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Author Interview: Jennifer Nielsen and The Captive Kingdom Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m beyond excited to have Jennifer Nielsen here to share about her new MG fantasy The Captive Kingdom, the fourth book in her The Ascendance series, which released yesterday. I already bought it and am dying to read it. Jennifer is one of my favorite authors, and I fell in love with this series when I read The False Prince when it released in 2012. You can read my interview with Jennifer in 2012 here

If you stopped by last month on IWSG post, I picked Jennifer as the person I'd most like to have as my writing mentor. So it makes it even more special that she's on the blog today.

One silver lining of the pandemic is that I have more time to read so I read Jennifer’s whole The Traitor’s Game series. It is an amazing YA fantasy series. It was one of the best, satisfying series I’ve ever read except for The Ascendance series. 

And here's another silver lining. Last Thursday night, Jennifer had a virtual book release party. I went, and it was so much fun!


Before I get to Jennifer’s interview, I have my IWSG Post.
Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Beth Camp, Beverly Stowe McClure, and Gwen Gardner!

Optional QuestionWhen you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?

I'm honestly not sure if I see myself as a working writing or hobbyist. I struggle with that all the time. I admire self-published writers but don't want to do all the work of publishing a book on my own.

I have mixed feelings about trying to get published traditionally. I've already worked 50 years, and I'm not sure I want another career or to be that busy anymore. And it can be a real up and down experience even if you get a book deal that you don't have much control over. I've already gone through hard times that I had no control over since my husband died.

So, I'm just taking it day-by-day for now and working on writing consistently and faster. I'm writing more days of the week for an hour or so after I finish my job but am not beating myself if I want to go sit and read a good book or take a walk instead.  I'll make decisions on whether I try to get published after I have finished manuscript to try to query.

What about you? Where do you see yourself as a writer?

Interview With Jennifer Nielsen

Here’s a description of The Captive Kingdom from Goodreads:

Jennifer A. Nielsen returns to the world of The False Prince in this fourth book of the Ascendance


In a peaceful Carthya, Jaron leads as the Ascendant King with Imogen beside him -- but the peace he fought so long for is not destined to last.

On a routine sea voyage, Jaron's ship is brutally attacked, and he is taken hostage. The mysterious captors and their leader, Jane Strick, accuse Jaron of unthinkable acts. They are also in possession of some shocking items -- including the crown and sword that belonged to Jaron's older brother, Darius. The items unearth a past Jaron thought he had put behind him.

Though it seems impossible, Jaron must consider: Could Darius be alive? And what does Strick want from Jaron? Against his will, Jaron will be pulled back into a fight for the throne -- and a battle to save his kingdom.

Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. For those who don’t know you, share a bit about how you became a writer and your road to publication.

The short version is that it took me four manuscripts to get my million words of garbage under my belt,
and along the way, I gathered a thick pile of rejection letters. Every one of them was hard, but I clung to the belief that eventually, I would write the manuscript that was my ticket in. Finally – on my birthday – I received one rejection letter that felt more personal than any of the others. It felt like the last straw for me. So I went inside, ate a bucket of ice cream in hopes that it would somehow make things better…which it didn’t. Then I sat down and decided that for me, there would only be one of two possible directions I would go from that point. 

The first was to decide if I had a future as an author. I had to consider the possibility that I really didn’t have talent, and never would break in. If that was my decision, I needed to quit.

It turns out that I am not a person who does quitting well, so my only other option was to succeed. To do that, I had to figure out what I’d been doing wrong. So I threw out everything I thought I knew about writing, then looked at what others were doing who were getting those publication contracts.

Once I felt ready, I wrote a new manuscript as a test. This would either be my last attempt, or my first yes. As it turns out, this was the manuscript that got me my agent and my first publishing manuscript.

I am proof that anyone can start from knowing nothing about writing and, if they are willing to keep working at the craft, they can find success too.

2. Thanks for sharing your struggles road to being an author. Yu give the rest of us a lot of hope. You published the third book in this series, The Shadow Throne, in 2014. What made you decide to return to tell another story in this series and why did you wait until now to write it? (And thank you so much for writing it! A lot of your fans on Goodreads are excited too.)

I’ve long said that Sage – the main character of this series – lives in my imagination. He was there constantly through the writing of the trilogy, but by the end, enough had happened that it felt like he was ready for a long rest.

