It was my privilege last week to interview Malayna Evans, author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh. This is a fantastic Middle Grade historical fiction that will be a must read for any fan of The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.
~The Haunted Wordsmith
You have an amazing author’s website, did you create that yourself?
Thanks for saying that. My day job is working with brands on content, including websites, so I had a head start, plus some terrific web designers to help translate the ideas in my head into a real site. It was strange doing it for myself, rather than for a brand, but I worked hard to take my own advice. I’m always telling clients it’s important to focus on audience and think through how different people might use the site. For me, that meant, for example, creating content for teachers, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I’m pretty proud of my Jagger Jones themed escape room activity. I created it for educators to use in the classroom when teaching about Egypt, but I broke it out for my daughter’s birthday party and the kids loved it, which made my little writer heart happy.
As a child growing up in Lehi, Utah, did you ever think you would travel the world and become a writer?
Well I definitely had high expectations of my life. Lol. And, I was a serious bookworm as a kid. Fantasy books took me out of that small town and into world full of magic. I wanted to see the things I read about and I’ve been lucky to achieve some of those goals. I like to believe I’ll tick more off in the years to come. I’m nothing if not optimistic.
I’m not sure when I started to want to be a writer, but I had it in mind when I went to grad school. I think I believed I’d be a writer the same way my daughter used to think she’d grow up and be a mermaid. I wanted it, but I didn’t truly believe I’d pull it off. Even now it’s sort of surprising that I’m accomplishing this life long dream. I remind myself often to enjoy where I’m at—it’s so easy to get caught up in all the things one isn’t accomplishing, it’s important to stop and pat ourselves on the back from time to time.
Many aspiring writers love to hear about writing methods. Where do you do most of your writing, and is there a process that allows you to write so quickly?
For me, it’s all about combining my writing goals with my daily single mom routine. That means I write while my daughter is at the gym, in the car waiting for my son, locked in my bedroom during play dates. Basically I’ve learned to steal moments where I can. If I waited for the perfect opportunity, I’d still be on my first draft. That said, nothing feels as luxurious to me as a good 3-4 hour stretch when I can really focus, ideally at a coffee shop. But usually I have to settle for an hour here, a few hours there. I drag my laptop around and pop it out anytime I have a pause. I usually think about my characters at night. I plot their next moves in bed, the shower, driving. So the ideas might tumble around my head all day, then I get a free hour and jot the thoughts down. Between you and me, it’s the editing I’m still trying to figure out—that bit comes harder to me.
Writers are always curious about how many rejections someone received before hearing that final yes. What was your experience with Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh?
In my experience, it takes incredibly thick skin and a lot of patience to move forward in this business. A dose of luck helps too. I’d queried dozens of agents before I found my fabulous agent … who has a loved one named Jagger! You can’t plan that kind of thing. Sometimes the universe just helps you along.
You have taken the indirect route to becoming an author, but your background in Egyptology certainly prepared you to write Jagger Jones. Did your background give you an advantage when it came to crafting the setting and historical elements?
Absolutely. I really wanted to capture the spirit of ancient Egypt in this book. There weren’t really giant scorpions and magical amulets, but ancient Egyptians believed amulets had magical power and that scorpions were creatures of chaos so those object made into the book.
My background made the setting and history easy. But beyond that, I was very intentional about making Jagger, and his little sister Aria and their Egyptian friends, face obstacles that were, in one way or another, fundamentally Egyptian-ish. (Not a word … but it should be!). For the solutions, I tried to merge the ancient and the modern. So, for example, when the kids are attacked by killer Apep snakes while sailing the Nile, their magician sidekick knows the spell to repel them. Unfortunately, she needs wax to cast the spell and has none at the moment. Little sister Aria mines gum from her purse and voila, snakes defeated. Again and again, Jagger and his crew merge modern objects or technology with ancient artifacts or beliefs to solve problems. And yes, the many, many, many years I spent studying the culture were essential in crafting the ancient part of that puzzle.
The cover for Jagger Jones is wonderful. Did you have creative input or did Month9Books develop the cover?
I love the cover so much. The South Side Chicago meets ancient Egypt vibe reflects the story perfectly. And the kids look just like my two. I don’t think many people know that most authors don’t get much input when it comes to their cover art. But Month9 was really great about working with me. They took my feedback and ideas. We really worked together—me, Month9 and my agent–but the final masterpiece was theirs and I couldn’t be happier.
Middle Grade readers love historical fiction. Do you think that with books like Jagger Jones and The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, we will begin to see more adventures in history?
Ah, I love you for putting Jagger Jones and the Kane Chronicles in the same sentence. 😉
I hope so! I think Rick Riordan’s books have helped open up the opportunity for new writers like me to combine historical fiction and fantasy in a way that is both entertaining and educational. Kids will learn a lot about ancient Egypt reading Jagger Jones and, best of all, they won’t really notice the education they’re absorbing while they read.
Jagger Jones is book one in a trilogy. What can we expect in the future?
Well I don’t want to give too much away, but lets just say fans of Aria will, I hope, be happy with book two. There’s more ancient Egypt, more magic, more historical people, places and artifacts, and more adventure.
Jagger and his sister, Aria, were inspired by your children, is there a character in your story that was inspired by you?
Well the single working mom has a bit of me, but mostly I was inspired by my kids. Jagger looks like my son and they share a sort of over the top protectiveness towards their little sisters, but that’s as far as the similarities go. At some point, the characters took on their own characteristics. The little sisters, however, are a bit more alike—mine is every bit as sassy as Aria.
Even with your PhD in Egyptian History, was there something that surprised you while researching Jagger Jones?
I feel a little bad admitting this, but I didn’t do research. My first stab at the story was drenched in history—so much history it was a boring read. As an historian, my challenge was to find a way to let the storyteller take the reigns and push the history to the background. I spent years studying ancient Egypt, so I already had a wealth of knowledge in my head. When I focused too much on the pedantic details I lost the magic and the adventure, so while there may be a few arcane particulars some Egyptologist out there will quibble with, I hope they agree that I’ve capture the spirit and effectively incorporate some fascinating people, places and artifacts.
Meet the Author
Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, she earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a middle grade, time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is out in May of 2019. Malayna spends her time writing, sharing her passion for ancient history with kids, and haunting Chicago’s best coffee shops. She lives in Oak Park, Il, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hamster.