Trudi Trueit dreamed of being a writer ever since writing, directing, and starring in her first play in the fourth grade. Since then, she’s worked as a newspaper journalist, TV news reporter and weather forecaster, public relations specialist, and now, children’s author. Trudi has published 80 fiction and nonfiction books for kids, from pre-k through middle school. Trudi’s fiction work includes the Julep O’Toole series (Penguin) and the Secrets of a Lab series (Simon & Schuster) – both for middle grade readers. Look for her new tween novel, Stealing Popular (Simon & Schuster) in the fall of 2012. Her nonfiction books cover everything from Storm Chasing to Video Gaming. Her new nonfiction hands-on project series for kids, Backyard Safari (Marshall Cavendish), debuted in 2011, with Caterpillars and Butterflies, Birds, Squirrels, Spiders, Frogs and Toads. A second series will be released in the fall of 2012. Trudi was born and raised in Seattle, WA, and still lives there with her college sweetheart, Bill. She has never met a cupcake she didn’t like. Read more about the author here.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
I have always been a writer, in one form or another. As a kid, I was making up stories before I had the skills to write them down. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Zielinski, saw my creative fire and fanned the flames. Back then, I envisioned myself as a playwright (I had the appropriate long, red scarf and sunglasses). Mrs. Z. allowed my friends and me to stay in from recess to rehearse the plays I wrote. She also let us perform the plays for the class and sometimes, for the whole school. Looking out into the audience and seeing kids captivated by something I had written was pure exhilaration. I knew then that I had to be writer. Of course, I had to make a living at it, so I steered toward a career in journalism, majoring in broadcasting in college. After graduation, I became a TV news reporter and weather forecaster (telling other people’s stories). I enjoyed that aspect of it, but I had always thought about writing fiction (telling my own stories), and in my spare time began writing and submitting my work to editors and agents. It was a looooong road. For six years, I kept getting rejection after rejection. Finally, I thought, ‘I will just write what I know.’ And what I knew was weather. I wrote a weather book for kids and sent my manuscript to Grolier, who was, at the time, being purchased by Scholastic. Scholastic gave me a four-book contract to write a series of weather book, and after that, just kept feeding me work. I wrote about weather, earth science, health, holidays, nature—you name it. Within a year of getting my first nonfiction contract, an editor at Penguin that had long rejected my work, finally, said, “yes!” She offered me a contract for my middle grade series, Julep O’Toole. And since I didn’t want to choose between fiction and nonfiction, I decided to write both (80 books published, so far!). So I guess you could say my imagination led me to write fiction and my life led me to write nonfiction.
Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out for the best?
Constantly! Almost every bad thing that’s happened has opened the door to something good. Here’s just one example. After I finished writing Julep O’Toole, I wanted to do another series—this time, one for boys. I wrote the first book in the Secrets of a Lab Rat series, and turned it into Penguin (I had been assigned a new editor when my editor for Julep had left her job to be a full-time mom). But this new editor was less than enthused. She passed on the series. It hit me hard. I thought, “What if I’m a one-hit wonder? What if no one likes anything else I do?” My agent said, “There are a lot of fish in the sea. Before you pack it in, let’s try somewhere else. Give me a little time.” I thought she meant a few months! Within two weeks she had sold the series to Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin books. I have written three books for the Lab Rat series and have a middle grade novel for girls coming out this fall for Aladdin’s MIX imprint called Stealing Popular (Sept, 2012). I adore my editors, Liesa Abrams and Alison Heller. The entire team at Simon and Schuster has been an absolute delight to work with. But if I hadn’t been turned down by Penguin, it would never have happened. Truly, I think the only ‘bad’ thing that can happen to a writer is if you give up. As long as you are writing, submitting, and absorbing constructive feedback then everything you go through, even the ugly stuff, is a learning experience. And that can’t be bad.
Growing up, what mischief did you get into?
Not much I’m afraid! I was the shy-awkward-straight-A-always-did-her-homework kid with her head in a book. Wouldn’t you know it?
What do you miss most about being a kid?
Spending time with my Mom and Dad! One Saturday a month, we would jump in the car and just drive. On the road, we would randomly choose an exit that looked interesting. I never knew where we’d end up – hiking at Mount Rainier or dipping our toes into the Pacific Ocean. I loved the adventure of exploring the world without a destination. And honestly? It didn’t matter where we found ourselves at the end of the day, because the joy was in the journey. It’s been a good life lesson! (see my answer to the last question!)
If you could stay a certain age forever, what would it be?
