Interview: Pamela Keyes, Author of “The Jumbee”

Author Interviews, Book Reviews

After reading and then reviewing “The Jumbee” by Pamela Keyes, I knew that there were quite an extraordinary author behind this exceptional book and am excited to present an interview with Pamela Keyes! You can read the review for The Jumbee here.

Can you tell us a little about The
Jumbee?

I loved your review, which said
everything I might hope to say here. But maybe I can add a review
from Booklist, which summarizes The Jumbee on the amazon.com site.

A teenage actress falls for a
mysterious stranger in this haunting romance, reminiscent of The
Phantom of the Opera. High-school senior Esti Legard and her mother
have moved to the Caribbean after the death of Esti’s father, a
famous Shakespearean actor. While playing Juliet at her prestigious
performing-arts high school, Esti starts receiving acting instruction
from a disembodied voice in the theater. Frightened that she is being
courted by a jumbee, or ghost, Esti tries to switch her attention to
charming flesh-and-blood Rafe, but she continues to be seduced by the
velvety-voiced persona, which seems to read her mind. When Esti’s
real and imagined worlds collide in the climax of a tropical
hurricane, her secrets are revealed, along with those of her
conflicted island community, where descendants of slaves and slave
owners alike live in an uneasy peace. The lushly described exotic
setting breathes new life into the classic star-crossed story line.
Romance fans will enjoy the fascinating locale along with the
slow-building suspense and incidental acting lessons.

Some writers have daily routines
they stick to when working on a project. What is a day in your
writing life like?

I have two young children (ages 5 and
7) so my writing time is limited to when they are in school or with a
babysitter. Generally I’ll get them off to school, then race to my
computer and write until they come home. My muse is that ticking
clock.

What was the most difficult part of
the writing process for The Jumbee?

The revisions. For one thing, my
original manuscript had Alan — like The Phantom — considerably
older than Esti. But that dynamic didn’t feel right for a young adult
novel — I wanted it creepy, but that was much too creepy — so I
reworked the entire manuscript to make him younger, which instantly
worked so much better. I had a few other far-reaching changes like
that, and it seemed to drag on forever.

Since The Jumbee is based off of the
Phantom of the Opera, did one of the interpretations of the story in
film, book, or the Broadway show influence you to write this book?

I fell in love with the plot and the
character of The Phantom when I saw the Broadway show. As I walked
out of the theater, I knew I had to somehow turn it into a YA story.
When I was writing it, however, Leroux’s novel influenced most of the
twists and turns in The Jumbee.

If The Jumbee were made into a
feature film, who would you cast as your leading characters and why?

What a fun question! I’ve always adored
the voice of Patrick Stewart, but he’s too old now for Alan. Robert
Pattinson has a great, sexy voice, and I think he would be awesome as
Alan. Darryl Stephens would make a very cute Rafe, and so would Shad
Moss. I think Drew Barrymore would be perfect as Esti’s mom. As for
Esti, If only Chloe Moretz were a couple years older…

What subjects would you like to see
more of in today’s Young Adult fiction market?

I’m fairly liberal, so I love books
that push the envelope of what is traditionally acceptable. I would
love to see more interracial relationships, more questioning of the
absolute “good vs bad” (because good and bad are always
more complex than that). The best books, imho, are the ones that open
the minds of teenagers and make them question the reality of right
and wrong.

Can you tell us about some of your
favorite books and authors?

Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson);
Trial of Tompa Lee (Ed Hoornaert); Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
(Chris Crutcher); Harry Potter (hmm, guess who?); Wrinkle in Time
(Madeleine L’Engle); Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; J.R.R.Tolkien; Anne
McCaffrey. I have so many favorites…. 🙂 And I haven’t even begun
with the classics. The Great Gatsby; Being There….

Do you have any interesting stories
about the writing of this book that you would like to share?

Mostly I treasure the time I spent
living in the Virgin Islands, which gave me such a wonderful insight
into life in the West Indies.

Did you listen to music a lot while
working on this project, and if so, what kind of soundtrack would The
Jumbee have?

