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Susan Petrone: Today’s B&N Daily Find Author: True Stories, Baseball and Otherwise

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Throw Like a Woman is today’s Barnes & Noble Daily Find!

A few people have asked me if Throw Like a Woman is a true story. It is not. It’s a story that could happen, maybe, with the correct confluence of people, talent, and timing. A number of people have asked me how much of myself is in Brenda, the novel’s protagonist. There are some similarities, although I suspect that every writer puts a bit of her or himself into any number of characters. Brenda and I both love the band 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, so don’t even bother asking.

I do have one true baseball story for you. This is the story of what happened the first time someone told me I shouldn’t be playing baseball, I was about ten. My older brother Mike and I were down at the playground by the elementary school near our house with a couple of neighbor kids. Mike was pitching. I was batting. In our minds, it was Rick Wise pitching to Andre Thornton (our respective favorite players on the Cleveland Indians at the time). Two boys we didn’t know, a white boy about twelve, and a really skinny, smaller black boy who was about my age, were hanging around the backstop. They were chattering like boys around baseball fields tend to do. Then the small, skinny one said, “She’s a girl, she can’t hit. Girls can’t play baseball.”

This bothered me because, in a way, it was true. I didn’t play baseball on a team. If I was truly a ballplayer, I’d be playing in league, wouldn’t I? My brother played in the local kids’ league, named for former Indians great Tris Speaker. When I asked him if any girls played, he said, “Well, there are a couple of girls, but you have to be really good,” and that scared the crap out of me. I didn’t know if I was really good. I was just another little kid who loved baseball. All of this made me think that maybe this stick figure of a little boy knew something about me that I didn’t.

Mixed with this doubt was a tiny little bit of annoyance. Who was he to tell me what I could and could not do?  I was still at the age when getting a boy’s attention was not my primary goal in life. (I feel compelled to add that I’m ashamed there was ever a period in my life when getting a boy’s attention was a primary goal, but that came later and it’s over now.)  Boys were to be competed with. Academically, I could kick the butt of every boy in my class. And I could still outrun most of them. This stranger’s comment got under my skin.

I don’t know if my brother Mike made a conscious decision to help me out or not. But bless his heart, my brother went into his windup and threw me a big, fat grapefruit down the middle of the plate. I took a deep breath, stopped thinking about the chattering, annoying boys behind me, and kept my eye on the ball.
It sailed clear to the other side of the playground. I looked over my shoulder at the two boys. The skinny, small one was sitting on the ground, his mouth gaping open in surprise. The older one just sat there and laughed at him. Did I say anything clever to them? Probably not. Maybe something simple like, “Girls can so hit.”

This is one of those true stories that has the air of fiction. It has all the elements of a good story—an underdog heroine, a nasty villain who gets his comeuppance, and happy ending. Everyone loves stories about underdogs, and when it comes to baseball, girls are always the underdog.

Here are some more things I have in common with my protagonist, Brenda Haversham. We’re both sometimes impatient, imperfect parents, both sometimes filled with anger, and like her, I’ve been through a painful divorce. 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 and bring us profound happiness and joy. Life is a never-ending circle of dark and light, happiness and sadness. As a storyteller, you simply choose where on that circle you want your story to begin and where you want it to end.

Here’s another true story. When I separated from my first husband, I was in the dark part of that circle—full of rage and feeling like a failure. I was a bit like Brenda at the beginning of the book, although my journey wasn’t nearly as dramatic as hers. 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 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.

If there is one thing I hope readers take away from Throw Like a Woman, it is this: There is always room for joy, for happiness. We can always find a new place on the circle.

Susan Petrone author photo

Susan Petrone is the author of Throw Like a Woman, today’s Barnes & Noble Daily Find. Visit her author website to learn more!

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On July 8, 2015
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