Author Interview: Malayna Evans

Author Interview

Meet Malayna Evans.


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The Interview.

Hi Malayna! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a single, working mom. I live just outside of Chicago with my two kids and a lovable but loud rescue dog. I grew up in the mountains of Utah and spent my childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, I earned a Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. I’ve used that education to craft a middle grade, time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh is book one. With my book on the shelves and books two and three in the works, it’s exciting to chat with book supporters like yourself, so thanks for having me.

What has been your favorite bookish memory as a fan and then as an author?
My most vivid book memory is mourning Gandolph. I must have been in middle school when I read The Lord of the Rings, and when the wizard died I cried for days. I’m not sure why my big sister, who’d given me the books, didn’t pat me on the back and tell me it would all work out in the end. But then again, maybe my joy when he came back in a subsequent book was worth the pain.
As an author, my favorite memory so far is telling my kids the book was going to be published. This manuscript was a family affair—my two little people inspired the Jagger and Aria characters and we spent a fair number of dinners discussing plot twists and character arcs. So the day we learned Jagger was going to be a real life book was a very good day at my house.

If someone asked you to describe Egypt in three sentences, what would you say?
What we think of as ancient Egyptian history lasted for thousands of years—the length of time between the pyramids being built and Cleopatra dying is greater than the time period between the time of Christ and today.
Ancient Egypt really is as fantastical as it’s made out to be in books and movies, and it’s not just mummies and the mysteries of the pyramids but the culture and daily life and religious beliefs as well.
Ancient Egypt contributed to the systems we take for granted today, like our calendar and writing system, for example.

What was it about the middle grade reader level that spoke to you as a writer?
In part, I think my interest in having a conversation with middle grader readers about my favorite topic, ancient Egypt, stems from the fact that middle grade shaped me, perhaps more than any other period in my life. My passion for reading, fantasy, and interest in the different ways people could just be in the world, depending on when/where/who they were born to, started in middle grade.

When brainstorming for your debut, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, did you already know you wanted it to be a series?
Yes! I had an ancient Egyptian blessing in mind early in the process. Ankh, wedja seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. I thought life, prosperity and health would make good book themes. So I set out to examine the concepts, one per book, from an ancient and modern perspective. So in book one, it’s not the princess’s life Jagger has to save, but her afterlife. Book two looks at prosperity (wedja) and book three considers health (seneb). I think the very different meanings these ideas held for ancient people is pretty fascinating and I hope it comes across in the series … in a fun, adventurous way with mummies and killer scorpions.

What is something you wish you could ask any of your characters?
Jagger and his little sister, Aria, are extremely well travelled. She’s an adventurous spirit so she loves that about their life, although he resents it. I’d love to ask Aria your question below—where, and when, would she travel if she could go anywhere, anytime. By the end of book one I know the answer—she’d go back and visit her ancient Egyptian friends again. But I have no idea what she’d say prior to that, although Jagger would no doubt choose ancient Egypt—it’s his favorite subject—if he was forced to make a choice and his bedroom with deep dish pizza was out of the running.

If you could live in one area, in one timeperiod, for the day, where are you headed?
Oh I’d definitely head to the Amarna Period, which is when/where this book is set. It’s the most bizarre periods in ancient Egyptian history. The pharaoh, Akhenaten, tried to replace the traditional gods and goddesses with a single god, the sun disk, the Aten. He moved the court to the middle of nowhere, developed an artistic style that departs dramatically from the rather static canon of Egyptian art, and basically upended culture in all sorts of big and small ways. As an ancient historian, it can be hard to get a beat on who the rulers we study were as people—the documents they left behind tell us about their building programs, wars they won, etc. but not who they were. But occasionally, an ancient actor stands out. I’d love to go spy on Akhenaten’s court. I wouldn’t want to stay long, but maybe a one week vaca in ancient Amarna? Yeah, that would do the trick nicely.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
Just a thanks, especially to all those readers who’ve bought or read the book, extra thanks to those who’ve left reviews. It’s a surreal feeling having people spend time with your book and I don’t take it for granted. I hope there are a few kids out there who see themselves in my characters, or figure out that ancient history is fascinating, or just enjoy the adventure. That would make my little writer heart very happy!


