Katherine Marsh: “Art in Jepp, Who Defied the Stars”

Posted September 27, 2012 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment

Today, we are thrilled to be hosting an exclusive guest blog from Katherine Marsh, author of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.We’re super excited to read this new book when it comes out October 9th. Meanwhile, thanks to Katherine for stopping by today!

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Greetings, Novel Novice Bloggers and Readers!

I’m the author of the new YA novel, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars. A few interesting factoids about me: my first job was teaching high school English, I spent two years writing for Rolling Stone magazine, and I can’t draw much beyond stick figures.

So why have you been invited here to talk about art? This is a book blog in case you haven’t noticed…

Point taken so first I’ll tell you about my book. Jepp is an adventure story/mystery starring a dwarf hero, a nose-less astronomer, a tormented giant, and even a beer-drinking pet moose. The novel explores issues of fate and free will, fitting in, and true love. Most of the characters (even the beer-drinking moose!) are real historical figures.

Sounds kind of cool. But what’s it got to do with art?

When we meet Jepp, the story’s teenage hero, he’s recovering from a tragic stint as a court dwarf. Part of the reason I decided to make Jepp a court dwarf is that as a kid I became fascinated with the dwarf portraits of the 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez. I even based two of the dwarf characters that Jepp befriends at court on specific Velazquez paintings, Las Meninas and Don Sebastian de Morra.

I like Game of Thrones and all but what’s so interesting about these dwarf paintings?

Ever felt like an outsider, an “other”? (If you’re a teenager, or have ever been a teenager, you better say yes.) What Velazquez captures in his portraits—and I sought to capture in Jepp–is that feeling of being part of a scene but not of it, of being different, of being misjudged or underestimated by the world. In short, if you want to introduce a teen reader to art, these are some of the most emotionally identifiable paintings out there. There’s a dignity and directness in the gaze of Velazquez’s dwarf subjects that makes them seem more alive and more observant to injustice than almost anyone else around them—kind of like teens themselves. My book, Jepp, fleshes out the stories and people behind these portraits. It also introduces young readers to the many depths of still lifes–

You mean those boring pictures of apples in a bowl?

Forget about apples. Try insects and skulls. At court, Jepp falls in love with another dwarf named Lia who is obsessed with sketching a particular type of still life called a memento mori. The objects she sketches—a lily, a beetle, a half an orange, a seashell, and a small, white skull—serve as a reminder of death’s inevitability and are also the keys to a mystery of her past. Flemish and Dutch still lifes by such artists as Gerrit Willemsz Heda and Phillipe de Champaigne served as inspiration for Lia’s memento mori and will appeal to even the most Goth teen.

What if I’m not alienated or death obsessed. Any art behind the story that’s just plain pretty?

One of my other favorite artists is the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. If Velazquez’s dwarf paintings capture turmoil and alienation, Vermeer’s paintings of quiet moments and domestic scenes capture the peace and security that we hope to find when we grow up. As Jepp’s story is essentially a coming-of-age tale, these paintings were a touchstone to me as I wrote, especially The Astronomer, for reasons that will become clear when you read the book.

For more, check out katherinemarsh.com or follow me on Twitter or on Facebook.

About Katherine Marsh:

I’m the author of the upcoming historical YA novel Jepp, Who Defied the Stars (out October 9th!), the Edgar-award winning The Night Tourist, and a sequel, The Twilight Prisoner (read if you like ghosts, New York City history and Greek myths).

Here is the official synopsis for Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, in stores October 9th:


Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?

Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?

Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.

He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.

After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper’s carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can’t even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master–a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars–who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past.

Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real histori-cal characters, “Jepp, Who Defied the Stars “is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny.

Sara | Novel Novice

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One response to “Katherine Marsh: “Art in Jepp, Who Defied the Stars”

  1. I hadn’t realized that Katherine’s next book centered around art so much. I’m really interested to see how the memento mori figure in. Those were some of my favorites when I was an art history major, with the spilled wine and insects on the fruit.

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