Thursday, January 28, 2021

Jeannie Mobley

Jeannie Mobley has spent much of her life daydreaming herself into other centuries. This tendency has led her to multiple degrees in history and anthropology, and a passion for writing fiction. She is the author of three historical middle grade novels: Katerina’s Wish (2012), Searching for Silverheels (2014,), and Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element (201), which have received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Library Media Connection. Other honors include the Willa Award, Colorado Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and inclusion on a number of notable lists, including the Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Literature, Library of Congress 52 Great Reads List, the New York Public Library Notables, the Jefferson Cup List for Historical Fiction, as well as a variety of state lists. Her favorite stories are those of ordinary people who achieve the extraordinary. She is currently a professor of anthropology and department chair at a college in northern Colorado.

Mobley's 2020 novel is The Jewel Thief.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title The Jewel Thief takes the reader into the novel in much the same way that the first page does. We are introduced to the main character, Juliette, as she is being accused by Louis XIV of stealing his most precious diamond, the large blue stone known as The French Blue. Juliette did, in fact, steal the diamond, but the circumstances surrounding her theft—competition among the master gem-cutters of Paris to achieve an impossible cut and glorify the king—must be understood if she is to save herself. So the title helps launch the reader into the dangerous adventure that is Juliette’s tale. It is not the title the book had originally, but I am very grateful for editorial teams that know how to find just the right title to draw readers in to the book.

What's in a name?

Because some of the characters in the book are real historical figures, their names are not a matter of choice. For the main characters, who are fictional, I tried to pick French names that were also accessible to the English-speaking reader. For the main character, I could hear her voice before I knew her name, so I picked a name that fit her personality. I also liked the name Juliette because it sounds somewhat like jewel, a major topic of the book. Her father calls her his petite bijou, or little jewel, so the name Juliette carried that metaphor into English.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teenage self breathed a sigh of relief with the publication of The Jewel Thief. While I read all kinds of historical fiction and fantasy as a kid, what I loved most was European renaissance history, and stories filled with horses, carriages, flowing gowns, grand palaces were a real love of mine. This is the first of my novels in such a setting. Come to think of it, I probably should have dedicated this one to that teenage self!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always feel like I have the prefect beginning and the perfect ending in mind when I write a novel—and then I end up changing both to some extent. But I would have to say I change beginnings a lot more. For The Jewel Thief, I rewrote the first 30 pages about four times before I really hit on a beginning that set the whole book into flight. The ending only had minor changes.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Of course my characters are at some distance from me since it is historical fiction. People often ask if I write historical fiction because I wish I had lived back then, and the answer to that is absolutely not! I love hot showers, flush toilets, forced air heating, and antibiotics. But while the conditions of life and the social attitudes are very different for my characters than they are for me, I do try to create characters with internal characteristics like mine. Juliette has a stubbornness and an overblown completion complex that is much like my own. She has a fierce loyalty to her family that is familiar to me as well.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

When I am not writing fiction, I am an anthropologist, the study of humankind, and I think that both my academic pursuits and my fiction writing stem from the same place—a deep curiosity to better understand what it is to be human. Both professions give me a chance to probe questions of what makes us alike, and also what makes us unique as individuals and members of a social group. I also have a degree in history, which makes it easier for me to pick a good historical setting for my work, as it gives me a basic background to work from. I’ve always viewed history as story, and so it’s a natural step for me to set my fictional stories in historical contexts.
My Book, The Movie: The Jewel Thief.

The Page 69 Test: The Jewel Thief.

--Marshal Zeringue