Thursday, June 30, 2022

Jessica Martin Interview - For the Love of the Bard

Photo Content from Jessica Martin

Jessica Martin is a lawyer by trade, a writer by choice, and a complete smartass by all accounts. Based in the suburban wilds of Boston, Jess shares her life with a finance geek, a small sass-based human and a pair of dogs named after Bond characters.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
In the fifth grade, I won my first writing contest. We had to write a bone-chilling scary story for Halloween and the prize was a giant pumpkin. I was so proud of that orange beast and my completely awesome story about a woman done wrong who comes after her ex from the grave in the most ironic of ways (I really wanted to use the word “lover”, but my parents insisted that was really off-putting coming from a fifth grader, so I changed it to ex. Clearly still annoyed about this). From then on, writing came in and out of my life, but I could never figure out how to make it work until now. There is something about writing, the way I feel when I’m in the groove. It’s like I feel truly like myself when I’m walking among my characters, their lives, their stories. And then I flip the switch and I’m just Jess again. Waiting to get back to them.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My favorite book of all-time, the one I’d take to the desert island with me and read a million times over (but never dogear the pages) would be Persuasion by Jane Austen. For a while, I didn’t really understand what the big deal was with Ms. Austen. I’d liked Pride and Prejudice well enough, but when I met Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in a senior college seminar, I was done for. There is something about the urgency and surety of Persuasion, something about the quiet fire in Anne and about knowing Persuasion was Austen’s final completed novel. And I’d challenge anyone to find a more perfect love letter out there than the one Wentworth writes Anne: “I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago…I have loved none but you.” Fade to swoon.

As far as my favorite book outside my genre: I’m going to cheat a little here. I love the entire October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. Sir October “Toby” Day is a (reluctant) hero of the realm and a badass for the ages. McGuire seamlessly weaves her half-fae changeling private eye into the modern day San Francisco landscape awash in an overlay of fae folklore.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hands down, it was being asked to weigh in on who would narrate For the Love of the Bard. I have an hour long commute each way to work so I spend a ton of time listening to audiobooks. The production team sent me several audition samples and when I heard Gilli Messer (the self-described “ultra-low budget Gal Gadot”), it was like hearing Miranda’s voice aloud the way I’d always imagined it in my head. The book is currently still in production, and I can’t wait to listen to it in full (even if it will be a little weird to listen to my own stuff).

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Their names are Em, Moneypenny and Fiona. Em is this fierce ball of sass and inquisitive curiosity who likes to bust in at critical writing moments and demands to know why freckles don’t come in rainbow or sparkle options. She is the best kind of distraction. Then there’s Moneypenny and Fiona, my deviously clever dogs named for Bond characters, who are less about the verbal interruption and all about employing the full force of puppy dog eyes and demanding snacks or a walk. But only when I’m writing. Otherwise, they couldn’t be bothered.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
Growing up, I spent my summers swimming in silty New Hampshire lakes and exploring the craggy coasts of Maine. I am in deep love with small towns, especially those where the residents are salty and don’t pander to the summer set. Everyone in those towns has a story of how they got there and why they stayed. The town of Bard’s Rest is as much a character as anyone else in For Love of the Bard. Getting to build the town from the ground up was the most satisfying part of writing this book. The only disappointment is that I can’t go live there and order pizza from Tempest Tossed Pizza.

So, suffice to say, the desire to create a small town had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while and that only intensified with the claustrophobia of Covid.

