S.M. Stevens – Crafting Fiction from Life’s Challenges

S.M. Stevens discusses her transition from business writing to fiction, inspired by personal health crises, and her commitment to addressing societal issues through strong female protagonists and thought-provoking themes.

S.M. Stevens’ journey to becoming a fiction writer is as compelling as the stories she crafts. A seasoned business writer, Stevens found herself thrust into the world of fiction through a series of personal health crises. After a severe horseback riding accident left her immobilized, she channeled her energy into writing Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for her daughter. Almost a year later, during her battle with ovarian cancer, she penned Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers, inspired by her older daughter’s love for musical theatre.

Stevens’ debut adult novel, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, was born from the #metoo movement, exploring the parallels between workplace sexual harassment and childhood incest. Her upcoming novel, Beautiful and Terrible Things, set for release in summer 2024, delves into themes of friendship, mental illness, and social justice, reflecting her commitment to addressing complex societal issues through her writing.

With a rich background in corporate communications, Stevens has mastered the art of writing amidst interruptions, a skill that has undoubtedly contributed to her prolific output. Her novels often feature strong female protagonists navigating challenging circumstances, underscoring the importance of representation and authenticity in literature.

In this interview, S.M. Stevens shares insights into her creative process, the inspiration behind her stories, and the delicate balance of infusing entertainment with thought-provoking themes. Her work not only entertains but also encourages readers to empathize with real-life issues and consider their own roles in societal change.

Your novels often tackle complex societal issues such as workplace harassment and mental health struggles. What drives you to explore these topics, and how do you balance entertainment value with the exploration of serious subjects?

While I love a good escapist beach read on occasion, I’m more drawn to fiction that challenges me in some way. So that’s what I write. Complex themes provide ample room to explore and provoke thought. As for balancing entertainment, that’s easy: simply portray life as we know it, which is, hopefully, filled with humor, light and love as well as challenges and tragedy.

Your upcoming novel, Beautiful and Terrible Things, delves into themes of friendship, mental illness, and social justice in a contemporary American setting. What inspired this story, and what message do you hope readers will take away from it?

I wanted to depict contemporary society realistically, and that meant including multiple social ills rather than highlighting one. I am pleased when my younger readers confirm, Yep, that’s life in a big city today.

I hope readers, regardless of their views on each issue, put down the book with a greater empathy for the real people that exist behind the statistics. And I hope I inspire people to get more involved in the causes important to them, by showing the various paths, large and small, that my characters take toward greater activism.

Your extensive career in business includes executive positions at Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. How has your background in corporate communications informed your approach to writing fiction?

The greatest impact my communications career had on my fiction-writing career was teaching me how to write with constant interruptions. I learned to write in five-minute increments—literally, and to not lose focus, despite multiple interruptions from my staff and my boss. That carried over to interruptions from the family and the dogs when writing at home.

Your novel Horseshoes and Hand Grenades depicts both childhood sexual abuse and workplace sexual harassment. What drove you to merge those topics in one narrative?

I had a draft of a novel about a woman dealing with mild incest, sitting on my shelf. When the #metoo movement took off, I was fascinated at how society asks the same questions of harassment victims as it does of incest survivors; questions such as: Why did you wait so long to speak up? What’s your ulterior motive in speaking up now? Was it really that bad? The novel attempts to answer those questions (which, when you think about it, are never posed to victims of other crimes).

Your novels often feature strong female protagonists navigating challenging circumstances. Can you speak to the importance of representation in literature, and how do you ensure authenticity and depth in portraying diverse characters and their experiences?

Representation, and cultural appropriation, are very important topics. All any author can do in an effort to be authentic is to research, research, research—not only reading but talking to people, and then draw on our understanding of human nature to craft three-dimensional, believable characters. Having a multitude of sensitivity readers, as I did, is also critical. I drew on the experiences and insights of others in the areas of mental health, race, gender, sexuality and immigration to inform Beautiful and Terrible Things. I even found a Filipino artist to offer feedback on one character!

The Bit Players series was inspired by your daughter’s love for musical theatre. How did your personal experiences as a parent influence the creation of these stories, and what challenges did you face in writing for a younger audience?

I participated in high school and college drama, and then volunteered at my daughters’ school theatre program. Those experiences are reflected in the Bit Players series. The biggest challenge was to not embarrass my teenaged daughter; it was for her I came up with my pen name, so her friends wouldn’t find out that her mother wrote about teens behaving badly. (She is now a mature and astute writer herself, and no longer ashamed of our connection.)


Beautiful and Terrible Things is a masterful blend of friendship, self-discovery, and social justice, offering profound insights and heartfelt storytelling.

S.M. Stevens’ Beautiful and Terrible Things is a poignant exploration of friendship, self-discovery, and the harsh realities of contemporary American life. The novel centers on Charley Byrne, a 29-year-old who has retreated into a life of isolation, managing a bookstore and hiding from a seven-year curse. Her world begins to expand when she meets Xander Wallace, a quirky activist who introduces her to a diverse group of friends.

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