S.M. Stevens, author of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Why I Wrote a “#MeToo Novel”
Almost every time I am interviewed about my new novel Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, the interviewer asks why I wanted to write about sexual abuse and workplace harassment. Some ask with a tone that suggests I must like gory movies and watching train wrecks too. (For the record, I do not.) Others ask with a knowing nod, sure that the answer will be the #MeToo movement.
While the second is close to the mark, the truth is a bit more complicated. Here are the two reasons I wrote Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.
Reason #1: Educating the Skeptics
I freely admit that #MeToo was the catalyst for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, in particular, the Harvey Weinstein coverage. Watching and reading news coverage of the movie mogul’s aggressive and arrogant behavior with women, I was appalled and fascinated as people—reporters, the accused, bystanders—ask questions that they rarely, if ever, ask victims of other types of crime.
We all know the questions by now: Was it partly your fault? Was it really that bad? Why did you wait so long to speak up? And why are you speaking up now—do you have an ulterior motive?
That last pair of questions is intensely frustrating. First, victims are criticized for not speaking up when it happened, and then they’re criticized for speaking up when they finally do. It’s no wonder so many choose to remain silent, harboring the pain within the confines of their own skin.
Can you imagine someone questioning why a robbery victim spoke up about the crime? Can you imagine someone suggesting a victim of attempted murder may have been partly to blame for someone else wanting to take their life? No and no. Society has a clear intolerance for other crimes, but that same intolerance has not yet been cultivated for sexual abuse and harassment crimes.
I decided it was time to take non-victims into the minds of victims. Maybe I could help those people understand the answers to those questions—especially why some women speak up, and some don’t. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. My hope is that a story will be worth a thousand interviews, news stories and statistics.
Reason #2: Encouraging the Victims
Does the world need another book about sexual abuse and incest? Some might argue that hundreds of books already tell the tortured tales of individuals damaged by sexual attacks of one form or another.
What the world does not have is an in-depth look at the impact of “lesser” forms of abuse. To me, this is a very important story to tell, because the vast majority of victims suffer sexual crimes that may not be as “extreme” as, for example, outright rape.
#MeToo-related studies are revealing the numbers: A survey by Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women (and 43% of men!) have experienced some form of sexual harassment. It’s just common sense that those experiences ran the gamut of severity.
All of these stories need to be told, from the least to most severe, so that society can begin to acknowledge that such behavior is real, it’s pervasive and it is wrong.
Of course, try getting a publisher to agree that a story about “lesser abuse” is worth printing. The publishing industry likes extreme stories—extreme alcoholism (The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson), extreme poverty (Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt) etc., because they think that’s what sells.
Yes, people like reading about characters worse off than them, and seeing how they rise above their circumstances—self-inflicted or otherwise—to live full lives in the end. But they also like reading about people like them.
A lot more women will relate to Shelby’s “mild” abuse in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades than to, for example, Lisbeth Salander’s horrific and violent violation in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My hat’s off to TouchPoint Press for recognizing that and taking a chance on my book.
(And, like real life, my heroines are much more than their abusive relationships. The book is filled with love, laughter, friendship, romance, challenges, failures and recoveries. In that way, it’s a coming-of-age story for my protagonists.)
So my main reason for writing Horseshoes and Hand Grenades—even more important than Reason #1 above—is to help victims acknowledge that their “lesser abuse” experiences matter, and that they deserve to heal. “Almost” counts in sexual harassment and abuse, not just in horseshoes and hand grenades. As one of the characters in the book says:
“There’s no such thing as a mild trauma. Once you cross that line into trauma, some damage is going to happen.”
#MeToo #TimesUp #HAHG #AlmostCounts
S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, in the U.S., and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K.
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/SMStevens17 (@SMStevens17)