I was lucky to feature the first book in Malayna Evans’s Jagger Jones series here. The newest installment, set to release on August 25, features Jagger’s younger sister, Aria, as she discovers new powers in their return trip to ancient Egypt:
Twelve-year-old Aria Jones loves nothing more than a good adventure. But when she and her big brother Jagger are summoned back to ancient Egypt from their South Side Chicago home, danger lurks around every corner.
Can Aria use her newfound superpowers to track the evil General and his sidekick in order to save Princess Tatia and the gods of ancient Egypt? Or will the evil sun god banish magic from the land and destroy the royal family—and Aria’s own—in the process?
The adventures continue when Aria and Jagger reunite with good friends, forge new alliances, and battle old enemies. This time, Aria must find a way to interpret a troublesome prophecy if she and Jagger are to return home, safe and sound.
What has helped you most recently, both as a writer, and as a person?
As an historian, I wake up every morning aware that I’m watching history unfold. That doesn’t protect me from the anxiety so many of us are feeling or the heartbreak attached to the needless deaths we’ve witnessed. But it does help me keep my perspective wide, especially when it comes to change. It reminds me of just how painful, difficult and, above all, vital change can be.
Personally, I’m inspired by the peaceful protests going on throughout our country as I write this, and also by the breadth and depth of people advocating for equity. That thought keeps me hopeful and, above all, moments like this remind me to stay teachable. As a white woman raised in homogenous Utah, having lived most of my adult life in some of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods, and as the mother of two beautiful brown children, what’s happening now is a reminder that I’ve come some distance but I’m not done learning … and also that sometimes my role is to speak up and speak out.
As a writer, the pairing of writing and anxiety is oddly familiar. I started writing this series when I was going through a difficult divorce as a way to keep my mind occupied, my kids entertained, and, to my surprise, to help me sleep. I learned quickly that worrying about what Jagger and Aria were up to was a much comfier way to spend late night hours than catastrophic thinking. That’s a sort of wordy way to say that the writing itself helps me through trying times. To me, having a creative outlet at a time like this is both a valuable resource and a way to do that speaking up I referenced above.
Thanks for sharing your experience! My writing does the same thing for me, and I’m thankful for it. In our last interview, you said, “Book two is fleshed out but there are loads of edits in my future.” Were these edits what you expected, and can you talk a bit more about what your editing process is like?
Getting perspective on my own writing is a struggle for me. Anytime someone reads my work and reviews it, I’m appreciative—even if the reviews are harsh. It helps me get better. And in truth, I’m an old historian but a fairly new writer, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. One thing I do that helps me with this challenge is to ping-pong back and forth between different projects. I find that putting my mind into a Project B, ideally with a very different world and characters, helps me see edits more clearly when I return to Project A.
And still, that doesn’t always do the trick. One big change from my initial draft to the final product that I hadn’t foreseen involved Aria’s role in problem solving. Sometimes an editor will flag a problem that makes you smack yourself in the head because why didn’t I see that? With this book, the primary change from my initial draft to the final book was that Aria ended up playing a more active role in solving problems, something I hadn’t realized was missing until an editor flagged it for me.
I love that Aria is an active problem solver, and that this new book is told from her point of view. In what ways, if any, did Aria surprise you as you wrote her?
Above all, I was surprised by how much her character arc mirrors my own. She’s such an optimist she tends to ignore real problems and gloss over some of the difficulties of her own life. She has a real “tough it out, girl, you’ll be fine” attitude. And that’s not only an attitude I share, it’s also one of the things I like least about myself. Like me, Aria had to figure out that pushing uncomfortable things away and ignoring them creates more problems than it solves.
That’s a lesson I’m still learning. What would you tell your younger writer self and why?
Show people your work.
When I wrote Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, no one but my two kids even knew I was trying to write a book. It took me years to find beta readers and learn how to take in and incorporate feedback. If I could go back in time and make a single change to how I approached writing when I started, that would be the thing. It felt scary to let other people see my work. And honestly sometimes it still does. But eventually people are going to see it. One thing I’ve learned is: the sooner, the better!