The fan letters kept coming, which I always appreciated, and every so often when a fan would ask me to continue Sage’s story, I’d check in with him and the quick answer was, “No, I’m good. Leave me alone.”

Then one day I received a letter asking for details on what the reader thought was a key missing scene of the third book – a gap of missing time. I checked in with Sage and for the first time in years he was interested in the details too. Turns out he had become bored. I asked if he wanted to get into some trouble again. He said, “Definitely,” and I began to write.

3. We all owe a debt to that fan. Did you have a hard time getting back into this world and Sage’s voice? How did you keep track of the details about your characters and world so that you could step back into this world?

I was actually surprised at how easy it was to return to this world. I’ve kept a series spreadsheet since the beginning so that helped me with some key details, but the characters and places in this book feel so real to me that writing simply felt like recalling a memory from my past.

4. That sounds like a great way to keep track of all the details. What was something that surprised you when you wrote The Captive Kingdom?

There were certainly problem areas and plenty of work for my fabulous editor to do, but I think I saw in this book some evidences that I had grown as a writer. I am still looking for ways I can improve – and I am far from who I’d like to be as a writer – but it was a wonderful thing to be able to make some comparisons and see growth.

5. You're such an amazing writer. I'd love to be at your stage of development. You’ve written four MG and YA fantasy series. How do you plot them out and what advice do you have for writers who are writing book one in a fantasy series?

Once I have the general idea, I jump ahead to whatever I foresee as the big twist or reveal, and I make

myself come up with five possibilities. This is important because if I only go with the first thing I think of, then it’s likely the first thing my reader thinks of, so it’s boring and predictable. But five possibilities forces me to be more creative.

When I find the one that resonates most with me, I usually plot the key moments backward, creating an effect-and-cause outline. From there I begin to fill in details, although the details frequently change as I write. However, the key moments rarely do.

For writers who are on the first book of their series, it is essential to spend significant time on world building, and as part of that, to define some details that make this world feel both unique and real. In my opinion, the most important part of the world building is the map – because you will be locked into that map for every subsequent book so you need to think ahead for distances, locations of settlements and cities, available resources, natural obstacles, and surrounding countries. For example, if you know a war will eventually come to the land, you must consider whether it is fought in a swamp, in mountains, or in a fantasy city. The geography of the area will have a significant impact on how the story unfolds.

6. That's such great advice on the plot twist and creating a map. I hadn't thought of making one. Since 2010, you’ve had 20+ books published in the MG fantasy, YA fantasy, and MG historical genres. How have you been able to complete so many published books in this time period and write in so many different genres? About how many books are you able to write in a year?

Honestly, I think it’s two-fold. First is that I am surrounded by so many story ideas, the thought of not being able to write them all is a frustration that compels me to write faster. Second is that when it comes to writing, I’m a highly focused person, so when I start a project, I just keep going until it’s finished. That allows me to be very efficient with my writing time.

7. What are the main ways that you promote your books leading up to and when your book releases? What advice do you have for debut authors, especially during these challenging times?

The best piece of advice I ever got as a debut author was from Erin Murphy, the president of my literary agency. She said, “The best thing you can do for your career is to write the next book.” I didn’t fully understand then how key it was, but I do now. Here’s why: If you sell a book today, it will likely come out in 2022. Much of the first year after the sale is fairly quiet from your editor, who has other projects ahead of yours. This is the time to write the next book and hope to sell it in 2021. You want to do this so that you have a book set to release the year after your debut.

Because when your debut book comes out, you will begin building a fan base and their first question will be, “When is your next book?” Being able to answer that question is key to growing your career.

In terms of marketing, the strongest tool I’ve ever discovered is word of mouth – one reader recommends the book to another. Since we cannot control that after a book is released, we must have that in mind as we write: the question of why readers will insist to their friends that, “You must read this book!” Why will a bookseller pull your book off the shelf and tell the buyer that this is the right book for them?

You need a specific answer to that question. Sometimes it’s because of shock value (HUNGER GAMES). Sometimes it’s because of the powerful message (WONDER), or curiosity about the premise (THE MAZE RUNNER). I’m convinced that the reason THE FALSE PRINCE did so well is because of a few surprises in the book, and that the success of A NIGHT DIVIDED was because it was so unique. At the time, there were no other middle grade Berlin Wall escape stories.

