Janet Martin inhabits a world or words, pictures, and music with experience as an award-winning television producer and reporter, a newspaper and magazine writers, as a college teacher, and a media relations director. The mother of three grown children, she lives with her husband and assorted four-footed animals on a hilltop farm in Central Virginia.

A Conversation with Janet Martin

Q:  The Christmas Swap starts out with what some may call “fluff” yet the story deepens and resonates profoundly with the reader at the end.  Why did you have your characters change lives in the beginning?

JAM:  My impression generally is that when we view others and their lives from the outside, we tend to see those lives on a fairly flat plain, not realizing that all people face the primal situations of love, loss, struggle, failure, and success.  For example, in The Christmas Swap, you first meet the Midlands as they’re having a marital tiff.  It’s funny; it’s sad.  You wonder what’s behind it. Next, you have the Urbanes—well to do, not a care in the world, seemingly—and then you find they hide a tragic secret.  Third, you encounter the Laymans—plain, uneducated, who struggle economically and socially—yet who are talented, good folks.  So, in a nutshell, as these characters swap lives (or at least the women do), then that swap becomes the inciting force—the springboard to unearth their secrets.  It offers the opportunity to know the reality that lies beneath the veneer, to expose the problems the character’s confront, and, as the author, to dramatize them.

Q:  You begin with a few characters, and then the entire town of Clearview becomes involved in the story.  To what extent is the town itself a character?

JAM:  Good question, and I wrestled with that.  The characters have universal traits—common to us all—and they struggle with thorny matters in their own lives.  But also, the characters are joined together inevitably by a menace—in Virginia this would have to be a greedy developer, of course—and the menace forges the characters into a unit as the town of Clearview.  The townspeople bicker among themselves, but when the town itself is threatened, then the bickering stops (mostly) in the characters’ common goal to save the town.  Also, two magical strangers visit the town:  the old man Pap, and the rare white faun . . .

Q:  Let’s talk about those.  Are they symbols?

JAM:  I suppose they might be thought of that way.  The sighting of the rare white fawn and its impression upon those who see it seem to bring an ethereal magic into their lives.  The old man Pap, well, he has some universally agreeable characteristics—kindness, jovialness, and mystery—that some might say go well with the Christmas spirit and season.

Q:  You’re not going to explain Pap and the fawn?

JAM:  No.  You and I are hovering over that line of attribution, where the reader gets to attribute to the characters and the plot his own interpretation.  I wouldn’t want to spoil that experience.

Q:  Can we touch on the Indian legend about the white fawn?  Did you make it up?

JAM:  No.  That was one of the delights that happened as I was writing The Christmas Swap.  Well, actually there were two delights.  First, when my daughter was pregnant with my first grandchild she visited us on the farm as I was working on the book.  One evening at twilight we were crossing the pastureland bordering our woods and we saw a solid white fawn in the dusk.  He stood very still and then bounded off— very small, very white, and very beautiful in the gathering evening fog.  My daughter was feeling especially blessed, because she was carrying her first child.  In a flash she saw the deer as something wondrous, and it seemed to be a promise to her that her child would be healthy and beautiful—which, I might add—he is.  But at the time, I was so impressed by her reaction to the albino baby deer that I did some research on them and discovered the white deer legend told very charmingly by a member of the Chickasaw Indian tribe.  I contacted him and asked permission to retell a version of his story.  He agreed, and I have listed his version and website at the end of my book so that others may discover it.

Q:  Okay, let’s turn to the young boy, Tom, who has cerebral palsy.  Yet he can draw.  Is that realistic?

JAM:  Actually, it is.  For several years I taught high school English in Georgia.  There was a boy who had cerebral palsy, much like Tom in the Christmas Swap.  The boy I modeled Tom after could draw beautifully, and actually, as an adult, painted swirling, feathery portraits of people that were amazing.

Q:  The hunt scene at the end—it’s kind of surprising, is it not?

JAM:  Not to anyone who has ever been on a hunt, which I have.  You’re dealing with humans and animals.  Anything can happen.

Q:  Okay, another question.  Most books have an underlying theme, a message.  Do you have such a theme in The Christmas Swap?

JAM:  There are several themes woven throughout.  And the perceptive reader will find them, I’m sure.  As for an overarching theme, well, I set this novel in the country where people are more or less governed by the land.  My neighbors run sheep, cattle, horses, and they raise assorted domestic animals in the woods and pastures of Virginia.  In rural areas people are subject to the vicissitudes of weather in a realistic way.  If a calf is born in the unsheltered in the snow, for example, then the chances of its survival are dire, unless the farmer finds it.

Day and night, glorious gold sunrises pour into farmhouse windows; stars hang low over the surrounding fields and mountains at night, not blotted out by city lights.  So one feels the majesty of the universe in the midst of daily activities that occupy us as human beings.  And, one is prone to wonder about time and place and one’s individual significance in the scheme of things.  A character in my book says it more effectively than I’m saying it here.  But it is this notion of wonder that captivates me as a writer.  And I suppose that notion spills over into my writing.

Q:  What’s your next project?

JAM: Right now, as much as I am able while actively marketing my first book, I am crafting a second novel with the working title, Winds of Change, Growing Up Southern in the Sixties.  It is the story of four college girls coming of age in that time when rules of society and place virtually drowned among the currents of upheaval and conflict.  The political/societal/international events from 1963 to 1974 and subsequent years affected each of them, and I want to explore—as I look back—just how lasting those effects were and are.

“A perfect holiday gift!” say Diane and Paul Wood of Charlottesville, VA.


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