An Interview With Author Ellen Wolfson Valladares

Q: Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu is your first book. Would you talk a little bit about how you came to write it and what the writing process was like for you?

What inspired you to write Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu?

A: It started as an idea/inspiration that came to me probably 10 years ago, believe it or not. I just knew that it was a story about a boy who got lost on a mountain and his journey to find his way home and find himself would mirror the spiritual journey that we all take in life. The idea stayed with me and the best advice I ever got was from my brother (a writer and filmmaker) who told me to just “open a file” for the book and start writing. I finally did that and it was interesting that as I began to write down the ideas, then I would get inspirations in the middle of the night or while driving for the next part. It was like I had to get them down on paper and out of my head to make way for the next scene to emerge.

The process took a long time because at first, I dabbled with it between my other writing jobs and taking care of my two boys. I came close to abandoning the project, but something drove me (kind of like my character Jonathan) to “never give up.”

Q. What do you think drove you to keep going?

A. A couple of things. First, it has been my dream since I was a child to write a book. The other thing is that I felt that writing this particular book was part of my life purpose.

Q. What do you mean by life purpose?

A. Well, I believe, as Jonathan learns, that each one of us has special talents and abilities that we can use to make a difference in the world. That is our life purpose. You usually recognize your purpose in the things that you are naturally passionate about or love to do. I have always known I was a writer. I am also passionate about helping children and helping others discover their own passions and purpose. I was able to combine all these in the book.

Q: How did you conceive of the storyline? To what extent, if any, is it based on “real life”?

A: I guess every author pulls from “real life”. As I said, the storyline came mostly from inspirations out of nowhere. I do remember one day telling someone about the story I was writing and he asked me “Is it about you? Is that your story?” The question surprised me, because I hadn’t intended it that way. But I realized that in many ways, the story is a metaphor for how I came out of dark times and discovered the light and the magic of the universe.

Q: How did Jonathan come into being—was he already evolved and somebody you knew before you started writing or did he manifest as you wrote?

A: Jonathan’s character definitely evolved over time. He is part me and of course, I could not help pulling from my two best research subjects, my sons.

Q: Yes, you have two young sons, Gabriel and Michael; did they help shape your desire to write a children’s book?

A: Absolutely. They are probably my two biggest fans. The fact that they enjoyed it so much when I read the first version to them a few years ago really helped me keep going. And they gave me some great input for how to make it better. They helped me come up with names, like the “relmometer,” the special watch that Jonathan uses on Mount Miapu. And it always helped so much to have them and all their friends around so I could really get a feel for how kids today think and feel.

Q: Is there any special significance for you in Mount Miapu?

A: Well, first, I will let you know that I came up with “Miapu” because it is an acronym with special meaning. Maybe one day I will share more on that. Mount Miapu itself is created from images I have “seen” in my meditations, as well as from other magical places on earth that are special to me. And of course, it evolved into its own entity as the story developed.

Q: You have been teaching workshops for the last 7 years in which you address the participants’ desires to move forward toward intended goals, strengthen confidence in intuitive abilities, and overcome fear. This is essentially Jonathan’s personal evolution in the novel. How closely did your spiritual teaching work shape your novel? Do you think overcoming fear is a challenge as relevant for children as it might be for adults? And if so, might there be an adult version of this same tale as your next book?

A: You have definitely uncovered a connection. But I want to point out that my main goal with “Jonathan’s Journey” is to entertain kids with a fun, imaginative story and a character who they may relate to. And if it inspires them along the way or they find something in the story that resonates with them on another level, then that is a wonderful bonus.

I do think that that is why many adults seem to enjoy the story, though, because they can find the deeper metaphors that are lying under the surface. I have had the idea of creating a book for adults. We will see.

Q: What about the animals in the book, do they have personal significance to you? Why predators (the hawk, the tiger, etc.) for his guides?

A: Interesting question. I certainly chose the hawk for a reason. I love the hawks and even see them around my backyard at times. But they also have the symbolism of being messengers and guides.