So figure out the reason why readers will recommend your book, and then use that to market it.

8. What are you working on now? Do you plan to write more books in this series?

There is a book five of the Ascendance series – I’m actually in copyedits for it now and it might be my favorite of all the books. This spring I will release RESCUE, a World War 2 historical dealing with the spies and secret codes of the war, and the key question of “Were there good Germans?” And beyond that…oh goodness.

My other active projects right now include a World War One historical, a conspiracy thriller, a comedy screenplay, a contemporary feel-good novel, and then a few days ago, I discovered an absolutely amazing true World War 2 story. It will need a ton of research, but it’s so compelling, I’ve got to find time for it. But first…I’m going to find some chocolate.

I'm so excited about book 5. Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jennifer. You can find Jennifer at www.jennielsen.com, on Twitter and Instagram as @Nielsenwriter, or on Facebook as Jennifer A. Nielsen, Author.

Giveaway Details

Jennifer has generously offered a hardback of The Captive Kingdom for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by October 17th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. only.

 Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, October 12th I have an interview with Sherry Ellis as part of her MG adventure Squirt's Mayan Adventure blog tour

Monday, October 19th I have a guest post by debut author G.Z. Schmidt and her agent Adria Goetz and a query critique giveaway by Adria and a giveaway of No Ordinary Thing by Adria

Wednesday, October 21st I have an agent spotlight interview with Melanie Castillo and a query critique giveaway

Monday, October 26th I have an interview with debut author Lily LaMotte and a giveaway of her MG graphic novel Measuring Up

Wednesday, November 3rd I have an interview with debut author Chole Gong and a giveaway of her YA fantasy These Violent Delights and my IWSG post

Monday, November 9th I have an interview with debut author Sheila Averbuch and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Friend Me

Tuesday, November 10th I'm participating in the Super Stocking Giveaway Hop 

Hope to see you on Monday!


Jennifer Hawes said...

Great interview! I've been wanting to read her books. They come highly recommended. I agree with your statement...take it one day at a time! That's me.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's why those fan letters are so important.

Published author is a lot of work although with a traditional publisher it's less than if you were self-published.

Nancy Gideon said...

I see you as very much a working writer - maybe not as much in fiction endeavors as you'd like to be but definitely in supporting other writers and bringing writing information into play. Supporting the craft is just as important as doing the craft. And you do it good, Natalie!! Yes, I hear you on publisher anxiety. After 10 years, preparing to go tradition is very daunting.

Cathrina Constantine said...

Great Interview, Jennifer's books sound amazing!

Natalie, I think you're on the right track. Writing while living a good life is essential. When your ms is completed, it's then you will have a decision to make.

Stay Healthy.

Jemi Fraser said...

Jennifer's covers are always so beautiful!! This sounds like a great addition to the series.
Natalie - sounds like you're doing exactly as you're meant to do! Life is meant to be lived as well!

Pat Garcia said...

I love your attitude about your writing. Taking it a day at a time is advisable. Finish the manuscript first and then decide.
Wishing you all the best.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

Loni Townsend said...

Woot to getting your preferred author on your blog with an interview! How fun! I'm glad you're writing more and more, and that you're not hard on yourself. I think reading a book and walking are great activities to complement writing. :)

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Great interview, and the False Prince looks awesome.

Nicki Elson said...

You are so right about it being like another job to publish a book - except without the guaranteed paycheck. I like that you're just focused on the writing right now and will deal with the publishing part when it's time.

Ilona Bray said...

Thanks for discussing how to deal with the doubts on the road to publication! Great interview.

Diane Burton said...

Isn't it wonderful to have someone you admire on your blog? I'm checking out Jennifer's books. I think you're wise to not want to tackle anymore hard stuff. Enjoy the writing that you do. Nobody's judging. Thanks for your wonderful comment on my blog. You are so sweet.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Smart advice as to why you should just write the next book.
I'm traditionally published and don't feel I lost much control. I imagine it's different with the big publishers though.

Patsy said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with deciding not put yourself through the stress of self publishing, or trying to get traditionally published. It's odd how writing is one of a few things people can do as a hobby, which others expect them to always try to do professionally. Nobody thinks that of amateur joggers, or knitters, or bakers, do they?

