The only thing harder than lying about your life? Facing it.
Marissa tells lies.
To herself, about the fact that her brother abandoned her.
To her grandmother, when she says “everything’s fine.”
To the world when she pretends her mother is at home or working late. When she doesn’t tell them her mother is dead.
She doesn’t even question the wisdom of living in a world built on lies anymore—until she meets Brandon. Unlike Marissa, Brandon faces his grief head-on. As their relationship sweetens, Marissa realizes the value of letting someone in and not letting her grief destroy her. But when her past filled with denial catches up with her, Marissa is forced to tell Brandon her darkest secrets, or risk losing him.
The only thing harder than lying about her life? Facing it.
Themes I return to in my stories
One theme I gravitate towards is loss. There is something so intense about loss. Bringing loss to the extreme of death is the ultimate state to write about. Greif is an extremely complex beast, and one that is different for everyone. The way the mind handles loss, the way the soul continues on, the way an individuals energy shifts, the way the world keeps moving on, it’s all related to the loss. This comes from a very deep and personal place for me. I’ve experienced loss on the very deepest level, and I use that grief to connect to my characters, my readers, and myself.
Loss is also relatable. At some point or another you are going to lose someone. Whether it be your best friend, your boyfriend, a family member, a pet even, it’s a universal understanding that within life there is death. This is a fragile fiber that connects us all. Having a support system to deal with your loss is essential to one’s own fight.
I find it fascinating how two totally different people can react to a similar loss. Having come from such a place I’m happy to say that I use my creativity to help me cope with my loss. And I hope others can find peace in their passions.
Read An Excerpt from Susan's New Book!
I held my breath as I ran past the cemetery. Stupid, I know. Regardless, it’s one of those idiotic things that stick with you from your childhood. Like fragments of your being that imprint themselves on your chemical makeup. It was my older brother, Marc, who had told me that once when we were in the backseat of Mom’s old hatchback and were driving past the Sacred Path Cemetery.
Marc poked me in my side. “Quick, hold your breath,” he said before taking in a puff of air and holding it in.
“What? Why?” I looked around from side to side.
He didn’t answer me. Instead he just kept motioning with his hands, pointing out the window, putting his hands around his neck like he was choking or something. Finally, when we turned left onto Harper Street he let out a big exhale.
“Oh man, now you’re toast.” He pointed at me and laughed. That maniacal laugh only older brothers know how to do. I was seven at the time, and Marc was ten. “You probably have a ghost inside you now.” He grinned like a devious villain.
“A ghost?” I said.
“You didn’t hold your breath while we drove past the cemetery. Again I state — you’re toast.” He began drumming on his lap with his hands.
I didn’t comprehend what he was telling me, but I knew I didn’t like it. Tears started forming in my eyes, and I knew I had to rely on my failsafe. “Mooommm,” I cried out, and immediately I felt Marc’s sweaty hand over my mouth.
“Yes, Marissa?” Mom’s sweet voice carried from the front of the car to the backseat.
“She’s fine, Mom. I got it.” Marc’s tone was of the dutiful son. He unclamped his hand from my face. “Listen,” he began, talking kind of slow. “You’ve got to remember this. I’m going to give you a life lesson here. Are you ready?”
His green eyes were sparkling, and I nodded my head in agreement.
“Okay.” He crouched down a bit so he was eye-level with me. “You must always, and I mean always, hold your breath when you drive past a cemetery. And if you’re walking past one, you must run — run and hold your breath until you’re clear. Otherwise, the spirits of the undead could invade your body. And you don’t want that to happen. Do you?” I almost couldn’t tell if the last part was a question or a statement.
“But I didn’t hold my breath back there, and all the times before. What if one’s in me right now?” I began pawing at my body.
Marc threw his head back and laughed. “Nah, you’re fine. Just be careful. Now that you know you have to do it, always do it. Understand?”
Again I shook my head. Marc gave me a thumbs-up, and I begged Mom to take Chester Street instead of Maple because I knew there was a big cemetery on Maple. Luckily she agreed.
So now, here I was ten years later, holding my breath as I ran past Sacred Path Cemetery. While I ran, my new sneakers — the ones I had to work double shifts on Saturdays for three weeks to get — started rubbing the back of my left heel, and I knew I’d have a blister the size of a quarter later on. It’s hard to keep your pace when you’re holding your breath. Luckily Sacred Path Cemetery isn’t that big. Just big enough. It’s just big enough. That’s what my grandmother said anyway. I was almost halfway through when I heard the clicking of the tips of my shoelace on the ground. My thoughts concentrated on what those tip things were called, anything to get my mind off the cemetery. Aglets, I remembered! My aglets were hitting the pavement, and I knew if I didn’t stop and retie that lace, then I would land flat on my face. Grace has never been a character trait of mine. My mother, yes, but not me. Marissa No-Grace McDonald should have been my legal name. How my mother came up with Scranton for my middle name I’ll never know.
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Angela Shelley, herself.
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