I had a student teacher in my English class who did a short-story unit. She loved what I wrote and encouraged me to try to get it published. I sent it off to a magazine, and magic happened: they published it! A month later, another magazine reprinted it. I’ve always appreciated that she believed in me and pushed me!
Lisa: My high school English teacher taught me how to write. All we did for one semester was write the same paper over and over. I didn’t realize until I was teaching communications at University of Delaware what a gift the skill of writing was. I promptly wrote him a thank you note.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
Lisa came up with the original idea. She wanted to stretch the world for kids, to make them curious, and to inspire them to be global kids. Janelle loved the concept and jumped at the chance to be part of a project she could feel passionate about. We love that we’re getting kids to travel the world through a book.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOKS?
Janelle: There are so many moments in all of the books that I love, but if I had to choose one, it would be from Mystery of the Min Min Lights, the Australian adventure. Sheep are disappearing from the Taylor’s sheep station in the outback. And the thief might be something as crazy as a UFO. I love the point in the book where Wendy, the girl from San Francisco; Chloe, the Australian girl; and Jack, Chloe’s younger brother, are huddled in the car while they wait for Chloe and Jack’s mum to go get help for a flat tire. It’s getting dark; the dingoes are barking, and the kids are feeling very nervous about UFOs that might swoop in. Jack, who is only five, tumbles into the back seat and squeezes between the two girls. “I think we’ll be okay if we stick together,” he says. Of course, he feels brave as long as he has two girls on his flanks.
Lisa: The most fun I have in writing the books is playing with different phrases or slang in different cultures. In Thailand, Jess says “that stinks” when Nong May got robbed. Nong May takes it literally to mean it smells, and she is, of course, totally confused. And in Brazil, Júlia loved to tell Sofia “tem macaquinhos em sus cabeca.” She has little monkeys in her head. Sofia looks around for the monkeys while Júlia means that Sofia has strange ideas. It’s just fun for the girls to learn about our own silly sayings as well as others from different cultures. Where do they come from? And why do we say them? It’s a good conversation starter about culture.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
Janelle: Great question! I find that my American characters tend to be a bit more reserved and nervous—they’re not on their home soil and so don’t know quite what to expect. I end up identifying more with the girls from the other countries. Of all of these, though, I probably identify most with Chloe Taylor, our Australian Pack-n-Go Girl. She’s bold, a bit bossy, and at the same time passionate about the land she’s grown up on.
Lisa: I identify most with Sofia Diaz, our Miami-based Pack-n-Go Girl who travels to Brazil. She always likes to have a plan—but sometimes life throws things in your way. I love that she’s persistent and carries on in the face of adversity. But frankly, I wouldn’t mind having a little more of Júlia Santos’ “don’t worry” attitude.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
We want to inspire readers to embrace adventure, be curious, value what unites us, and celebrate the differences that make us unique. We want to inspire them to take on our boundaryless world. Ultimately, we want them to become global kids.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
Janelle: Outlines are important. I know we all learned this in third grade, but I didn’t fully understand this until I started writing fiction. My trilogy for adults took four years to write and required a ton of editing. My next novel took five months to write and required far less editing because I knew from the beginning where I was going with it, chapter by chapter. An outline turned out not to be a constraint at all. Instead, it was like having a map to go someplace you’ve never been or just having a general idea of how to get someplace you’ve never been. The former is far less frustrating. I guess I should have been paying more attention in third grade instead of chatting with my neighbors and passing notes.
Lisa: I’d like to think that the first draft of each book is a masterpiece. That it’s perfect. That it’s done. But Janelle doesn’t let me off that easy. She reminds me that every good book is so much better when we work hard to revise it. So, we edit the book. And edit it. And edit it. And there is not enough space here to list how many times we edit it. But it’s A LOT!
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY?
We’d love to be the Caroline Keene for the early chapter book set. We both loved to read Nancy Drew books. We both loved mysteries. We still do. That’s why we write mysteries. Lisa also loves Scooby Doo. Janelle isn’t so sure.
WHAT HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
Janelle: That would have to be my dad. He was an adventure traveler and took our family into the Amazon rainforest, pre-Castro Havana, and the Russian Steppes in January. He taught me to be curious, to live resiliently, and to embrace the unknown.
An iconic moment for me happened in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when I was in third grade and my sister in fourth grade. We loved bolillos, that crusty small French bread we’d been eating for weeks. Whatever was left on the table at lunch, Mom dropped into her travel purse, a bag massive enough to hold the daytime lives of two adults, three children and a toddler. One day we walked to the huge plaza in front of the Pink House, the Argentine equivalent of the US White House, to feed the pigeons. My sister told me to bend down just so as we fed the birds because the next year I would see a picture in the fourth-grade geography book of two girls bending down and feeding the pigeons in front of the Pink House.