  • 1. The stores on the main street of Bard’s Rest are all plays on words straight out of Shakespeare: Much Ado About Pastry, The Merry Wines of Windsor, Two Gentlemen of Daytona, Measure for Measure Hardware and the list goes on.
  • 2. Puck, Miranda’s beloved black lab husky mix, who brings Adam back into Miranda’s life (in a decidedly gross canine matter) was originally named Poe. It was my agent, Maggie Cooper, who suggested he was more of a mischievous Puck type by way of A Midsummer’s Dream than a broody Poe. She was so right.
  • 3. Ian Grant, Miranda’s best friend and partner in crime (as well as business) is a composite of character traits, stories and lines I straight up stole from my own crew of law school buddies. And Ian is the highly sanitized result of that. Let that sink in.
  • 4. The three Barnes sisters are all named after Shakespearean characters. Miranda shares her namesake with the heroine (and the only woman on stage) in The Tempest. Portia, the eldest sister, takes her name from the quick-witted noblewoman in The Merchant of Venice and Cordelia (Cordy) is the youngest of Clan Barnes and she’s named for the only one of King Lear’s progenies you’d actually want as a sibling.
  • 5. The last scene of the book takes place in Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, which is a truly amazing indie bookstore. And also happens to be where I’m doing my book launch party.
  • 6. The book names of Miranda’s Elf Shot series are all lines from Shakespeare (One Foot In Sea, Inconstant Moons, The Winter’s Flaw).
  • 7. Miranda is accident prone, which is why her father doesn’t want her help in the theater shop with the sets and (to her indignation) prefers Adam as his build buddy. As a theater minor, I had to take an introduction to theater class which included a rotation working on sets. I managed to injure myself on a table saw that was supposed to be idiot-proof. Some people are not meant to wield power tools. Miranda and I are those people.
  • 8. To raise money for shelter animals, I auctioned off the opportunity amongst my friends to name things in For the Love of the Bard. When you see a pet’s name and think to yourself, that’s kind of weird (Meatball is my brother’s cat) or wonder why the boat is named the Shanna-Banana, that’s why.
  • 9. Before I wrote rom coms, I wrote contemporary fantasy. I tried (unsuccessfully) for several years to get my novel about an outcast from Norse mythology hiding out in Boston published. Naming Miranda and Ian’s literary agency “Valhalla Lit” is a small nod to that effort and my general love of all things mythology.
  • 10. Miranda had an ex who was written out of the book because he wasn’t doing enough to justify his existence (true on so many levels). But at one point our girl called this loser a cream-faced loon. I think we should all try to work cream-faced loon back into everyday speech. The world would be better for it.
What is the first job you have had?
At the ripe old age of fifteen and a half, I applied to be an aide to the children’s librarian in my hometown library. In addition to being the most spot on recommender of books, our children’s librarian had a quirky side hobby as an amateur taxidermist. This involved her driving around in her Volvo and finding specimens (oftentimes, gently hit roadkill), stuffing them and adorning the children’s room with them. I spent many an hour shelving John Bellairs books beneath the watchful marble eyes of raccoons, fisher cats and woodchucks. Best job ever.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
A few years ago, I went to Amsterdam on business. The deal we were supposed to be negotiating went terribly awry. All out of sorts, I found myself with one night (and one night only) in the heart of the city. My two otherwise mild-mannered business partners and I bar crawled our way through red light district and each bar got progressively weirder (and more awesome) and culminated in us belting out “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath (“GENERALS GATHERED IN THEIR MASSES, JUST LIKE WITCHES AT BLACK MASSES”) in this bar that looked like a steampunk fantasy with these massive contraptions hanging from the ceiling. The night got really hazy from there, the last thing I remember was stumbling back to our hotel sometime around the witching hour. We were staying in this stupidly expensive old world hotel that happened to have a great corporate rate. The concierge, this older gentleman in an impeccable crimson uniform with an-honest-to-goodness gold ring of hotel keys at his waist came down to scold us for attempting to eat street food in the grand parlor. The next morning, I woke up (alone, thank you very much) in my room in this elaborate four poster gothic bed worthy of an Anne Rice novel. As I flipped through my phone, I found this picture of me sitting in this giant, garish yellow clog with red tulips painted on it. No idea how that happened, but…when in Amsterdam.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I have this recurring nightmare where I’m kidnapped by a serial killer whose face I never see but he has a terribly unposh British accent and bad breath. He flips on a light and every person I care about is bound and gagged in a room. He tells me he will let them all go on the condition that I have to kill one of them with this vicious-looking knife and then eat that person in front of my other loved ones. It’s horrible, but I do it. My self-conscious can be a total jerk sometimes.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I’ve always felt that my time in Hawaii would make an excellent rom com. My last year in law school, I landed a semester long internship at a firm in Honolulu and the experience was magical (including this one time I was standing in line at a fancy pop-up night club and this restroom attendant offered me a lollipop guaranteed to “enhance” my night. Since I adhere to this general practice of not accepting unwrapped sweets from strangers, I didn’t take her up on the offer, but it had a very Alice in Wonderland quality to it). Anyway, when I returned from that internship, finished law school, took the bar exam and went to start my big fancy law job in the fall, I found out the market had tanked, and the firm didn’t want us until the following spring. So, I took the small stipend they offered and moved back to Hawaii. I lived in this crazy hotel in Waikiki with a cast of characters, explored the various islands, bonded with locals and learned what it meant to truly live on my own. All you’d need to add is a love interest. I’m thinking the slightly jaded captain of a company that runs shark-cage tours for sunburned tourists.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I am afraid of getting a papercut on my eye. Given how painful it is when you get one under your fingernail, I cannot imagine what that would feel like on the membrane of one’s eye. It actually makes me shudder just writing this.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to be asked this question. Back when the hubs and I lived in Teele Square (Somerville is for Lovers, baby), we were in this three condo unit and our downstairs neighbors always seemed a little bit odd. When we sold our place, we needed their signature on some condo docs, so I knocked on their door, the woman asked me to wait in their living room and that’s how I found myself sitting on a couch next to two-life sized marionette puppets in my neighbors’ likeness. No explanation offered. Just two giant creepy ass puppets with their limp strings draped all over the couch. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

To go for it or not to go for it? That is the question when two former high school flames return to their Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for a summer of theater and unexpected romance, in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jessica Martin.

Literary agent and writer Miranda Barnes rolls into her hometown of Bard's Rest with one goal in mind: to spend the summer finally finishing her YA novel, the next installment in her bestselling fantasy series. Yet Miranda's mother, deep in the planning stages for the centennial of the town's beloved annual Shakespeare festival, has other ideas.

Before you can say "all's fair in love and war," Miranda is cornered into directing Twelfth Night--while simultaneously scrambling to finish her book, navigating a family health scare, and doing her best to avoid the guy who broke her heart on prom night.

When it comes to Adam, the veterinarian with a talent for set design and an infuriating knack for winning over Miranda's dog, the lady doth protest too much. As any Shakespeare lovers knows, the course of true love never did run smooth, and soon Miranda realizes she'll have to decide whether to trust Adam with her heart again.

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1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.