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Natalie, its nice that you aren't putting undue pressure on yourself to write. Let is happens slowly, as and when you complete your manuscript.
Jennifer's books look great. I will add them to my TBR list.

cleemckenzie said...

You have a perfect attitude! Very smart to take those walks and when you need them.

I love a good fantasy story. Thanks for interviewing Jennifer and showcasing her books.

emaginette said...

I love how you think about writing. I want the joy it brings and am willing to work hard when I'm inspired. But I won't sweat over it. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

J.Q. Rose said...

I appreciate your attitude about writing. But how in the world do you even consider writing when you have this blog and a job? You are a creative woman. To Jennifer, bravo to you for picking up the next story after the trilogy. I have never attempted writing a series because I am scared-to-death I will mess up those details. But, I do have a sequel for one of my mysteries niggling at me to tell more about the characters. Maybe...just maybe. Thanks for the inspiration
JQ Rose

Liz A. said...

I want to hear more about this story bible spreadsheet. I do not understand spreadsheets, so my story bibles are more Word docs, but I can see how limiting that can be.

Tyrean Martinson said...

So, I came by this post earlier today, and I knew I needed time to soak it in so I left it open and came back. I'm glad I did. I love Jennifer Nielsen's work, especially The False Prince series! It was intriguing and inspirational to read how she broke through into traditional publishing, and the way she chooses out of five options for her dilemmas. I love maps, but I struggle to create them in any way that I would want to share with readers. However, after reading this, I think I'll give it another go.
And Natalie, if you're working at your writing, you are a working writer. At least I think you are. :)

Sandra said...

Natalie, I like your approach to writing without beating yourself up for time away. Very healthy.
Jennifer, this sounds like a great series and one I'd enjoy.

diedre Knight said...

Hi Natalie,

I'm definitely checking out Jennifer's books, and I love your attitude about writing!

Fundy Blue said...

Great interview Jennifer and Natalie! And Natalie, you strike me as one of the hardest working writers around. Your amazing blog is testament to that. Writer is a much broader category than novels.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thanks for the great interview, Natalie. Jennifer... "not a person who does quitting well." Good for you! Me neither.

Olga Godim said...

Great interview, Jennifer.
Natalie, you help so many writers, it feels like a full-time job for you.

DMS said...

I love the covers of these books. So appealing. I have had the False Prince on my TBR for a while. Sounds like I need to get reading! So glad you got to be a part of Jennifer's virtual launch. How exciting! A wonderful interview. Thanks for sharing and for the chance to win a copy.

Wishing Jennifer the best of luck.

Pat Hatt said...

Not wanting another full time job makes sense.

Great way to not become predictable indeed.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Jennifer, I love your story to publication and your determination.

Natalie, taking it day by day is a good way to approach writing. Sometimes it takes time and sometimes all we need to do at this moment is write...or read... or whatever else calls.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

What an inspiring post. Congratulations. Jennifer. I wrote the name of you series down.. Sounds like books I would enjoy. Thanks for your gret interview, ladies. Hppy reading.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Great interview. So awesome that it's with someone you admire. Well thought-out answer to the IWSG question.

I am excited for the Pass or Pages query contest at Operation Awesome with the YA category this week. Plus, I have half a dozen books to review this month. And WEP coming up! Busy month. I hope you've been staying healthy and thriving as best as you can this year.

- J

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

That’s a great interview, and I have to look up some of Jennifer’s MG books!

Jenni said...

Oh, wow! I really enjoyed this interview. Jennifer Nielsen is one of my favorite authors. I'm so excited that there is a fourth book to the Ascendance Trilogy!
And Natalie, your thoughts on hobby vs. working writer is so encouraging. I often choose a book or a walk too after a long day, and that's okay. :)

Unknown said...

This interview was very nice and clean and i really loved the questions that were asked!i cant wait till my copy of Captive Kingdom comes in !

Empty Nest Insider said...

Natalie, you work so hard and have been through more than I can possibly imagine, so I think you are wise to write at your own pace. Great interview with Jennifer! I really like that she’s big on plot twists.


Debs said...

