Trudy Lewis, professor and director of creative writing, will release her second novel this fall.
The novel, “The Empire Rolls,” takes place in Boonslick, Missouri, and centers around a woman who works as both a park ranger and an emcee at a roller derby. However, the novel also features an underlying political plot that connects to present-day issues.
“A lot of the roller derby players have names that sort of relate back to that and mimic the war in Iraq,” Lewis said. “So in a way, it’s a story about what happens when the aggression and violence and greed of the war come home to roost in very midwestern places.”
Lewis has been writing since she was 18 years old. She said that one of the more difficult parts of the writing process is not knowing how her readers will react to the novel.
“A lot of people called it a love story and I was thinking, ‘Well, that’s sort of right,’” she said. “But then I was thinking about whether someone would see it as a political story, and then I got a blurb that talked about it in those terms and I was pretty happy that someone had noticed that. When you write something, you don’t really know what people will see it as in the end.”
The novel also features local nature, and Lewis said part of her inspiration for the novel came from the Missouri landscape.
“One of the things I was really concerned about was writing about the midwest because so many times, living here, it’s difficult to hear people make jokes about the midwest over and over again about how horrible it is to live here,” Lewis said. “That bothers me deeply and so part of it is just wanting people to see what’s here.”
Mike Czyzniejewski, assistant professor of English at Missouri State University, is the editor of “The Empire Rolls.” He said he chose to work with Lewis when her novel was selected as a finalist in an annual novel competition in 2013. The competition, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, gives authors the opportunity to submit their works to be judged by other writers.
Czyzniejewski, who was a judge for the competition, said nearly 500 entries were submitted to the contest.
“I loved her book a lot and I wrote a really gleaming recommendation trying to get that book chosen,” he said.
The novel is being published through Moon City Press, which is based out of Missouri State University. The press has a mission of publishing stories from the Ozarks.
Czyzniejewski said he had recently began working with Moon City Press when he discovered Lewis’s novel. He said since the press was looking to expand, he asked Lewis to publish “The Empire Rolls” as the first novel in the Missouri Authors Series, which will publish books from authors throughout the state.
“Trudy’s book was perfect for that,” he said. “It takes place in different parts of Missouri and the roller derby team in the book plays against the Springfield roller derby team. The series was kind of created around her.”
Phong Nguyen, a professor at the University of Central Missouri, worked with Lewis in a group they called the Mid-MO Writers Group.
The group, put together by Lewis and a few of her friends, met once a month to read and edit each other’s stories.
“It was mostly to both stay in communication with other writers who we like or learn from as well as to be reminded (us) of the importance of deadlines, which if you’re meeting once a month, you have to always be producing,” he said.
Debra Brenegan, associate professor and chairwoman of English at Westminster College in Fulton, was also a part of the Mid-MO Writers Group. She described Lewis as a beautiful writer.
“The sentences she writes are so gloriously crafted, they literally take my breath away,” Brenegan said.
Brenegan said Lewis’ use of imagery and diction, along with her rich characters and intriguing plot, will draw readers in again and again with the “top shelf” novel.
“I, for one, am proud to know such a talented artist and am happy that I get to call her a friend,” Brenegan said.
Lewis said she did extensive research to ensure the world created in “The Empire Rolls” will show through. While writing the novel, Lewis said she wanted to represent the Midwest’s role in political affairs.
“People seem to think that nothing happens here in the middle of the country, but actually a lot happens,” she said. “Things that are happening on the national or international scene impact us deeply, and that was the other thing I wanted to write about.”
A book launch for “The Empire Rolls” will be hosted at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 6 in the Alumni Lounge of Memorial Union.