TU student Savanna DeWeese interviews Author Trudy Lewis
Why the roller derby? Have you ever participated in it?
I became interested in the Roller Derby when my friend Whiskey Shindig joined the CoMo Derby Dames. As it turned out, one of my colleagues in the MU English Department, StoneCold JaneAusten, had also joined. This was in 2007-2008, an era that saw a major revival of the sport, alongside a significant economic recession. I made a connection between the two developments and wrote about roller derby as a metaphor for the barely suppressed female rage of this era. I have never participated in roller derby myself, but I always loved to roller skate as a kid. My husband would say that my interest in roller derby is just another symptom of my seventies aesthetic.
What methods do you use for character development/depth?
In the case of The Empire Rolls, I visited and revisited these characters in different settings, at different points in their lives. I have a whole series of stories about Sally LaChance, Chaz Enright, and Jared Mayweather. So that gave some dimensionality to my experience of them. I will also admit to being inspired by living beings, though my characters are generally composites of real people, relevant dream figures and cultural archetypes.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
When I first began to publish, I was following the work some strong feminist writers—Louise Erdrich, Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, and Alice Munro—women who were breaking societal taboos even as they experimented with form. Lately, I’ve been writing science fiction and thinking of Octavia Butler, who revolutionized that genre to reflect the interests of women and people of color. My focus on the fiction of science has also led me to the work of Ruth Ozeki, who’s written about the meat industry, monoculture, and the Fukushima Earthquake and Lydia Millett, whose topics include extinction, the atomic bomb, and climate change.
How many drafts did this book go through?
I would say four drafts, although some of the work happened simultaneously. I’d be writing ahead, but then also going back and polishing chapters for my writing group. Then I produced a revision based on their suggestions. I did a final revision after my editor, Mike Czyzniejewski, went over the manuscript again. He thought I should add another roller derby scene and I agreed.
Since Jared is a filmmaker you talk a bit about the importance of art specifically in relation to visual arts, what are some of your favorite, most moving works of cinema?
Like Jared, I am a huge fan of Robert Altman, especially Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I love Altman’s focus on ensemble and improvisation, because these elements work against the celebration of what is polished, glossy, individualistic, and staged. My favorite contemporary is probably Richard Linklater, the iconic Austin director who made cult films such as Slackers, Waking Life, and Boyhood. His approach to film is very spiritual, and he has a keen sense of dialogue, with many of his characters indulging in long rambling passages of pressured speech. Linklater reveals something holy in the act of filmmaking. Right now, I’m excited about Julieta, the Pedro Almodovor movie based on three connected stories by Alice Munro.
A lot of authors recommend writing routines or rituals, do you have one and if so, what is it?
I have a very well established routine. Every weekday morning, I meditate and then write for a couple of hours. On weekends, I write in my journal and do school work. The great thing about a routine is that it saves you from anxiety. Once you’re there at the desk, something will happen. And as I tell my students, “If the muse wants to visit, she knows where to find me.”
Are you currently working on anything?
I’m finishing a draft of a science fiction novel about jellyfish. It began as a short story. But then it morphed into a book In this novel, Medusa’s Bell, the Bell Park Corporation has discovered a way to patent and sell a kind of immortality. They regenerate human subjects by reducing them to polyps, in the manner of jellyfish, then reanimating the resulting ephebes. I took the premise from Shin Kutoba’s work with the Turritopsis dohrnii, or immortal jellyfish, a species that can survive indefinitely by remaining in its polyp form during times of harsh environmental circumstances. My protagonist Miriam Hayes works for the Bell Park Lab, but is forced to resign when her brother, a gifted researcher and recent convert to Christianity, steals a number of “celebrity polyps” for mysterious experiments of his own.
Your book is very current in the way that it deals directly with societal issues and pressures people cope with on a daily basis. What do you want readers who relate to Sally’s character and struggles to get out of your book? In other words, if you had to say everything you generally want to say with your book in one sentence or so, what would it be?
The Empire Rolls is the story of Sally LaChance, a park ranger, aunt, daughter, divorcee, and roller derby announcer, who acts out of righteous anger to defend what is precious to her. But even righteous anger has its limitations. In this book, I ask myself how far a person, in particular a female person, should go in order to defend her territory. What are the consequences of acting on anger? What is the proper response to aggression? How can we defend ourselves without harming others and becoming as violent as those who trespass against us?
I understand you also taught creative writing for some time, what is your favorite part about teaching this subject?
In terms of teaching, I love to see things come to fruition, watching ideas, stories, and students develop over time. Working with PhD students, I have the opportunity to watch them come into their own, defining themselves as writers, publishing their work, and discovering their intellectual identities. And when I work with undergraduates, I get excited about seeing them cycle through different versions of a story. I also like the idea of teaching as a dialogue, the back and forth, call and response.