Author: Janet Key
Genre: Middle Grade Mystery Historical
Publishing Date: May 17th, 2022
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.
When Janet Key was twelve, she sang and danced onstage in the background of musicals, stayed up too late reading Shakespeare, and had a closet full of themed, handsewn vests.
This is her first novel.
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, Netgalley and the author for providing me with a free digital copy to read (My review). This in no way, has influenced my thoughts on the book. You can check out the other posts on the tour here.
Q1: Hi there Janet! I am so happy to have you here with us! Before we begin, do share some
interesting facts about yourself with us!
ANS: Oh, no…I’m supposed to be interesting?? I spend far too many hours a day at the desk to be that!
When I’m not writing, though, you can find me sewing, baking, and spending time with family and
friends. As you can probably guess from reading TWELFTH, I also love reading fiction and
biographies, going to the theatre, and watching movies with my rescue pup, Tallulah.
Q2: Congratulations on your debut novel! If I may ask, what advice would you give to other aspiring
authors out there?
ANS: Thank you! There are many other writers out there who have given much better advice – it’s hard to
beat “read a lot and write a lot” – but I also like to remind aspiring authors that the only way you can
get better at writing is by writing. I have this impulse, and I think a lot of other amateur (and not-so-
amateur) writers mistakenly fall for it as well, to “save” all my good ideas until some mythological
later time when I’m better – better slept, better researched, better at writing, and/or better at life.
But unfortunately, you only get better at writing by writing. Not by thinking about it, not by planning
it, not even by waiting until the perfect day when you got wonderful sleep and you’re sparkling with
energy and your brain doesn’t even need caffeine to function. You only get better by putting words
on the page…and (another unfortunately coming:) unfortunately, your writing will usually fall short
of your idea for it. The very act of putting a bright shiny idea into words to communicate to someone
else is going to take some of the sheen off, and that’s OK. The idea in your brain may be perfect, but
you can’t share it telepathically; a told story can be shared, and that is beautiful in its own way.
I’d also like to say to aspiring authors that resilience in the face of failure is half (or more) of the
battle. TWELFTH was the fifth (or maybe sixth?) book I wrote and the only middle grade title so far,
and yet it’s the first one to make it across the finish line to publication. Though it’s my only
“successful” book in that it’s being published, I couldn’t have written it without all those other hours
of practice, and I couldn’t have finished it if I let rejection over the others stymie that core stubborn
belief that I had – and have – stories to tell. So stay stubborn.
Q3: To be honest, I didn’t know much about Twelfth Night, the play, before I read your novel. What
made you choose the play as one of the central themes of the book?
ANS: When I first sat down to draft my ideas, I knew that the clues would be in a Shakespeare play, but I
had a couple of Shakespeare’s plays that I was trying to choose from. For a long time, I thought I
would go with Romeo and Juliet – it’s one of if not the most famous Shakespeare play, and Charlotte
Cushman, a historical figure who inspired a character in the novel, was famous for playing Romeo.
But I knew even then I didn’t want my historical characters to have a star-crossed-sort-of ending. All
too often in literature and popular culture, historically diverse characters get cheated out of a happy
ending. Maybe authors do it for the drama, or maybe because they think it’s “more realistic,” but I
think constantly choosing tragedy overlooks the way people found ways to carve out a life for
themselves despite persecution and injustice – that the right to have that happy life was exactly
what they were fighting for! It seemed slightly radical but necessary for me to make sure that my historical characters got to be together, even if not in the way you initially think. Twelfth Night then
captured my attention not only because it’s a comedy, so happy endings are part of the deal going
in, but also because of the theme of gender diversity and mistaken identities. Keep in mind that all
the performers in Shakespeare’s day would have been labeled men, so there must have been
something radical, too, about the way men would have been performing women characters who
are, in turn, pretending to be men…and that’s before you even get into the haze of who those
characters fall in love with and what gender they are performing! It gets a little dizzying, and
intentionally so – it creates the humor in the piece, but that comedy also questions the definitions
we put on gender in the first place. I then had a lot of fun picking lines and imagining all the ways
they could be interpreted and misinterpreted as clues, as well as drawing other parallels between
the play and the book… including a bit about a ring.
Q4: The diversity in the novel was amazing, and I loved how all the characters were so amazingly
portrayed! (Theo’s definitely a favourite) What was your experience writing these characters? And
who’s your personal favorite?
ANS: Theo’s one of my favorites, too! They showed up with their vest and video camera and I just got to
follow them around the page. Admittedly, it probably helped that they’re semi-based on one of my
best friends growing up who, of course, I met in a theatre program when we were twelve (and yes,
she has read her fictional counterpart and thoroughly approves). Maren, on the other hand, is a little
more closed off, a little resistant to engaging socially, and is dealing with some big internal stuff like I
was when I was at that age, so it took a couple of drafts to figure out how to crack her shell and let
readers in. While the rest of the characters aren’t based on people I know per se, they are all very
familiar to me. There are some big personalities in the book, but I guarantee you, you wouldn’t be
able to spend two minutes in the theatre world without running into a few like them! And honestly,
it would have felt untrue to write a book about the theatre – and a theatre camp particularly – that
didn’t have a great deal of diversity, particularly gender diversity. I think the arts in general are more
welcoming to those who don’t necessarily feel like they fit in as “normal” (whatever normal even
means), but there’s something about theatre in particular, the simultaneous protection and
revelation that comes with being yourself and yet also being a character on stage, that allows people
space for discovery and embracing their true selves.
Q5: What is the main message you want readers to take away from this novel?
ANS: I hope first and foremost that the book does the job of any good book and is an engaging and
fulfilling mystery, but I also hope the novel can prompt greater understanding and conversations
about gender diversity, especially amongst cisgender kids who might not have access to accurate
information or may be parroting opinions they overheard. I’d also like it to inspire interest in
Shakespeare’s plays, which gets pushed aside by a lot of readers as “too hard,” and in queer and/or
feminist history, which is full of moments and people who are still largely overlooked in textbooks
and in popular culture.
Q6: Lastly, can you give us a sneak peek on something new that you are working on?
ANS: My desk and brain always have a lot of different projects floating around, so I’m always working on
something new (and then something new new)! Right now, I’ve finished a YA novel about Las Vegas history, the nuclear bomb tests in the desert, and the weight of dealing with addiction in a family.
It’s kind of like TWELFTH as far as it has a split storyline between the past and present, the
protagonist and her family, except instead of being about the theatre it’s about, well, time travel.
My agent and I will start sending that out soon in hopes of finding the right publishing home. There’s
also a historical figure, Helen Gahagan Douglas, who gets the briefest of mentions in TWELFTH and
who I’ve been researching for a couple of years now. I keep trying to figure out a way to tell her
story…though it may take me a few more years of work until I do.
And that’s it for today’s post peeps! Let me know if you’ve this book on your TBR!