Thank you for your time Malayna!

Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh is out now.




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Get to Know Elly Swartz

Author Interview

IMG_9578.jpgMeet Elly Swartz.

Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at on Twitter @ellyswartz or on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks.

Social media While on my site, be sure to check out the downloadable activities and curriculum guides for Finding Perfect and Smart Cookie.
Twitter @ellyswartz
#BooksintheKitchen web series with author Victoria Coe




The Interview.

A fellow Pennsylvanian! Greetings! To cure that boredom, *sigh* which I still face, did you come up with stories as a child?
I loved writing stories and poems as a kid. Not as a cure for boredom, I did a lot of bad baking for that, but simply because I loved story. The way the words wove and the characters sprang to life. In my stories, I could do or be or feel anything. And everything. I truly believe the seeds were planted during those years for Molly Nathans, the 12-year-old vulnerable and loving slam poet in Finding Perfect, and Frankie Greene, the feisty and big-hearted strong girl in my newest mg, Smart Cookie.
How did your diverse studies from psychology and law, shape you as a writer and a children’s books author?
Great question! Funny how each path we take informs the next. Often incidentally. Psychology gave me a foundation for understanding mental illness and how it manifests and impacts people’s lives. It showed me the importance of empathy and compassion and feeling connected. Books and story are a gateway. A mirror and a door. A wonderful platform for readers to learn and understand about themselves and others. Story is a way for me to, hopefully, allow kids to see themselves on the page and educate others about challenges many face. As for the study of law, it taught me the value of research and analysis, the malleability of words, and the importance of viewing life through many different lenses.
Why kid lit as your genre of focus?
I am pretty sure I have a twelve-year-old girl broadcasting from inside of me! Honestly, middle grade chose me. When I started writing, that was the voice that found its way onto the page.
A gum wrapper that was a fortune too – “You have the ability to become outstanding in literature.” What advice do you have for aspiring children’s writers?
Honestly, I still can’t believe I got that fortune in my Bazooka bubblegum! As for the advice I’d give – Read as much as you can. Write because you love it. Dream big. Work hard. And embrace the journey!
What topic challenges you the most when writing your novels for a younger audience?
For me, the most challenging part of writing was creating the scenes in Finding Perfect and Smart Cookie where my main characters felt emotionally raw. They either went to that dark place or felt a deep sense of loneliness. To truly capture those moments authentically, I also had to go to that emotionally raw place. And that was hard. But, it was the only way I could truly connect with the heartbeat of those experiences.
Tell us about your experience writing and publishing Finding Perfect. How did that journey differ from your other works?
Finding Perfect was the 5th book I wrote and the first one to be published. I worked on it for 8 years. I felt a very strong connection to Molly, the main character in that story, and to her struggle with OCD. I was never willing to let this story go and was determined and committed to becoming the best writer I could be so that Molly’s journey could find it’s way into the hands of the readers who really needed it.
When I got the call from my agent that Finding Perfect had found a home at FSG, I cried. Big happy tears. It was truly a dream come true. And, most gratefully, that dream continued when Smart Cookie found its way to Scholastic and then into the world this past January. I fell in love with Frankie, the main character in Smart Cookie, the moment she came to me with her big heart, love of family, and all that spunkiness.
Truly, I love my job. Writing stories and connecting with readers! The best!
Is there anything you’d like to share with the readers today?
Thank you for reading! Stay tuned, because in 2019 you get to meet twelve-year-old Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE. Maggie has a big heart and a hard time letting go. Of stuff. Of people. Of the past. With the help of her turtle Bert, a baby named Izzie and the almost all-girls trap shooting team, she begins to understand that people are more than the things that hold their memories.
And, be sure to check out and subscribe my new web series #BooksintheKitchen with author Victoria Coe, where we talk books and whip-up treats.