Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Martha Brockenbrough is the author of two books for adults and five books for young readers. She’s the founder of National Grammar Day (every March 4), and she’s written game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. The former editor of MSN.com, Martha has been published in a variety of places, including The New York Times. She also wrote an educational humor column for the online encyclopedia Encarta for nine years.
She lives in Seattle with her family.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I fell in love with books and reading when I was tiny, around 7 or 8 years old. From that day on, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how one went about doing that, and the sensible adults around me discouraged the notion. They weren’t wrong. There are many easier ways to make a living. I tried a variety of careers: teaching, journalism, website production, consulting. When I had my first child, though, I was struck with the insight that if I didn’t have the courage to pursue my lifelong dream, I wasn’t setting much of an example for her. I started writing in earnest then. I also started reading seriously again then as well. That’s great training for writers. You learn how these books you love manage to make you think and feel the way you do, and then you learn how to do that in your own way.
My big break still makes me smile, seven years later. I happened to be seated at a table with Arthur Levine, the revered U.S. editor of Harry Potter and other wonderful books. I knew of him, of course. Everybody in the business does. I’d always considered him way too out of reach, but he was so encouraging, and he thought I was funny, and he asked me to submit my work to him. It took a long time to have something ready, but knowing it was a possibility provided all the incentive to work that I needed. And I guess I’d say this to aspiring writers: the possibility is out there for all of us, and we will do our best work when we believe this is true. Work is still the path. But wouldn’t you rather walk a sunny one than through an alley cobwebbed with doubt and despair?
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
The Game of Love and Death is just out from Scholastic. It’s about two teen jazz musicians in Seattle who fall in love without realizing that they’re pawns being played by Love and Death, and that there are deadly consequences attached.
I always have a lot of things bubbling on the stove at once. Next year, my picture book Love, Santa comes out from Scholastic. This tells the truth about Santa in a way that, I hope, keeps the magic of the holiday alive. I’m also working on a couple of novels, one funny, one dark. Both are young adult. And I just wrote a draft of a new picture book about the moon that I’m quite excited by.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I can work anywhere. I do have an office at home. It’s in the attic of my house, which looks out over a lake and some mountains and is utterly lovely. I do keep my back to the view so I’m not distracted. I also work at a neighborhood café that makes a particularly good Americano, my preferred caffeine-delivery mechanism.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Typically, I work seven days a week. The thought of this would have horrified me when I was younger, and longed for work-free days. But I really like what I do, and it’s as much of a habit as, say, brushing my teeth. I get up very early, go to the gym, sweat like a maniac, take my kids to school, and then shower and settle in until the last possible minute. Part of the day is writing, part is reading, part handling correspondence, and part scratching my dogs behind their ears.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
There are a lot of parts to the process. Thinking is the most important one, and I help my thinking by reading. Very often, it’s nonfiction that relates to what I’m working on—or nonfiction that is just interesting to me. For example, I am working on a novel that is narrated in part by rats, and I have been reading books about them as well as a variety of articles. They’re fascinating creatures, and knowing actual rat behavior gives me information I can use to imagine and block scenes. And it’s surprising how many times something that is just interesting finds its way into a manuscript. Getting through a draft is really important. First drafts usually have more junk to them than treasure, which can be discouraging, but the occasional glints are motivating. And you can’t make anything wonderful until you have something to work with, and doing is generally easier psychologically than thinking and worrying. So, I complete a draft. Then I put it away for a while and work on something else. Then I revise, and once I have it to a non-wretched spot, I share with friends. Then I rest and think and revise some more. When everything is as good as I have it, I send it to my agent or editor, depending on where I am in the sales process.
Thank you, Martha Brockenbrough!
— Nicole Melanson
And thank you, Stasia Ward Kehoe, for recommending Martha! Read Stasia’s WordMothers interview here
* Author photo by Emerald England
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