Interview with Judith Somborac, author of Tug-of-War


Title: Tug-Of-War
Author: Judith Somborac
Publisher: iUniverse
Pages: 148
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle/Paperback

 In 1942, in the midst of World War II, three factions struggle for power and control over Serbia: the Royalists, the Partisans, and the Nazis. For those living there, life was put on hold indefinitely while they coped daily with the terrorization of war—an especially disheartening situation for the country’s young people. Fifteen-year-old Miriana, an only child, lives in a small, two-bedroom house in Bela Palanka, Serbia, with her parents, who farm and run a saw and gristmill. Their tiny home now accommodates her mother’s sister and nephew, who have been forced to evacuate from German-occupied Belgrade. Miriana’s aunt is frequently called upon by the Germans to translate for them—a task made more stressful by the fact that the family is also hiding a Partisan soldier in the cellar of the house. Being caught means certain death. Meanwhile, Miriana’s best friend, Stefan, supports his widowed mother and aging grandparents on a nearby farm; he resents having to abandon his aspirations for an education and his passion for the violin to run the farm. Their existence is fraught with the angst of evening curfews, blackout curtains at night, unforeseen air raids, and conflict with the Nazis, but family, friends, and small pleasures propel them through a war that threatens their happiness and their lives on a daily basis.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

“Tug-o-War” is historical fiction intended for a Young Adult (YA) market (ages 13 -18).  The genre reflects my personal interest in reading. I like a book that engages me with the characters and events but educates me at the same time.  Although much has been written on WW II in various European countries especially, little has been written on Serbia during this world war.  People are generally aware of Hitler’s campaign against the Jews of Europe, but fewer people are aware of his hatred for the Slavs and the gypsies. In Serbia, the atrocities of war were magnified by the presence of three factions struggling for power and control over Serbia: the Royalists, the Partisans, and the Nazis. For those living there, life was put on hold indefinitely while they coped daily with the terrorization of war—an especially disheartening situation for the country’s young people.
Because the book targets primarily a YA readership, the story is told from the point of view of the main character, herself, a teenager.  (Personally, as an adult, I enjoy many books that are designated YA.) Tug-of-War is my first novel. The materials for the book, the real life scenarios, come from the stories of my extended Serbian family (through marriage).

In “Tug-of-War,” fifteen-year-old Miriana, an only child, lives in a small, two-bedroom house in Bela Palanka, Serbia, with her parents, who farm and run a saw and gristmill. Their tiny home now accommodates her mother’s sister and nephew, who have been forced to evacuate from German-occupied Belgrade. Miriana’s aunt is frequently called upon by the Germans to translate for them—a task made more stressful by the fact that the family is also hiding a Partisan soldier in the cellar of the house. Being caught means certain death. Meanwhile, Miriana’s best friend, Stefan, supports his widowed mother and aging grandparents on a nearby farm; he resents having to abandon his aspirations for an education and his passion for the violin to run the farm.
Their existence is fraught with the angst of evening curfews, blackout curtains at night, unforeseen air raids, and conflict with the Nazis, but family, friends, and small pleasures propel them through a war that threatens their happiness and their lives on a daily basis.


What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?

I wrote the first copy of the book,  “Tug-of-War” in the 1980’s when I still had little children at home; I would get up early in the morning to write while the children were still in bed.  In the eighties, computer technology was in its infancy: I used a modem to connect to the computer in the office because there was no computer at home.  The response time between typing the words and their appearance on the screen was sometimes as long as twenty seconds making writing a slow, laborious process.  Still, it was an improvement over handwriting the entire script and typing on an electric typewriter.  When I finished the novel, I made a printed copy to send to publishers, and that was fortunate because that one, hard copy was the only record of the novel that survived a move to two different homes and endured several life changes.  Everything that was saved to floppy disk became outmoded and eventually, lost.

The printed manuscript sat in a file drawer until a few years ago when I got the courage to revive it.  I retyped the entire novel into a modern laptop computer and bought a state-of-the-art back-up device.

What a refreshing change from the first time I used a computer!



Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes. I was already 5,000 words into a new YA historical fiction when a opportunity to do another book came my way. I am now actively working on research and an outline for a biography and have decided to finish that work before continuing with the YA novel. The biography talks about the influences of childhood abuse on a person in adulthood. The YA novel takes place in Manitoba in the thirties and again in the sixties. I’m at least a year away from completing either one of these books.


When and why did you begin writing?

Since high school I have received positive feedback and encouragement to write. It gives me pleasure to work with words. I no longer remember where I first heard this adage, “Do not write unless you have ink in your blood,” but I believe it describes me. I have always enjoyed working with words: I like the sounds of words that I compose in my head, the visual picture of the letters on the page, and the permutations and combinations of words to create. I especially love description, dialogue and character development. I’m a grammar Nazi and I’m addicted to word games.




What is your greatest strength as an author?

From the positive feedback, I would say characterizations would be my forté. Some readers have begged me for a sequel so that they can follow the characters into the next phase of their lives. Part and parcel of the characterization is the dialogue in the book. Readers have said how realistic it is. I think dialogue and characterization are married and they are my strengths. (No sequel is planned at this time.)


Did writing this book teach you anything?

The most obvious outcome was more knowledge of WW II in Serbia and Serbian customs and social mores.  I had to do meticulous research to make sure the material was historically correct, even as far as getting the precise day of the week on a particular date of a specific year. In spite of dialoguing with the people who lived the story, there was research to be done.

From a more general perspective of writing, I learned the value of, in order of importance, editing, editing, editing. A teacher asked me if I could tell his students how many times I had edited the book. The answer was NO! I lost track of the number of times I read through the material. I had the book professionally edited, and still little things fell through the cracks.


Judith Somborac is an occasional teacher and a ski instructor who works in both capacities with children and teenagers. Judith has a BA in English and French from the University of Guelph. She currently lives in Collingwood, Ontario.
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