When I met Jennifer Nielsen at the Tucson Festival of Books, I knew I had to read her stuff, and I immediately bought THE FALSE PRINCE (first in the Ascendance trilogy).
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.
Another of Jennifer’s books, MARK OF THE THIEF, was published last February:
When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for.
Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic’s newfound powers for their own dark purposes.
In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire’s most powerful and savage leaders.
Jennifer was also kind enough to answer some interview questions:
According to your website bio, your favorite books as a child were The Hardy Boys, the Encyclopedia Brown series and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. What drew you to these books above others, and in what ways (if any) did they influence your writing?
For The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (and to some extent, The Hardy Boys), I was definitely drawn to the danger. Those were the scenes I re-read and re-enacted in my imagination. For The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, it was the mystery. I’ve always loved a great mystery, though I have a confession: I reread the Encyclopedia Brown books so often that I knew how all of the stories were solved. There was a boy in our neighborhood who I was always trying to get the better of, and I used to pull out an Encyclopedia Brown book and we’d read the story together, as if it was the first time for me. Then I’d immediately say, “I know how it’s solved.” Yeah, I never solved them. But this boy thought I was brilliant!
These books had a definite impact on my writing. All of my stories involve strong elements of danger, and in many ways, no matter the genre, they all have a mystery involved. Not always a whodunit, but there is usually something unknown for my heroes to discover, and clues left throughout the story for clever readers to find.
An even better reason to read your books! I love the premise of MARK OF THE THIEF. How did the idea grab you, and what do you want readers to take away from the story?
Mark of the Thief started with the object on the cover, a bulla, which Roman boys used to wear as amulets of good luck. The second fact was about the emperor Julius Caesar, who used to claim that he was the literal descendant of the Goddess Venus. I thought, what if Caesar was telling the truth? Because if he was, then he would have been a demigod. And what if the magic of the Gods was stored in his bulla, which became lost after his death?
One of the things I think readers might take away from this story, or really, any of my stories, is the value of courage. In nearly everything I write, the characters readily admit they are afraid, but they accept the challenge anyway. I know many readers face difficult things in their lives, things that perhaps make them afraid too. I hope they might take inspiration from my characters and find courage in their own challenges.
I know I have. At a Tucson Festival of Books workshop, you and a few other authors improvised a story using characters and plot elements offered by the audience. How was this exercise helpful to you as an author, and what did you enjoy most about it?
That was a great workshop! It was fun to take the contribution from one author and then see how it created a new spin on the story’s direction, then to see if I could keep up and provide my own new spin. I was most interested in comparing my thought processes with those of the other authors, and how our genres influence our plotting. I felt that my style was most in common with Ally Carter, perhaps because although she tends to write thrillers, and I tend to write fantasy, we’re both seeking stories with danger, plot twists, and page-turning action.
I’ve read Ally’s books too–you both are adept at hooking readers from the get-go. Your first book, THE FALSE PRINCE (which I’ve loved) might get a possible movie deal. What advice (if any) would you give to other authors regarding this process?
Oh goodness! For authors seeking a deal with Hollywood, I definitely agree that it is exciting and full of anticipation. However, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First is that if an author thinks the publishing industry moves slowly, then that is nothing compared to the movie industry, especially when working with the major studios. Unless the book is an epic bestseller, then it just has to go through a long, slow process, so the author needs to be patient (hardly my favorite virtue, but in this case, I’ve been forced into it). Second is the author must understand that movies and books are completely different formats. Not only because a two-hour movie cannot possibly include everything in a 300-page book, but because a movie is a visual representation of the story, viewed from the perspective of the audience. Books aren’t limited in that way, and that will necessarily change some of the story. To some extent, authors need to let go of the idea that the movie will be just like the book (though a talented screenwriter will keep the two as close as possible), understanding that the movie will enrich other aspects of their story. And third is that in Hollywood, all you ever have is the thing you have. Many books are optioned that never get made into movies, there are movies that get approved then dumped because the studio has to make up budget from a box office bomb, or the movie is made and then sits on shelves indefinitely or is quietly released direct to DVD. So while it’s an exciting process, it’s important to never get ahead of the process. Appreciate the thing you have and then celebrate each new development as it comes, and only when it comes.
Sounds like good advice for us all! What are some of your current projects?
My next release is coming up on August 25th of this year, and it’s my first historical. A NIGHT DIVIDED takes place in 1965 East Berlin, and tells the story of a courageous girl whose family was divided on the night the Berlin Wall went up, and what she will attempt in order to reunite them. I am very proud of this book, and hope it will serve as a conversation piece for the price of freedom, and the dangers of history ever repeating itself.
I’ve also recently completed copyedits for the second book of the MARK OF THE THIEF series, am writing a standalone fantasy for fall of 2016, and I’ve just begun plotting out a proposal for the trilogy to follow MARK OF THE THIEF. Phew! Thinking about all of that makes me tired!
Can’t wait for A NIGHT DIVIDED! Thanks for a wonderful interview, and for all your compelling and intricate plots!
To grab MARK OF THE THIEF for yourself, feel free to click the Amazon icon below.
You can also get THE FALSE PRINCE and the rest of the books in the Ascendance trilogy!