THE FALSE PRINCE: an interview with Jennifer Nielsen

Today, the Mixed Up Files is celebrating the launch of THE FALSE PRINCE, the first book in Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy. It is in the top ten of the Indie Next list for spring 2012 and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who calls the central character, an orphan named Sage, “a beguiling antihero” and describes the book as “an impressive, promising story with some expertly executed twists.

First, a quick summary: 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.

If that whets your curiosity, you can read the first chapter here.

Now, some questions for Jennifer!

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, and it’s being compared to books such as HUNGER GAMES and Megan Whalen Turner’s ATTOLIA series. Do you think they’re fair comparisons?

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the early buzz and feel honored to be included in any mention with those wonderful books. I think it’s fair to describe THE FALSE PRINCE by saying it’ll have the danger of Hunger Games in a period and setting closer to Turner’s land of Attolia. And while I sincerely hope THE FALSE PRINCE will be loved as much as I love it, the decision of whether it deserves those comparisons is really up to readers.

Sage is a different sort of hero. He’s defiant, sneaky, and has a knack for saying or doing the worst possible thing to get into trouble. But he’s also compassionate, loyal, and fierce in his beliefs. How do you think readers will respond to him?

Nearly every week, I get an email or note from a reader who says they see themselves as being just like Sage, which I find fascinating. I’ve seen Sage’s stubbornness compared to Holden Caulfield’s, and several bloggers have talked about rooting for Sage each time he goes up against unbeatable odds. More than one female reader has already called dibs for him online in case it ever turns out he’s real.

Sage actually feels very real to me, and there are times when I’m writing his scenes that I think, Oh don’t do that Sage. If you knew what was coming next, you wouldn’t do that. But of course, he does. And then I have to write in the consequences, and they’re not always pleasant.

Who is the target reader for this book?

I think while it’s marketed toward upper middle grade students, this should find a very wide readership. Both boys and girls in about 4th grade and up could read this book. One pleasant surprise is that it’s getting a lot of enthusiasm for adult readers too. My oldest son said it’s his second favorite book ever, which would have felt like a slight until he said his favorite was HUNGER GAMES. I was okay with that.

What are you working on next?

The final book in the Elliot trilogy, ELLIOT AND THE LAST UNDERWORLD WAR, has just been released. I’m now writing the third book in the False Prince series (as the second book makes its way through copyediting).
And I’m heavy into research for a book I’ll be writing this fall – the sixth book in Scholastic’s new multi-platform INFINITY RING series. The first book in that series was written by James Dashner and will release
in late August. I know readers are going to love it!

One website said this was a rare example of a great psychological thriller for young readers. Any tips for middle grade writers about creating that sort of tension?

I hadn’t thought about that aspect of this story while writing it, but yes, there are a lot of mind games happening in the story, which is racheted up by the way the way different characters manipulate that. I think it’s really important to respect that young readers can handle far more complexity than we give them credit for. So even though the subject matter must remain appropriate for their level, the tension can be just as suspenseful as if we were writing for adults.

Congratulations and thanks for stopping by! THE FALSE PRINCE is available in stores and online today! Or, check out the book trailer here.

To learn more about Jennifer, check out her website at www.jennielsen.com or follow her on Twitter @nielsenwriter. You might find Jennifer on tour in a city near you soon, and she is also a popular author for school and classroom visits.

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