Mary E. Martin. Photo courtesy Memacom Productions.
Mary E. Martin wrote the Osgoode Trilogy over many years while practicing law and raising a family of three children. Her law practice—mainly estates and real estate—definitely inspired the three novels—Conduct in Question, Final Paradox, and A Trial of One. The first two are published and the third will be out this September. In all three novels, the protagonist, Harry Jenkins, is a lawyer doing his best not to drown in the ocean of murder, fraud and deceit nearly engulfing him. But these novels are a different take on crime, focusing on the effect such crimes have on him and how they force him on to the next level of his life.
Mysterious Reviews: Tell us a bit about the trilogy.
Ms. Martin: Harry Jenkins is a most
unlikely hero. He’s a middle-aged lawyer, who feels with dead
certainty that life is passing him by. Trapped under his senior
partner’s thumb and stuck in a dead marriage, he is desperate
for change—almost any change.
Are there any parallels between legal writing and writing fiction?
For me, it’s a lot more fun writing fiction and creating settings and situations which are related to law. With fiction, you can make it up, but with the law you have to stick with the facts. But there is a real connection for me between the two endeavors. I’ve always believed that law practice gives the lawyer, with his or her eyes open, a true window on the world. You hear almost every conceivable story from your clients, which covers the whole range of human behavior. You spend many hours finding the right solution to their [not just legal] problems. Although many people think of estate practice as dull, I can tell you that it certainly isn’t. When someone dies, emotions often run very high and long buried ‘rights and wrongs’ come to the surface, demanding settlement. And so, a great deal of my practice was an inspiration for the writing.
There are a lot of intersecting plotlines in the novels. Are any of them from real cases?
Not really. But the main character in the second novel, Final Paradox, is an elderly woman, named Norma Dinnick. The book opens with a scene in which Harry, on a house call to Norma, is instructed to remove non-existent tenants from the premises. I had that exact experience and my client then became the inspiration for the character, Norma Dinnick, who teeters between madness and lucidity. Fortunately, I’ve never had to confront a serial killer, or been involved in a money laundering scam. I guess the answer is—my practice has inspired the plots and the characters, but they are greatly “imagined.”
Why a trilogy?
Actually, I didn’t set out to write a trilogy. I just had one book in mind. But, I became so engrossed in the character of Harry Jenkins that I felt he deserved lots more space. Harry is a very human guy with plenty of flaws. I like to think that almost everyone can identify with him. He represents [most of the time] our honest, reasonable selves trying to figure life out.
Which of the books in the trilogy was the easiest/hardest to write?
It’s funny, but I think there are a lot of parallels between writing novels and raising children. As you raise each child, you learn how much of an individual he or she is and each one is special to you. So, with the novels, Conduct in Question was likely the hardest to write, simply because it was the first and I was new at the game. Likely, Final Paradox was the easiest and the one coming out, A Trial of One, took a lot of thought.
Any plans for more novels about Harry?
I may well write another trilogy about Harry Jenkins. But before that, I have another project, which has been on the back burner for some time. I have a character who almost just appeared fully formed in my mind. His name is Alexander Wainwright, a famous British landscape artist. The opening scene takes place one night in his studio where he is working on one of his best canvasses yet. Suddenly, he leaps up and begins painting tiny troll-like figures on the river bank and under bridges. He says they are what man looks like to God. This novel will give me lots of room to explore a lot of psychological aspects of people. Rather far removed from Harry’s world!
Why did you choose self publishing?
The latest figure I read was—one percent of all manuscripts sent to traditional publishers were in fact published. Those odds are likely better than winning a lottery, but they are not very encouraging. With publishing on demand [POD], you retain the copyright in your work and that, I think, is worth something. As well, I think that the whole publishing industry, including distribution, is in a period of massive change. My publisher, iUniverse is partly owned by Barnes and Noble. From that you can see how the lines between production and distribution are blurring. In another five years, I expect the POD technology will be used throughout the publishing industry and there will be a greater integration of production and distribution.
What are your thoughts on mid-life career change?
Actually, I was writing for about the last ten years of my twenty-eight years of practice and so, by the time I retired from law, I had drafts of two of the three novels completed. But, I think, if you possibly can, you must find a way to follow your passion. If you don’t, then I think something important “dies” in you. Also, I think we often become stale in our work after twenty or thirty years and really do need a change. So keep on writing and never give up.
Date of interview: May 2007.