Louise Spiegler: The Jewel & the Key Q&A

Posted September 1, 2011 by Sara | Novel Novice 0 Comments

Today, The Jewel & the Key author Louise Spiegler stops by for an exclusive (and extensive) Q&A about her book! Plus, she answers the traditional Novel Novice flash questions!

I know you did quite a bit of extensive research while writing The Jewel & the Key, and it shows. Tell us about about your research, what you looked into, etc.

Research is like getting out a trowel and digging. The past you unearth is often eerily similar to our time, and at the same time, unnervingly foreign. And it takes a lot of work!

I’ll give you one example. I started with the Everett Massacre – the sparking event for the 1917 story in Jewel. It doesn’t even appear as a scene in the novel! Peterson explains it very briefly to Addie under the stage in the theater. But it set everything in motion.

The Wobblies (IWW) were a group who were fearless about defending workers’ rights – an eight hour day and better working conditions They were supporting a shingle-workers’ strike, but when they gave speeches about it on the streets of Everett, they were arrested. So the thought was: They won’t let us speak? All right — we’ll flood the city with speakers. They’ll have to arrest us all! The jails will overflow and they’ll be forced to admit we have the right to speak, even in support of the union. It’s a tactic we’re all familiar with from the Civil Rights struggle. But the history of working people is often buried and you have to dig to find out about it.

So I dug and found that the Wobblies from Seattle hired a boat, the Verona, to travel up to Everett to continue the free speech fight. And they were met at the docks by the Snohomish County sheriff and 150 deputies.

The sheriff shouted, “Who is your leader?”

And the Wobblies shouted back, “We are all leaders!”

The sheriff replied, “You can’t land here!”

And the Wobblies yelled, “The hell we can’t!”

Then a shot rang out – from the dock, most agree, and despite a lack of evidence of who initiated the shooting, a huge number of Wobblies were yanked off to jail.

So, even to start the book, I had to research all that – reading people’s memoirs and the IWW paper and other accounts from the time, attending celebrations of Labor culture — just to establish a background situation that doesn’t merit an entire scene in the book!

And that was just the start of the research. Good thing I like doing it!

I have a particular fondness for authors who write about the places they know best, even more so for authors who write about places in the Pacific Northwest, since that’s my home, too. So tell us about about writing a story that takes place in Seattle, your home. Was it easier? Harder? Where there any places you wanted to make sure you included?

Writing about a familiar place forces you to slow down and be attentive in a way you aren’t in everyday life. It’s hard because people hate to see mistakes in your descriptions, but sometimes you do have to take a few liberties. I was careful to keep them to a minimum and acknowledge them in my end note. If you are also trying to be historically accurate, you really have to keep on your toes! But it’s worth it because there are so many great discoveries.

For example, I was downtown at a benefit for 826 Seattle (I’m giving 826 a shout out. It’s a great organization that provides free writing tutoring for kids). It was held in a hotel which I later discovered was once a theater. As it turned out, it was the very theater I had mentioned in the novel, where the great actress, Katherine Cornell, performed at midnight after getting caught in a blizzard. I loved that connection!

Another time I stopped by the Arctic Building, the private club for Gold Rush millionaires, to check I’d described it correctly. The doorman told me about the frieze of walrus heads that decorate it several stories up. They used to have real ivory tusks, until they started loosening and falling out, plummeting to the sidewalk below. Very unnerving for pedestrians! They’ve since been replaced.

On a similar note … I know the Jewel is a fictional theater, but Seattle does have some really great historic buildings. Did any inspire the fictional Jewel?

The Jewel inspired itself, but I did incorporate some details from real theaters in Seattle. I was lucky enough to get on backstage tours of The Moore and the Fifth Avenue. They are wonderful old buildings with rich histories.

A custodian at the Moore told me that when the theater is closed and she is all alone, she can feel the presence of those who went before: the actors and spectators and all the other people who have cleaned up after them, back for years and years. It sent shivers down my spine.

Time travel can be so tricky to write in fiction, but you’ve pulled it off beautifully here. How did you come up with the concept for this story’s time travel device?

I knew it had to be a mirror, because of the structure of the book: the present and the past reflect one another.

And mirrors are so rich metaphorically – the idea that the world is a darkened mirror, that somehow there must be a way to see further and more clearly. There’s also the idea that surface appearances are often an illusion, just as our sense that this time we live in is the ultimate reality and other layers of time are somehow less so.

Just take a look at this painting – in case you have any doubts about the magical quality of mirrors! (The image was retrieved from the Metropolitan Museum’s website. It is The Penitent Magdalen (or Magdalen with Two Flames) by Georges De La Tour.)

Seattle is such a mecca for performing arts, and I know you have your own background in music and acting, as well. Tell us how that helped shape the structure of THE JEWEL & THE KEY.

In Jewel, the structure is full of echoes and parallels, large and small, and having so many dramatic performances in the book allowed me to really work with this. For example, in Peer Gynt, Peer enters the realm of the magical when he steps into the hall of the mountain king, and, like Addie, doesn’t know if he belongs there or not. Macbeth has knowledge of the future that damns him – as Addie’s discovery about Reg’s future nearly does her.

As for music – it’s everywhere in this book, just as it was in Amethyst Road. The Wobblies famously sang songs about their struggles and songs to keep their spirits high, and most of all rebel songs. No Wobbly organizer would go anywhere without the Little Red Songbook. I just love music being a vibrant and meaningful part of lives of people who would never consider themselves musicians – like me (just to do away with the idea that I have any musical background!)

If they made a Louise Spiegler candle, what would it smell like?

Wood-smoke from a camp fire.

Favorite cartoon?

Wallace and Gromit (if Claymation counts): “They’re the wrong trousers, Gromit! And they’ve gone wrong!”

Chocolate or vanilla?


Your personal theme song?

“Eyes on the Prize” sung by Mavis Staples. Or “Clampdown” by the Clash. That’s today’s choice, anyway.

You’re on a deserted island and have to read one book for the rest of your life. What is it?

Only one book? That doesn’t sound like a desert island; that sounds like hell! I’d take a complete volume of Shakespeare. Or possibly Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, since it’s so endlessly inventive.

Favorite book as a child?

The Dark is Rising (by Susan Cooper)

Secret talent?

I’m not a bad defender if I’m playing soccer. Then again, I’m not a good defender either.

Thanks so much, Louise!

Sara | Novel Novice

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