Interview with Darla M. Grese: 'Kelli taught me more than any book or article could teach'

Darla M. Grese is a twin sister who lost her better half to side effects from prescribed medication. As a U.S. Navy Veteran, she is an advocate of Veteran X and Veteran Hope programs that address mental illness, PTSD, and unintentional addiction issues. Both programs are sponsored by the Veteran Affairs Medical Center and focus on Veteran recovery and independence. She raises money for “Team Kelli” and annually participates in the Out of the Darkness Walk at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach (  While continuing to bring awareness to this cause, being a loving parent is her favorite passion and the main focus of her life. Darla’s love for the arts has been expressed as a talented actress with appearances in The F.B.I. files, The New Detectives, Diagnosis Unknown, Wicked Attraction, Discovery Channel’s The Haunting, and the movie Atlantis Down. She currently works full time as a respiratory therapist at a trauma center in Norfolk, Virginia.

Her memoir, Sister Surrendered, is her latest release.
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About the Book:

When you’re a twin, loneliness is somewhat unfamiliar because you’ve always had each other. So when a twin passes, the other is left unprepared. Our loyalty was steadfast and our devotion to one another, solid. Our love was unconditional no matter what the circumstances. I’m so grateful every day for the memories of the joy and laughter that we shared together. I know the bond that Kelli and I shared is impossible for anyone to replace. This memoir has become something so much more than initially intended. It’s become a documented journey barely scratching the surface of the love between two sisters. And surprisingly, it’s also become an outlet for me to speak candidly and honestly about my struggles with the cause of Kelli’s death. This is a love story turned tragedy. An exposure of one of the greatest healthcare failures killing Veterans and civilians, and a cry for help to remedy the fiasco. I’ve stressed about who I would mention in this book, nervous that I would hurt someone’s feelings by not mentioning their names. But I’ve realized that it’s impossible to do. Kelli had so many great friends, some I’ve never even met. I need each person to know who has taken the time to reach out to me in whatever capacity that if it weren’t for your heartfelt show of support and love, I don’t know that I would be able to muster the energy to even get up each day. Kelli, we did it.

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  • Sister Surrendered is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
  • Visit the book’s Facebook page.
  • Recommend at the book’s Goodreads page.
  • Read Chapter One and Two here.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Sister Surrendered is a very different book than initially intended several years ago. I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with my twin sister Kelli. We were sitting on my couch flipping through the yellow pages of the phone book, in pursuit of affordable drug-rehab centers, which by the way, are scarce sadly. Kelli felt strongly that sharing the story of her personal struggles could help people to better understand the disease of addiction and depression, and I agreed. So our first goal was to get Kelli better, not just in the short term, but for the long haul. Then I would write a screenplay, something that I’ve done several times before, or a book, detailing years of hurdles, uncertainty and despair. But tragically, Kelli took her own life in November 2010, which obviously led to the divulgence of a very different story, with a much different ending.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Obviously this book is very personal which made it extremely difficult emotionally to write, which is why I had to put it off for three years. I simply wasn’t able to strike the first key without my heart bounding through my chest, making it hard to take a breath. I’m very good at staying busy, whether it’s being a mom, working, acting, or curling up in bed feeling sorry for myself. I would’ve rather done anything, but write this book. I knew that once I started, I’d re-live moments that still to this day haunt me in unexplainable ways.

I would say to anyone contemplating writing a book that’s personally tough, pace yourself. Write only what’s comfortable and try not to force it. There were a couple of chapters that I could hardly get through, literally typing three lines at a time in-between hyperventilating. But I allowed myself those moments of pacing through my bedroom gasping. Give yourself those moments because in the end, you’ll deliver a very real story that will affect the reader on a much deeper level.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

After having several discussions with my editor and friend, Evan Fiedler, we decided on self-publishing due to his vast experience in that arena. And although it’s been an amazing experience, it has also limited us a bit. I’d love to get into some stores and perhaps do some touring, but right now we’re only available at With the current controversies surrounding the VA Hospitals nationwide, Sister Surrendered is a book that would likely appeal to the masses given the appropriate publicity. It’s exposure of the care that Kelli received at the VA Hospital for many years, mimics a lot of what’s being discussed today.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Absolutely. What surprised me the most were the personal messages that I received, and still do, from readers everywhere. They’re not only thanking me, but they’re also divulging personal stories and struggles of their own, trusting me with their deepest of secrets.  And I hold that very close to my heart and my gratitude is endless for their trust. Writing this book was a substantial risk for me personally because of my ultra-private way of living. So to have the reaction that I’ve had, some from complete strangers, made the risk worth taking on many levels.

 Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

If I answered this question last week, my answer would have been none. But this past week, after a lot of soul-searching and personal self-probing, I’ve changed my mind. I do in fact intend on writing another book, likely titled Sister Revealed, which will discuss in much greater detail, my struggles, both during Kelli’s turbulent years, and after her death. I graze over them in Sister Surrendered, but I’ve decided that in order to achieve complete personal satisfaction; I have to in fact reveal everything.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I’m a Facebook fan. I love browsing pictures and personal posts, and it’s a great place to network. I use Twitter, but I’m still learning it.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

Withhold judgment on anyone who struggles from addiction, depression, or any form of mental illness. Over the course of many years filled with a lot of trying times, Kelli taught me more than any book or article could teach. I learned from her that we are all vulnerable to vices of some sort and that we should all be grateful for having a sound mind, because without that, life becomes labored, even more so than it already is. I savor every memory that I have of my sister, but at the end of each and every day, she’s not here. I wish she was, but she isn’t. So please, during your times of frustration and anger of dealing with someone that you love struggling, remember my reality, because sadly, it could become yours.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I hope that when you read this book, you’ll pass it along to someone that might benefit from it. I priced it extremely low for a reason, to share Kelli’s story in the greatest way possible with what little platform that I have. And without the public’s help, the book’s life will be limited. But most importantly, I need to thank everyone who’s read the book so far. I’m so thankful for your support, your personal notes and your kind words. I’ve responded to every single message that I’ve received and I vow to continue that, regardless of long that it takes me.

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