She was right. Experiencing that moment and then seeing the picture the following August—it was the first thing I looked for in my geography book when school started—gave me the understanding that when I read history or geography books, the people were real. It also built, in an unexpected way, empathy for others. Stories weren’t just stories. They were experiences lived, suffered through, impacted by.
Lisa: There are too many to name. My parents encouraged me to be adventurous and taught me that it was okay to get lost and go where the journey takes you. And National Geographic was a favorite magazine of mine growing up. I spent many hours in the attic sifting through back issues my parents had saved --not sure why they saved every one of them, but lucky for me, they did. I loved where the pictures took me. Back then, I was pretty sure I’d grow up to be a NatGeo photographer. While I still like photography and have photos of my travels hanging in my office to inspire me, I guess writing became more of a passion.
HOW DID YOU GET PUBLISHED?
We’ve tackled this on our own as Pack-n-Go Girls. It’s been challenging to create a high-quality product, brand it, produce it, and market it. The downside is that we have total responsibility for everything. The upside is that we have total control.
IF A CLOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Do it because you love it. Don’t do it for the money. That’s a side reward.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
This is the toughest part! We do a lot on social media @packngogirls on Twitter; Pack-n-Go Girls on Facebook and Pinterest, and @packngogirlsadventures on Instagram, get involved with online influencers in our target market such as the Multicultural Kid Blogs and Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and do giveaways on Goodreads. We also attend conferences, do author visits, and connect to classrooms on Skype. This past summer, we advertised on Facebook for our Summer Reading Adventure book club.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
We’re proud of the awards (thank you, Literary Classics, for another great one!) and for the wonderful reviews, we’ve gotten from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Midwest Book Reviews, bloggers, and individuals. Our real accomplishment is in the sweet, genuine thank you notes and fan mail we get from our readers. That’s truly what we live for.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS?
We’d love it if our books found their way into every second-grade classroom in the country. (We have teaching resources to make it easy for teachers to use the books in schools.) We want kids to discover the world. If they can’t do it with a plane ticket, they can at least do it in a book. We’re doing our best to make that happen.
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING:
Janelle: I’m passionate about traveling. I’ve been to 49 states (Oh, Hawaii, how I long to visit you!) and over 45 countries. This year, I’m adding two new ones to my list. I love discovering countries—the culture, the history, the food, the language, and most of all the people.
Lisa: Traveling builds fun memories that you will have for your whole life. I’ve traveled across the United States in a Volkswagen camper, flown in a Chinook helicopter over Seoul, South Korea, been scolded by polizei in East Berlin, escaped death by jellyfish in the South China sea, danced to ‘Come on Eileen’ in a sketchy Prague dance club, run into the Belgian military at midnight while carrying a torch, signed a “I won’t blame you if I die” waiver to stand in North Korea at Panmunjom, and dined in a dungeon in Spain (well, okay, it was just a cellar storage area, but we were behind bars).
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
We discovered writing travel adventure mysteries for kids isn’t just something we love; it’s something we feel passionate about. Why? Because travel builds appreciation, tolerance, and empathy for others. Need we say more? Travel also encourages curiosity, independence, and a sense of adventure—characteristics we can never champion enough for our daughters. And because not every child can hop on a plane and travel to a new locale, books are an important way to get us there.
WHAT OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
In addition to the Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure series, Janelle also writes for adults. The Virus, a Colorado Humanities for the Book finalist, is a political thriller for these politically thrilling times. Never Enough Flamingos is a 2017 Kansas Notable Book selection. The sequel, Never Enough Sisters, was released this summer. And the final book in the Never Enough trilogy, Never Enough Lilacs was released in 2018.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
Our next Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure, Mystery of the Naga in the Night, is coming soon. It’s the second book in the Thailand series and follows the adventures of Jessica from Boston and Nong May as they explore the mysterious land of elephants, ancient treasures, and golden temples. Our first African adventure will be out in 2018.
Mystery of the Naga at Night: Jess arrives to help Nong May at one of the hill tribe village schools in Thailand. Nong May is happier than ever to see her. For the last week, Nong May has been scared stiff. Every night, she’s seen the mythical seven-headed Naga serpent slithering through the village. And this Naga is not out to protect anyone. It has to be a bad dream. Or is it?
All of our Pack-n-Go Girls books are available in paperback, hardback, and ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and can be ordered by your local book retailers, as well as our publisher, WorldTrek Publishing, 121 E. Vermijo, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org