Dawn Among the Stars: Latinas Battling Mental Health and Fighting Aliens

DAMN AMONG THE STARS is a debut science fiction by Samantha Heuwagen, MA LAMFT ACS

Samantha Heuwagen works as a Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in Sex Therapy in Atlanta, GA. She is a graduate of Mercer University School of Medicine where she earned her second Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her first Master’s degree is in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of South Florida where she first realized her passion for sex education. She is a certified sexologist with the American College of Sexologists. When she isn’t working with clients, she teaches at Kennesaw State University sharing her knowledge about sex and feminism.

From the author:

As a therapist, I’ve seen the best and worst of Humanity. I’ve listened to sexual assault survivors tell their stories with strength and dignity; watched male clients open up emotionally and meet their authentic selves for the very first time. I’ve even helped couples come back together after years of separations and emotional isolation.

Dawn Among the Stars is an opportunity to showcase mental health and change the narrative around individuals who push through every day. I wanted to focus on those fighting the good fight, reaching a place of health.

The main protagonist, Kayin Aves, a twenty-something Latina, strives to make the world a better place. Her primary focus is to keep Earth’s rights in the hands of humans at all costs. However, she meets resistance when the Shielders, a potential Earth ally, push for control of Earth’s governments and resources. Through it all, her panic attacks threaten to derail her everyday life.

Though society tries to say otherwise, people are not weak because they’re depressed, have anxiety, or suffer PTSD. They struggle to do menial daily tasks while a giant cloud follows them. With The Starless Series, I wanted to showcase a character that could handle mental health issues and still be a hero that can save the day.

With my experience as a feminist and a mental health practitioner, I believe I have unique insight into a myriad of perspectives. This perspicacity allows me to write natural characters that would feel at home in any setting despite being thrust into an extraordinary situation. One of my goals with writing, Dawn Among the Stars, has always been to depict mental health issues as realistically as possible–– to open the door to a more realistic view of mental health.  I want readers to connect with the different aspects of Kayin’s struggle and offer them a positive role model instead of the tired, old stereotypes we see in books and movies every day.

My clients are some of the strongest people I have ever met and Dawn Among the Stars is my monument to them and anyone else struggling with mental health.

You can find me writing and doing therapy in Atlanta, GA. If you’re interested in my services as a mental health provider please visit my website.

 

You can buy this fantastic book below

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Check out the author’s Website: SamanthaHeuwagen.com
Find the book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/75884217-samantha-heuwagen

 

 

 

 

Book Spotlight: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg.

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This is a fantastic author and I am lucky to be able to spotlight her book for you. It was an Editor’s Pick by the Historical Novel Society and it was named THE BEST BOOK EVER SET IN VERMONT by Travel & Leisure magazine. The author tackles the very difficult subject of Schizophrenia, and in 1972. It is an intricately crafted story of mental illness, magic and misfortune across three generations.

“I’m asked often why so many writers live in a state as small as Vermont, and why so many books are set here. The answer is partly the landscape, but mostly it’s the people. And in All the Best People, Sonja Yoerg has captured the magic and the madness that makes the Green Mountains a microcosm for so much of rural America. Her people are real people, authentic and quirky and troubled. I cared for them all.” — Chris Bohjalian, NYT bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy,  “All the Best People” celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.

Buy this book here

The Importance of Family Memories

Have any of your family members left you anything special before they passed away? Well, my grandmother, Zoya, left me her journal.

You see—I gave it to her years ago. I had forgotten that I gave it to her. It was before she developed dementia. Before she forgot who my children were, or who she was, or where she was. Before she stopped recognizing us when we came to visit.

When I held this journal after her passing, my hands shook, and I was afraid I would find nothing but empty pages inside. Instead, I found pages and pages of her neat calligraphic handwriting. Stories about her family, stories about her childhood, stories about her love for all of us.

But one story really caught my eye. It was a story about my great-grandfather, Mark Minchin, who had to leave his family in Ukraine behind as a young man and travel to Switzerland to study at a university. The thing was that Mark really wanted to become a physician and, as a Jew, he was not allowed to study in Ukraine or Russia. Only 3-5% of Jews were allowed to enter universities at the time, due to a rule enacted by the Tsar.

I’ve never heard of this historical detail before, so I looked it up. And I couldn’t stop researching (that silly Ph.D. got in the way). I wondered what Mark’s life was like in Switzerland. I found diaries and memoirs written by other students who would’ve studied with Mark at the time. I searched through many of the archives of Swiss universities but never found Mark’s name recorded in the Admissions’ books. All I know is that he stayed until the Russian Revolution and then became a renown physician in the town of Odessa, Ukraine.

WRAPPED IN THE STARS is dedicated to my family. But also to the families of all the students who made the journey to study in Switzerland during the Great War and fight for their education.

 

 

Book Spotlight: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, is a complex and engrossing cross-cultural family drama that tackles big issues: in addition to themes of immigration, identity, and parenthood, it takes a 360-degree look at mental illness. The story follows the life of Lucia, a vibrant young Chinese-American woman with schizophrenia, as well as the lives of Lucia’s protective older sister, her Swiss doctor husband, a charismatic Israeli shopkeeper, and the young, undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant who fathers Lucia’s child. 
The author was gracious to participate in a Q&A with me.
Q: Your novel deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness, as well as what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness. Why this approach?
A: An illness like schizophrenia affects everyone in its wake. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more narratives about these illnesses, but they are usually memoirs told from one person’s point of view, and most often in the context of white, middle-class families. I wanted to portray mental illness from several different perspectives, and to place the illness squarely in the context of people’s lives. Lives are chaotic and messy, and I wanted to explore the conflicts these illnesses can amplify in families – in this case, a cobbled-together, unconventional family of immigrants from diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds, but a family that is trying its hardest to love each other nonetheless.
 
Q: Have you had personal experience with mental illness?
A: Yes, I’ve seen members of my own family struggle with this illness. I’ve seen psychotic episodes up close, those breaks from reality where people may become convinced the TV is sending them secret messages, or the FBI has planted a bug in their head. It sounds silly, almost, but when it’s someone you love, and they can’t be swayed, and you’re watching them transform before your eyes into someone you don’t understand anymore — it feels both terrifying and incomprehensible. It can also be extremely difficult to know what to do – if your loved one lacks insight (the clinical term is “anosognosia”) and doesn’t acknowledge that they’re ill, it’s almost impossible to find help for them. 
 I’ve also dealt with the mental health care system, and am familiar with how frustrating it can be to finally get your loved one to a hospital, only to have them turned away because they’re not “an imminent danger.” So often, in dealing with these illnesses, family members end up feeling powerless and paralyzed.
 
Q: Lucia, the protagonist, is a fascinating character. She’s radiant, impulsive, quirky, yearning. What was writing her character like?
A: Lucia was tricky to write – yes, she has an illness, which surfaces from time to time, but she’s also still so much herself, brilliant and perceptive and full of dreams and passions. I wanted readers to relate to her as a modern woman – someone yearning for love, family, career, a sense of belonging – and to also learn something about her illness, and be able to sympathize. But at the same time her illness could not entirely let her off the hook for her actions and choices. She had to be a nuanced, fully three-dimensional character, with both strengths and flaws. And the reader would have to decide for themselves what they might’ve done in her position, or in the position of one of her family members. That was my goal for her, and the book – to have readers disagree over what each character should’ve done. 
 
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?  
A: I hope they’ll gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. We shouldn’t need celebrities to tell us it’s okay to struggle before we accept that as the truth. I also hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of my many characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. Finding empathy for people in situations unlike our own – I think that’s a hugely important reason to read fiction.
You can buy this incredible book at a bookstore near you or on Amazon