As the release date for Breathe In quickly approaches, I’m facing more and more questions about what kind of story it is and why I’ve decided to go dark with this novel. My readers aren’t used to my work turning dark or violent so as they look at the intriguing cover and read the blurb, they begin to see that it’s not a typical Michelle Bellon book.
I’ve contemplated heavily on how much I’m willing to discuss the origin of this novel because it gets a little personal. But I also believe in being honest with my reader. I think it allows you to understand the female protagonist all the more.
So first, it’s dark simply because it’s a thriller. It’s supposed to grab you by the throat and keep you gasping for air all the way through.
Second, I was determined to write this novel without a filter. I wanted it clean and raw so that the reader felt everything.
As for the origin…without going into too much detail, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for sixteen years. During that time, control and manipulation mixed with verbal abuse, alcoholism, and a total lack of affection, drove me to evolve into a much different person than I’d hoped to be. I withdrew from friends, molded to his ideals, and overtime grew bitter, sad, confused, and worst of all, lost. I no longer trusted my own thoughts, emotions, or needs. Doubt plagued everything.
One particular day, after an ugly argument, I took off for the day and headed to my best friend’s house. On the hour and half hour drive north, I was in touch with only two emotions: shame and anger. Shame because I couldn’t believe I’d become “that girl”. The wife who lets her husband talk down to her. The wife that lets him control every aspect of her life and keeps her doubting her self-worth all the while. Shame followed by an all-consuming feeling of hopelessness and doubt because I was still mired in the mentality of thinking I was “stuck”.
Rage, because I’d finally reached a point where I had to admit that I was angry. Because the insidious truth about emotional abuse is that it creeps up on you. It’s a sneaky little beast that pecks away at you slowly over time with a harsh word here and criticism there until you’ve slowly been pecked to death and you’re left with only a hollow shell. Unrecognizable.
Meanwhile, as you’re slowly beaten down, you don’t see the destruction for what it is. You tell yourself you’re overreacting. At least he does. And you believe him. You explain it all away. Guilt consumes you, because- You should be happy. You should be grateful for what you have. Marriage is through thick and thin. Make it work. Suck it up. The list goes on. We become quite good at repeating the cliché mantras of how we need to be better spouses and make the best of a rough situation. This keeps our building anger at bay. Until one day, we face it head on and smile at because we finally recognize it for what it is.
So on this day, as I’m driving north on I-5 and shame and rage are consuming me, my writer-self rescues me. She derails my confused, angry thoughts and replaces them with a vision. Of a woman. I saw her so clearly. Broken, hurt to her core, always allowing herself to be walked on because she views herself as weak. Then she finds herself in an unimaginable situation, facing violence and terror. Pushed to her very limits, something inside of her taps into all that repressed rage and unleashes the warrior within. She was wild and beautiful.
That vision was so powerful. Yet, I held onto it for a few years as I continued to try save my marriage.
Then one night, the husband, took it too far, took a cocktail of pills, blacked out, and beat the crap out of me. It took me by surprise. Emotional abuse was familiar. Physical was something I was not prepared for. He punched me multiple times in the face before I could even process what was happening. It all happened so fast, yet time felt sluggish and slow. Shock does that to a person. However, the blows to the face were nothing compared to what happened to my spirit with that first hit. It’s unexplainable, really. Something in the center of my chest, where my soul resides, shattered. In that split instant I knew something in me had broken and would never be the same. It wasn’t until his hands were around my throat and stars danced before my eyes that I realized I needed to fight back. My children were downstairs sleeping. I had to fight back and get them out of the house. So I did. I fought, kicking and screaming and punching until he finally let go. I scrambled away and darted downstairs. I took the kids and the dog and left and never looked back.
Fast-forward a couple of years later. After rebuilding our lives and learning how to be a single mother, working a full time job, balancing way too much for one person, I was healing in a lot of ways. Evolving into the person I always hoped I could be, strong and independent. But there was still a lot of suppressed emotion lingering. Anger was definitely one of them. Believing it was necessary for me to tap into those emotions and release them in the best I knew how, I was inspired to finally dig up that old character and bring her to life. Tessa was born. Through her trials and challenges, through her mistakes and unleashed rage, I finally felt validated and empowered. It was very cathartic.
No, nothing in the book actually happened. It's all fiction, and though most of us have never faced something quite as horrific as Tessa does, we have all met our own horrors and fought our own demons. I truly believe a lot of woman will connect with her, cry with her, and rage with her, as I did.
So, yes, this book is very different from anything I’ve written before.