I chose the tiger randomly at first. I thought it was interesting when I was watching a documentary that talked about the tiger’s unique ability to see and move in the darkness. Then I thought “A ha!” that’s why I picked him, because of course, Seebolt is a creature of the dark.

Q: Is Grandma Trudy modeled on somebody you know?

A: She is loosely modeled after my mother, Gertrude, who passed away in 1995. She would love the character I gave her I think. My mother did love to read and had a lot of natural wisdom.

Q: In the book, Jonathan has an intense fear of the dark and his experiences seem to help him overcome it. Why is this an important theme for children? Can you talk a little about your personal experiences with your children’s fears? Where do they come from? How do we help them work through them? Does the fear serve some kind of purpose?

A: Fear is an important subject for kids and adults. It is the main obstacle that keeps us from trying new things, expressing ourselves honestly, or being who we are meant to be. But it is also a gift in a way. It is helping you face the shadows within and when and if you can move through it, there is a great reward — a feeling of liberation and freedom waiting for you.

My children have definitely had their fears over the years, too. I think with children it is not easy but so important to get them talking about their fears. Often, you will discover some root cause or spark that ignited the fear and then got overblown in their imagination. But the worst thing you can do is belittle their fear. You can acknowledge the fear and empathize the best you can and then gently provide some reasons why they should feel safe. What have I learned and I am sure most parents out there have experienced as well is that it is sometimes impossible to “reason” away the fears in children. You can think back to when you were a child yourself and you know how “real” those fears feel regardless of what anyone else tells you. So patience is key, knowing that the child will eventually move through it in his or her own way.

Q: So what was the key for Jonathan to overcome his fear? And can that work for children?

A: Jonathan is given some “tools” from his teacher Cornelius that I definitely feel are useful for children, whether they are experiencing fear or not. For one, he learns to breathe in a way that calms his anxiety which is helpful in all kinds of situations. He also learns that his imagination can help him and that he can tune into thoughts and images that make him feel better. This is so important for kids (adults, too), because when they are afraid they focus in on that fear, which actually makes it grow bigger rather than helping it fade away.

I think the most important lesson about fear in the book, and what I feel is the most important thing I have learned about fear in my life, is that the best way to tame it is to face it head on. The things we fear are so much worse in our imaginations. Take for instance, the fear of public speaking. You can imagine how you are going to mess up, have something hanging from your teeth, or trip on your way up to the stage. But you get up your courage to speak and you find it’s not so bad. And even if you had had something on your teeth, you would have been okay. Everything always works out all right. That’s what children need to know. They will be okay, no matter what. It’s okay to be afraid. We all get afraid. But when you can say “I am afraid but I am going to do it anyway,” then that is true courage and strength of character.

Q: What about bullies? That is a current topic that appears in your book and a very real fear that many children are dealing with. How does that relate to fear? What is the message you are trying communicate on this subject, if any?

A: I am definitely not an expert on bullying. It’s quite a complicated subject and I feel for the parents and children who are dealing with this, either as the one who is being bullied or the one who is bullying. Certainly, it is all about fear, on both sides. In the book, the “bullies” are one more obstacle, or fear, that Jonathan has to face. I think one important part is that Jonathan eventually understands that the kids who are bullying are unhappy and fearful inside, so that is the reason they seek to make others feel unhappy and fearful. It does not make it right, but it does present a bigger picture that does in some way make Jonathan less afraid. The other part of the bullying scenario demonstrates how important self-confidence and self-esteem is for kids. Once Jonathan learns to believe in himself and feels more confident about his place in the world, he faces the bullies with greater ease. Just as in adults, it all comes down to loving yourself enough. When you do, there is no need to bully another and you will not allow yourself to be bullied.

Q: Will there be a sequel to Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu?

A: I have had some requests for that, which is a great compliment. And I have had some ideas brewing about some new adventures for Jonathan and the Children of the Light, so it is definitely a possibility.