Today we welcome Martha Brockenbrough to the Lucky 13s blog! Martha is the author of DEVINE INTERVENTION, which hits the shelves today!
About the book (from IndieBound): "Jerome Hancock is Heidi Devine's guardian angel. Sort of. He's more of an angel trainee, in heaven's soul-rehabilitation program for wayward teens. And he's just about to get kicked out for having too many absences and for violating too many of the Ten Commandments for the Dead.
Heidi, meanwhile, is a high school junior who dreams of being an artist, but has been drafted onto her basketball team because she's taller than many a grown man. For as long as she can remember, she's heard a voice in her head - one that sings Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers up bad advice, and yet is company during those hours she feels most alone.
When the unthinkable happens, these two lost souls must figure out where they went wrong and whether they can make things right before Heidi's time is up and her soul is lost forever."
Hi, Martha, and congratulations on your Book Birthday! What inspired you to write DEVINE INTERVENTION? Was there a particular event that inspired the story?
A whole lot of things came together in my head as I was writing this book. When I was twenty-one and just out of college, a friend who’d been in the class ahead of me in high school died of cancer on her twenty-second birthday. She was one of those miracle people: an incredibly gifted athlete, in the top of her class at Harvard, beautiful enough to be painted in oils. Her death was a hideous loss to the world, and at her memorial service, one of the speakers talked about how they’d often discussed what they’d do “when our real lives began.” It was one of those searing life experiences, realizing that death doesn’t care how good or young a person is. Death will have you sooner or later, and the idea that your lifehasn’t started yet—a totally common thing for young people to think—is false. I don’t want to die with unfinished business, with things left unsaid. And I started thinking about what a soul who dies young would want to go back and do, and as soon as I did that, I had the start of a story. Not long after that, I started hearing the voice of my guardian angel character in my head, and I knew I had my story.
How would you describe your main characters?
There are two, Jerome and Heidi. Initially, I’d intended to tell Heidi’s story. She’s the girl who suffers an unfortunate accident at a frozen pond. But Jerome, the dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers guardian angel assigned to watch over her, kept finding ways to take over the manuscript. So I split it into two points of view. Jerome is a bit of an idiot. He’s good-natured but wounded, the sort of guardian angel you’d get if you are the person who always gets the short end of the wishbone, the prize-free Cracker Jack box, the depressing fortune in your fortune cookie. Heidi is just such an unfortunate person. She just doesn’t realize before it’s too late how awesome she really is.
Yours is a unique take on the specifics of the Afterlife. Did you research different cultural traditions and beliefs about what happens when we die, or did these details spring from the "mother wit" as it were?
I grew up in the Catholic church, and like many children, had a specific idea of what heaven would be like. But then my logical little mind, given the length of a sort of sawdusty-feeling Sunday mass, started coming up with all sorts of questions and possibilities. That’s what re-emerged in the book, minus the doodles I used to draw on the back of the offering envelope. I have studied other religions and belief systems, some of which come into play with my overall life philosophy. But mostly, though, the heaven in the book is meant to entertain.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
It’s always hard to do something when success is not only NOT guaranteed, but statistically unlikely. If you sit down to watch TV, for example, you’re almost certain to succeed, despite how complicated remote controls have become. (In the oldendays, the remote control was the youngest sibling. “Go change the channel or I will burp in your face.”) Same with eating cookies. In my life, I’ve only failed to finish about three, and one of those had mold on it. So it took a lot of faith that I could finish it and then revise it enough times so that it merited publishing. Fortunately, I had a lot of cheerleaders who picked me up each time I faltered: my friends and family, and my agent, Jill Corcoran.
Cheerleaders rock. On your website, you are identified as a "Solo Synchronized Swimmer." Mightn't there be angels swimming alongside you as part of their penance/Rehab and, if so, shouldn't they be given credit on the site as well?
Clearly. I guess this means I’ll be going to hell for being ungrateful. According to the Soul Guardian’s Handbook, this means I’m going to spend my eternity on Level I of 9.
1. Level I. For those who have committed the sin of Ingratitude, we offer a punishment of endless standardized tests. There is some variety in the endless test-takery: Mondays are math; Tuesdays are physics; Wednesdays are spelling; Thursdays are grammar; and Fridays are for essays. There are no weekends in hell.
In addition to being entertaining, DEVINE INTERVENTION takes on the issues of teen body image, regret and family relationships. What do you hope readers will gain from reading it?
Body image, regret and family relationships, yes. They are all part of it. But the secret language of squirrels is also part, and I hope readers gain fluency in this that they never knew they needed.
Has your background in professional writing and teaching been a help or a hindrance to writing YA novels? How so?
It’s been helpful. The more you can just sit down and put words on the page, the less strange and scary it seems, and the more practice you have writing when you would rather be (a) watching TV or (b) eating moldy cookies. Teaching is helpful in that you have to really understand what you’re trying to say in order to explain it to others. It’s made me think harder about complicated things. Both have kept me busy, and if you ever want to get things done, make yourself too busy to get things done. That’s the crucible for creative miracles.
What advice do you have for writers just starting out on the journey to publication?
The journey is the only thing that matters, really. It’s the only thing you have influence over. You decide how much you read, you decide how much time you spend thinking and writing. Both are essential to building the skills you’ll need to succeed. You don’t, won’t, and can’t control the outcome—but if you put in the right kinds of effort over a long period of time, you stand an excellent chance of becoming a better writer and storyteller. Get good enough at both of those, and you’ll be published.
Do you currently have a work-in-progress and, if so, does it adhere to or depart from themes in DEVINE INTERVENTION?
I do! It’s a really different book, but love and death once again play starring roles. This time, though, there are no guardian angels, but there are secret messages, jazz music, and a certain black cat who is much more than she seems to be.
Finally, since this is the Lucky13s blog, do you have a favorite superstition?
In my work-in-progress, the number 13 is lucky. So good luck to all the 13s—I can’t wait to read your books.
Thanks, Martha, and Happy Book Birthday!
You can order DEVINE INTERVENTION (Arthur A. Levine Books) online at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon!
Martha Brockenbrough has interviewed celebrities (once in a private jet), founded National Grammar Day, wrote game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit, worked as a strap cutter in a golf bag manufacturing company, taught high school students, and edited MSN.com—and not necessarily in that order. Martha volunteers with Readergirlz.com and lives in Seattle with her husband, their two daughters, and their two dogs.
You can find her at:
This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Nicole McInnes, whose Contemporary YA novel BRIANNA ON THE BRINK will be released Spring, 2013 (www.nicolemcinnes.com). The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.