Marta, creepy Santa and me.

The Blue Jar

In creativity, the writing life by ami

There’s nothing quite like the first few days of university life. As a goofy, giddy frosh I managed to find my way to classrooms and the cafeteria, twist my ankle running down a flight of stairs, and make a friend for life.

Marta Pelrine-Bacon was a kindred spirit from the start. Even though she’d grown up in a small town in Florida and had never seen snow, we had more in common than not. She loved stories of magic and fantasy. Me too. She enjoyed staying up late and dancing to Howard Jones, Oingo Boingo, Crowded House, and OMD. Me too. She’d watched The Wizard of Oz at least once a year for as long as she could remember. Me too!

Marta, creepy Santa and me.

Marta, creepy Santa and me.

Yes, Marta is wearing a “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” t-shirt! 

At times it’s felt as if we’ve lived worlds apart. I lived in California for a semester. Marta joined the Peace Corps and went to Bulgaria. These days we connect by phone or internet since I live in N ova Scotia and she’s settled in Austin, Texas with her husband, son and three dogs. No matter the distance, our communications are still filled with talk of things that make our imaginations and hearts sing. Doctor Who, raising sons, embracing the creative process, and our passion/obsession for writing novels, (just to name a few.)

Recently Marta reached two HUGE milestones- she finished her last round of chemo after breast cancer surgery, and she became a published novelist! I couldn’t be prouder of her determination and her accomplishments. In celebration of her debut novel, The Blue Jar, I asked her to share a few thoughts about the novel and her work as a visual artist. I hope you enjoy the novel and her insights as much as I did!

The Blue Jar - a debut novel by Marta Pelrine-Bacon

The Blue Jar – a debut novel by Marta Pelrine-Bacon

From the publisher – After a party, sixteen-year-old Fran accepts a ride from Chesnie’s brother, and her life changes forever. She leaves her parents and her boyfriend to live with her best friend’s grandmother at the edge of a woods. In the woods, the girls practice a secret ritual to exorcise the memory of what happened that night. Would the magic work? Maybe, but not in the way either girl expected. Fran must do battle not only with her own demons but with Chesnie’s also, as she tries to forget that fateful ride home. But Fran still wants to keep her best friend, even as Chesnie becomes obsessed with revenge.


Q&A with Marta Pelrine-Bacon

1. Choose three words to describe Chesnie.

angry, loyal, smart

2. Three words to describe Fran.

thoughtful, creative, hesitant

3. If you could give any of the characters in your novel a book, which character(s) would you choose, and what book(s) would you give them, and why.

I’d give Paul The Truth about Unicorns by Bonnie Jones Reynolds because he reminds me of Harley (mostly because I had Harley in mind when I wrote about Paul). Harley loved one girl and got disastrously distracted by another.

I’d give Fran The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because Esther and her journey reminds me of Fran. If Esther makes it through, then Fran can too.

I’d give Chesnie The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I tried to think of a book that was around in 1985, and though Chensie loves to read, nothing was coming to mind. The only book I could think of was The Hunger Games, probably because I just finished reading it. I think Chesnie would like and understand Katniss. And Chesnie would probably find the violence in the story cathartic.

4. You’re a visual artist as well as a writer, what parallels do you find, if any, between your artistic process and your writing process?
They both have great moments of inspiration (“I know what to do next!”) and they both have moments of frustration (“Into the trash can you go!”). They both start with a piece of an idea, nothing fully formed, and I figure out each as I go. I’m always surprised at the results.

But I want to add that a major difference is when I put the work out in the world. Art, being visual, gets an immediate response. It isn’t easy to sell art, but it is easier to sell art than a story. Reading takes time. It takes a commitment in a different way. My art provides much more in the way of validation, which maybe I shouldn’t need, but it helps sometimes.

Marta's drafts become visual art.

Marta’s drafts become visual art.

5. You’ve been known to cut up drafts of your work to create pieces of visual art. Did you find the process painful or freeing?
Freeing. I mean, it was weird the first few times I took scissors to my manuscript, but I ended up enjoying the process, discovering how I could play with the words and manipulate the mood of a phrase just by taking it out of context. And literally cutting words from my stories made it much easier to edit my stories. I can cut a scene with scissors or the delete key.

 In fact, I keep thinking of ways to cut up my novel. I’m not sure what that means, but I have several ideas of ways to shape and cut the pages. I’ve made a curtain of paper loops from an old draft of my novel. I’ve made flowers. I hope to make a wreath and other odd things. We’ll see.

6. People often ask writers which authors have influenced their work…let’s change that up a bit.

Which people, what things etc. (outside of the world of literature) inspire you and feed your work?

 I’m glad you asked this question because I find inspiration in many things. I find inspiration in other art. A drawing I see on Etsy or Tumblr or in a coffee shop. A song—the lyrics or the melody. Sometimes a story on TED Talks or RadioLab inspires me. Interviews with other writers or artists, or interviews with anyone who tries to follow their creative drive—actors, musicians, or scientists.  Just a great conversation with a friend can give me an idea or motivate me to get to work.

I think the main thing is to be open to the unexpected.  For example, a while back I was driving home from work, and I passed a lot where a house had recently been torn down. A high chain link fence surrounded the space. Soon a new house would be built there. Anyway, I don’t remember the song on the radio, but something in the song and the vacant lot in a row of house made me think of a young man in a long coat—I have thing for long coats—climbing over the fence and jumping to the ground. I went home and started a short story about him.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

You can learn more about The Blue Jar and Marta’s art and illustrations (she illustrates children’s books too!) at

And you can order the e-book edition of The Blue Jar, published by Plum Tree Books at

Marta with her creations at an art fair in Austin, TX.

Marta with her creations at an art fair in Austin, TX.