Saturday, September 15, 2012

D.E. Johnson

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 and lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

His new novel is Detroit Breakdown.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading.  Johnson's reply:
I just finished rereading the first three books of William Kennedy’s Albany cycle: Legs, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, and Ironweed. Legs is the story of a portion of the gangster Legs Diamond’s life, Billy is about a smalltime hustler and his unlikely role as the go-between in a kidnapping, and Ironweed is a look at Depression-era homeless people and the prices we pay for what we do. These books follow the same Albany families during the 1920’s and 1930’s, culminating in the story of Francis Phelan.

Ironweed won a Pulitzer prize and is my favorite book of all time. I almost never reread books, but this was my fourth time through. The prose is beautiful, the story is wonderful, but most of all, the characters are real people with the strengths and weaknesses of real people, and I think everyone can see themselves in the characters, for good and for bad. Kennedy loves these people, and he makes us love them as well. The book is a triumph. I also really enjoy the first two, and they serve as a perfect setup for Ironweed.

While I read fiction by choice, most of the reading I’m doing these days is non-fiction for research. Since my books take place a hundred years ago, I can’t take anything for granted and have to double-check just about everything I write. Some of the recent reads that were great for me, but not books I would recommend for others are Compiled Ordinances of Detroit of 1912 (Did you know newsboys and bootblacks needed licenses? Or that the city speed limit had been raised from 10 to 15 miles per hour? Wow!) and History of Eloise, which contains a great deal of information about Eloise Hospital, the insane asylum in which much of my new book, Detroit Breakdown, takes place. Best of all, History of Eloise was written in 1912 and contains incredibly detailed information about the hospital as it was then. Both books are available as free Google e-books, if I’ve piqued the interest of anyone with strange taste in books.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

--Marshal Zeringue