Putting her ‘career on the line’
New York Times best-selling author turns the page from fantasy novels to historical fiction
MARSHALL — Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Maud Hart Lovelace Division 2 winner “A Night Divided,” said she was happy the book has been so successful.
She spoke to the fifth- and sixth-graders Monday morning at Marshall Middle School and also the seventh and eighth grades before giving a presentation at the Marshall-Lyon County Library. Her visit was paid for with funds from Marshall Public Schools and Prairielands Library Exchange.
Nielsen was known for writing fantasy novels such as the Ascendance Trilogy and the Underworld Chronicles. She recently switched genres into historical fiction in her books, “Resistance” and “A Night Divided” — something her publisher initially was not on board with.
“When I gave the manuscript for ‘A Night Divided’ to the editors, I put my career on the line,” she said. “The editors were like, ‘you write fantasy; you’re not a historical writer’ and I’m like, ‘I know, but I wrote historical’ so I was very much putting everything at risk, so the fact that the book took off and has been as successful as it is, it led the way for other historical novels.”
The book’s success validated the risk that she took in writing in a new genre.
“I feel very strongly in writing the story that’s inside,” she said.
“A Night Divided” is about a family living in Germany when it was divided by the Berlin Wall. Twelve-year-old Gerta, her mother and brother Fritz live on the eastern side and her father and another brother are left stranded on the western side.
The book received the the Maud Hart Lovelace MN youth reading award for 2019. She is accepted her award Nov. 2 at Ramsey County Library.
Nielsen said her first book In The Ascendance trilogy was “The False Prince” and she was not confident about its chances for success.
“It was my first big book so when I sent the manuscript off, I told my husband it will never sell and if it sells it will never be a big book and it will probably never do all that well because it’s really quirky and the main character is kind of a brat,” she said.
The book was successful and one person in particular enjoyed the book.
“Right after ‘False Prince’ came out I got a tweet from (renowned children’s book author) R.L. Stine and he was like, ‘Hey, Jennifer I just want to tell you how much I love the book,'” she said.
“The False Prince” is set in the medieval kingdom of Carthya and centers on 15-year-old Sage, an orphan who is unexpectedly purchased by Conner, one of the king’s regents.
Nielsen told the audience a little about her writing process.
“I think very often we have a writer inside of us, we just don’t realize it,” she said. “I start at the end of the story because then I know where I’m going.”
With historical fiction, Nielsen does a ton of research at the outset and then more research as needed.
“I need to have enough to have a foundation,” she said.
Even though her latest books are historical fiction, everything is based on facts, on something that has actually happened. A portion of her research was spent watching Holocaust survivor interviews on YouTube.com she said.
“I understand in writing for young people, I need to have a very high standard because at that age, that’s one of their first introductions to a historical event,” she said.
Currently, Nielsen is working on a story about a girl living in Occupied France during World War II.
“She gets a secret code from her father, she doesn’t know where he is, but she’s received a letter from him and she’s pretty sure he’s asking for help,” Nielsen said.