I listened to the Phantom soundtrack,
of course. I also listened to a lot of Caribbean music – calypso,
soca, steel drum bands. There are a lot of great USVI bands. And then
I have my favorite old standbys, eclectic singers like Tori Amos;
Fisher; Bangguru; Bjork. What kind of soundtrack would The Jumbee
have? The Avatar soundtrack gives me goosebumps, with its blended
emotional & tribal nuances. When The Jumbee reaches that level,
I’ll have a talk with James Horner.

Why did you choose to veer away from
the musical theme in the original story to a more dramatic and
Shakespearean approach in The Jumbee?

I’ve always loved theater, and it
seemed like such a logical move – particularly for a high school
setting. I mean, how many high school kids can really relate to
opera?

Alan, like The Phantom, is an
intriguing, bittersweet and complex character, and not much is ever
said about what happens to him after the story ends. What kind of
journey do you see Alan taking when your story ends?

I have a lot of ideas, so I’ll be
thrilled if it goes in the direction of a sequel, so that I can find
out what does happen to him. Things would have to get a lot worse for
Alan before they got better, of course. That’s what the best writers
must do to their beloved characters, unfortunately.

Can you tell us a little about your
other writing projects and what you are working on right now?

I have two previous middle-grade novels
(The Rune of Zachary Zimbalist and its sequel) about a connecting
dimension linking the past to the future, and what happens if history
is altered by changing the past. I’m also three weeks from finishing
my next manuscript (yay!), which is a paranormal historical YA
fiction. In that one, my main teen characters (from three different
centuries) each struggle with the meaning of “being good.”
I also have a novel further down the line that addresses the question
of gender identity. Like I said, I love books that make teens think
and open their minds.

Do you ever see yourself writing a
sequel to The Jumbee?

I would love to write a sequel. The
Jumbee has gotten a lot of great reviews, so I think it’s a good
possibility. Danielle’s sister, Marielle, would likely develop into a
major character. As soon as I’m done with my next two projects….

What advice would you give to
potential writers that you wish you had been told?

First of all, write the story that you
are passionate about. If you try and fit into a trend, chances are
the trend will be over before you ever get published. On the other
hand, if your novel is outstanding, it may create its own trend.
Secondly, find a way to condense your story into an amazing
single-sentence summary. After you’ve done that, expand it into a
single-paragraph summary, and then into a one-page summary. The most
powerful marketing tool is a fabulous synopsis, and all three of the
above synopses are essential. It can be hard to do, but here’s a
great trick I got from a recent SCBWI writers’ retreat: 1) After
(inciting incident) a (character description) must (primary action)
in order to (goal), or risk (stakes) before (ticking clock).

Translating this to The Jumbee, we
have: Moving to a tropical island after the death of her famous
father, a high school theater student must come face-to-face with
local superstitions in order to escape from the shadow of her famous
father, or risk losing everyone she loves.

Is there anything you would like to
say to your fans and potential readers?

I love knowing that I’ve touched people
with my work. If my writing makes a true difference in the life of a
single person, then I can’t ask for much more. Although I wouldn’t
turn down a stint on the NYT bestsellers’ list. 🙂

About Pamela Keyes:

I spent most of my life trying to decide what to be when I grew up. I’ve
always been an avid reader and traveler, and I actually wrote my first book when
I was nine. My family and friends teased me through middle school and high
school about the endless stories I wrote, but somehow it never occurred to me
that writing could be a career.

So I studied science and English in high school, German and math and
psychology in college, and I traveled whenever I could. I settled into
architecture in graduate school, and eventually became a registered architect. I
drew building plans for years, but finally found myself writing stories again in
my spare time. And so, it came full-circle.

As a writer, I can be anything I want, anywhere in the universe I want to be.
I’ve lived in the lush tropical islands of the Caribbean, the remote
Texas-Mexican Border, the Bavarian Alps, and the thriving cities of Denver and
Seattle. Through all my adventures, my heart has always belonged to the Arizona
Sonoran desert. I now live in Tucson with my husband and two children.

Bio Courtesy of Author’s website.

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