Mental health and science fiction | Author Samantha Heuwagen Interview
Today, we’re talking about mental health and writing. Samantha Heuwagen is the author of the new release Dawn Among The Stars. Samantha did a wonderful job of intertwining her passions for mental health and aliens. I’ve done an interview with her live on YouTube in the past, but today, we’re delving specifically into mental health.
First, tell us a little about your book
Dawn Among the Stars is a feminist, science fiction novel exploring mental health, love, and what it means to be human.
As a women’s and gender studies professor and sex therapist, I was tired of reading about the same female character over and over again. You know what I’m talking about: the one that can’t do anything for herself once love walks in the door. Not to mention the same character that needs to be saved even though she claims to be independent and self-sufficient. I wanted to cheer on badass Latinas who were not only doing it for themselves but still let love be a part of their life in a healthy way.
I also wanted to change the discussion about mental health. It gets a bad rap in the media and definitely in popular works of fiction. As a therapist, I saw what it’s like first hand and wanted to bring a realistic view of what happens when someone’s world is turned upside down either by the coming of aliens or everyday stressors. We need positive role models when it comes to mental health.
Because there was a need, I got to work on creating an epic feminist science fiction novel.
I’d like to introduce to you, #DawnAmongtheStars:
Set against the backdrop of intergalactic politics and war, Dawn Among the Stars follows the stories of three Humans as they struggle to understand the universe on a cosmic scale. Kayin has a rough start when the Shielders, a potential alien ally for EARTH, come out of hiding and into the public consciousness. Not only does their very existence cause her trouble, her panic attacks threaten to derail her everyday life. As the politics of Space unfold Kayin has to decide if following her heart is worth leaving EARTH for good. As for Henry Rickner, he wishes he could take back all of his mistakes in his life, starting with his choice to leave Kayin alone in Michigan and the problem: the Temorshians are right outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The battle brings humans and Shielders alike to a northern city in Michigan. After a heavy day of fighting, Henry pays the highest price to give back to his newly formed community. Melissa Pebbles, Kayin’s best friend, only has one goal: to keep her family safe during the attacks. She will do anything–even kill–to make sure she and her family make it through the war. While Melissa fights to keep her family safe and alive, she learns that family is more than just blood. Can these three work with the Shielders to save EARTH or will they lose the only home they’ve ever known?
I love that you’ve included mental health into science fiction. What mental health does your book represent?
Dawn covers a variety of issues I’d seen in session. From anxiety to PTSD, to healthy and unhealthy relationship traits, it has it all. I do focus on panic attacks and anxiety through Kayin Aves, but with Henry and Melissa, it’s a little more abstract. I’m sure I could open up a DSM5 and give them a diagnosis, but it’s more about how they cope with transitions and change. For example, Henry doesn’t handle is new role very well (you’ll have to read to understand what that means) and Melissa does a 180 in personality because she’s not willing to give up––she’s a survivor. Those are all themes someone can talk about in therapy with a helping professional. It doesn’t just have to be about a label or term someone uses to describe themselves. It can be about a moment in time where someone is struggling and I think we miss that as authors and creatives. Mental health is multiple things, not just one.
Why are you qualified to write about the mental health represented?
This is a great question! I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in Sex Therapy. I’m certified by The American College of Sexologists and I teach the class “Love and Sex” at Kennesaw State University. I’ve had many years of training and schooling to help me do what I do. I have two master’s degrees both of which influence how I write and how I do therapy. I think all of that combined makes me pretty qualified to help people through writing and beyond, which has always been my dream in life.
Do you think mental health rep is important? Why?
I think it’s extremely important. We need to start being open with ourselves that we’re struggling as a society. We don’t want to talk about feelings because it’s hard or uncomfortable. How do we change that? We start by realizing no one is perfect and life is full of situations we’re not always ready to handle. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s why there are caring, helping professionals that are trained to help love you when you can’t love yourself.
Media is the first place people go to look for answers. If we have real and accurate depictions of mental health for people to digest, we’re starting the dialogue long before someone sits on a therapist’s couch. That makes all the difference to creating change on a micro and macro scale.
What is the most difficult part of writing about mental health?
Being true to the real-life experiences of others. For me, it’s important to tell the story, but it’s also important to not create a depiction that’s unrealistic. Mental health will always be different for each person on the planet––that’s apart of the reason why I love my job––but it can cause problems as a writer who’s writing to be authentic and real. You’re not always going to get it right, but if you talk to a lot of people, do your research, and are honest to the best of your ability, magic happens and you’ll be able to touch at least one life.
Do you have any advice for those striving to add accurate representation (especially if they don’t deal with it personally)?
Do your research. Talk to a helping professional in your area that specializes in whatever you’re writing about, do it. Then maybe ask your network of friends. See if they’re comfortable opening up about what it’s like for them. Like I said before, you’re not always going to get it right, but if you do your homework and come at it with an open mind, you’ll be just fine.
Thank you so much for talking with me (again). I always enjoy hearing your answers and having an open dialogue. Hopefully, you let me bring you back for a lovely chat about aliens, sex, or alien sex 😉
Go check Samantha and the starless out on all of her social media
And in the meantime,
keep calm and stay epic!
Samantha Heuwagen works as a Marriage and Family Therapist that 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 and the power of the written word. When she isn’t working with clients, she writes about faraway places and tries to change the world through fiction, bridging mental health awareness and social justice together