Monday, 15 October 2012

Authors in the Limelight Interview: Robyn Opie Parnell

Robyn Opie ParnellI want to thank and welcome author, Robyn Opie Parnell for sharing her personal writing journey with us on my blog today. Her featured book, Maya and the Crystal Skull, can be purchased from Amazon, and other on-line bookstores.

How long have you been writing, Robyn?

I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen – an Australian version of Nancy Drew.

In my early twenties, I submitted a 2,500 word picture book to publishers. I thought the book was brilliant. I loved it. Publishers, unfortunately, didn’t agree. But I didn’t know back then that picture books are usually less than 700 words and never ever more than 1,000. Oops! It’s a good thing we live and learn.

Around mid-nineties, I read books and completed courses on writing for children. My first three books were accepted in 1998 and published in 1999. The three books are still available today. They are My Bike, Jen Stays Inside, and People Need Trucks.
Where did you get your idea and inspiration to write Maya and the Crystal Skull?

Maya and the Crystal Skull is a different story for me. The idea and inspiration were a lifetime in the making.

When I was a teenager, I became interested in the ancient civilizations of the Maya, Incas and Aztecs. In my spare time, I read about these cultures and learned what I could about them. Life moved on and I forgot about the Maya, Incas and Aztecs.

About seven years ago, I developed a fascination for clairvoyant mediums, life after death and the spirit realm. In the last few years, I added the law of attraction and quantum physics to the things that fascinate me. I’m also a greenie, as in I used to work for Greenpeace Australia.

I’m a sponge. I love soaking up information about things that interest me. If I’m not interested, forget it!

To cut a looooonnnnnnggggg story short, one night my husband wanted to watch a documentary on crystal skulls. How awful, I thought. But I agreed because I love my husband. The legend of the crystal skulls is linked to indigenous peoples such as the Maya, Aztecs and Native American Indians. I was once again hooked on these cultures and curious about the crystal skulls. After a month of research and an inkling of an idea, I sat down and plotted Maya and the Crystal Skull. This story – and ultimately the series – includes all of my favorite interests: the legend of the crystal skulls, the Mayan culture, clairvoyant mediums, the spirit realm, quantum psychics and the environment.     

Amazing what watching one show will do, isn’t it? What sets Maya and the Crystal Skull apart from other books in the same genre?

Maya and the Crystal Skull appears to be an action/adventure, similar to those featuring Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. And it is! Maya and the Crystal Skull is action-packed, full of danger and intrigue, and death-defying moments.

Maya King is trying to live a “normal” teenage life, while recovering from the tragic death of her mother. Her “normal” existence is shattered when Maya has to save her dad and the world from evil villains.   

Now the novel is set apart by the characters: Maya’s side-kick, Ethan, is from the spirit world. The series assumes that there’s life after death and that at least two dimensions co-exist – the physical Earth and the spirit realm. Through Maya’s adventures, we learn about both dimensions.

The series also includes the beliefs of indigenous peoples, in the first instance the Maya of Mesoamerica. My favorite interests – the legend of the crystal skulls, the Mayan culture, clairvoyant mediums, the spirit realm, quantum psychics and the environment – are the ingredients that make this series unique.

A writer after my own heart! As an author, Robyn, what is your writing process?

I write every morning, 7 days a week if possible, until at least lunch time. I like to spend a minimum of 4 hours a day on my own writing.

After an idea inspires me, I don’t immediately sit down to write the story. I always finish one story before I move on to the next. If I don’t finish a story before being distracted by another one, I’m afraid I’ll end up with a lot of unfinished stories. Plus, I like an idea to sit in my head for a while. This gives my subconscious mind a chance to play with the idea, characters, plot etc while I’m going about my daily life. Pretty soon, seemingly without effort, my subconscious mind has put together a whole story and all I have to do is sit down to write.

I like to know the ending before I start to write. I prefer to have a target to aim for. Again, I’m making sure I finish my stories. The ending can change, which is the case with my children’s novel Black Baron. I knew the ending before I put fingers to keyboard, but my original ending was replaced by a better one.

I usually give myself a target word count to reach each day and that target is usually 1,000 words. I keep writing until I’ve reached 1,000 words. Occasionally, I have an appointment and I can’t write 1,000 words. On those occasions, I aim for whatever I can do. I prefer to write every day, even if sometimes I can only add 100 words to a story. The target of 1,000 words, though, means that 98% of the time I write 1,000 words a day.

Writing is a habit. I’ve created habits that enable me to write a lot and to write as efficiently as possible.

I applaud your discipline and stamina! How long did it take for you to start and finish Maya and the Crystal Skull?

