Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Susan Salluce to the blog. She is the author of Out of Breath, and is here to talk about literature as a vehicle for healing.
This past December, I walked my father home in his dying days. In my blog, sipnsharewithsusan.com, and Facebook posts, my readers were privy to our last moments and his final words, “I love you, honey.” Watching someone slip away from Alzheimer’s disease took an enormous toll on me, and yet, I was blessed in the process. I received comforting words and prayers, and was so moved by the outpouring of support…a great deal of it from total strangers. As a grief specialist, it was amazing to be on the receiving end.
Birth and death are perhaps the two most transformative events that affect the living, causing us to reflect on our own mortality, quality of life, begging the question: am I living each day to the fullest?
I have been immersed in a great deal of soul searching since my father’s death, as I am now a child without parents, no siblings, and yet, oddly enough, no longer feeling untethered. In fact, after some sweet friends took the time to listen to my life story, I put aside my untouched 2nd manuscript that had become laborious. I used to tell my grief clients, “Journal! It’s so cleansing.” I listened to my own advice, and my grief journal turned itself into my new writing project—a fictionalized memoir of my life with my father, Dancing My Father Home.
A strong believer in serendipity, some of my writer friends shared some of their own “grief stories”, which drew us closer. They weren’t simply stories, though. Just like in my first novel, Out of Breath, which chronicles redemption, forgiveness, and new beginnings after the death of a child, these “grief stories” were also tales of heroic strength and transformation after tragedy, assisting me in my loss.
Time is a great healer, and it is now five months since my father died. And as I write Dancing My Father Home, I am reconnected with him in a unique way: a daughter recalling her childhood from the eyes of an adult. Watching my young self pine for her father’s love, fret in his absence, and relax in his arms during his presence.
Is there any doubt that these early connections are the patterns and imprinting for our love relationships in adolescence and adulthood? That the leftover unfinished business, or, in some cases, strong and healthy bonds of those first attachments will haunt or guide us. It’s Freud’s premise that what we didn’t complete in the past will be our demise—we are bound to repeat that which is broken until we fix it.
This is why literature, particularly the genre in which I’m drawn and write (women’s and psychological fiction), focuses on such relationships. We can all connect to a lover who left us wanting more, a strained relationship, and the too often messiness of childhood.
Reading as healing is a therapeutic tool I used as a therapist. Rather than saying, “Here’s a how-to book. Now, go digest this and apply it,” I broke away from my practice to write my first novel, Out of Breath. In it, I reached out the bereaved, those struggling with addiction, and people in need of forgiveness and redemption. It follows that my second novel, Dancing My Father Home, will follow that same trend, evoking the raw emotions of parental bonds and first loves.
I invite you to view literature as a means to healing. That as you turn the pages of novels that dare dive into the human psyche, you’ll allow others’ struggles, pain, and healing touch the part of you that is still struggling, in pain, and in need of healing. Life is long, and the journey to understanding ourselves is complicated. Why not take the ride through literature, letting the words be your roadmap?
On a drizzly October night in the coastal town of Santa Cruz, California, seventeen-month-old Nevaeh drowns. Her mother, Alyssa Buchanan, is wild with rage and regret for placing her trust in her husband Seth, a former pro surfer who has a drug problem. Seth is adamant that he was clean the night of Nevaeh’s death, yet a dirty drug test contradicts his story. His parental rights stripped and criminal charges looming, he battles to prove his innocence, love and family devotion. Adding to the couple’s grief, their five-year-old daughter Daisy hasn’t uttered a word since her sister’s death. Alyssa turns to childhood friends and local police officer, Greg Wallace, for comfort and support. Although Greg portrays heroic devotion and justice, inwardly he swims with loss, narcissism, and explosive rage. He has long despised Seth and is more than willing to meet Alyssa’s needs that reach far beyond friendship. Into this fragile scene steps therapist Katherine Middlebrook. Her practice consumes nearly all her time – time that is even more precious now that her mother’s cancer has returned. She hesitantly accepts three new clients – Greg Wallace, and Seth & Alyssa Buchanan, unaware of their intertwined history. Buried deep in Katherine’s past is the loss of her own child. She’s sure she can keep the boundaries of her past and her clients’ lives clear until their intersecting tragedies awaken old demons.
An award winner in the South West Writer’s Contest for literary and mainstream novel, Out of Breath is an exploration of parental grief, addiction, compassion fatigue, and suicide; it’s the prodigal story of grace undeserved. Salluce’s expertise as a psychotherapist and grief specialist enables her to create dynamic characters that will leave you breathless as you jeer their shadow sides and cheer their heroic journeys.
Here’s what I see: a closet, like a time capsule, holding clothes I’ll never wear again. My teacher’s wardrobe, blousy and in a bouquet of color, crammed up against the left side of the closet where they’ve remained untouched for over six years. Nothing, especially a job, would get in the way, I told myself, of being the perfect mother of my two children. What other lies have I told myself to see what I needed to see? Alongside my discarded kindergarten teaching wear is my wedding dress—not the traditional, puffy sleeves, sequins or pearls. Seth and I would have none of that. No, I strove to match his blue Hawaiian shirt with a soft, cotton white sundress and strappy sandals. I rip the dress from its hanger and feel my face flush.
My breath quickens as I sift through my maternity clothes: an oversized flowered overall get-up, cotton leggings, and thick, stretched-out wool sweaters—all of them a reminder of what they covered—you. My legs give way and I land hard on the carpet. I punch the ground as if my tantrum will somehow stomp out the fiery pain in my gut. The whole room haunts me of the life I had only two weeks ago: a framed photo of the four of us together up for a picnic on the redwood trail; a picture of Seth and me, tan, windblown, passionately in love, standing in front of our long boards on a surf trip to Costa Rica.
I call out, just as I did that night, “Where are you Nevaeh? Why, Seth? ” My screams go unheard, echoing through the house.
Out of Breath can be found on
Susan Salluce, MA, CT, holds a Master’s Degree in counseling psychology and is a Certified Thanatologist — a death, dying, and bereavement specialist. With a passion for writing, impacting the bereaved, and having experienced her own sense of compassion fatigue, she wrote Out of Breath. The book has sold more than 20,000 copies, placed in the top three of the South West Writer’s competition for Mainstream/Literary novel, and has remained on Amazon’s Top 100 list for Psychological Thrillers for the past year.
Susan continues to contribute to the field of bereavement through her writing and consultant work. She is currently at work on her next novel, Dancing My Father Home, a fictionalized memoir about growing up with her loving, often depressed, and sometimes violent father who in later life succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, and how their relationship laid the foundation for relationships that followed.
When Susan is not writing, you can find her either in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s or on the beaches of Aptos, Ca.
Susan can be found on