Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Detroit Breakdown"

D. E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson's books include The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown. He lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Detroit Breakdown, and reported the following:
From page 69:
We walked down a corridor with a concrete floor, a red brick wall on one side, plaster on the other. A guard sat next to the metal door at the end. As we approached, he pushed himself to his feet and unlocked the door. The policeman handed me over to him and simply said, “Nut.”

The guard eyed me. I looked back at him with no expression. I knew what these men were capable of. I’d had one beating today and had no intention of provoking another. He pushed me through the door and down the hall to a holding cell about twenty feet square. Behind the iron bars were a dozen men. Other than one old man rolling around on the floor, hugging himself, all the prisoners sat quietly on the benches that lined the perimeter. The guard unlocked the door and shoved me in. I took a seat on an open piece of bench between a couple of men who looked pretty harmless. From farther down the corridor I heard men shouting, cursing mostly, back and forth between cells. Their voices echoed through the jail.

As the afternoon progressed, I spoke with two other prisoners, one accused of automobile theft, another of assault. They were both completely innocent, they said. I nodded and agreed that they must be. Hours later, the guards brought us supper, such as it was—bread, beans, and coffee. I’d gotten used to eating this slop but had never acquired a taste for it. I ate it nonetheless.

Another man was brought in after supper, but he was quiet. The man rolling on the floor began grunting but eventually fell asleep. Down the hall the other prisoners kept up their shouting for quite a while, but at some point, late at night, I fell asleep leaning against the cell bars.
As in my previous books, Will Anderson spends a great deal of time in trouble. Detroit Breakdown has a lot of action in it, but this section hits the result of some of that action. About half the book takes place at Wayne County’s infamous Eloise Hospital, the asylum, tubercular sanatorium, and county house for the area for nearly 150 years.

Elizabeth Hume’s cousin has been accused of murder behind the iron gates of Eloise, but she is sure he’s innocent. The administration blocks her attempts at seeing Robert, so she and Will decide to take the matter into their own hands. Will is pretending he is an indigent amnesiac, so he will be committed to Eloise where he can search for Robert, and while he’s at it, find out the killer. Elizabeth goes in as a volunteer to do the same.

This is the first book I’ve written with dual narration, as Will and Elizabeth take turns describing their experience. It was great fun and a great learning experience for me to write the story this way. (I learned I understand women even less than I thought I did – just ask my wife.) My female early readers were a huge help in shaping Elizabeth’s narration into a credible female voice.

My books lean toward the dark, but there’s also quite a bit of humor in Detroit Breakdown, as well as the inclusion of a mysterious killer known as the “Phantom,” in a nod to Gaston Leroux’s novel.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

Writers Read: D.E. Johnson.

--Marshal Zeringue