Title: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Author: S. M. Stevens
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction
Tags: #HAHG #AlmostCounts
About the Book:
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.
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From Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades has two narrators. In Chapter 3, Astrid narrates for the first time. Astrid and Shelby—the other narrator–work at the same PR firm. The story is set in 1980s Boston in the U.S.
“I can’t believe it’s come to this,” I muttered as I prepared to wave the white flag and turn my back on all that is professional, dedicated, and chic. Making sure none of the bustling commuters in Boston’s Back Bay were watching, I ducked into the alley off Dartmouth Street. It had taken weeks to find the perfect out-of-the-way place.
I walked in shadows to the best set of granite steps, also identified in a previous scouting trip, and wrinkled my nose. Fresh bird poop stared up at me. I would bring a handkerchief to sit on next time. No, something disposable. A handkerchief with bird shit on it was definitely not going into my gorgeous faux snakeskin briefcase. I reached into said briefcase, pulled out a few sheets of paper, and arranged them on the step.
I eased myself down onto the paper and extracted my black Ferragamo shoes—with three-inch heels and the most perfect little gold buckles— from my bag. Setting them down, I leaned over and eased off my outdoor running shoe. The Band-Aid on my heel was bloody but still in place. Gingerly, I slid on the Ferragamo and turned my foot this way and that in appreciation.
After repeating the operation on the other foot, I stood up, uneven on the cobblestones. Peeking out of the alley’s end, I didn’t see any co-workers or clients, so I pushed on into the early morning sunshine. God, Francois would die if he knew I had worn “American shoes” with my houndstooth power suit. I bet no self-respecting Parisienne would be so weak as to wear sneakers, even if she never got a seat on the lurching subway.
Walking back past the Copley MBTA station, I turned down Boylston to walk the block to Campbell Lewis, strategizing my day. I’d been there two weeks but hadn’t even interacted with the partners yet. Maybe they’re not taking me seriously. Maybe it was the blonde thing. I should get some fake glasses to seem older and more serious.
Approaching my cubicle a few minutes later, I heard the new intern rummaging around in our cramped, shared cube, so I stopped in the kitchen to grab a coffee. No need rubbing elbows more than necessary.
“The staff meeting is starting,” Anne said, poking her head into the kitchen. “Let’s go, everyone.”
I took the three steps to my cube and stood in the doorway, juggling my coffee, briefcase, the embarrassing shoe bag, and my coat, which I’d tossed over my arm. What was taking Shelby so long? Didn’t she hear the staff-meeting announcement?
“Oh, hi,” Shelby said in an annoyingly submissive voice. “Time to go to the staff meeting, I guess.” She stood there as if waiting for me to move out of her way.
“Mm-hmm.” I squinted at her and looked pointedly at the side of the cube.
She blinked and stood there. God was she dense.
She jumped. “Oh, right, sorry. I’ll get out of your way.” She slid herself up against the cubicle wall. I almost laughed as she tucked in her chin and sucked in her stomach to let me pass. Brushing past her, I dropped everything but the coffee in my chair while she scurried out.
By the time I got to the conference room—thanks, Shelby—all the seats were taken, and even standing room was scarce. The partners, Terry Campbell and Jim Lewis, chatted in the corner of the room, exactly where the flip chart stood at last week’s pitch to a new client in a three-hour meeting I had eyed covetously every time I walked by on my way to the ladies’ room.
My boss, Brad, stood in between the agency’s highest-ranking female, Maggie Hirsch, and one of Brad’s other AEs, whose name I couldn’t remember. I scurried over and wedged myself in between Brad and the other woman. My houndstooth suit complemented his charcoal gray suit perfectly.
“Sorry, it’s a little tight today,” I whispered to Brad.
“I like it tight. We must be up to almost forty people now,” Brad said, scanning me from my recently touched up highlights to my heels, which he did every time he saw me, including at my job interview. I gave him my professional-with-a-tinge-of-sexy smile.
“Let’s get started,” Terry boomed, surprisingly loud for a man of relatively short stature. Maybe in his fifties, Terry seemed like the sort of guy you’d want for your uncle. His sly smile and the twinkle in his eye hinted he knew a few dirty jokes and wasn’t afraid to share them.
“First, we have a promotion to announce. This person has been a huge asset to Campbell Lewis since joining us two years ago as an account supervisor. He’s helped us double our events division and brought in clients like the New England Tennis Association and Barclay Concerts. You all know I’m talking about Brad. Let’s congratulate him on a well- deserved promotion to vice president.”
I looked up at Brad, who was about six feet tall, with sandy brown hair, and blue eyes reminiscent of a mountain pool. Looking right at me, he winked. The blood rushed to my head. He took a step forward and gave a few bows while thanking everyone like an entertainer from a stage.
“Next, I think you’ve all met her by now, but since the last staff meeting was cancelled, I want to officially introduce Astrid Ericsson, who is an account executive in our group,” Terry continued. “She joins us after making a name for herself at one of our main competitors. Good job, Brad, for stealing her away.”
I took a step forward and made a little curtsy, immediately regretting it as I saw a few women roll their eyes. Damn, I should have bowed. I gave the tiniest shrug, smiled confidently to undo the damage, and stepped back.
Jim whispered to Terry.
“And,” Terry said, “we have a new intern—” He looked at Jim who looked at Maggie.
“Shelby Stewart,” Maggie said.