Natalie, you sound like a working writer to me in that it is clear you are doing the work of writing on a regular basis - way more regularly than I manage to fit in, so huge kudos to you. I also admire your attitude to take decisions as and when they need to be taken, especially after all you've been through.

Greg Pattridge said...

I have not had the time to read this series, despite the praise I have heard from adults and children. I'm not waiting any longer. Love the interview, especially her struggles in getting an agent. Keep doing what you love to do and can control, Natalie. The rest is icing on the cake.

Greg Pattridge said...

I have not had the time to read this series, despite the praise I have heard from adults and children. I'm not waiting any longer. Love the interview, especially her struggles in getting an agent. Keep doing what you love to do and can control, Natalie. The rest is icing on the cake.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I love Jennifer's books!

Joanne Roberts said...

Please do NOT enter me in the giveaway because I already have Captive Kingdom. You are going to love it. All your favorite characters and plenty of snark. but I wanted to comment and say thanks for the interview. I love Jennifer's smart writing and her handle on voice and the inspiring breadth of her career. and always her generosity to the fans. Happy reading!

Danielle H. said...

This interview is excellent--I enjoyed the author's writing process as well as her tips for world building. I shared on tumblr and can't wait to read this series and more: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/631425933275971585/author-interview-jennifer-nielsen-and-the-captive

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Your answer to the question is exactly how I feel. I sometimes struggle with the idea that I should probably work harder at the writing thing, but then it becomes a job and let's be honest- most people hate their jobs. I love to write. I'd be so sad if writing became the work. Having a day to write is more exciting and awesome to me than a day at the mall. I don't ever want to lose that feeling.

Chrys Fey said...

Taking it day-by-day is best. <3

Teresa Warner said...

New author and series for me, sounds good!

Samantha Bryant said...

These looks great! Adding to my TBR.

Computer Tutor said...

I love this connection, that Jennifer was your choice of mentor. How fun to then interview her. And I like your discussion of writing. You talk more like an Indie writer than a traditional writer. You approach it on your own schedule.

Stephen Tremp said...

Hi Natalie, best wishes to Jennifer Nielsen and her MG series and I think they would appeal to high school and young adult too.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Thanks for the book recommendations!

Ronel visiting on IWSG day Revamp Your Backlist

Shannon Lawrence said...

Jennifer's covers are gorgeous! I like what you said about sometimes opting to read or take a walk instead. I think that's a healthy approach.

DonnaGalanti said...

Love this series so much! Have these on my bookshelf and looking forward to reading the newest addition! Congrats Jennifer.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Thank you, Natalie, for this interview. Jennifer, my favorite bit of advice you offer is you "usually plot the key moments backward, creating an effect-and-cause outline." Cause and effect are the best story lines. Bravo on your new release. All the luck with it.

dolorah said...

I hear you Natalie on the whole not sure you want to work that hard a writing. I also enjoy writing, but the older I get, the less I want to work full time - and that includes writing. Congrats on giving yourself permission to write at your own pace.

Denise D. Young said...

I see myself in the newly published author zone. I have a couple of full-length books out, but I still have a long way to go. I'm excited about the path. I'd consider myself a "working writer" because this is my profession and because I show up at the page consistently to work.

Choosing the right path for ourselves as individuals can be tough. I'm glad I chose the indie path because I love learning new things and enjoy the flexibility, but I'd agree it is a lot of work. You do get to set your own publishing schedule and goals, though, which is awesome. There are pluses and minuses, pros and cons, to every path. Good luck on yours, Natalie!

Clara said...

I just subscribed to the blog, but I don't know if my email shows up in my profile or not...

Lynn La Vita said...

I just noticed, I'm not the only one taking a few extra days to reply. That's nice to see.
Wonderful interview, with a terrific author. There is so much to learn from each other. I wish you total success with your manuscript.

ken ohl said...

this looks like something my wife would enjoy reading

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi Natalie,

I can so relate about not wanting another intense career at this stage in life, but it would be awesome to have a book published. I have been working on that for over ten years now because I still want to go the traditionalist route. Who knows what's next in our journeys, but living one day at a time is not such a bad way to live especially during these trying times. The future is sketchy for all of us now and times may get far worse before there is any improvement. Keep safe and healthy is really all we can hope for now.

Wonderful interview. I can certainly see why you would want Jennifer for your mentor...who wouldn't?