It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight Twelfth by Janet Key and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Janet! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Sure thing! My name is Janet, I’m the author of TWELFTH, a middle grade novel that pulled together my love of the theatre, Shakespeare, classic Hollywood, mysteries, and strong women icons from history!
How would you describe Twelfth in one sentence?
It’s a treasure hunt story set at a theatre camp with clues buried in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to a legendary diamond ring that went missing under mysterious circumstances during a fire in Hollywood 60 years before.
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of Twelfth?
There are two story lines – one set at a theatre camp in 2015, and one starting in the 1940s in Los Angeles. Maren is the main character in the 2015 story, and she’s a reluctant new camper at Goodman’s Theater Camp, dealing with family issues and feeling out of place. Back in LA earlier in the century, the camp’s namesake Charlotte “Charlie” Goodman is growing up under the increasingly tense environment of the Red Scare, dealing with gender identity questions, and trying to live her dream to be a film director. Maren eventually finds her people amongst friends Theo, Graham, and Sal, who join her in a quest to find a legendary diamond ring that could save the camp, while Charlie falls in love with Emma, the leading actress in her film adaptation of Twelfth Night…who also happens to have a giant diamond engagement ring.
What representation will readers find in Twelfth?
The theatre is a place where all people should feel welcome, and the stories told on stage only get richer with more inclusivity, so it would have been dishonest for me to write a book about the theatre that didn’t have a range of diversities of all sorts. Gender diversity is a huge part of Twelfth, as there are openly nonbinary and gender questioning characters, and the teachers and campers alike are different and mixed-race peoples. I’d even say that there’s a little bit of age diversity, too, in that the story is multiple generations in the making.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
It’s different with every story or book for me, but with TWELFTH, I knew how it would end. I think this was in part because the book is a mystery, which is not a form I write in frequently, so I had to be very clear with myself about where I was building to. But it was also because I wanted the main love story in the book – Charlie’s and Emma’s – to have a happy ending, even if it’s not in the traditional way you might think. That said, I certainly didn’t know every step of the mystery along the way, and I wasn’t always sure how I was going to carve out a happy ending from a seemingly impossible situation.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
This book is full of my favorites! I went to an arts high school for theatre, and there were several times I may or may not have drawn on experiences my friends and I had, getting up to trouble in those alluring, mysterious backstage places in the theater. A lot of the historical figures who appear or are briefly mentioned are also subjects who fascinate me, and I loved being able to sneak them in for just a moment. And – not to toot my own horn, but – there are a series of reveals and surprises near the end of the book that I worked particularly hard on. As a writer, there’s always a balance you’re trying to strike between setting up information throughout the book and letting each new discovery actually feel like a surprise for the reader. I feel pretty proud that, even if a reader says they caught on to one of the twists, no one has seen all of them coming.
What is something readers will find in Twelfth that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
Flashy theater camp and treasure hunts aside, there are parts of the story that delve into mental health and coping with depression. In a certain way, this element was dictated by the play – Twelfth Night, though a comedy, starts off on the dark note of a shipwreck and two siblings believing the other has died. I knew that Maren, too, had to start her journey in a place where she felt very alone and like she had lost her family. Through the writing process, though, it also felt valuable to include mental health conversations because gender diverse kids can be subject to so much more bullying and societal pressure, and it seemed important to share resources like The Trevor Project that offer specifically targeted support.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from Twelfth?
As much as I hope gender diverse kids feel represented in the story, I also hope that cisgender kids who aren’t surrounded by a lot of diversity feel they have greater understanding on what it means to be gender diverse. I think sometimes we expect kids to just know how to handle new ideas and people, when really they can respond with a knee-jerk judgement or by parroting things they’ve heard adults in their lives say. Before long, they can start to think that that is their opinion, too, and so discrimination gets passed from one generation to the next. Instead, I hope those kids feel like they’ve met their new gender diverse best friend in the book, and then can read the excellent advice offered by a gender health expert at the back. I also hope readers walk away with an interest in some of the feminist and queer historical figures mentioned – or, even better, are interested in discovering more! – as well as an interest in and sense of faith that they can read something “hard” like Shakespeare’s plays.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed Twelfth?
I wouldn’t forgive myself if Shakespeare’s plays weren’t among my recommendations, and I think there are several to choose from that are accessible to young readers, especially Midsummer Night’s Dream and MacBeth. The structure of my novel was also inspired by Louis Sachar’s Holes, a bookI loved when I was a middle grade reader; it was certainly well-read back then, but when I asked some young people if they had read it, they said they had only seen the movie (without seeming to realize that this reply stabbed me right in the guts)…so maybe now is a good time to return to the book if they haven’t yet. And speaking of book/movie crossovers, Better Nate Than Ever recently came out on Disney+, so it would be a great time to give another theatre-nerd book a read (then watch).
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
Right now, I have the finished draft of a YA book that my agent and I will start sending out soon in hopes of finding the right publishing home for it. It’s kind of like TWELFTH with a historical timeline and a present day one, except instead of being about the theatre, it’s about time travelers in Las Vegas (naturally). And for a couple of years now, I’ve been researching a California congresswoman who is briefly mentioned in TWELFTH, Helen Gahagan Douglas, and trying to put all the fascinating things she did into a bio-script.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Better Nate Than Ever meets The Parker Inheritance in this heartwarming mystery about finding your people and accepting others as they are.
Twelve-year-old Maren is sure theater camp isn’t for her. Theater camp is for loud, confident, artsy people: people like her older sister, Hadley—the last person Maren wants to think about—and her cinema-obsessed, nonbinary bunkmate, Theo. But when a prank goes wrong, Maren gets drawn into the hunt for a diamond ring that, legend has it, is linked to the camp’s namesake, Charlotte “Charlie” Goodman, a promising director in Blacklist Era Hollywood.
When Maren connects the clues to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she and her new friends are off searching through lighting booths, orchestra pits and costume storages, discovering the trail and dodging camp counselors. But they’re not the only ones searching for the ring, and with the growing threat of camp closing forever, they’re almost out of time.