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13 October 2010 @ 01:23 am
Interview with Debut Author Jennifer Nielsen  
I am very excited to be able to introduce debut author Jennifer Nielsen to the Inkpot readers. She is the author of Elliot and the Goblin War, which was published this month by Sourcebooks.

RL: There really isn’t much fantasy out there for the younger end of the middle grade readership. Did you start out wanting to write a book for that demographic or did you just have an inner eight year old dying to get out?

JN: Frankly, the inner 8-year-old has been out for a while. Every so often the adult in me comes out to interfere with my fun! I didn’t start out writing for any particular demographic, but just to write the story that was there to be written. This one was meant for younger readers, although I’ve had feedback already from a wide variety of ages who’ve enjoyed it.

RL: When I first read Elliot and the Goblin Wars, I was struck by how fresh the voice was; what a risk you took, using such an omniscient, present narrator for the story as well as breaking that fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. How did you decide on that voice for the story? And did you run into any editorial resistance or did you even give much thought to that?

JN: The “Dear Reader” segments in the book are a reflection of the way my mind works (which is how a recipe for turnip juice ends up in the middle of an otherwise coherent chapter). I tend to be pretty random in my thinking, so breaking the fourth wall was a freeing way to write. I’ve never written with an omniscient narrator, but I think for the Elliot books it really works. Fortunately, my editor agreed.

RL: I love how Elliot just sort of accidentally wanders into being a hero and
how the villain (whose name I will not mention for fear of spoilers) was
redeemable at the end. Can you talk a little bit about this and why you made
those character choices?

JN: Elliot’s a classic everyman (every kid?), but he has a fierce sense of loyalty. And he’s been bullied enough in his life to feel that even if he doesn’t have a clue of what he’s doing, he will not abandon the Brownies to the Goblins. I like that about Elliot. He’s a wonderful character to write.

The redeemable unnamed villain is very interesting to me as an author. His story will continue to unfold over the series, and he is the most complex of the Underworld creatures so far.

RL: Poor Elliot has a very quirky and unusual family. Did this come from any
actual, personal experience?

JN: I actually think most people have quirky families, but we’re so used to each other we don’t always see it. My family is very large and diverse and we have good times together, but yeah, we have a few stories of our own. What’s great about Elliot’s family is, unusual as they are, they are a happy family and in their own way they work things out.

RL: When did you first realize you wanted to write an expose of the Goblin and
Brownie wars?

JN: I don’t think anyone sets out in their life to undertake such a quest, so perhaps the expose chose me. I wasn’t the expose’s first choice, of course. Nor even in the top 50, so I’m told. But once I was chosen, I figured why not? It was either expose the mysteries of the Underworld, or do the laundry.

RL: How were you able to infiltrate the goblin culture and bring back such a
never before seen seen glimpse of their true nature and politics?

JN: Sunglasses.

RL: What is it about pickles that makes them such an ideal food for goblins?

JN: Let’s face it, goblins and pickles naturally have quite a bit in common. They’re both sour, green, and lumpy. It’s only natural they should get together for dietary purposes.

RL: Extremely poor cooking skills feature prominently in this book, are they a
reflection of yours?

JN: I never took home ec in school. My argument to the administration was that it was sexist and demeaning to require cooking and sewing classes at the expense of more academic options. They finally waived the requirement for me, I think so I’d leave the office. However, in hindsight, those classes would’ve been a good idea (anyone want to sew the snake costume my 6 year old requested this year for Halloween?). My cooking skills are somewhere between “not poisonous” and “mildly edible,” (although I do make a mean molten chocolate cake – and honestly, what else truly matters?).

RL: Tell us a little bit about your path to publication?

JN: I wrote my million words of crap, then a million words of blathering nonsense, then another million of marginal schlep. I’ve had years of solid rejections, and I’d have quit if I weren’t so much worse at everything else I enjoy. Then I had the idea for Elliot and everything happened in a whirlwind. I wrote the story in only a few weeks, then soon signed with an agent, who quickly sold Elliot in a 3-book deal. She also sold a subsequent trilogy to Scholastic in a pre-empt after four publishers made offers. It’s been an incredible experience to go from being somewhat accustomed to failure to finding so much enthusiasm for my writing. But I’m proof that if you really want to succeed, you should never, never give up.

RL: The Goblin Wars are continued in a second volume. Can you hint at Elliot’s
further adventures?

JN: “Elliot and the Pixie Plot” will release in May 2011, and frankly, Elliot’s had better weeks. Pixies kidnap Elliot to the underworld where he faces a battle to the death, a tricky shapeshifter, Shadow Men that can suck oxygen from the air, and a sleeping demon. Worst of all, his science fair partner is a girl!

RL: I also hear you have an exciting new project in the works. Can you tell us a
little about that if we swear not to tell a soul?

JN: It’s a trilogy with Scholastic and I’m insanely excited about it. The working title is “The Orphan Prince,” though I suspect it’ll change as we begin editing. The premise is, “To avert civil war, three orphans compete in a treacherous plan to impersonate the lost prince. But that’s only the beginning of the lies. The biggest one could be fatal.” Scholastic has said they have big plans for the books. It’s had such a great response already from those who have read it, I can hardly wait until it’s released in April 2012.

Thanks so much for talking with us today, Jennifer! I know I'm not alone in looking forward to these future releases.
Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on October 13th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
I can't remember the last time I laughed so often when reading an interview. Thanks! Elliot is going on my list, and weirdly enough I'm *already* excited about The Orphan Prince trilogy.

But first, I must scour the internet for molten chocolate cake recipes.
natalieag on October 13th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
Great interview. I'm going to add this to my books to read. It's great to see how you sold 2 series so quickly after your years of rejections. I hope I do too.

It's nice to see another middle grade author. So much of the buzz is about YA these days.
rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
Jen's story IS hugely inspiring, Natalie! Those two quick sales are surely every writer's dream, no?

rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
That's kind of what the book is like, Leah. And now *I* have a craving for molten chocolate cake...
insatiablereaders.blogspot.com on October 13th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
Great interview! I'm reading through the book currently myself and though I'm not of the intentioned targeted audience either....I am having SO much fun. I definitely love the way the narrator addresses the reader and more often than not guesses what I am thinking (hmm...either I'm in a child-like state of wonder while reading this or that narrator is REALLY good....think I'll go with the second option, helps me keep my credibility...hehe)! Glad to hear there is another one scheduled for release....it's horrid having to say goodbye to characters you thoroughly enjoy (even if it's only until your next re-read).
rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed the interview! And I enjoy hearing from others who aren't in the targeted audience who enjoyed the book as much as I did. :-)
(Anonymous) on October 13th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
Brilliant!! And what good fun!

-Ruth Barshaw
rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Yay!!!!!
annastanannastan on October 14th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
Congrats on the book, Jennifer! I'd never made the pickles and goblins connection before, but it really does make so much sense. :-)
rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
It does, doesn't it? It makes one wonder why we haven't made the connection before now.
Kristin Wolden NitzKristin Wolden Nitz on October 14th, 2010 01:39 pm (UTC)
When I had the chance for a quick peek at the first chapter of ELLIOT last spring, I knew that I was going to send all of my writing students to the book to see what a successful omniscient narrator looks like. It takes skill and a great sense of humor to do it well.
rllafeversrllafevers on October 14th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Omniscient
Kristin, I agree that it is a pitch perfect example of skillful omniscient. It is also such a terrific reminder to all of us to take risks in our writing and have fun with it!
RuthRuth [blogspot.com] on October 18th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
Awesome interview! Elliot and the Goblin War is on my TBR-SOON list.