Martha Brockenbrough: telling stories and making learning fun

She’s already achieved something so many people never will: a list of books, published traditionally, under her belt. But Martha Brockenbrough is nowhere near ready to call it a day, count her blessings and stop writing.

“I have a long list of books I’m dreaming of writing, and my hope is that I have the time and opportunity to do that,” Martha said of her goals for the future. “I want to write books that feel original and compelling, stories that stick with readers for the long haul.”

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Photo courtesy of Martha Brockenbrough

Martha is the author of books for young adults, like The Game of Love and Death (which, disclaimer, I will never stop gushing about) and Devine Intervention as well as two books for adults. She is the creator of National Grammar Day and at one point actually wrote questions for Trivial Pursuit, that addictive, family-destroying trivia game.

Thanks to an editor at Encarta who left to work for Cranium (acquired by Hasbro, the owner of Trivia Pursuit), Martha scored a gig writing questions for the game.

“The moral of that story: do a good job every time,” Martha said. “You never know where your editors will end up.”

As for the work itself of crafting the questions, Martha said it’s more difficult than it appears.

“The questions look like they’re easy to write, but they are not—and the work that goes into whittling a potential question into its perfect form is great discipline for any writer,” she said.

She added that she still aspires to someday create her own game, which wouldn’t be a shocking turn of events considering she has already created a holiday/celebration of language.

National Grammar Day takes place every year on March 4 and is Martha’s brainchild. She was searching for a way to help students have fun while learning the rules of English.

“A brain that’s in a playful, relaxed state is a brain that’s ready to learn and understand and make new connections,” she said. She doesn’t understand why some teachers try to stress students into learning. “You wouldn’t make kids go run a mile in concrete shoes if your goal was to see how fast those kids could run, and trying to stress students into success is equally stupid.”

There are many ways to celebrate National Grammar Day, from blog posts to quizzes and more. Martha likes the creativity with which the day has grown.

“I love how many people have adopted it as their own goofy celebration,” she said. “People have had fun thinking about language, and I like having been part of that.”

 

As a writer, Martha’s work is “gorgeous, emotive, vivid, and heartfelt,” according to her friend Jolie Stekly (who’s also a writer of young adult novels!). “In Martha’s work, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter are all thoughtfully considered and constructed, creating beautiful stories.”

High praise coming from another writer and someone who, in 2009, was recognized as Member of the Year for the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

In addition, Jolie said Martha is generous, supportive, funny and a great friend.

“She recognizes my unique strengths (and reminds me of them) and I so appreciate that she gifts me with that,” she said. “I hope I do the same for her. I’m inspired by her humanity and heart. She’s just a superb human being.”

Martha grew up in a suburb of Seattle, the product of a childhood that involved four siblings, lots of reading (sometimes she consumed a book a day, and her biggest advice to aspiring authors is to “read, read, read”) and she had lots of, as she said, “feral, unsupervised time.”

She has fond memories of playing in mud as well as interacting with animals (like the duck she caught and tried to give a home to) and other kids.

“We made bad choices and often had scabs and bruises, along with the lessons that come from those,” Martha said. “This is a great childhood, in my view, and one that a lot of kids don’t get to enjoy.”

Her love of writing came later; she said she was always good at spelling and crafting sentences, but it wasn’t until she reached adulthood that she was able to truly be proud of what she had created.

In addition, with the amount of books she read as a child it’s no surprise that she believed there were no stories left to tell. But as soon as she found out that this wasn’t, indeed, the case, she knew she wanted to be a writer.

“It took me a long time to develop an understanding of story and the many ways it can serve,” she said. “I did like writing stories, and I wanted to be a writer as soon as I realized that was something living people could do.”

Her writing philosophy involves putting her characters in peril; she’s not one of those authors who tries to shelter them. At the same time, she said peril doesn’t always mean “a bomb on the bus,” although that device can work in certain scenarios and genres.

Peril is any sort of threat to a character’s quest, Martha said, and is especially potent when any choice made has its benefits — as well as its downsides.

“It comes down to turning up the dials slowly as the story builds so a book becomes impossible to put down,” she said. “We’ve all had those reading experiences. I’d love to create those as an author.”

{Side note: this happened to me as I read The Game of Love and Death. I was hooked, thrilled, unable to think about anything else. Perhaps I’m a little biased as I write this, but I stand by Jolie’s words and truly believe Martha is an incredible author. Just thought you should know that.}

You can find more information about Martha on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. You should definitely read her books.

 

 

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