|photo credit: Jeff Nielsen|
Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of The Underworld Chronicles, talked with me about her current series, the Ascendance Trilogy, which begins with her recent novel, The False Prince.
MDC: This is a gritty, engrossing story! Sage is an intense character and you seem to know him so completely – where did he come from?
JAN: Sage came from the line of an Eddie Vedder song, “Guaranteed,” in which he wrote, “I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me, guaranteed.” I loved that line – the idea of a character who could know everything about the game he is playing, but who would be secretly changing all the rules of play.
Once I had that line, I had Sage, all of him. So Book 1 wasn’t about me creating Sage as much as it was discovering him. As intense as he is on paper, he’s just as strong in my head. He lives there as this voice constantly informing me of his opinions, or directing whatever scene I’m trying to write next.
Are Sage’s headstrong ways fearless and admirable, or is he just plain foolish?
Both are correct, I suppose. To me, Sage is a study in contrasts. He is brave, but also experiences fear for his situation. He makes a lot of jokes, but takes on the world with great seriousness. He can mock, but also demonstrates sincere compassion for those around him. And no matter what trouble he dives into, he is very clear that he doesn’t like pain.
I think where the foolishness comes in is that Sage will never move backward. Whether it’s a strength or a flaw, he doesn’t know how to do anything but push ahead. Sometimes that works out for him, and sometimes it’s just plain foolishness. But it’s all he knows.
Each character has a different motive for cooperating in the plot to overthrow the royal family. Readers may look at Conner and wonder if there is any nobility in his quest to save the kingdom. He claims to be selfless in his actions …
It’s what I love about Conner. He’s so interesting to me because from his perspective, he’s truly doing the right thing. If Conner were writing this story, he would be the hero. He’s not trying to be a saint, and there’s definitely something in it for him, but he wouldn’t consider himself a villain either.
… bringing up the eternal question: Do the ends justify the means?
Hmm, this will reveal me to be a nerd of unparalleled status, but someday I’d love to write an entire essay solely dedicated to Conner. Not only his personal moral code (or lack thereof), and the way Conner compares and contrasts to Sage, but an evaluation of this very issue as it applies to THE FALSE PRINCE. Because that question leads to the very gray moral area where Conner lives his life, and it would be fun to explore.
You have said of your writing: it “came to me,” and, the “story tumbled out of me.” Tell me more about what that is like.
The idea for this book was with me for a long time, like standing in a slowly filling pool of water. But finding Sage was like having a wave crash into me. All at once, everything was there, as if he brought the details of the story with him and my job was simply to get it down on paper. I’d be writing a scene where Sage is inevitably getting into trouble, and I’d be hoping he decided to back down because I knew what was coming next if he didn’t. Of course, he never did, and then I’d just cringe as I turned the page for the next scene. Writing this book was like watching the movie in my head, and just trying to type fast enough to keep up with it.
Chapters 42 and 43 bring about a great shift in the story and still they don’t give it all away. Did you have a hard time putting clues to the plot twist throughout the story without giving away too much?
I hope that readers who are surprised by the turns in the plot will enjoy going back through the pages to look at the story with new eyes. And that readers who anticipated some of the ending still enjoy the journey. Either way, if the readers feel they’ve been on a great adventure with Sage, then I’m happy!
This book is quite satisfying by itself, but it is really the opening for a three volume series: The Ascendance Trilogy. When can readers expect the next installment? Can you give any details?
The second book in the series should be released next spring. I hope readers will find it to be just as big an adventure as Book 1. And while I’m not allowed to say much about it, I can tell you that for Sage, things definitely get worse!
Though we only get a glimpse of her, I like Princess Amarinda - she’s very practical, and a bit morose. Will we see more of her in the trilogy?
I like Amarinda too. I think she’s in an extremely tough position in this story and I enjoy watching her navigate her challenges while maintaining her dignity as a princess. There are several characters that you’ll see more of as the trilogy continues, and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing where the unfolding story takes all of them.
Are you a Jack London fan by any chance? The battle to break Sage's will reminded me so much of The Call of the Wild.
Okay, confession time. I’ve never read The Call of the Wild – and in fact, I’ve actively avoided reading it for my entire life. As a child, I had a really hard time with stories where the beloved dog gets hurt. As an adult, I could probably handle it now, but the dread of reading animal stories remains with me. Maybe one day I’ll get there, if only because now I’m curious to read the story with the comparison of Sage in mind.
Thank you, Jennifer, and best wishes for your writing career.
Thank you very much for a fun interview!