I am first, and foremost, a social worker. I have been a social worker for many years, even more years than I’d like to admit. Well, I have already admitted in earlier blog posts that I grew up in the 70s and 80s and was in the class of 1986, so do the math. Maybe I wanted to be a sports caster on Boston TV when I was in junior high, but that hope came crashing down when I didn’t get into the communications program at the college I chose to attend. It was probably a blessing in disguise. I have seen women sportscasters in the past 30 years. It would have been a huge challenge to make it in that field, and it would have been very competitive. Sometimes degrading. But it was pretty easy for me to fall into the social services after majoring in Sociology in college.
I was very quickly typecasted into working in the field of mental health. My first job out of college was working in a group home for adults with mental illnesses. It was a huge wake up call. I didn’t know anything about mental health, but I was about to learn quickly. One of my main characters in the fourth book of “McKinney High Class of 1986” has a very similar experience as me, even though her experience is made up, for obvious reasons. It was really challenging to learn everything that needed to be learned about mental health while already employed in the field. I attended many trainings and got on the job training. I learned about interpersonal communication skills, and crisis management. I was exposed to various people, with various diagnoses, and I quickly realized that you cannot define a person by their mental health diagnosis. And people with mental illnesses need so much support and advocacy. It actually turned out that I was pretty good at this stuff, so eventually I decided to pursue a master’s degree and a career in social work.
Through it all, writing was still my true love. I wrote my first “novel” in the early 2000s, but it was basically abandoned when I had my daughter. You lose a lot of creativity when you have a child, and you no longer count sleep as something you can depend on each night. So I didn’t sit down at the computer again and attempt to create a new story until the world was struck by the Omicron COVID variant in November of 2021. And then the words just exploded out of me, non-stop. It was a bit exhausting, but it also felt like something inside of me had woken up. For me, it was a relief from the anxiety brought on by the pandemic. It was an escape. I got to imagine a different reality, one where there was no COVID, and I was not stuck working from home for another six months because new variants delayed our return-to-work date, yet again.
I had some very certain ideas for my first real novel. I wanted to see what would happen if I took someone out of their comfort zone, dropped them in the middle of a different world, and then brought them back where they came from after a year. And boy, do things change. People change in a year. Feelings change. But one thing doesn’t change. People, even fictional people, have real life problems.
There is never any question in May I Have Your Attention Please about whether the protagonists are going to fall in love. I even state it clearly on the cover blurb. So this book is not full of “will-they-won’t-they” tension like a typical romance. But what does happen, is the world continues to spin in the same direction, even when people fall head over heels in love. They still have to deal with their own reality. And they are teens, so there is the fear of not being accepted for your reality. Hell, most adults feel that way too.
So there are problems in Sally and James’s lives. Real life problems. People get sick. People misbehave. Not everyone likes you. And sadly, sometimes people in your own family are suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. And sometimes, there are things that you just don’t know about or understand. So our couple tries to work these things out.
As hard as it is to be a person with a mental health or substance abuse problem, it’s sometimes just as hard to be someone who loves that person. There is a feeling of helplessness, of unpredictability. Of just not understanding what is going on. It helps when there are adults in your life to listen, and to explain, but it’s still a lot to work through. And who better to write about this stuff than a seasoned social worker?
As my series progresses, the problems get more intricate, complex, and severe. There are issues with parental abuse and neglect, unexpected traumas, dangerous secrets, loss, and powerful grief. Through it all, there is love and support, and coming of age. And yes, a good deal of romance and intimacy. Because all of these things are not mutually exclusive.
When you read these stories, again, please understand that they are fictional. These are not taken from my own life or the lives of anyone I have ever worked with or helped. They are figments of my imagination, but they are very real issues, and they are issues that we have all had to face sometime in our lives, even when we were teens.
I hope my stories touch you, teach you something, and even make you laugh or roll your eyes sometimes. But also, I hope they make you think, and make you want to learn more about the topic I write about. It’s really interesting stuff, and it’s only a Google search away.
If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call your local crisis line, call 988 (in the US), call 911 (in the US) or go to the closest emergency department.
For resources for mental health or substance abuse treatment, please call 211 (in the US) or go to 211 online. There is help out there.