Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interview with the Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Ascendance trilogy (and the very charming Underworld Chronicles trilogy, as well as an installment in the Infinity Ring series) made a stop at my middle school while on a visit to Boise in April. Nielsen was funny, down-to-earth, quite well-spoken, and really just terrific to hang out with for the short time we spent together during her appearance. I felt very fortunate to be hosting her at our school!

She gave an inspiring and eye-opening talk about an author's life and work, and while signing books took the time to speak individually and personally to each of a long line of starstruck students. She was also gracious enough to visit our library and have her picture taken by our giant READ sign, and agreed to an interview about her past and future work, her audience, and the possibility of a False Prince movie.

GLW: First, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me over email. I'm hoping to post your interview this weekend, but obviously completely understand if you need more time. I love that you do so many school visits and call them a favorite part of your job as a writer. It makes such a difference to the kids to see the human component of the books on the library shelves, and to come to that realization that these fantastic stories are created by real people -- by them, perhaps, one day.

You're working on your third trilogy, The Praetor War, which takes place in Ancient Rome. Like the Ascendance trilogy and Underworld Chronicles, this trilogy has a young male protagonist. Looking at your bio, I see that you list the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown as favorite reads from your childhood. When you get ready to write a book, do you find that male protagonists are a natural fit for your stories? How do you "slip inside" a male perspective?

JAN: I did love those books, but also loved A Wrinkle in Time and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which are female heroines. I grew up as quite a tomboy, preferring climbing trees to playing dolls, and my childhood friends tended to be boys, so that probably influences me now. I do think males seem to work well for my stories, perhaps because I’m so tough on them physically, but despite my published books, I don’t consider myself an exclusive writer of boy characters (see below). I just write the voice that’s in my head. I will say though that I had quite a laugh soon after The False Prince was released when a blogger accused me of actually being a boy using a pen name, because he insisted there was no way a female could accurately get the male voice otherwise. Ha!

GLW: Although your protagonists are male, you write strong, multi-dimensional female supporting characters. Any chance we'll be clamoring to read a Jennifer Nielsen trilogy with a female protagonist in the future? 

JAN: There is something coming, yes… (Hopefully by the time this posts on your blog, it will be announced!) [GLW note: Not yet. Waiting with bated breath!]

GLW: You began your writing career with adult romantic suspense novels before realizing that the characters in your head really belonged in books for younger readers. How is writing for children different than writing for adults? Would you ever try writing for adults again, now that you've established yourself in the profession?

JAN: There are small differences - a young protagonist vs. an adult, different tolerances in how graphic to make certain scenes - things like that need to be considered. But other than that, I don’t begin any project with the mindset of it being a “children’s book.” I tell the story that’s there to be told and then hope it finds its audience. I think that approach is one reason The Ascendance Trilogy has found such a wide readership - because an older teenager or even an adult can key into the story and become just as absorbed as a middle grader.

Would I ever try writing for adults? Yes, if that is the story that presented itself. But of the dozens of ideas crowding my head right now, every one of them are for young readers.

GLW: A screenwriter from Game of Thrones is working on a film adaptation of The False Prince. I'm guessing that, as an author, this is both thrilling and a little nervewracking -- successfully adapting books to film is a tricky process, especially when you've got avid fans. What are your hopes for a possible Ascendance movie franchise? Any dream casting, etc.?

JAN: Honestly, I don’t think much about the movie unless I’m asked about it, because I have so little to do with the decision making (And because the last thing I need is to be more nerve wracked!). If a movie is approved, I will remind the producers how much readers have loved this story and to remember them as they make their choices. Obviously I hope that even if some minor elements have to change, that they will stay loyal to the heart of the story. For dream casting, my hope would be that they open auditions to kids who have never been in a movie - just everyday kids - so that a young reader who has been a fan of the series has the chance to try for a role. I would love it if a fan could end up being cast!

GLW: My son is still in the "chewing on board books" stage, but I often think about what kinds of stories inhabited my imagination as a child, and which will end up influencing him. Do your children read your books? If so, what kind of conversations do you have with them as a parent-author?

JAN: My kids have been awesome. They've helped with brainstorming and given feedback on my stories, and have been really supportive as my career has evolved. I will say though, that while the two oldest were really enthusiastic about the launch forThe False Prince, the youngest didn’t want to read it because he insisted it wasn’t his “kind of book.” I was cool with that, but then it turned out his class teacher uses The False Prince as her class read aloud, so now he’d be forced into reading it. Early in that read, he started getting into it and then finally had to admit he loved the story. Ha! 

GLW: I loved the line in your website bio where you mentioned setting -- and missing -- a goal to be published at a younger age than S.E. Hinton. In seventh grade, I made the same vow, and here I am at nearly twice Hinton's age with a couple of unfinished manuscripts on my computer and a bunch of frustrated characters locked up in my head. Any advice on making the leap from "I plan to be published one day" to "hey, I actually have a completed manuscript"? :)

JAN: I definitely believe in finishing what you start, and for me, that included the goal I set as a 6th grader. Despite the ups and downs of becoming a published writer, I always kept my eye on my goals and so everything I did had to keep me moving forward, even if only by inches at a time. That helped me finish my manuscripts, submit them, and then to persevere until I finally sold a book.

Publishing can be a tough business, so I think developing the grit to finish your manuscript is a good early test of whether you are ready to enter the business. So if you have those stories on your computer, it’s time to finish them!

GLW: Anything else you'd like to share with Guys Lit Wire?

JAN: Just a plug for the importance of reading for all ages, and for both genders. But boys are a particular concern to me because they tend to fall behind as readers and that impacts them later in life. Keep reading!

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1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

Ancient Rome! awesome! Jennifer, if you need any help with the Latin, let me know. If my Latin is too rusty, I know people!