J.L. Engel started writing when he was just a kid, and even at the tender age of 12, his sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson at Centralia’s Washington Elementary School, attempted to help him get published in the kid’s section of Reader’s Digest. “But I am stubborn and still am to a degree,” he says. “I started writing a story, a loose interpretation of a child’s version of an adult action movie in the 90s, and there were two words that they wanted to edit.”
Young Engel felt the changes ruined the integrity of his character — a city narcotics cop. “I will never forget it because I had a few friends who were like, ‘you are an idiot,’ and obviously, now I know better,” Engel recalls.
Lessons learned, recently Engel, a corrections deputy in law enforcement, published a crime novel titled “A Dangerous Man” under the pen name J.L. Engel. His inspiration came from news reports of human trafficking around the world. “I am a very protective person and father,” he says. “Seeing these horrible stories about children being hurt or abused, my inherent primal instinct was to do something. I needed an outlet. So, I decided to write and create a character that could go out there and save the world.”
The book chronicles “Ghost,” a mystery man and father on a “crusade of retribution,” freeing trafficking victims. Influenced by the 80s one-man Army, Engel created Ghost’s attributes as someone “completely unbound and who would eat other characters for breakfast.”
The superhero in “A Dangerous Man” is an “optimum apex man-hunter,” and Engel creates a visual experience with his words — sometimes the scenes are full of suspense and conflict, other times they leave you feeling helpless. “The essence of the character is a dad with the skill set to take care of business,” he says. “There’s a lot of great moments and big actions scenes coupled with the emotions of a father. There were some emotional moments where I had to put away the computer while writing because I am very attached to the protective side of being a dad. It’s those personal aspects that I can relate to and help bridge that relationship between the protagonist and the reader.”
The horrific statistics around human trafficking pull at Engel’s heartstrings and are something he wants others to recognize. “There’s so much darkness in this world we don’t see, and when you learn about it, it’s shocking,” he notes.
According to the U.S. Department of State, there is an estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide at any given time, and human traffickers prey on adults and children of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, exploiting them for their own profit.
Beyond expressing his feelings on paper about the multi-billion dollar industry around human trafficking, Engel supports organizations such as AIM (Agape International Missions) and O.U.R. (Operation Underground Railroad) through monetary donations and support by buying books and T-shirts from survivors. “They do so much. I contribute what I can,” he says. “If I could give them a million dollars every year, I would. You think, what if this happened to me? You just don’t know.”
Outside of contemplating the atrocities in the world, Engel continues to write, and a sequel to “A Dangerous Man” is in the works with “A Violent Man.” With a trilogy in mind, Engel sees the first book in the series as a “good hook.” Get a copy of “A Dangerous Man” on Amazon or find it locally at Book ‘N’ Brush in Chehalis.
As for advice to fellow writers looking to get their book published, “You have to write what you want to read,” Engel says. “Some people say you need to write what you know, but if you go all in and commit to it, the audience is there.”
The ability to take criticism is also part of the publishing process, and working as a corrections deputy, Engel has developed a thick skin. “There’s been a lot of growth from being a stubborn sixth-grader,” he says. “You can’t be upset when someone gives you their opinion.”
Engel encourages others to follow their passions and not let logistics or circumstances get in the way of reaching goals. “People might think we are just a small community, but we have a lot of gems and good people here,” he says. “In my profession, there’s not a lot of wins, so when we see them doing well, it’s a happy thing. And it’s because they didn’t quit and were committed to doing better. If you have a passion for something, you’ve got to go for it, and you can’t let up on it.”