“I give you Shelby Stewart, everyone,” Terry thundered, making the intern’s scared eyes pop out of her reddening face. God, where did she get that outfit and how many earrings was she wearing?
“Speech!” shouted Michael from across the room. The intern narrowed her eyes at him.
“Sure, let’s have the new people say a few words,” Jim encouraged.
Shelby looked like a perfect example of How Not to Impress Your Co- Workers. Slumping a bit, she inhaled deeply. “I’m really looking forward to learning a lot here. From all of you,” she said in a small voice.
Time to show her how it’s done, I thought when all eyes turned to me.
“I haven’t been here long, but already I can tell what a first-class operation Campbell Lewis is.” Terry and Jim nodded appreciatively in my direction. “I’m not speaking ill of the last agency I was at, but everything here is much more professional, from the people and the ethics to the office space. Although some of the cubes leave a bit to be desired.” I paused to glance at Shelby while a few people laughed.
“I’ve heard such amazing things about Terry and Jim being leaders in this industry. I can’t wait to learn from them—and from everyone here. So I thank the partners and Brad for this opportunity, and I look forward to becoming a valued member of the team.” Terry beamed, and Brad leaned into me slightly.
Anne rolled in a cart of pastries and juices while people broke up into small groups. Brad put his hand on my arm and gestured with his chin across the room at Terry, who was working his way over to me.
“Young lady, that was quite the speech. I never realized how spectacular I was,” Terry joked.
“Really?” I asked, not skipping a beat. “Well then it’s a good thing I’m here to tell you.” I smiled my best smile—the one my mother said was my secret weapon.
“Oh-ho, she can bullshit with the best of them, Brad. You picked a winner. And you,” he said, facing me, “have a great future in this business.”
1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?
I wrote my first novel while recovering from a broken pelvis, earned during a throw from my horse! I wrote the second a year later, while in treatment for ovarian cancer (which has been cured, happy to add). By then, I had the bug.
My new book, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, addresses #MeToo themes (workplace sexual harassment, incest) in a coming-of-age story. My reviewers have said it’s a “safe” place to explore these heavy themes, and I purposely address “less severe” abuse because there are so many victims who can relate to that. My goal is to validate their experiences.
Another goal is to answer the stupid questions people ask of sexual crime victims, which they never ask victims of other types of crime: Was it really so bad? Was it partly your fault? Why are you speaking up?
2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?
My favourite place is anywhere with a computer! And although not my chosen time to write, my brain seems to like waking me at 3 or 4 AM, racing with ideas. So my boyfriend often finds me wild-eyed in my bathrobe, pecking away at the keyboard in the wee hours.
3: Where do your ideas come from?
A bit from my own experiences, a tad from friends’ experiences, a pinch from things I read about in the news, and a dash from my own imagination. That’s my recipe.
4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?
I know what the theme is and what message I want to send from the outset. But I don’t always know the best way to get there. That develops along with the characters, and sometimes gets a nudge in another direction from an editor.
5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?
I refuse to be pinned down to one genre! 🙂
Contemporary adult fiction is my true love, but my first novel, Shannon’s Odyssey, was Middle Grade, for animal- and adventure-loving 8- to 11-year-olds.
Then I wrote a Young Adult series for music- and theatre-loving teens. That includes Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers; Bit Players, Bullies and Righteous Rebels; and Bit Players, Bird Girls and Fake Break-Ups. In each story, the drama club creates their own musical, writing the script and new lyrics to popular songs, while dealing with all the usual teen angst!
6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?
For Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, my dream cast is:
Shelby – Haley Lu Richardson
Astrid – Saoirse Ronan
Nick – Timotheé Chalamet
Dave – Ansel Elgort
7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
I read as much as I can, which means in phases! I read everything from old classics to new contemporary. Favourite authors would have to be Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller…all icons I aspire to write like some day!
8: What book/s are you reading at present?
I have just finished two very different books, which I highly recommend. Immaculate Conception by I.J. Miller is the thrilling story of two very damaged women who never give up hope that they can build a normal life. (Similar vibe to Horseshoes and Hand Grenades!) And in Lions, Tigers and Hamsters, Mark Goldstein tells wonderful tales from his days as a veterinarian, zoo director and animal welfare advocate.
9: What is your favourite book and why?
I have a few, but one is Wuthering Heights. The characters are repellent in many ways, yet I remain fascinated by them. I even root for them, as if the plot could evolve differently each time I read it. I’ll never be able to explain my fixation with the book. I figure it’s like a visual work of art. You don’t have to know why you love it. You just do.
10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?
If writing doesn’t come relatively easy to you, it might not be the best idea. There are so many aspects of writing fiction that contribute to a print-worthy novel: character arc, plotting, world development, even proof reading! It may be hard to focus on those successfully if you struggle getting words onto the page.
But all is not lost. If you really have an amazing story you want to tell but writing isn’t your forte, find a co-author!
11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?
I hope people will follow me on their social media platform of choice. There are many options!
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/S.M.-Stevens/e/B006E548JO
About the Author:
S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises: a shattered pelvis and ovarian cancer. When not writing fiction, she provides marketing to solar energy companies. She lives in the New England region of the U.S. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K. twice, where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid.
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3 responses to “Blog Tour and Author Interview: ‘Horseshoes and Hand Grenades’ by S. M. Stevens”
Sarah, thanks for much for publishing my excerpt and interview. I hope your readers enjoy them!
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