Author Interview: Jessica Martinez on Virtuosity

Jessica Martinez‘s debut novel Virtuosity came out last year. Her story is an example of what a novel about a niche talent should look like. Martinez’ story of Carmen’s competitive world of violin is gripping and utterly fascinating. Ms. Martinez is here to discuss her debut novel today.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jessica Martinez (JM): I’ve always loved reading and writing.  I studied English at college, but never really saw myself writing a novel.  It just seemed too big and impossible.  But then I got the idea for Virtuosity and it just wouldn’t leave me alone.  I had to try, although, for much of the writing process I didn’t actually believe that it would be published.  I guess I hoped for that, but writing it was more for myself, just to see if I could do it.  My process was kind of crazy—I wrote a whole novel and then scrapped it and started over, and then midway started over again—so a LOT of rewriting and revising, but I ended up with something I love.

MP: What was the inspiration for Virtuosity?

JM: My experiences as a violinist and my feelings about music inspired a lot of this novel.  Also, having kids inspired me.  After my daughter was born I felt this huge surge of creativity and a need to accomplish something.  That’s when I started writing Virtuosity.

MP: According to the biography on your website you began playing the violin when you were three as well as being a symphony violinist and a violin teacher. Did you experiences as a violinist influence your writing process?

JM: I’ve been surprised how similar writing is to the playing the violin.  Books are made of sentences and words the same way that concertos are made of phrases and notes.  Both require a mixture of technique and artistry—you have to know the rules to be able to create beauty.  But I think the biggest carry-over from violin is the grueling work.  There’s just no substitution for the hours required to master an instrument, and there isn’t a quick and easy way to magically be a good writer.  It’s blood, sweat, and tears.

MP: One of the things I enjoyed about Virtuosity was the blend of story and technical violin details. As a violinist yourself, how did you decide what technical details to include? How did you make sure the story remained the focus of the novel and non-musicians (like me) wouldn’t get lost in Carmen’s world?

JM: That was really tricky for me.  I wanted the book to appeal to non-musicians just as much as musicians, but I wasn’t always sure which details were common knowledge.  I often asked my (non-musician) husband, “Before you knew me, did you know about….”  More than once, the answer was, “I have no clue what you’re talking about now.”  So those details were cut—the purpose of the book is not to educate people about classical music.  The music is the setting for the real story, more than anything else.

Also, I didn’t want musicians to read it and be annoyed that silly little things were being explained either, so I was always looking for ways to explain things or include details that didn’t weigh down the story or draw attention to themselves.

MP: Carmen has some pretty intense relationships with other characters in the story (obviously with Jeremy King but also with her own mother and her teacher Yuri. How did you go about channeling Carmen’s competitiveness and tension into the book?

JM: Virtuosity isn’t an autobiography, but those parts of the book are ones that come from my personal experience.  Channeling Carmen’s competitiveness and the tension she feels was a matter of writing about my own experiences performing.  And I have a good memory for all of that stuff!

MP: Carmen’s story features several Chicago landmarks (most notably the Chicago Symphony Center). How did you decide what real Chicago features to include in the story?

JM: There’s so much to fall in love with in Chicago!  I used to live about an hour away from the city.  I went in occasionally to hear the symphony, so I knew the Symphony Center and surrounding area quite well.  I also visited once while I was writing Virtuosity (tagged along with my husband on a business trip!) and spent several days taking in details and seeing the places I wanted to write about.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

JM: My next book, The Space Between Us, comes out in October.  It’s about two sisters and the lies they tell to protect each other and their family.  It’s a love story too.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JM: Don’t get discouraged with the process.  There are times when writing feels wonderful and times when it’s absolute torture.  Learning to work through the torture without being too hard on yourself is the key.  Don’t give up!

Thanks again to Jessica Martinez for taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to hear Jessica playing the violin herself, be sure to visit her website where she has posted some recordings.

If you want to read more about Virtuosity check out my review!

Virtuosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Virtuosity by Jessica MartinezCarmen Bianchi should have one thing and only one thing on her mind right now: winning the Guarneri competition. Technically, the Guarneri violin competition has already been on Carmen’s mind for years. She has fame, she has a Grammy. But victory at the Guarneri has always been the final target–the last step to confirm her ascent from talented prodigy to a true virtuoso, a real talent.

Except Carmen is losing focus.

Carmen’s mother channels all of her own career aspirations into managing Carmen’s professional life while micro-managing her personal life. That used to be fine. But now Carmen isn’t so sure why she is playing. Struck with painfully acute stage fright isn’t even sure she’s good enough.

Not after she hears Jeremy King play.

With the Guarneri finals fast approaching, both Carmen and Jeremy know the real competition is between two violinists: them. Carmen has every reason to hate Jeremy, every reason to stay away from him. She knows that. She also knows she can’t stay away when Jeremy is the one person who might really understand her.

As what should be her finest hour approaches, Carmen has to decide if a win playing the violin is worth more than finding her own voice in Virtuosity (2011) by Jessica Martinez.

Virtuosity is Martinez’s first novel. Martinez began playing the violin herself at the age of three. She has worked both as a symphony violinist and as a violin teacher.

With a book so grounded in the main character’s passion there is always the risk of getting lost in technical jargon or simply atmosphere, particularly when the author is already an expert in the field. One of the biggest strengths of Virtuosity is that the story remains centered around Carmen as a character instead of Carmen as a violinist.

With snappy prose and competitive passion, Virtuosity is an interesting story about the difference between fostering a talent and quashing it. There are no easy answers for Carmen and the choices she faces throughout the novel which is part of what makes this book such a gripping read. Martinez’s characters are well-drawn and authentic from their talents and wants right down to their flaws. Virtuosity is as complex as it is engrossing.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Tumbling by Caela Carter, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, Virtuosity by Hilary T. Smith, Rx by Tracy Lynn

You can also read my exclusive interview with Jessica Martinez starting April 2, 2012!