The Day #ShePersisted Changed My Novels

This week, the Silverwood novels’ meaning and purpose snapped into a new focus that I could not have anticipated. It felt like a blast of sunlight to the face.

Making art for me is like time travel. I create things and then later I find out, in great abundance, why. This has happened to me before, particularly with cartoons and illustrations. It is peculiar, and requires a lot of belief at the time I make something. But then, this happens.

I have always felt purposeful about writing, like I am meant to let stuff through. The characters are real people, they just don’t have bodies at the moment. Maybe it’s airy-fairy but that’s how I feel. So there.

This week, though, in the US Congress, a male lawmaker silenced a female colleague using these words: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The woman was Senator Elizabeth Warren, attempting to read a letter from Coretta Scott King written in objection to the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship decades ago – based on Sessions’ attempts to suppress the votes of elderly Blacks. Now Sessions is up for Attorney General. So the letter takes on relevance and urgency in this moment that can hardly be denied.

Mitch McConnell invoked an arcane rule and used it to tell Warren to sit down and shut up. His allies backed him in doing this.

The Interwebs burst out with this beautiful, and unintended, amalgamation of what it is to be silenced. The dismissive tone. The phrase, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

I thought immediately of Helen Silverwood, the teen protagonist in my novels. I understood her to such a greater depth. Specifically : why she is here, what she means and why she needed to be written.

Here is why: Helen is a talented teenager, but brittle and love/hate the way a teen girl can be. She hacks into things. She is impulsive. She blames herself often. She is simultaneously anxious to grow up and frightened of what that means. She is protective of her little brother, Henry.

Helen’s adversaries, the Tromindox, are shape-shifters. Brilliant. Ancient. They live on human brain energy. They dissolve bodies, leaving people fighting for their consciousness until that too is consumed. They destroy people from the inside.

The Tromindox work by isolating. They change reality. They feed on their prey’s weaknesses and doubts. They blend in with humans and then eat them.

In Helen’s case (as well as Helen’s bounty hunter mom, Kate), the Tromindox intimidate. They tell you you are small, insignificant. Who cares about a little girl, they will say. You are all alone, they will say. You are no match for us. We will devour you.

Helen and her family persist. They adapt. They absorb pain, and doubt. Helen has to get past bullying and abuse and isolation, relying on herself and what she believes to be true. Even when she is terrified, stuck to the floor, being told she is nothing. Even when her little brother is taken and she believes it is her fault.

How many of us have had to walk into a situation not of our own construction – a meeting, an event, a conversation, where everything out to the walls was made by someone else and to their own advantage. How many of us have felt that sense of being totally alone, a single cell. And because we needed to survive, we figured out how to operate. Connect to people. Hack into the system and play it.

So many of us. This is Helen. This is her mom, Kate. This is the Silverwood clan and why they needed to be written.

Today I am so, so glad I wrote and am writing these books. They feel important in a whole new, bigger, way. I offer them to the world as we figure out how to hack our own issues, and stand up and speak, and persist.

Betsy Streeter is the author of SILVERWOOD and SILVER SHARD and is at work, persistently, on the third book in the series.