What are the challenges or perks of writing for a middle school audience?
In books for young adults, we’re really trying to tackle some soul-searching questions—what’s the difference between right and wrong in a given situation, for example. The hope is that we can help kids examine their own thoughts on various issues as they struggle with some of these grey areas growing up. That means as writers we revisit these questions for ourselves as we write, which I think makes me think more deeply about important topics regularly than I might otherwise do.
Was there a research component to your book?
Two of my kids did improv in high school, one of them for three years, and I attended every one of their demo and competition performances. So I knew something of the art and of the scoring and other basics of it before I starting writing Raising the Stakes. But there was so much more I needed to know! Probably the most interesting research I did resulted from me signing up for eight weeks of improv classes. Being a bit of a, well, a control freak, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how that would go. After all, in improv you get no time to prep and you can’t say, “No, wait. I have a better idea. I want to start again!” But I actually had so much fun! And I got such valuable insight into the crazy pace of improv, the flurry of energy, emotions and ideas zipping through you when you jump into a scene. It’s truly as invigorating as running a race.
Is there a story behind the creation of your story?
Because two of my kids were involved in improv, I saw the power this art form had to open them up as people. Being on a team and being wholly dependent on the other members allowed them to form bonds that were incredibly important during their high school years. And I saw improv turn them into confident people who had thoughts and ideas worth sharing and knew that they did, but also had the humility to let others share their ideas, too. A lot of people don’t know that all across Canada there are hundreds of volunteers providing this invaluable opportunity to kids high school age and younger. Watching all that camaraderie and creativity in action is so awe-inspiring I can’t properly express it. I decided it was important to share the good that I saw with young readers. Maybe improv is exactly what some of them are looking for.
What’s the least glamorous part about being a writer? And the most glamorous?
The least glamorous part is the endless research. Don’t get me wrong—I love doing research most of the time, but it takes a tremendous amount of internet digging, reading through newspaper microfilm, speed-reading secondary sources, or tracking down the perfect person to ask your questions. One tenth of the time you’re making fantastic discoveries that light a fire under your story, but the other 90% is hard, isolating work with a lot of dead-ends and unanswerable questions. BUT I’d still rather be doing it than most other things! The most glamorous thing I’ve ever been a part of as a writer was the Silver Birch readers awards in Ontario. There is something other worldly about sitting in a chair having hundreds of kids cheer for your book or your name. I remember my first year, I was blown away by the enthusiasm! That kind of event is a huge reward for working in isolation most of the time.
Is there an important issue or theme in your book that you are passionate about?
Well, like I said, I’m not exactly a laid-back kind of competitor. When I go, I go whole-hog. I always give 100 percent, and I have a history of being tough on myself when my efforts don’t measure up to my expectations. I’ve been involved in groups, both as a young person and as an adult, in which some participants are not as motivated as others—okay, not as motivated as I was! And I’ve seen it in other groups as well. So who has the wrong attitude and who has the right one? Or is there such a thing? Is perfectionism something to strive for or does it have a damaging side as well? That’s something I’ve really had to question in my own life. Yes, it’s important to do your best, but demanding nothing but the very best of yourself in every aspect of life can be crippling and it can suck the joy out of everything. So it’s something I thought was worth exploring in case others struggle with it as well.
Do you have any unique hobbies or pastimes?
I’m an amateur actor and singer who has been singing in choirs, quartets and musical theatre shows all my life. I also played a few instruments over the years. Since I love to make people laugh when I perform, I’ve played some lesser known instruments for variety show events, instruments such as the theremin, the musical saw, the Egyptian thumb piano, the Chinese hulusheng and the Hawaiian nose flute. (If anyone knows of another weird instrument I should learn, I’m open to suggestions!)
When you hit writer’s block, how do you push through it?
If I’m working away on one part of a project and I suddenly find I’ve lost momentum, my brain wants to stop, but I remind myself that I don’t have every hour of every day at my disposal. I work at another job three days each week and so my writing hours are precious time that I can’t afford to waste. But if that isn’t enough to jump-start me, I’ve learned that usually if I just switch to another task that needs doing (because there are always other things about the project that need doing, such as corresponding with your editor or researching that one fact you’re missing that you’ll need for the next chapter), then I can accomplish something even though I’m not actively writing and I’ll regain my momentum. And that makes it easier to return to the tricky task later on.
Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
A number of years ago I wrote nonfiction books. Then fiction “called” to me, but I discovered that I had a lot to learn and it wasn’t easy. And in the middle of learning, I got sick and couldn’t think well enough to write for a number of years. But I kept trying. And now I finally have a novel to show for it. Most success in life takes a whole lot of very hard work, but it is so worth it. Don’t short-change yourself. Work hard. And just keep trying.
Trudee Romanek is the award-winning author of a dozen nonfiction books for young readers. Raising the Stakes is her first novel. Trudee lives with her family in Barrie, Ontario. For more information, visit www.trudeeromanek.com.