Monday, April 27, 2015

"The Game of Love and Death"

Martha Brockenbrough has worked as a newspaper reporter, a high school teacher, and as editor of She is a devoted grammarian, and founded National Grammar Day and the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Game of Love and Death, and reported the following:
This is page 69 of The Game of Love and Death, a novel about two young jazz musicians in Seattle who fall in love without knowing they’re pawns being played in a deadly game by Love and Death themselves.

Henry is the male protagonist. An orphan, he lives with his wealthy friend Ethan. Here, Henry is with Will, one of the residents of Hooverville. Henry is there to report a news story for the local paper, and he’s just discovered an illegal still on the premises.
Will returned and registered Henry’s stricken look. “A dozen gallons a day pays for a lot of bread and meat. Those soup kitchens? Dinner only and not much of it. Without this, these men would starve.” He paused. “It’d be better if they drank less and sold more. But I’d challenge any man to live here and not want to take the edge off a bit. What we want is a chance, not charity. So you’ll keep that part out of your story, right?”

Henry considered this, and thought about all the alcohol that was consumed at the Domino, and even the glasses of wine and tumblers of Scotch at Ethan’s house. What made this so very different, aside from the matter of taxes?

Before he’d worked out his opinion, Ethan and James returned.

“I’m glad to see you’ve shown our guest the church,” James said. “We do like a spiritual moment now and again in Hooverville.” He turned to Ethan, extending his hand. “I’ll see you again next week?”

Henry expected Ethan to decline. They had all the information they needed, and Ethan was never the sort to come to a place like this when he didn’t have to. But Ethan tucked his notebook into his shirt pocket and said, “Next week. See you then.” His voice was nonchalant, and Henry knew him well enough to know that meant he was anything but.

Inside the car, Ethan shut Henry down before he had a chance to say what he’d seen. “We’re not writing about the booze. James told me all about that. I’m interested in something different. It’s hard to explain. And do me a favor,” he said, casting Henry a side-long glance. “Don’t tell my father.”

Henry glanced at Ethan, curious about the look in his eyes. It wasn’t one he’d seen before. But he didn’t question it, he felt so relieved.

“I won’t say a word.”
This was a bit of a tricky scene to write. Seattle’s Hooverville was the largest homeless encampment of its kind in the nation, so there were those details to attend to. And I was also introducing a key character here (which I won’t reveal, lest I spoil things). But it was an important one. Henry, whose father’s death left him an orphan, is one bad decision away from living someplace like Hooverville. If he toes the line that’s been drawn for him, his future is assured. So it was important to show the thing he fears without making everything seem melodramatic.

To research this scene, I looked at photographs and read a variety of things, including a graduate student’s master’s thesis on the encampment. The language in it was, in a word, swell. I like to imagine that student would be very pleased to see his work live on in a novel nearly a century later.
Visit Martha Brockenbrough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue