A disease that causes violent outbursts changes the lives of three generations of abused women in Dawson’s The Violence (Del Rey, Feb.).
How did you come up with the Violence pandemic?
I grew up in a household very much like the one in the book. I’ve tried several times to put it in a book in a way that was meaningful but also had a story beyond, “Oh boy, does this stink.” It occurred to me that the thing that’s missing is a way to fight back for a lot of people trapped in domestic abuse. It happens in this book, too, where the abuser makes you feel small, takes away your support system, takes away all of your resources. And it was just like, what if we could fight back? Because men who are abusers will often say, “Well it wasn’t my fault,” and, “She made me do it,” “She fell down the stairs,” “She just drove me to it.” Well, what if women had the excuse of, “It wasn’t my fault”? So the Violence pandemic was, what if there was a disease going around and if you caught it you blacked out and you woke up and you’d killed someone? We couldn’t prosecute these people because they’re sick. And the beginning, before really nailing down testing, you don’t know who has it, so it would be an out for women to say, “It wasn’t my fault.”
What inspired the idea of three generations going through this?
Right now I’m the mom. My mom is in her 70s and my dad died of cancer in 2016. We had a lot of big thoughts about him and have been able to talk more about things than when he was alive. It’s just this unique place to be: the mother who raised you is living one life, and the child you’re raising, who you’re trying to shield from abuse, is living their own life. I liked the idea of following each character and how they could grow and change because of this pandemic. Change takes a lot of effort. Especially as a victim of abuse, you get caught in it. It’s almost like being in one of those clear guinea pig balls, where you’re just like, “Welp, this is my whole world, I can never escape from this plastic ball.” I do a lot of deep work trying to— I know you can’t get over abuse—but trying to understand it and reclaim power. I wanted to take a character who reclaimed her power and then take the younger generation, who had to deal with it in a different way.
Tell me about the decision to set the novel in the recognizable near future.
When I started writing, Covid hadn’t happened yet. By the time the book was bought, I still had the larger portion to write and we were in the early stages of Covid. At that time, writers hadn’t given much thought to whether they write books without this or with this. But it was such a part of the scope of what we were living that it felt like something that needed to be put in there. Also, it gave the characters a little bit of a history of how pandemics are dealt with, because we started to see how things were handled and mishandled especially. By the time I was finally editing it, we were realizing that this is our new normal. So there were lots of little touches of gold that would get erased and placed somewhere else.