Jenny Lundquist, author of Seeing Cinderella and Plastic Polly, has entertained and empowered middle graders with her authentic voice, powerful messages, charming wit, and relateable characters.
This year, she is intriguing fans as she releases her first Young Adult series.
We were blessed with the opportunity to interview Jenny as she prepares to celebrate the release of The Princess in the Opal Mask.
Thank you so much for having me!
Please tell us a little bit about The Princess in the Opal Mask.
The Princess in the Opal Mask is a re-imagination of The Man in the Iron Mask as told from the POV of two teen girls. Wilha, the title character, has just been betrothed to the son of her father’s greatest enemy. Worshipped by some yet reviled by others, Wilha is a famous icon, but a lonely princess, and wonders why her father forces her to wear a jeweled mask over her face.
Meanwhile, Elara, an orphan, has learned to wield a dagger and lie with ease. Most of all, she’s learned to shut her ears and her heart to the abuse her adopted family hurls at her. When an assassination attempt threatens an important peace treaty, the girls are offered the chance to switch identities—with surprising consequences for them both.
This series is very different from your middle grade books. What was your most rewarding experience as you transitioned from the Middle Grade contemporary books to this new Young Adult Fantasy series?
I have loved getting the chance to work with main characters who are a little older. With middle-grade protagonists I feel like they are essentially asking the question, “How do I fit in, in the world around me?” Whereas with young adult the main character is asking, “In light of circumstances or my own desires, how can I remake the world around me?” It’s been a lot of fun letting Elara and Wilha figure out the answer to that question.
What challenges did you face as you made this transition?
Voice was a real challenge as I wrote this book. I found that I had to work on “aging up” my voice to fit the YA market. Although, I will say that Princess falls a little on the younger YA spectrum in comparison to what’s currently out there. I also had to really work at differentiating Elara and Wilha’s voices.
They’re both female, both teenagers, and I wrote both their POV’s from a first person present tense perspective, so I need to make sure they came across as two distinctly different individuals. I had to carefully comb through the manuscript during the revision process to make sure I wasn’t accidentally “blending” their two voices.
What is the most priceless lesson you learned during this transition process?
I learned I can do it. There was definitely a moment after I submitted my sample chapters to my agent where I looked at my synopsis and thought: I have absolutely no idea how to write this book. It’s extremely gratifying now to see the finished copies of Princess and realize that, despite my doubts, I did it!
And it’s a valuable thing to know as I’m working on the sequel and thinking, I have absolutely no idea how to write this book! The second time around, it’s easier just to acknowledge my feelings, but know that somehow I will figure it out—probably after I’ve spent several sessions begging God for help.
You have created an amazing world, of royal proportions, in this series. What are some steps a writer can take when developing a setting for a fantasy novel?
The best advice I can give is keep a journal of your ideas. I don’t use world-building worksheets, they’re too soul-sucking for my taste. But I did keep a journal as I worked on developing the world of Princess. It gave me the space to jot down thoughts here and there when they would occur to me. Also, I would say use only the world-building that’s absolutely essential to the plot. If it’s not essential, ask yourself if you really need it.
Would you please share the story behind your passion for this new book?
This story came to me in bits and pieces over a period of almost ten years. In January of 2004 I was sitting on a beach in Kauai thinking/praying about how much I liked to write and how I wished I had a good book idea. And lo and behold…a paragraph immediately began cycling through my brain! I picked up my pen and wrote as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the words I was hearing.
I won’t repeat everything I heard that day, but essentially the idea was to write a story about “two girls…and the person you want to be, the person you think you ought to be, and the person you fear you might actually be.”
When the words stopped coming I looked at what I’d written and thought, Well, that sounds nice, God, but that’s not a plot, or a character, and I got a strong impression that right then wasn’t the time to tell the story. But I never forgot that day, or what I heard, and eventually I started working on my middle grade titles.
Then in late 2008, as I was nearing completion of the first draft of Seeing Cinderella, one night an image just “jumped” into my head: Of a dirty, mistreated teenage girl sitting on a wooden stool. A door opened in front of her and the expression on her face was shock and awe.
The writer in me was curious: What could possibly be behind that door to cause such a reaction? So I swung my “mental POV camera” around to see what she was seeing—and what I saw shocked me, too. I immediately stopped what I was doing, and started writing.
I finished Seeing Cinderella in 2010, obtained an agent and a book deal, and began working on my second MG novel (Plastic Polly). But I never forgot about my YA story. I considered it “My Secret Project” and filled up journals with notes and snippets of scenes. I even went so far as to hang a huge cork board up in my office with scene cards.
In 2011, I decided the story definitely called for the princess to wear a jeweled mask on her face, and gave it the working title, The Princess in the Opal Mask. (And bonus: If she’s wearing a jeweled mask then a masquerade party most definitely needed to be a part of the plot!)
In 2012, I decided now was the time to start writing the story. As the story took shape, I began to see that—even though this was a light fantasy with princesses, princes, masquerade balls, assassination attempts, and mistaken identities—this was very much a book about “two girls…and the person you want to be, the person you think you ought to be, and the person you fear you might actually be.”
I’m still not quite sure if The Princess in the Opal Mask is the story I became so excited about that day on the beach nearly ten years ago. But I know that day has served as a huge inspiration to me. And those themes about who we want to become vs. who we fear we actually are continue to intrigue me.
You are a master at creating characters who are delightfully relatable and likeable, flaws and all. What are your top three tips for character development?
I interview my characters and sometimes write journal entries from their perspective. It helps me to get a better feel for each character. Also, I think it’s important to ground a character’s deepest need in an emotion that we can all relate to—as that will transcend setting.
For instance, Wilha is a famous icon and the envy of many in her kingdom, but she’s saddened by the fact that few people seem to want to look past the glitter and glamour of her jeweled masks and dress or the ugliness of the rumors surrounding her. Few of us will ever be able to relate to her wealth or celebrity—but we can all relate to wanting to be liked/loved for who we are, not for who other people think we are.
What would you like to tell writers who are in the process of writing their first book?
I would say: YOU CAN DO IT!! And, drink lots of coffee.
What final word of encouragement would you like to share with our fellow writers?
I think it’s important to write what you’re passionate about and where you feel God is leading you. My favorite verse in the Bible is Eph. 2:10 which says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do.” I pray regularly over my projects, asking God to show me what His next “good work” is in my writing life. Also, if you write, then you are a writer—regardless of whether or not you have been published. You are a writer. You are an artist. Own it. Walk in it.
To connect with Jenny Lundquist, you can visit her website, “like” her Facebook Author Page, and follow her on Twitter.