I have the pleasure of welcoming S.M. Stevens to Chat About Books today 🙂
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’d love to! I am the author of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, a #MeToo novel was released by TouchPoint Press on 27 September, 2019. It’s one of the first novels dealing with workplace sexual harassment, and I believe it is the first in which the heroines are in their 20s. To me, that was the obvious age, because that’s when most women are starting their careers and learning about office politics, hierarchies, and what to do and not to do to get ahead.
As for me, I think I’m quite typical. I love music, animals, yoga, walks in the woods, and spending time with my family.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
Like many writers, I draw from a combination of sources, including my own experiences, the experiences of my friends, things I read about, and some things I completely make up, drawing on my imagination.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
I do have a habit that not all my friends may appreciate! I often picture a character first as someone I know, to get a physical description set in my mind. And sometimes the character shares some traits with that person. But then the character morphs into a new person as I write, and by the end, they don’t even resemble the original “model” in my mind. They’ve become their own person.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
Ooh, that’s not always as easy as I would like. I try to come up with memorable names that fit the era and the character’s personality and ancestry.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
Write about situations that matter in an accessible, entertaining way that makes people think.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
- Kurt Vonnegut, the master of concision
- Toni Morrison, who sings with words
- My daughter, because although she’s young, she’s becoming a beautiful writer already. (She publishes a budget travel blog at gabbyboucher.com
- Louisa May Alcott, because I love Little Women and Little Men, but also because she is supposedly a very distant relative of mine. My mother’s surname before marrying was May, and the M in S.M. Stevens is for May.
- Joseph Heller, because Catch-22 is a masterpiece that delivers something new every time you read it.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Toni Morrison, and I would ask her if she hears music in her head when she writes, because the way she strings words together is melodic.
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yes! I always loved escaping into the attic of our old farmhouse to curl up in a wingchair, munch on an apple, and read.
When did you start to write?
I’ve been a business writer for ages, but I started to write fiction in earnest when I was bedridden for three months after breaking my pelvis in three places from a fall off my horse, Elphin Drumcarrick. That’s when I wrote Shannon’s Odyssey for my animal-loving daughter. Almost exactly a year later, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy. That’s when I started writing my Bit Players YA series for my other daughter, who is a big musical theatre fan. The TV show “Glee” and the “High School Musical” movies were huge then, but no one was writing books for lovers of musicals so I tried to fill that void.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
That’s a great question…can I get back to you? The thing is, I read books as a reader, not a writer, so I accept the author’s ending, even if I don’t like it. I’m more likely to stop reading a book in the middle because I don’t care about the characters than I am to think about my preferred outcome at the end.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Any of the great books on natural horsemanship, because writing them would mean I understood horses, and could communicate with them, in the manner required to be a natural horsemanship teacher. I think I was a horse, or if I’m stretching — a horse whisperer, in another life, but sadly in this one I am not a natural rider! (See broken pelvis reference above.)
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
Shy Child, Tortured Teen, Successful PR Pro, World’s Proudest Mother, Solar Advocate, and Aspiring Author. Is that too long? How about: Finding Joy in Life’s Simple Pleasures: How I Turned My Teenage Angst into a Zen-like Peace of Mind.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
Merlin the Wizard, and I think he could take me somewhere much more exciting than anywhere I could take him!
Tell us a random fact about yourself
I used to work at the zoo in Boston, which was in some ways a dream job because I’m a huge animal lover. Can I plug a friend’s book? My boss at the zoo, Mark Goldstein, recently published Lions, Tigers and Hamsters, a wonderful collection of true stories based on his years as a veterinarian, zoo director and animal welfare advocate.
What are you working on right now?
Sadly, I’m not writing at the moment, because my day job as a solar energy marketer and promoting Horseshoes and Hand Grenades isn’t leaving me the time to start my next book. But I have a bunch of ideas, and in the meantime I’m very happy with my current focus.
Tell us about your last release?
Bit Players, Bird Girls and Fake Break-Ups was the third installment in my Bit Players musical theatre series. It’s about a school drama club led by teen Sadie Perkins who is dismayed when the new director takes most of the students’ power away and does things her way. Seussical, the beloved Dr. Seuss-themed musical, is that year’s production. At the same time, it has a play within the play, so to speak–Sadie and her friends write and produce Whoosical, a satire of Seussical. Then there’s the fact that Sadie’s boyfriend Alex has to move in with her family for a while, which is incredibly awkward. And there’s more going on, but I’ll stop there.