I spent a month researching the legend of the crystal skulls and the Mayan people of Mesoamerica. My interest in clairvoyant mediums, the spirit realm, quantum psychics and the environment meant I didn’t need to research these subjects. I’d been reading about them for years.

I also spent a few days writing a plot outline for Maya and the Crystal Skull. When I wrote the first draft, I knew every twist and turn, so I didn’t stop to think about where my story was going. The plot of the published novel is almost identical to my original plot outline.

Before I started, I planned to write a 40,000 word novel in approximately 40 days. That’s 1,000 words a day – a reasonable goal for a full time writer. I wrote the first draft of Maya and the Crystal Skull in 6 weeks – 43 days in reality.

Writing quickly, and with a plot outline at hand, by the time I reached the end of the manuscript, I couldn’t remember about 80% of what I’d written. The first 100 or so pages were a blur. I had fresh eyes for editing, which took me approximately 3 to 4 weeks.

I used a similar process with the sequel Maya and the Daring Heist.
Do you have any advice for other writers, Robyn?

When I submitted my first manuscripts to publishers, I didn’t know about word counts, age groups, types of books or anything else to do with children’s books. My first manuscripts were rejected.

My advice, based on my own experience, is to learn everything you can about writing, especially to do with your chosen genre. I read books about writing, completed courses, joined writers’ groups and organizations. Only then were my stories accepted for publication.

After all, you wouldn’t pilot a jumbo jet without first learning how to fly. Why would we submit a manuscript to a publisher without first learning how to write a children’s book?

If you’ve learned about your chosen genre, so you’re way ahead here, then my advice is persistence. Professional writers often say that the secret to their success is persistence. They never gave up!
I never thought of comparing learning how to fly with learning the ins and out of writing, but you’ve got a point! What’s next for Robyn Opie Parnell the author?

I’ve been busy. My books Stop! Do Not Read This Book and You’re Amazing – the Law of Attraction for Young People will be released in paperback in 2013.

I’m doing a final edit of the sequel to Maya and the Crystal Skull, which is called Maya and the Daring Heist, for release in 2013.

I have other books in the pipeline, including a picture book Wiggle Jiggle All Around and a short chapter book If Not Jannah.

Despite two false starts, I’m still hopeful of seeing our family feature film (a screenplay co-written with my husband Rob Parnell) on the big screen.
I wish you all the best with your new books and plans! Okay, here’s one for me, since I’m writing a time travel series – If you could time travel anywhere into Earth’s past, where would you go and why?

I’m torn between two time periods.

One, I’d love to travel to Central America during the Classic Period (250 AD to 800 AD) and live with the Mayan people. I’d love to learn, first hand, about this culture that built cities with amazing pyramids, that lived in harmony with the land, that studied the stars and planets, that created complicated calendars, and much, much more.

Two, I’d love to travel to England in the 16th century to witness the great William Shakespeare in action. I’d love to experience Shakespeare’s plays at the time he wrote them. I’d also love to meet him. This period involves the plague, so it’s a bit trickier in relation to time travel. What if I caught the plague and died?
Robyn Opie Parnell is the author of more than 80 published children's books. She has been writing for children for over 10 years; most of her books are sold around the world and many have been translated into foreign languages. Robyn wrote her first children's book while at high school. It was a mystery similar to the Nancy Drew series. When Robyn was a child, she wished she could be Nancy Drew because the teenage sleuth was always involved in an exciting adventure.

Please visit the following links for more information on Robyn and her books:

Blurb for Maya and the Crystal Skull:

Move over Indiana Jones...

Maya's life has changed.

Her mother is dead, killed in a car accident; she's befriended by Ethan, a boy who claims he's from the spirit world; and now her father is missing.

What does the legend of the crystal skulls have to do with her father's disappearance? Will Maya travel to Mexico to save him? How can Maya's destiny have anything to do with the future of humankind?

The Mexican jungle, ancient Mayan ruins, dangerous bounty hunters and evil kidnappers...

Yes, Maya's life has changed.

The fate of the world now depends on her.

To purchase Maya and the Crystal Skull:




  1. I love action packed adventure stories. This sounds just my thing. Perhaps someone ought to make it into a film, too!

    Lovely interview, Sharon. :-)

    1. I know, Amaleen, I'd go see that movie for sure! Maybe Robyn could invite us to the premier? Hint, hint! Cheers and thanks for surfing by!

  2. I enjoyed reading the interview Sharon. When I first saw this book a couple of months ago I was hooked, it sounds awesome and it's right up my alley (I already have it on my Goodreads list - I might have to move it up a few notches).
    Best of luck with the book Robyn.

    1. Thanks for surfing by to support, Robyn, Steve! You do so much for MG writers! Cheers!