Guest Blogger: Martha Brockenbrough
When I was growing up, my mom would let us know when—in her view—we’d had too much fun. My brothers and sisters and I jokingly called it TMF or “exceeding the fun quotient.”
Mom used to feel the TV for telltale signs of warmth when she came home from the grocery store, and she instructed me on many occasions to “get my nose out of that book” and into, say, the garden, which needed weeding.
On special occasions, we could just go to the video store in the mall and choose between one of two family movies deemed appropriate at the time: MY BODYGUARD and HEAVEN CAN WAIT. (ARTHUR was too trashy, the parental ratings board determined after a partial viewing.)
Eventually, I did listen to Mom. I inserted my nose into history books. Into Shakespeare. Into poetry and plays written in Ancient Greek. Into Calculus. Twice. (Why, younger self. WHY?) During college, I did not watch television. I mostly viewed classic movies at a nearby revival theater. I went to a few concerts, but nothing that could be considered too much fun unless you are a major fan of Andreas Vollenweider’s New Age harp stylings. That, I attended to write a newspaper review. And this became my motto. Work is Fun!
And then, a few years after college, came Joss Whedon. I first watched BUFFY intending for it to be ironic—I’d seen an ad on the side of the bus and couldn’t believe they were making that horrible movie into a TV show. Almost instantly, though, I was hooked.
At the time, I was producing an online entertainment magazine (because Work is Fun!) and I wrote a piece about how smart the show was. Yes, the first season was imperfect. But it was good enough, deep enough, and rich enough to make me laugh, cry, think, and yearn to be home in time to watch the next episode.
When Buffy died a second time in season 5, I’d received my 24th rejection (out of 25 submissions) for a book I’d hoped to publish. I’d quit my day job a couple of years earlier to become a writer and spend time with my daughter, then 1. And that night, morose from Buffy’s fate and the apparent death of my own writing dream, I went to bed utterly miserable.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what made me sadder, my own rejection, or my concern for this made-up character. I recently re-watched that episode with my daughter, who is now 11. I cried again, though I no longer cry over rejections. So I think I have my answer.
I think this shows that good storytelling can reach people on deep levels. It’s not just about having fun. It’s about developing empathy for others, about understanding what is truly important in life, and what is less so. It’s also a way of seeing how much people matter to each other.
And oh, how I wanted to be able to create that experience for a reader. I’d hoped to be a writer since I was 8 years old, but because of my parents’ wise and well-meaning influence, I started to feel guilty when I read books. Worse when I watched TV. And forget about movies.
In part because I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of books, TV, and movies, I spent a lot of time with my favorites, listening to recordings of Steve Martin perform THE CRUEL SHOES over and over, watching HEAVEN CAN WAIT until I’d had it memorized, reading books about characters who could do things regular people couldn’t—today, these are called paranormal.
That first book, the one that was rejected two dozen times, was published. And so was a second. Both were nonfiction, meant for adults. It took me a whole lot of work to peel away enough layers of earnest seriousness to be able to write books good enough for children, though.
But I finally managed to, in part by remembering what I loved about books, TV, and movies from my childhood. It was about listening to my heart and my head, myself in addition to (not instead of) my parents.
It was when I let myself be who I wanted to be, without ignoring who I’d been, that I was able to write this book. A lot of that journey is reflected in the experiences of my characters. I worked hard, yes. My parents taught me how to do that. But I also had authentic fun, something Joss Whedon reminded me how to when I most needed it.
That experience was as satisfying for me as the end of a good book. Even better, it’s just the beginning of a new career.
What about you? Is there something you’d love to do but aren’t because you think you’re supposed to be working?
Martha Brockenbrough is the former editor of MSN.com. She’s the founder of National Grammar Day and SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. DEVINE INTERVENTION is her first novel. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it “frequently hysterical … devastatingly honest writing that surprises with its occasional beauty and hits home with the keenness of its insight.”
About DEVINE INTERVENTION:
There is a great legend of the guardian angel who traveled across time and space for the human girl he loved, slaying those who would threaten her with a gleaming sword made of heavenly light.
This is not that story.
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.