Do you have a new release due?
Yes, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades comes out on 27 September.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
I don’t know! Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is my first traditionally published book! I self published my other four novels. But I know I’ll be updating the banner images on my website, blog and social media pages, because right now they all say “Coming Sept. 27”. J
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Just visit my website www.AuthorSMStevens.com and scroll to the bottom to subscribe to my blog, follow me on social media, and/or email me. Or click on these links to go right to my social media pages.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Thanks for having me, and I would love to hear from readers of my books. Online reviews are great, of course, but hearing directly from people with their honest opinions of my novels is priceless. And one more thing—despite the heavy themes, my early readers say Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is an uplifting and fun read!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions 🙂
After suffering harassment and abuse at the hands of others, two women fight to reclaim their careers, romances, and lives.
“Any sexual abuse, no matter the form or degree, impacts the victim. Stevens portrays this beautifully in this exploration of a young woman’s coming to terms with her past. And the parallel story of a woman grappling with workplace sexual harassment underscores the similarities in how society treats both types of victim.” –Laura Davis, co-author of The Courage to Heal
“…engages the reader in a series of situations that are honest, strongly and carefully drawn and painfully current. [Touches] on what is most difficult in the lives of survivors of abuse while spotlighting the kindness and support of those who sustain them.” –Susan Roney-O’Brien, author of Legacy of the Last World and Bone Circle
Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?
Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendos to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.
Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.
In this fast-paced story for the #metoo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them.
Extract from Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens
For Kerry Parsons, Chat About Books
“Astrid, I know you’ve been avoiding me,” Brad said, cornering me in his office and shutting the door, a few weeks after the thigh-stroking incident. His pinstriped suit jacket hung over the back of his desk chair, and his pale yellow tie was loosened.
“What? No, of course not—”
“Shhh, it’s okay. But I know you have been. You never step into my office anymore. You stand in the doorway to talk to me. And we haven’t been alone since then.”
Alone with the door shut, I thought. Working so closely on the same accounts, I couldn’t avoid him altogether, but I tried to make sure someone else was in earshot when I had to talk to him one-on-one. That way, he couldn’t make another pass, and I couldn’t be tempted.
“Look, I know this is confusing, me being your boss and all. So I’m going to cut to the chase.”
I leaned against his closed door, my fight-or-flight instinct primed and ready to launch.
“I know you’re attracted to me. And I am definitely attracted to you. We’re two grown, intelligent people, who are allowed to enjoy each other—even if we’re co-workers.”
An involuntary image of me and Brad happily dating flitted across my mind, but I remained silent.
“So I have a proposition for you. You and I could have a thing.” His eyebrows flicked up and down. “It doesn’t need to be official, but we could be very good together, if you know what I mean.”
“But,” I said, confused, “you have a girlfriend. Are you saying you’re breaking up with her?”
“Oh no, I can’t do that. We’ve been together five years. You and me would be a separate thing.”
“So wait.” I squinted. “You want me to be something on the side? A little affair while you stay with your girlfriend?”
“That’s right. We could have a lot of fun.”
My brain’s processing ability short-circuited.
“Think about it and let me know,” he said, shooting me a smile and turning to shuffle some papers on his desk.
I started to leave but turned back to face him. I took a step forward. “I don’t have to think about it. I have more pride than to be someone’s little piece of action on the side. I’m offended that you even asked me. Is that all you think of me?”
He stopped shuffling. “Astrid, I have nothing but respect for you,” he said, humoring me. He straightened up to his full six feet. “But remember—I always get what I want, one way or another. It’s one of my more endearing qualities.”
Dumbfounded, I stumbled to the ladies’ room to breathe. I wished I had a girlfriend to talk to. I couldn’t talk to my mother. She’d think I’d failed somehow, letting it get to this. I definitely could not talk to Francois. He’d probably make fun of me. We hadn’t discussed Brad since the night we argued, but I knew he didn’t understand the tightrope I was balancing on.
I clutched the bathroom countertop and leaned forward, barely seeing my reflection over the row of sinks. We were heading into a four-day weekend for Christmas, and then I was taking a week of vacation at home in Maine. Maybe by the time I got back, Brad would have forgotten his offer, and life would be back to normal.
happy reading 🙂