Today's answers come from Jennifer Nielsen, who writes two series for kids. Let's dive in.
WN: I love the first paragraph of your bio -- For as far back as Jennifer can remember, she has shared her brain with imaginary characters. She figures it’s okay if she talks to them as she’s working on her stories, as long as they don’t start talking back. -- Tell us more about your process though. Who's really in charge, you or the characters? (Personally, when I write, I feel like I am eavesdropping on someone else's conversation at times.)
JN: I come from a theater background, and one thing an actor learns very early is that acting is all about making choices, so that their character creates the events rather than simply responds to them. This isn’t so different from a writer’s job, only the writer is making these choices for all the characters of the story.
So as I’m writing, I spend a lot of time in my head stepping into the shoes of my various characters and interacting with them almost as if it’s the scene of a play. I might review the same scene over and over, each time through a different character’s eyes. By doing this, I often discover a lot of options that wouldn’t be clear to me otherwise. I can also feel their resistance when I try to take the plot in a direction that might be inconsistent with a character’s personality – because the scene just becomes too forced and unnatural.
It’s similar to what you say – that you feel like you’re eavesdropping. Only in my case, I prefer to sneak into the conversation and participate.
WN: What’s something readers or their parents should know about Elliot? And are the goblins friendly?
JN: My favorite thing about Elliot is that he’s just an ordinary kid – and like all ordinary kids, there is something extraordinary that he hasn’t yet discovered about himself. At its core, this is really what the series is about – Elliot is a boy who learns that everything he needs to be amazing is already within himself.
And no, the Goblins are definitely not friendly. In ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, they’ll try every trick they have to officially get rid of Elliot, including blowing up his house. Unfortunately, as the series continues, he has even more unfriendly creatures yet to deal with, including troublesome Pixies, a vengeful Yeti, evil Shadow Men, and a large demon who really, really, really does not want to be woken up from his nap.
WN: Let’s dish: what character are you most like? Why?
JN: I think every author puts a little of herself into each character she creates. So maybe the easiest way to answer this is to say which characters I’m least like. Which are the Goblins, for the obvious reason that I love chocolate, and they don’t. Oh, I should probably also include that they’re really horrible, despicable creatures, whereas I have never, ever blown up anyone’s house.
WN: What's up next for Elliot?
JN: ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT will be released in August 2011 and I’m so excited for people to read it! In this story, the mischievous Pixies kidnap Elliot to the Underworld in a plot to ransom Grissel the Goblin from the Brownie prison. The Goblin War might have been bad, but if Elliot fails, he’ll launch a war that will brand him as the kid who got earth destroyed. Who’d want to be his friend after that?
WN: Elliot isn't the only series you write. Who is the false prince?
JN: THE FALSE PRINCE is a very different series than ELLIOT and will launch with Scholastic in April 2012. It’s the story of four orphans, including a defiant boy named Sage, who are forced into competition to become an imposter prince. Sage’s life balances on a sword’s point. If he is not chosen, then he will certainly be killed.
THE FALSE PRINCE is full of suspense, danger, swordfights, and a boy whose voice is fiercely compelling. I hope people will love this story as much as I do.
WN: Writing for kids must lead to some good stories about your fans? Will you share one with us?
JN: I do have one favorite – after a school visit last fall, a 1st grader came up to say hello to me. She was an adorable little girl who wanted so much to have a way to thank me for coming. She pulled from her pocket a pink plastic jewel, so small I had to hold it close to see it, and covered in lint. That was her gift to me, and I still treasure it.
WN: What question should the Word Nerds have asked, but didn't?
JN: The Word Nerds might have wondered what is my favorite kind of ice cream (chocolate with marshmallows). Or better yet, if someone wanted to invite me for some ice cream, you can reach me at my website, www.jennielsen.com, and learn more about my books while you’re there!
Mmmm...ice cream is always good. Thanks for the answers, Jen!