Jaimie Engle is one of Florida’s overlooked writers. (We don’t spend all of our free time wrestling with gators and avoiding bad drivers.) In addition to taking care of a husband, kids, and a dog, Engle is the author of several fantasy and thriller novels aimed at teenagers. Wanting to learn more about Engle’s career and her books Metal Mouth: Lighting Can Strike Twice and Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light, I was able to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What were some of your favorite stories growing up? Are there any that you still enjoy revisiting?
Jaimie Engle: Growing up, I loved Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia, plus Heidi and The Black Stallion. I read those books over and over again, and I think that helped to craft my voice for storytelling, re-reading and dissecting the story.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Engle: When I read Alice in Wonderland, there was a moment when I felt myself “in” the story so deeply, that I remember gasping, and I was back in my bedroom. It was the most amazing feeling I’d ever experienced, and I knew at that moment that I wanted to do the same thing for others, to create other worlds they could escape to through story.
Yanes: You are currently based in Florida, a state with a literary community that is often overlooked. What are some of the opportunities and obstacles that come from being an author in Florida?
Engle: I decided a few years ago to focus my efforts locally and then build out from there. I spent a lot of time attending local events, library reading, and conducting school visits. Slowly, word spread, and now I’m traveling to Central Florida, the Central West Coast, and branching into the counties north and south of mine. I guess I feel like if everyone in my town doesn’t know about me and my books, then why would I try to reach out any further? I do have to say that Florida has an incredible children’s book community in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). The annual conferences and mini-conferences are amazing, and I have met amazing authors who have become mentors, friends, and mentees.
Yanes: You publish a lot of content. What is your daily writing routine like?
Engle: I try to wake up at 5:30 so I can get ready for work, walk my dog, pray, and then write for up to an hour while my son is getting ready for school. Then, if I’m lucky, I get another hour in at night to usually edit. I find my mornings are almost identical, so I adjusted my sleep schedule to use that time for writing. All my good intentions get lost at night when I’m tired, have things come up, or decide to spend time with my family or friends.
Yanes: You have written two manuscripts on how people can become better writers. How has your approach to writing changed over the years?
Engle: I think I’ve found my voice. At first, I thought writing was supposed to “sound” a certain way, much in the same way people think you’re “supposed” to act as a wife or mother, if that makes sense. Only, I learned, in all those scenarios, that I needed to find “me” and not mimic those around me. The other change has been my acute editing process. I spend months re-reading my books after not touching them for years at a time. I read my story 40-50 times before it even hits my first beta readers, and then, there’s more edits until it’s sent off to an agent/publisher or I self-publish. I also have a book titled How to Publish Your Book, a step by step guide that takes you through the process with screenshots along the way. I don’t think publishing needs to be expensive and wanted to give authors all the tools they need to do it themselves.
Yanes: On this note, what are publishing opportunities you think many people overlook?
Engle: For self-published authors, I think they miss out on Amazon’s free advertising. Amazon’s analytics share new releases for free for 30 days. That means you can publish a paperback one month, an ebook the next, and a hardcover the third, and stay on Amazon’s radar for 90 days without spending a dime to advertise. The other option is to participate in anthologies with short stories, which will also put you in Amazon’s new release window and get your name associated with similar authors who might have a bigger fan base then you. I love to send excerpts from my novels to anthologies as a way to give out a free taste in the hopes that readers will crave more.
Yanes: One of your recent books was Metal Mouth: Lightning Can Strike Twice. What was the inspiration for this installment?
Engle: I actually woke up laughing out loud when I had a dream about a girl struck by lightning who can suddenly hear a boy’s voice in her head, transmitted through her braces. I knew I had to write it. And actually, Mahlorie’s voice was the easiest story to tell and the first time I’ve ever written from a girl’s POV and in the first person. Through the process, I uncovered that this was a story about more than (im)possible science. It is a coming to age tale of self-discovery, body image, choices and consequences, and finding happiness in your own skin. Metal Mouth is currently in the running for consideration in the Florida Sunshine State Reading List for 2020-2021 (fingers crossed!).
Yanes: Looking at your bibliography I was blown away by how many genres you write in. How do you approach this variety? Do you tend to ignore genre divisions or do you enjoy working within constraints?
Engle: Most of my books fall in the following description: “Fantasy Thrillers for Teens and Tweens that Adults Love Too.” In that sense, a sci-fi fantasy and a magical realism are easy to place in the same brand. I work very hard on my brand and on clarifying it to the reader. The only times I branch beyond that was for my Toilet Papers and Toilet Papers Jr., which are my short stories for adults and kids. These eclectic anthologies are built from previously published and unpublished works that I love, but that weren’t long or built out enough to become full-fledged novels or children’s picture books….yet. I have plans for some expansion and am currently working on a comic book based off one of the stories in Toilet Papers.
Yanes: One of your upcoming books is Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light. What can fans expect from this adventure?
Engle: This is the first in a time-travel adventure series for kids that I recently sold to INtense Publications for republication on April 11th, 2020. This is a fun, nostalgic story that jumps from French mountainsides to English channels and to the sea beneath where mermaids live. It’s filled with mythology, magic, history, and a message about bullying, that I share with kids across the state in school visit presentations. Book 2 in the series will release some time in the fall of 2020 and is about Clifton’s return to the past to help Robin Hood on an adventure. If you like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, this is a series for you!
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Engle: I’m currently shopping a book series to agents called Pets of Elsewhere about a boy, haunted by animal ghosts in St. Augustine, who needs to find what they want before they kill his whole family. It’s a middle grade paranormal thriller for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps but aren’t quite ready for Supernatural. I’m also working on a script that is being shopped to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and two scripts for production through a Disney internship (more fingers crossed, please). You can always see what I’m doing at thewriteengle.com, sign up for my newsletter through facebook.com/thewriteengle or if you’re an author, you can join my tribe at patreon.com/thewriteengle to get marketing tips, selling ideas, and coaching for a monthly fee. I’m on all social @thewriteengle and have lots of free resources for authors on YouTube (Jaimie Engle).