When the grind of the real world gets you down — work emails, grocery shopping, breakups — there’s no better place to escape to than the wild, lush, and suspenseful world of a fantasy novel. Jennifer A. Nielsen is serving all that and more in her gorgeous new novel, The Traitor’s Game. If you’re looking for a bold and snarky heroine, a kingdom in danger, and a monumental task that requires the ultimate betrayal, then get yourself to a bookstore immediately, as this novel does not disappoint! We caught up with The New York Times best-selling author, chatting about lady heroes, creativity advice, and more.
B+C: Describe your book in six words or less.
Jennifer A. Nielsen: Lose the game. Lose your life.
B+C: Where/when do you do your best writing?
JAN: Lately, my best writing seems to come at the most awkward times. I’ll wake up at 2am with a great idea or have to pull over at the side of the road to write something down. A few weeks ago, I blanked out mid-conversation with a friend who said, “You’re not in my world anymore, are you?” I had to get the sentences down on paper; then I was fine again. She’s definitely a keeper friend!
B+C: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for book research?
JAN: It’s possible that, when I was in Rome doing research for Mark of the Thief, I might’ve snuck into the first-century catacombs of a church for a self-guided tour. I stuck to the path and touched nothing, but it was a fascinating look behind the scenes. And in my own defense, I should say that someone had left the door unlocked, so how could I not walk through it?
B+C: What’s your go-to cure for when you’re stuck in a creativity rut?
JAN: Anything water: taking a shower, washing dishes, swimming. I think water becomes white noise for the brain, allowing the creative subconscious to come alive. If I hit what feels like a dead end, water usually opens up new options I’d never considered before.
B+C: What two lady heroes do you turn to for inspiration, and why?
JAN: JK Rowling, and not only because I’m a fan of her writing, but I’m a fan of hers. At about the third book, the Harry Potter series was becoming an international phenomenon. Imagine the pressure of having readers parse out your written words to debate fan theories, every sentence you’d speak in public being analyzed for possible clues about future plots, and knowing millions of people are waiting for your next book. Under such pressure, it would have been understandable if Rowling’s writing had suffered, but she only got better with each book. And for that, she will always have my respect.
I also admire Audrey Hepburn. At the pinnacle of her acting career, she said of herself, “I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.” Having survived on tulip bulbs and grass to make bread during the Dutch Hunger Winter in World War II, perhaps she had a better sense than most of where her priorities should be. Hepburn dedicated 38 years of her life to UNICEF fighting poverty and child hunger. She also said, “Makeup can only make you look pretty on the outside, but it doesn’t help if you are ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the makeup.” In that way, she had the truest sense of beauty.
B+C: What’s your latest Instagram obsession?
JAN: The serious part of me is following #OurRescue and @ourrescue, which is one of the Operation Underground Railroad groups fighting human trafficking. And I’ve recently discovered @instaworldpix, which finds some of the most beautiful pictures from around the world — very addictive for anyone who loves travel.
B+C: Can you name a book that you think deserves a little more love + recognition?
JAN: Jennifer Jenkins’ debut trilogy, Nameless, is fantastic. This fantasy series about rival clans and centuries of war has gotten great reviews and deserved all of them, but I’d love to see more readers find her books. I am a fan of her writing, and of her personally. Jennifer is a co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, donating countless hours each year to help serious teen writers move toward publication.
What’s next on your to-read pile?
B+C: What advice do you have for aspiring creative ladies?
JAN: Your perspective on the world is 100 percent unique, so your voice has value, because no one else can say what you have to say. Express yourself in any way you choose, but do so with confidence. Trust your voice; trust yourself. You matter.
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(Photo of Jennifer A. Nielsen via Jeff Nielsen; photo of JK Rowling via Ian Gavan/Getty)