Hi Malayna, and welcome to MG Book Village! We’re very excited to reveal the cover for your upcoming MG novel, ARIA JONES & THE GUARDIAN’S WEDJA, which comes out on August 25, 2020. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?
Thanks so much for hosting me. It’s a pleasure to share my good news here with you—I’m a fan.
The book is about twelve-year-old Aria Jones and her trip through time. Adventurous by nature, Aria is happy to oblige when she and her big brother Jagger are summoned back to ancient Egypt. She’s missed the friends she made on her first trip to the past, during which she acquired a not-so-comfy superpower. But what she finds when she gets back isn’t the fun-filled reunion she expected. Turns out, her friends aren’t doing so well. So when the household god Bes passes along a puzzling prophecy, Aria has to battle old enemies, forge new alliances, and face her inner demons in order to restore magic, save her friends, and get back to Chicago with her big bro at her side.
Did you know that you were going to be writing a sequel to your debut novel, JAGGER JONES AND THE MUMMY’S ANKH, and how did writing this book differ from your first?
I had a three-book concept in mind from the outset. I’m an Egyptologist by training and when I started playing around with the idea of writing a book with a brother-sister duo, inspired by my own two kids, lost in ancient Egypt, an old blessing was stuck in my mind: ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. I thought it would be fun to explore those themes in a trilogy, contrasting modern and ancient notions. As you can imagine, I was pretty ecstatic when I got a three-book deal.
What I didn’t know in advance was that I’d shift to Aria’s point of view for book two. To be honest, I tried sticking with Jagger but Aria just wanted to be heard. She’s nothing if not persistent. Once I made the switch, the story came more easily. Her voice was a lot of fun for me to write. While Jagger is cerebral and serious, she’s feisty and clever. And she taps a very different universe of resources to problem solve than her brainy brother.
Is there anything you learned about your characters while you were writing this story that surprised you?
Yes! I knew Aria was a cheery optimist when I wrote book one. But I didn’t realize her character arc would so closely mimic my own. She’s optimistic to a fault, which leads her to ignore problems and tell herself she just needs to be tough, keep going, and everything will be okay. Like me, she had to learn the hard way that pushing uncomfortable thoughts away doesn’t solve them, it only gives them space to grow bigger.
Writing has been difficult for many authors in the past few months. How have you managed to do edits and focus on your writing?
It’s been a stressful few months. But there’s inspiration in the chaos too. The breadth and depth and diversity of people standing up for equity is moving. It’s one of those moments that reminds me to stay teachable. That’s definitely true when it comes to writing—I still have a lot to learn. I wish I could say the months I’ve been locked in my house with my kids and dog were super fruitful on that front. But honestly, I’ve struggled to set the anxiety aside and focus. I did have a one-month stretch of productivity during which I pounded out a rough draft of a new MG manuscript. That’s unusual for me. Generally I set aside a few hours a day to work on my writing. But through this, I’ve written when the spirit moves me and ignored the task when it doesn’t. That’s not the way I usually organize my life—I prefer a steady pace—but like so many of us, I’m just letting myself just do what I can and forgiving myself for what I can’t.
Did you have any input on your cover, and if so, what was the experience like for you?
I shared a lot of opinions on Jagger’s cover. I’m lucky my publisher was so supportive and worked through multiple drafts until we landed on a cover we could all agree on. Comparatively, Aria’s cover was a breeze. I did suggest a few scenes I thought would work well on the cover. And they delivered an initial draft I loved the second I saw it. The creepy mummy shadows on the bottom are my favorite thing about Aria’s cover.
It’s time for the big reveal!
Oh wow, this is such a vibrant cover that immediately makes me want to read it!
Thanks, Kathie. I’m extra happy to see the sphinx here with Jagger and Aria. It’s one of the symbols of ancient Egypt people are most familiar with. Oddly, it wasn’t until book one was put to bed that I realized I’d incorporated loads of people and places and artifacts I’m fascinated by but I hadn’t brought many old, familiar favorites into the story. I tried to rectify that with book two, and the sphinx on the cover flags that nicely.
What is it that you love most about writing middle grade fiction?
The best, and most unexpected, delight of this journey has been visiting middle grade learners in real life and online to proselytize about ancient Egypt. I spent a good decade studying the culture. I wanted to be a professor but that didn’t quite pan out for me. So personally, it’s fun to finally put my education to use, although not quite as I expected to. More importantly, I think it’s important, maybe now more than ever, to remind folks that the human culture we share has diverse roots and, specifically, that this ancient African civilization gave us our writing system, various math concepts, our calendar, and so much more. That’s just not a thing I learned growing up—my education was entirely Eurocentric—so if a few kids read Jagger and Aria’s stories and appreciate the glories of ancient Egypt or learn about some of the the ways our daily life is still influenced by it, I’ll be a happy storyteller and historian.
Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?
My website is a great place to learn more. I have educational resources, including an escape room style classroom activity and learning guides, for educators. You can check it out at http://malaynaevans.com and follow me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Malayna) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/malaynaevans/).
Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and we look forward to following your publishing journey!
Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a treat to swing over and share my adventure with you. I wouldn’t dare speak for middle grade authors en masse about much, but I’m certain I’m not alone when I say many of us appreciate the work you do on MG Book Village. Keep up the good work—we appreciate you!
Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. She earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt, inspired by her own children. Book one is Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh. Book two, Aria Jones and the Guardian’s Wedja, comes out in August of 2020. Evans lives in Oak Park, IL, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hedgehog. She’s passionate about coffee, travel, and visiting classrooms to proselytize about ancient Egypt. You can learn more about her resources for educators or schedule a class visit at http://malaynaevans.com