Ten! I loved being ten and it’s probably why I enjoy writing for middle graders. Ten is the age where you are imagining all the things you can be when you grow up. At ten, the world is full of wonder, hope, and possibilities. Nothing is beyond your imagination or off limits. Plus, it’s the first time you are in double digits, which is pretty cool.
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
When I think of a classic, I think of a book that stands the test of time and that is a beloved favorite you love to return to again and again. So a classic, definitely. However, I need to make a living and I love writing so the thought of producing just one book is rather sad. The other day I heard that a boy stayed in from recess because he was deep into reading one of my books. That touched my heart. That’s all I want – whether classic or mainstream, I want my work to be read and enjoyed so much that recess doesn’t matter.
If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
I have promised my cats if we hit the big-time they get the fancy, gi-normous, expensive cat tree that really looks like a tree.
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
Me. Naturally, there is something of myself in everything I write, but it’s usually just a piece here and a piece there woven into the tapestry of the story. Fitting the whole mosaic together to reflect nothing but me would be a daunting, yet intriguing, task.
Do you begin with character or plot?
Typically, I start with the seed of an idea and the characters blossom to fit the story I want to tell. Yet, there have been times when I have been working on a project and a character will step forward, tap me on the shoulder, and say, “I’m here. I need you to listen to me.” And so I, literally, interview that character. I will ask about their dreams, hopes, problems, fears, etc. and get it on paper so that, later, I can craft a story to fit them. Regardless of how I begin, I am a huge believer in letting my characters drive the story. Authenticity is my watch-word. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let the character be who he/she was meant to be, especially when it doesn’t fit into your pretty plot outline. But if you force a character to do something that goes against their nature, their very soul, your book will suffer for it. It won’t ring true. You’ll know it isn’t right. Worse, your readers will know it isn’t right.
What is your favorite quote? And why?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s a great reminder that the fundamental choice to determine who we are and what will be lies within ourselves. It is the lesson that every great protagonist must learn.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Many new writers ask, ‘How can I get published?” I understand the motivation; because that’s the goal they are climbing toward. But I have been to that summit and the real question they should be asking is, “How can I best express myself?” So my advice would be to tell the story your heart longs—aches—to tell. If you are true to yourself, your uniqueness will shine, and publication will come.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
I would make my office into a solarium. I would love to write in the sun surrounded by orchids and butterflies. Could we fit in a spa tub, too?
If you were an animal, who would you be? And why?
A giraffe. They are such regal, beautiful, and serene animals. Plus, I wouldn’t have to kill another animal and eat it.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Learn how to plot, because it is a craft. Listen to your characters. Listen to yourself. Don’t take a bad review too seriously. Don’t take a good review to seriously. And try to avoid people who want to give you writing advice.
What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?
The quilt that my grandmother made for my mom and dad’s wedding. Every stitch is filled with love, and it’s a treasure that links me to the circle of strong, loving, creative women in my family.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
After. Without a doubt, after. I put so much pressure on myself to write the ‘great American novel’ before I was published. I listened to too many people tell me what I should be writing, instead of searching within to find out what I wanted to write. Once I realized, all I had to do was pay attention to expressing what I was passionate about, I could relax and write.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
Occasionally, in exchange for chocolate (peanut-butter filled Dove bites, if you must know), I will let my guard down and allow a trusted friend into the super-secret inner sanctum of my writing lair deep beneath the streets ofSeattle. But usually not. A work-in-progress is a delicate thing, and I keep it close to my heart for as long as I can. If I let someone read it, then they are going to share their opinion of what I should add, revise, reconsider, or cut. There is a time for constructive criticism, but for me, it isn’t while the ideas are still swirling inside my head and working their way onto the page. That’s the time when I am coming up with all the options for the story, twisting and pulling characters and plot like taffy. If I let someone read my work, it’s too easy for me to be swayed, to have doubts, to second guess my decisions, and worse, to slow down creatively. Plus, there is something pure about those early drafts where you are writing merely for the love of creating, where you are writing for no one yourself. It is magic!
Enter to win a signed book below!
Tired of the social injustices of middle school, twelve-year-old Coco Sherwood is on mission to take from the have-it-alls’ and give to the wanna-be’s. But to succeed, this modern day Robin Hood will have to go head-to-tiara with the most popular girl in school! Find out if Coco’s grand dream turns into her worst nightmare in Trudi’s new tween novel, Stealing Popular (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin MIX).
To celebrate the release of the book, we’re giving away a signed copy of Stealing Popular. To enter, leave a comment below. One random winner will be selected on September 7 at 10:00 PM. *For mailing purposes, you must be from the U.S. or Canada.