I didn’t set out to write a book about toxic masculinity. It just sort of happened.
As I fell in love with my characters and their stories, I kept thinking: I want to write a book about real life, about the rougher side of life. And to do that, I knew I needed to go deep and write some pretty dark stuff.
I struggled a lot when revising this book, debating on what I should cut from the text, what might be too intense or too upsetting for readers. But I kept thinking, I need these boys to talk how they realistically talk. I need to really show how detrimental toxic masculinity is to young men and boys, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and the many consequences that arise from it.
My male characters have a lot of less-than-savory conversations. I based a lot of them on things that I constantly overheard in middle school, high school, college and beyond. In the hallways, in between classes, at fraternity parties, bars, house parties, you name it. The language they use, the rampant misogyny and homophobia, it’s always really aggravated me, but as I got older it began to enrage me. I think a lot of this book came from that rage. It was very cathartic to get a lot of it out on the page and show just how disgusting and damaging it feels to be surrounded by it. But I also had a lot of empathy while writing out these conversations. I recognized that these boys are struggling so much to prove themselves, to protect themselves from further harassment, and as a result they often say and do horrible things. And they get themselves into dangerous and often deadly situations.
All of my male characters in Burro Hills are deeply affected by toxic masculinity, by this idea that they need to “act like a man.” It affects each of them to varying degrees, but it’s there, just beneath the surface of every choice they make, every word they use.
But I also wanted to add hope. My main character, Jack, would probably be a very different kid if his circumstances were altered. But he does grow throughout the novel, and I think by the end, he realizes that he doesn’t have to be the kind of man he thinks he needs to be. I hope my readers see that too.
Burro Hills releases on March 20. Want to read Burro Hills? Fill out the form below to enter to win one of five copies. Prizing provided by Diversion Books. Open to the U.S. only. Void where prohibited.