Remember way last winter? I went to an author event at a bookstore and got to meet Utah writer Jennifer A. Nielsen. Of course, I had to buy her book.
I’ve got more books than time to read and just added that one to the pile. Then I attended the 2014 Professional Writers Series, sponsored by this Utah Children’s Writers blog, at the Pleasant Grove Library, where she was among a panel of MG writers. I didn’t buy another book, but decided to read the one I had. The False Prince is now among my favorites.
Jennifer knows how to spin a tale. At the heart of her book is an interesting premise - install a false prince. In the fantasy world of Carthya, the king, queen, and heir prince to the throne have been killed, though the general public is not aware of this. Years before, the younger Prince Jaron went away and is assumed dead, though no body was found to confirm the death. A power hungry regent, Conner, devises to plan to search orphanages, find a boy who resembles the younger prince, and pass him off as the legitimate heir. Conner selects four boys and hopes one can be trained to pull off the deceit. Dang. Wish I had thought of that plot idea.
Nielsen does several things to makes this a great piece of writing. One is the way she delivers the backstory. Rather that just dump it out, she uses Conner to offer food to the hungry boys if they can list some specific facts about Carthyan history and government. Another thing she does well, is allow the reader to fill in gaps. One of the orphans asks what will happen to the boys that aren’t selected and is told that he knows the answer to that. Sometimes writers feel a need tell all. We need to trust our readers to come to their own correct conclusions. Nielsen employs an engaging main character. Sage, one of the orphans, is bold, defiant, mischievous, and cunning. He has swagger. He’s developed the street smarts to get by and doesn’t want to be a part of this ploy. Lastly, the author holds back a big surprise she reveals near the end.
Nielsen said she had a kissing scene in the book and the publisher wanted it out in order to market it as an MG. At the time, she was anxious for anybody to pick it up so MG or YA, it didn’t matter to her. The story is now in production as a movie and at the Pleasant Grove event, she made an important point about audience levels. In books, we differentiate the two and most YA readers will not read down and rarely will MG audiences read up. In the film industry, they have audience quadrants which are kids, teenagers, 20-30 year olds, and everyone else. There is more crossover of the age groups than in written stories and thus wider audience appeal. She was pleased when one of the story consultants for the movie wanted a kissing scene exactly where she had previously put one.
Right here, in little old Utah, we continue to produce some great writers. Next event I’m at with Jennifer, I’ll have to purchase the rest of the Ascension trilogy. If I can wait that long.
(This article also posted at http://utahchildrenswriters.blogspot.com)