Loss. Challenge. Strength. Revenge.
These are the themes that created J.L. Engel’s debut action thriller fiction, “A Dangerous Man.”
Engel grew up in Centralia and is now living and working in the area while raising his daughter.
He first discovered a passion for writing in the sixth grade. At the time, Engel’s teacher at Washington Elementary — who he now calls a “superhero” — began suspecting some of her students were living in homes where abuse was occurring. In order to make it easier for kids to open up about their struggles so the teacher could get them necessary support, she started having her class write in journals every day about any topic they chose.
Though Engel did not recognize the ulterior motive behind the project until years later, he learned in time the teacher’s method was successful and she was able to report the abuse taking place. As a sixth grader, Engel just thought it was a fun way to get better at writing. Of course, it was that, too.
Instead of writing about his vacations or his home life, he used the exercise as a way to write an action story. Every day, he would add to the thrilling world of his character’s life, encouraged by his teacher to keep at it.
One day, the teacher surprised Engel by securing a possibility to publish his short story in Reader’s Digest. Much to his regret now, sixth grader Engel was too prideful to allow the magazine to censor his story slightly by changing “God” to “gosh” and “hell” to “heck.”
“It never left me because that was, oh man, I really missed an opportunity. But I was a sixth grade kid, and I didn't know better. I was like, ‘No, you're not changing the story.’ All the sudden I’m this super arrogant, great American writer,” Engel said with a laugh.
Though he missed a glimpse at young fame, that formative year marked the start of a lifetime passion for writing in the action genre.
Engel’s writing allows him an outlet to explore frustrations he has with the world as a single parent. After the birth of his daughter, he took more notice to injustice against children, such as school shootings and human trafficking.
Thus inspired the tale Engel first began workshopping over a decade ago, “A Dangerous Man,” the story of a highly-trained operative who loses loved ones to traffickers and uses his skills to go outside the law and stop the bad guys.
Then, in 2008, the movie “Taken” was released, where Liam Neeson plays a former CIA agent who saves his daughter from kidnappers.
“When the movie came out, I was like, ‘Crap, now I can't put this out there.’ Basically, I waited too long and my idea’s been adapted in another fashion. But, it helped me to redirect it. Because I added different facets to it. I got more characters. The plot is denser in a particular way,” Engel said.
Overcoming the fear of criticism was a milestone in Engel’s journey into being an author. He soon learned when he went to get his book published that he’d hear “no” a thousand times before he ever heard “yes.” Yet, he never gave up.
Finally, last year, “A Dangerous Man” was published by Olympia Publishing, based out of London.
Engel is optimistic the book will be his jumping-off point for a transition to a career in action writing. Out of 41 reviews on Amazon.com, he’s averaged a 4.9 out of 5 stars.
“I'd like to turn it into an actual career for myself because I have a lot of stories to write still,” he said. “I wanted to do it for so long. It was just one of those things where there's an underlying fear of putting yourself out there and how that’s going to be accepted or criticized. But you learn enough lessons over the years that I don't write for anybody else but myself.”
Paperback copies of “A Dangerous Man” are available for $15.99 at https://amzn.to/3nF4c9Y.