Inside Roller Derby Rivals: A Conversation with the Author

September 12,2014

Note: Holiday House ran this author Q&A in their September 2014 digital newsletter.

Q: Sue, please tell us about your new book, ROLLER DERBY RIVALS.

A: ROLLER DERBY RIVALS is the true story of the rivalry between two female skaters, Midge "Toughie" Brasuhn and Gerry Murray, during the 17 days in 1948 when Roller Derby took New York City by storm and helped launch the television era.

Q: What was your inspiration behind the book? 
A: I’ve always been fascinated by Roller Derby because it was one of the earliest contact sports where women were allowed, actually encouraged, to be aggressive. I decided to focus on 1948 because it was a pivotal time for the Derby; the bouts in New York City were the beginning of the sport’s heyday. Added to that, the symbiotic relationship between the Derby and the nascent television industry was really interesting to me. It’s an interesting story about life in the U.S. during the postwar era.

Q: What makes this book special to you? What message do you feel it brings to young readers? 
A: I love the two main characters and the rivalry between them. I love the time period, which was just a few years before I was born. I hope the book will show kids that women can be worthy sports heroes and help them understand the impact that this extreme sport had on American culture and the popularity of TV.

Q: What inspired you to write? When did you know you would become an author? 
A: My mom used to edit the newsletter for her women’s group (Hadassah), and I loved the smell of the newly printed issues. It also impressed me that her written words could be turned into a printed document (obviously this was before computers). When I was in fourth grade, I remember writing a short story about a bird that hung out at an apartment window in NYC, and my teacher loved it. It made me feel very powerful to be able to create something that had an impact.

I guess that was a feeling I wanted more of. But I went to college planning to be a lawyer. When I realized that legal reasoning turned on semantics, rather than actual reason, I gave up on that and fell back on reporting/journalism/writing.

Q: What book from childhood changed your life? Adulthood? 
A: Childhood: Harriet the Spy because it inspired me to be a journalist, to observe people around me and write things down. Harriet was a wonderful role model for a girl growing up in the 1960s.

Adulthood: Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. This sprawling tale of different people during World War II gave me a great foundation to write my history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

Q: If you played professional women’s Roller Derby, what would your derby name be? 
A: This is hard to choose. How about my favorite typeface from my junior high newspaper, Bodoni Bold.

Q: If you could go back in time and be a part of any professional women’s sport team, which would it be and why? 
A: I would be an infielder for the Racine Belles of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: The league was the subject of my first book, A Whole New Ball Game (1993), and I’ve become friends with many of the players. I was especially close to players from the Belles, including Joanne Winter, Betty Trezza, Sophie Kurys, and Maddy English, and I’d love to be able to hang out with them in their prime. Also, Racine was one of the best teams in the All-American and their 14-inning, 1-0 win against the Rockford Peaches in the 1946 championships was considered one of the best games ever played in the league.

Fast Facts with Sue: 
Favorite children’s book character: Harriet the Spy 
If you could live in any book, what would it be? Time and Again by Jack Finney. I am fascinated by the idea of time travel and would love to visit the Dakota in NY and be transported back to the 1870s. 
Favorite food: Aunt Sally’s Praline Pecans 
Favorite movie: Sister Act! Strange for a Jewish girl, right? But I watch all or part of it every time it’s on TV. The same with Pretty Woman, but Sister Act is more fun! 
Favorite musical artist: I’m really a musical theater lover, so women who can really sing: Barbra Streisand, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, Lea Michele. Pop-wise, I like Pink, Fun., the Dixie Chicks, and old school, Carole King. 
Favorite vacation spot: Vermont