It is my pleasure to introduce my lovely friend, the immensely talented Susan Salluce, author of the wonderful new novel Out of Breath. Susan shares her insights on psychotherapy and writing. Enjoy!
Hi Terri. I’m a mom of two teens and been married to my lovely husband for 23 years. I just published a psychological suspense novel, Out of Breath, and am working on a second novel, No Ordinary Girl, which is a completely different genre–Chic-Lit! A secret-after a good rain, I like to search my foothill property for quartz crystals and believe that a good find brings me luck!
You’re a psychotherapist. How has your work influenced your writing? Would you say that your psychotherapy training and work help in developing character? Story?
Being a therapist gave me tremendous insight into the human psyche, conflicts, patterns of behavior, communication patterns. I believe it helped me present characters who are multi-dimensional, capable of good and evil, and wrestling with issues that are common to the ordinary individual. My therapy training helped me with the concept of a story arc, because I saw clients over long periods of time, creating their own beginning, middle, and end, punctuated with grief, growth, despair, and hope.
When and how did you begin writing? Do you still practice psychotherapy? How do you balance these two parts of your life?
I started writing at 13! My first novel, sadly enough, was tossed in the trash. I picked it up again in graduate school, but talk about an insane time to start a novel. Finally, after counseling others off and on for 12 or so years, I began to burn out and a story began to form inside me. I couldn’t contain it. Then one day at work, a fellow therapist asked a group of us, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I blurted, “Write a book!” Three months later I resigned.
While I don’t practice now, I do volunteer as a facilitator for a bereaved by suicide group called Friends for Survival. It’s a small commitment and very necessary in this time when life seems to be so fragile for the hurting and bereft
If you could change any one thing in your life, what would it be? Why?
I have some health issues that slow me down L Pain, fatigue-I’m trying to make sense of this and the timing. I think it’s a life lesson for me about balance and honoring the stillness that needs to emerge within.
OUT OF BREATH
Could you please take us behind the scenes? Tell us something about Out of Breath that we couldn’t pick up by reading the description or blurbs.
I dive into the plight of many issues: addiction in the surf culture; how couple’s of loss are so fragile and often riddled with guilt and blame; the plight of counselors-that we are often wounded healers who are susceptible to reactivated grief and pain as we listen to the life stories of others.
Who are your favorite and least favorite characters? Why?
Oh, I love them all-even Greg! If I had to choose one, it would be Seth, because he is flawed, raw, on his knees, and ready to bust out of his old patterns. He’d be my favorite client!
Would you please describe the conception of Out of Breath? Did you begin with story, place, character, voice? From there, how did the story develop?
I heard a lot of grief stories, both in my practice and in life. A little voice of, “Hmmm, that would make a good book,” began. However, the real jumping off was reading Good Grief by Lolly Winston, and thinking to myself, “I could write a grief story that could touch others’ pain. From there, it consumed me; I HAD to write and I wanted to produce a novel that was not simply entertaining, but also a resource and companion for those who are grieving
What would you like readers to take from Out of Breath? You mention undeserved grace. Would you please tell us what that means to you?
Understanding. Patience with their grief. To know that even when we fail, hurt others, hurt ourselves, we can be forgiven if we’re willing to forgive ourselves, make amends, and walk in a new way. It’s tied to my personal belief system and motto that if people are given the right tools, they will prevail.
WRITING & PUBLISHING
Out of Breath is a beautiful, complex story. Did you write organically or plot? Did you do a lot of revision?
I certainly had an idea where things would go, but I’m definitely a spontaneous writer. There were many moments where I felt as though the characters were writing their own story and my hands were simply typing. I’d get to an end of a scene and think, “Huh, I didn’t see that coming!” As for revisions, you bet. I have a gifted editor, Jordan Rosenfeld, who I met at a writing conference. In addition, I handed my first two drafts to a handful of faithful, trusted friends who helped grammatically and with little tweaks to the plot here and there; they are my tribe.
Would you please describe your writing process? Do you have a special place where you go to write? What are the hardest and easiest parts of the process? Do stories come easily or do you have to work to shape them?
I write in my office which is surrounded by positive quotes, photos of the ocean, and inspirational prayers. With a bit of shyness and not wanting to sound precocious, I admit that the creative flow of crafting a story comes very easy. I’m an only child who had an active imagination! I have at least four other stories waiting in the wings. The hardest part is carving out time amidst raising children, the busy work of life, and dealing with physical pain. However, I wouldn’t trade my lifestyle in a million years; I am blessed to get to stay home and pace myself.
Your characters are very real and gorgeously rounded. Can you tell us how you go about developing your characters?
Thank you, Terri (blushing.) My characters grow with me and the story. I have an idea of their plight-their “story,” if you will. However, they emerge as the story grows, which makes for a bit of rewriting. I find this a very energizing and exciting process. I feel as though they are my friends.
Out of Breath placed third in a contest judged by Harper Collins. Clearly, you could have been published traditionally. Why did you decide to go indie? Are you glad you did? Why or why not?
I don’t know if it was a choice. The market is very competitive. I was encouraged by a fellow author to go indie based on a couple of things: being in control of my path and pace and not giving up my ideas. While many authors have the illusion that a traditional agent = arriving, I would beg to differ. I LOVE the indie community; we are very encouraging to one another. You, Terri, opened the door and have been one of the many lovely people whom I’m proud to be a part.
You’re currently involved in promotions. What has worked best for you, marketing-wise? Why? Have you tried anything that hasn’t worked? What would you change?
I post a great deal on Facebook and encourage others to re-post. I Tweet, but feel overwhelmed by Twitter. I blog and that touches some. Involving myself in the Indie Book Collective as well as the WoMen’s Literary Cafe has been amazing. Blog tours, playing with price cuts, cross-promoting with other authors, and giving away my book for a defined period all help with exposure. I’m learning that being known is a huge part of the work, rather than simply dollar signs and daily sales.
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write what you love and focus on that don’t look too far down the road; it can prevent you from achieving your goal: finishing your first draft!
What are you working on now?
A chic-lit book with undercurrents of self discovery, the writing industry, and mother-daughter relationships titled, No Ordinary Girl. It’s fun to fall in love with a whole other cast of characters.
How can your fans connect with you?
Lefty or righty? Righty
Introvert or extrovert? Right in the middle. Love a crowd and love seclusion.
Plane, train or automobile? From my days of living in Japan: a train!
Beer or wine? If it didn’t hurt my head, wine. We make cabernet sauvignon-delicious!
Water: ice or no ice? Crushed ice.
Light or dark? Men? The weather? Hah! Love a sunny day with my Italian man
Winter or summer? Summer on the coast.
Walking or running? I don’t run unless I’m being chased.
Sit on a beach or sit by a fire? I’m a beach girl.
Book or audiotape? Book
Read or write? I can’t do one without the other. I’m a voracious reader.
Draft or revise? Revise.
Writer’s group or editor? Editor and my writing partner.
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 which is available on all E-readers and in traditional book form on her website in December of 2011 and in a variety of local book stores.
Susan continues to contribute to the field of bereavement through her writing, consultant work, and her work with Friends for Survival, a non-profit dedicated to those affected by a suicide death. She is currently at work on a parenting book based on her blog and a chic-lit book due out by 2013.
When Susan is not working on her novels, you can find her either in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s or on the beaches of Aptos, Ca. What she truly calls home is anywhere she is with her amazing, loyal, and fun children, Kellen and Marina, and with her best friend/husband of twenty-three years, John.
ABOUT OUT OF BREATH
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 ripped 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.
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