Virtually In Love with VIRTUOSITY (and Jessica Martinez)

October 19th, 2011 by Terra | Filed under Talking with Other Authors.

Contemporary, real-life fiction with a larger-than life setting or circumstance is one of my favorites. (Why else did you think I put SoFaL in a summer camp setting?) Which is why yesterday’s release of the much-anticipated, highly acclaimed Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez has me (and a lot of other people) buzzing with excitement.

Here’s the description:
Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot…what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can’t end well, but she just can’t stay away. Nobody else understands her–and riles her up–like he does. Still, she can’t trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what’s expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall….

As you might imagine, not only is Virtuosity dead-bang excellent, but its author, Jessica Martinez, happens to be deliciously fun, as well. I had a chance to ask her a few questions about life, love, and the pursuit of music, and here’s what she had to say . . .

TEM: Virtuosity is about a violinist (albeit a high-powered one), and you yourself are/were a violinist. How did that real-life similarity help you with your novel, and, more curiously, were there any ways in which that hindered it?

JM: I love that last question, but I’ll answer the easy one first. I lived in a world similar to Carmen’s so I know what it’s like to really screw up on stage, to feel like musi isolates you, what it’s like to disappoint a teacher no matter how hard you work, etc. I also love music with my whole heart and have been addicted to success in that world, so Carmen’s problems are very real to me.

As for hindered, I found myself constantly questioning if I was assuming my audience knew too much or too little about classical music. It was really important to me that VIRTUOSITY be just as enjoyable to non-musicians as musicians. I felt like I had to sneak the info in there so it was understandable but didn’t feel like a textbook, and at the same time I didn’t want musicians to read it and roll their eyes either. (This might be what I do when I read most books about classical music.) So I asked my husband a lot of questions that started with, “Hey, before you knew me did you know about…” Risky,
because he has a sub-par memory, but my agent was also great at letting me know when I was speaking geeky music language or going on about things people don’t care about.

TEM: There are some really fantastic shockers in this book, plot-wise. Were they shockers to you as well? Or did you know all along? (Without spoiling, of course.)

JM: I think I can say without spoiling that Jeremy’s surprise was a surprise to me, but Diana’s was not. I knew that puppy was coming from the get-go. Too bad I can’t spoil, because I could seriously dish about how that actually has happened in real life…

TEM: Creating a dreamy, yet realistic love interest is always a tough challenge. How did you manage to do it so (swoonily) well?

JM: Thank you! The real Jeremy emerged in the editing. I think he’s swoon-worthy because I tried to make him only say things that an actual guy would say. That sounds painfully obvious, but I think dialogue is really tricky. I’m a girl (or woman I guess?), so even after I’d written several drafts and thought I totally knew him, I had to constantly ask myself: Would a real guy actually say that, or is that just something a girl wants a guy to say? I deleted a lot and ended up with a more masculine character. And I think girls want that even more than they want guys who say what they think they want them to say. Hmmm, I may have stopped making sense at the end there.

TEM: This specialized world of highly-competitive Classical music isn’t part of the common pop culture vernacular. And yet, this situation is so massively appealing. (That’s my opinion, and your reviewers’ as well.) Why do you think this is?

JM: I hope it’s massively appealing! So many times during the writing I questioned whether this would ever be published because classical music just isn’t sexy. Or I think it is, but I’m not so sure the general public does. Except Carmen’s problems—controlling parents, drug addiction, isolation, not sure if the boy likes you for the right reasons—those exist in every teenage sphere. VIRTUOSITY isn’t really about classical music. Rather, the music acts as the exotic locale for Carmen’s very relatable problems.

TEM: You are a Canadian who is allergic to the cold. (And now, smartly, live in Florida.) What (besides the obvious) kinds of problems arise with such an allergy?

JM:  It’s such a bizarre allergy. People usually think I’m kidding when I tell them, but I actually do have cold urticaria, Living in Florida, I don’t have very many reactions anymore (except for when I’m sitting too close to an A/C vent or eating ice cream or swimming in the winter), but I used get painful hives pretty much every day when I was a teenager. It was, um, character building? I look back now and realize that there were all sorts of things I shouldn’t have been doing: skiing, swimming in glacier lakes, taking the bus to school, playing in the snow. But I did them all anyway because I wanted to do
what all my siblings and friends were doing. I spent a lot of time being in pain and really uncomfortable.

Now the biggest problem it poses is when I’m in a situation where need to warm up and feel like I can’t. Like if I’m staying at someone’s house and it’s a couple of degrees too cold, or out doing things with friends (when I’m visiting up north) and I realize I’m starting to react. It’s a little embarrassing to demand people jack up the heat for you at a dinner party, or my in-laws, or church, or wherever. So I mostly don’t. I say nothing, and then whine and gripe and cry like a baby to my husband all the way home. He loves it.

I’m going to Canada for Christmas, and I plan on pumping myself full of anti-histamines so I can play in the Christmas morning hockey game. (My parents live on a lake.) Smart? Maybe not.

TEM: Carmen has a fantastic moment in Virtuosity when she really feels her own passion regarding playing. What similar breakthrough moment have you had in your life, about playing or anything else? That moment when you’re just like, “Dude, I love this.”

JM: I have had those moments with both music and writing. With violin, more of them have happened in the practice room than on stage. I’m not sure why. Making music can be a very solitary thing (99% practicing, 1% performing), but I remember more than once as a teenager having some great musical epiphany and feeling like I had to come out of my room to play for my mom. That feeling of having figured something and created a little piece of beauty made me so happy that I just had to share it with someone. She isn’t a violinist, but she went to all my lessons up until I could drive myself to them, so I felt like she really understood.

TEM: There are so many other great secondary characters besides Carmen and Jeremy in Virtuosity, including Carmen’s mother, and her violin coach. What did you do to make these folks so alive?

JM:  I really love them, even though they’re so flawed. That might make me sound a tad insane, but they are real people to me. Some people come away from the book with intense feelings of hatred towards Diana. First of all, I’m thrilled I inspired intense feelings, but I have been a little surprised because I have so much sympathy for Diana. I don’t hate her at all. I think if I did, she would have come off too diabolical to be real.

TEM: Have you ever held a violin worth a million dollars? If so, what’s it like? If not, how do you think you’d feel if you ever did?

JM:  I have! When I was fifteen I had a lesson with a violinist who was visiting the academy I studied at, and at the end of the lesson he asked if I wanted to try his violin. It was sort of unusual offer, but I thought he probably just had a really good instrument and was being nice. The experience was indescribable. The sound was so rich and penetrating, it felt like it just kept going forever. We were in a large auditorium, but it still felt like the sound could actually push back the walls. After I played for a couple of minutes I said, “Wow, I’d love to have a violin like this.”

He responded with, “For 4 million dollars you could have your own too.”

Yeah. Then I gave the violin back before I could drop it and destroy my life.

TEM: Lastly, I have to know: what music did you listen to while writing Virtuosity?

JM: This is so sad, but I can’t listen to music while writing. I know, I’m broken. I’ve tried, but it’s just too distracting. Honestly, it’s easier to have the TV on in the background than music.


Thanks, Jessica, for this amazing interview, and your incredible debut. We’ll be looking forward to lots more from you!


Songs In My Head Upon Waking This Week:

“The Babysitter’s Here,” by Dar Williams; “Strange Condition,” by Pete Yorn; “You Make My Dreams Come True,” by Hall & Oates; “Koka Kola Veins,” by The Tough Alliance; “Never Feel Alone,” by Dangerous Summer; “I Believe in Love” by Carly Simon; lots of weird fragments that didn’t form into anything

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