Susan Petrone: How to Throw Like a Woman
The idea for my novel Throw Like a Woman kind of sprang fully formed into my head during a bike ride. I’m a cyclist—I love the feeling of autonomy and freedom you can only get on a bicycle. One weekend morning a few years back, I was out riding on Chagrin River Road in Gates Mills, Ohio. It’s a gorgeous stretch of road, and it’s one of my all-time favorite places to ride. I was going along, happy as a clam, not a car or another bicycle in sight. Then a car turned onto the road directly in front of me and cut me off. It was uncalled for and way too close for comfort. I was okay, just shaken up and really ticked off. I was filled with a wave of anger and adrenaline. I pedaled as fast as I could in a vain attempt to catch up with the driver of the car and give him a piece of my mind. Cars on that road routinely go 40 or 45 mph—needless to say, I didn’t catch up to it. However, I still had miles to go and plenty of time to start thinking and dreaming about anger. So I went home and started writing a book.
I used play baseball in a wood-bat pick-up league on Sunday nights. It had a huge range of ages from high school to seventy-plus. About the only lack of diversity was in the number of X chromosomes on the field—I was generally the only woman or one of two. So while my bicycle daydreaming started with “Wouldn’t it be cool if all that adrenaline could make me pedal as fast as a car?” it quickly shifted to “Wouldn’t it be cool if all that adrenaline could make me throw 90 miles an hour?” The idea just grew from there.
So, Throw Like a Woman is a book about baseball. And about anger. I don’t think female anger is dealt with in a respectful manner in literature. It’s always this ineffectual “Oh-Mr.-Grant!” kind of hissy fit or it’s whack job crazy, with very little middle ground. Part of the impetus to write this book the way I did was to try and explore that middle ground. Anger is real, and female anger is just as real and just as legitimate as male anger. At the same time, full of raging anger is no way to go through life.
While I was writing the book, I was also fortuitously working for the Society for American Baseball Research, aka SABR, which was, yes, quite handy. Bob DiBiasio from the Cleveland Indians organization gave me a tour of the Indians clubhouse, so I had a chance to see the manager’s office and the locker room and the training facilities and all that good stuff.
There is a moment in the book when my protagonist Brenda is about to try out for the Indians and she walks onto the field at Progressive Field for the first time. That’s one of the moments where what the character is feeling is exactly what I was feeling. A couple of years back, I did a one-day fantasy camp at Progressive Field. I was the only woman, so while every other participant was in the visitors’ locker room, I was in the visiting manager’s office. Everybody there was incredibly kind and nobody gave me a hard time, but there was a moment when I was alone in my little locker room and I could hear the conversation and laughter from the clubhouse and got that lonely glimpse of what someone in Brenda’s position might feel.
While I was writing the book, I also had the opportunity to talk several times by phone with Dennis Lamp, who pitched for 16 seasons in the major leagues. He was incredibly kind and funny and gave me real insight into what it’s like to be a major league player. There’s an incident in the book where another rookie tells Brenda about a nasty hazing prank where some of the veteran players cut the sleeves and legs off his new suit, which had been handmade by his mother. That true story came from Dennis Lamp. So yes, sometimes veterans do crappy things to the rookies.
People have asked me how much of myself is in Brenda. There are some similarities, although I suspect that every writer puts a bit of herself or himself into any number of characters. Brenda and I both love the Smiths, we both love Indian food, and we both play baseball, although I will freely admit that my fictional creation throws twice as hard as I can. We’re both sometimes impatient, imperfect parents, both sometimes filled with anger, and, like her, I was once divorced. Things happen in our lives that make us angry or make us sad or frustrated or distressed. Things happen in our lives that fill our souls with ecstasy, that bring us profound happiness and joy. Life is a never-ending circle of dark and light, happiness and sadness. As a storyteller, you just choose where on that circle you want your story to begin and where you want it to end.
When I separated from my first husband, I was in the dark part of that circle—full of rage and feeling like a failure. A bit like Brenda at the beginning of the book. My journey wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Brenda’s One day, inexplicably, I woke up and felt better. Not just better—fantastic. I kept laughing. All day. At the time, I was working as an industry analyst and was researching something like textile and leather chemicals or food flavors and fragrances. Not the type of thing that would cause you to sit in your cubicle all morning just… giggling. But that’s exactly what I was doing. Finally, I called my mom and told her what was going, that I couldn’t stop laughing. And in the same way that some mothers might ask you “Is it the flu?” she asked “Is it joy?”
It was. There is always room for joy, for happiness. We can always find a new place on the circle. I hope you’ll have fun reading Throw Like a Woman and watching Brenda as she moves from darkness to light, from anger to joy.
Susan Petrone is the author of Throw Like a Woman and the upcoming The Super Ladies, both published by The Story Plant.