The Literary Road Trip is a project in which bloggers are volunteering to showcase local authors. This showcase can be anything you want to make of it – book reviews, author interviews, giveaways – as long as you’re working with an author local to you.
Martha Brockenbrough is a writer, teacher, and mom who lives in Seattle, Washington. She is a writer after my own heart – she started The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar! She also writes movie reviews for MSN at Mom & Pop Culture.
Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World: This book is for people who experience heartbreak over love notes with subject-verb disagreements…for anyone who’s ever considered hanging up the phone on people who pepper their speech with such gems as “irregardless,” “expresso,” or “disorientated”…and for the earnest souls who wonder if it’s “Woe is Me,” or “Woe is I,” or even “Woe am I.”
Martha Brockenbrough’s Things That Make Us (Sic) is a laugh-out-loud guide to grammar and language, a snarkier, American answer to Lynn Truss’s runaway success Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Brockenbrough is the founder of National Grammar Day and SPOGG — the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar — and as serious as she is about proper usage, her voice is funny, irreverent, and never condescending. Things That Make Us (Sic) addresses common language stumbling stones such as evil twins, clichés, jargon, and flab, and offers all the spelling tips, hints, and rules that are fit to print. It’s also hugely entertaining, with letters to high-profile language abusers, including David Hasselhoff, George W. Bush, and Canada’s Maple Leafs [sic], as well as a letter to – and a reply from – Her Majesty, the Queen of England. Brockenbrough has written a unique compendium combining letters, pop culture references, handy cheat sheets, rants, and historical references that is as helpful as it is hilarious.
For more information on her writing and an in-depth bio, visit Martha Brockenbrough’s web site.
I was fortunate to be able to interview Ms. Grover via e-mail. I love her answers – she has a great sense of humor!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Or was it something that came about as an adult?
Martha: I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I knew people created books. I still remember the day I announced it to my family; I was eight. They were rightly concerned. The world is full of stories about miserable, drunken would-be authors who live in squalor with assorted rodents. My parents were very supportive, though–supportive of me doing anything else to make a living.
Where does your passion for good grammar come from? (Or maybe I should say, “From where does your passion for good grammar come?”)
Martha: It’s entirely OK to end a sentence with a preposition. My book devotes a whole chapter to freeing us from rules that are no longer or never were in English. That kooky preposition one is one of them. I can trace my love of grammar back to eighth grade, when I first read Elements of Style. It gave me a way to think about language and writing, and I’ve never stopped thinking about such things. Understanding how language works–and how it doesn’t–gives you a lot of power in life. You can apply for jobs with confidence. You can woo someone without fear of embarrassment. You can parse complicated documents, and if you’re a crafty lawyer, you can find misplaced commas that can earn huge legal fees in otherwise dull corporate cases. So I guess you’d say my zeal for this comes from a desire to help people say what they mean more clearly and understand other people better.
Can you tell us about one of the worst grammar mistakes you’ve encountered – and how you responded to it?
Martha: I once interviewed a really nice guy for an editing position on my team. His resume listed his personal website, and there–in the first sentence–was a spelling error. It was agonizing turning down an obviously good-hearted soul. But I couldn’t have an editor on my team who didn’t carefully proofread his own site. The funniest bad grammar I think I encountered, though, was the transcript of a series of dirty text messages one of our politicians sent an underage page. I corrected him in my book, and I think it’s some of the funniest writing I’ve ever done.
Are you currently working on any writing projects that you can tell us about?
Martha: Yes! I am working on children’s books and recently sold one to Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. It’s called The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy and it’s about an unlikely friendship. Naturally, the Dinosaur Tooth Fairy has her own funny grammar. I’m working on two more picture books, including one with a strong Shakespearean influence. And I have a young-adult novel in the works. Once again, the rules of language play a starring role. My main character has a brain implant that won’t let him curse, so he invents alternatives. He also has a hilariously limited vocabulary. So, while I’m not writing about bad grammar as much these days, my love of language and its structure continues to inform my work. I hope fellow word nerds are equally delighted.
What is your favorite thing about living in Washington?
Martha: Today is one of those cold winter days that make me glad this is my home. I’m working in a cafe a few blocks from my house, sipping delicious coffee, and watching a group of deaf people sign to each other with face-splitting smiles. Through the window I can see the Cascade mountain range rising up from Lake Washington. Where else can you have this diversity, this natural beauty, and this great coffee just outside your front door?
Which writers have had the biggest impact on your life and your writing?
Martha: There are too many to list. There are the writers who made me love books: Lloyd Alexander, Judy Blume, Louisa May Alcott, Richard Adams. There are the writers who’ve helped me write better: E.B. White, Darcy Pattison, Anne Lamott, Sol Stein, Michael Stearns (who is also my agent). And then there are the writers who make my life better because they’re in this struggle with me. Here, I include the readergirlz and the wonderful friends I’ve made through the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
What is the best book you’ve read this year so far?
Martha: Besides mine? Oh, but I kid. This year I’ve loved When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, and Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey. But I know I’m leaving stuff off this list because my mind is a bit of a jumbled junk drawer. If a book is constructed with care and written with style, chances are, I will like it.
If you could recommend one book that everyone should read, what would it be?
Martha: The next one in their pile. Seriously, though, I think books are a personal thing. We love what we love, and it’s a real pleasure to have a long list of books waiting by the bed. You know life is good when you can carve out some time to spend with just yourself and a book.