The Ink Splat is our monthly activity letter filled with inspiration sparking challenges and resources guaranteed to inspire your creativity. In this Ink Splat, the book and author spotlighted is Mark of the Thief By Jennifer Nielsen along with an author interview! Submit a response to a challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Historical Magic

Although Nielsen’s novel is primarily a Fantasy, it also has a lot to do with history. For this month’s writing challenge, pick a historical event or place and reinterpret the invents that happened there by adding a flare of magic! Turn the historical fantastical.

Submit your response HERE.

Do a little digging:

History-based stories require a lot of background research. Be sure you know the facts about your historical place or event before getting started on your story!


Mark of the Thief By Jennifer Nielsen

When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for. 

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic’s newfound powers for their own dark purposes. 

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire’s most powerful and savage leaders.

About the PROCESS:

Q: Where did the inspiration for this story come from? markofthief

A: MARK OF THE THIEF had two inspirations. The first is this minor bit of trivia I stumbled upon that described how boys in Ancient Rome used to wear a golden amulet called a bulla. It was filled with gems that were believed to cause good luck. The second fact was that Emperor Julius Caesar used to claim he was a descendent of the Goddess Venus. He thought this would make him seem even more powerful than he actually was. So I thought, what if Caesar was telling the truth? Because if he really was a descendent of Venus, then he would be a demigod. And what if the magic of the Gods was stored in his bulla? The combination of those two ideas became the foundation for MARK OF THE THIEF.

Q: What is it like combining historical factor with fantastical elements? Are there any particular challenges?

A: There are always challenges to working within an established historical period – I am limited by the world as it existed then. However, within that world, there are always ways to build the fantasy. For example, the great Pantheon has only a single window in it – the oculus overhead. There are many theories about what the oculus was for, but they are only theories. That lingering question gives me a place to explore within the fantasy world, and I take every advantage of that!

Q: Did writing a historically centered novel such as this require a lot of research?

A: The research for this book was HUGE! There are scholars who get doctorates in the study of Ancient Rome, and then go on to study it for their fifty year career. The amount of detail we know about the empire is vast and extensive, and it existed for so long. In addition to the research, I also traveled to Rome to see the remains of the empire for myself, which was amazing. Honestly, there is no way I could ever learn everything about the empire, but I hope I’ve done it justice. MARK OF THE THIEF is a fantasy first, but I think it still offers young readers an insight into what life might have been like back then.

Q: What are the hardest and easiest parts about writing a novel for you?

A: Is there an easiest part to writing a novel? Really? If so, I wish someone would tell me!

For me, every novel is different. Sometimes it’s pulling the concept together. Sometimes it’s the first draft – that empty page staring back at me. And sometimes it’s knowing when to say done – to hit send on the final manuscript and know that whatever it is, is what it will always be.

Q: Why did you decide to self-pubslish? What was the experience like?

A: I wanted to get the book out, but at that point, I didn’t want a career as a writer. Self-publishing allowed me to get the book out on my terms, without dealing with the stress and heartache of trying to get an agent. It was, and still is, both a fascinating experience but also very hard work. Self-publishing isn’t necessarily easier than going the traditional route. It’s just a different set of challenges. Learning how to format the book took time and a lot of yelling at Microsoft Word.   

About the AUTHOR:

Q: Did you have a favorite character in the book? A least favorite? 

jenniferA: For this book, what I’m most enjoying is to see how the characters evolve, not only in the first book but throughout the series. At the start of MARK OF THE THIEF, Nic is thoroughly uneducated and inexperienced in the world, yet suddenly the weight of the empire dumps upon his shoulders. The other characters have their evolutions too – Aurelia, the tough and feisty plebeian girl; Crisps, the privileged son of a Senator; and even the villain, Radulf.

Q: A lot of your novels, including Mark of the Thief, seem to be historically based. Do you have an interest in history? 

A: I’m a total history geek! I think the best stories ever told are the ones that actually happened. So many true stories are ones that, if I tried to tell it as a fictional story, people would say, “Oh, that sounds so made up!” That said, so far I’ve always done fantasies that take place in the past. My next story, A NIGHT DIVIDED, will be released on August 25 of this year. It’s a straight historical that involves a girl whose family is divided on the night the Berlin Wall goes up, and what she will attempt to try to reunite them again.

Q: Any advice for young writers?

A: For young authors – it’s very important to FINISH the project. It’s easy to give up when the writing gets hard, or when another shiny new idea presents itself, or when it’s obvious that the idea in our head doesn’t look much like the words on the paper. But you must type THE END. After that, you can edit, you can improve, and you can make it into the story you want it to be. But first, you finish.

Lastly, check out this awesome book trailer for Mark of the Thief!

Check out more on Jennifer’s website here! Mark of the Thief is available on Amazon!

Thanks again, Jennifer!

Ready to support your youth writer's developing voice?

Why writing is a powerful tool to help youth feel seen and heard.

What you can do to support youth as they develop their voices.

How on-the-go games strengthen critical thinking and courage.

Check your inbox for your free download!