Samantha Heuwagen: “Saying no is okay”

In terms of therapy and the stigma surrounding it, I think being open about going and learning from the process can definitely change minds. I would love to see mental health be more accessible to more people and for therapists to earn a living wage. Talking to your political leaders about mental health is a […]

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In terms of therapy and the stigma surrounding it, I think being open about going and learning from the process can definitely change minds. I would love to see mental health be more accessible to more people and for therapists to earn a living wage. Talking to your political leaders about mental health is a must and can help change this for so many. The more we talk about it, the better it will be for everyone.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Heuwagen, a Latinx marriage and family therapist and best-selling author in the Metro Atlanta area. When not working with clients, she sparks discussion about mental health with the goal to spread awareness across the United States and beyond by challenging the popular discourse surrounding mental illness and making it more inclusive.

Her books, Dawn Among the Stars, Fading Starlight, and Stardust Emerging are available now wherever books are sold. Discover what it means to be human in this feminist science fiction series, where her debut novel was nominated for a 2019 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the First Novel category.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

As a child I was very curious about the world and the best way I could learn about it was through stories. I loved playing pretend with my sisters and cousins. I also spent hours with my dollhouse, having the dolls go off on adventures. It was a great time for me and where I cut my teeth discovering what it meant to tell stories that captured my imagination and gave me an outlet to better understand the world.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Actually, when I was younger, I didn’t read. I was diagnosed with two learning disabilities at the age of 7. Because of this reading was a chore. Reading never interested me on a deep level. Because I always struggled, I wanted to make up my own stories instead of reading the words of others. It wasn’t until I was much older, I became interested in books. The first series I read was the Harry Potter Series — and since then I’ve been hooked on reading. You can always find me with a book and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

In the beginning, I didn’t know the difference between Academic writing and fiction writing. So, here I was, trying to write fiction sounding like a professor. Needless to say, I’ve honed my skills and cleaned it up enough to show instead of tell — to immerse the reader into the world I create.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

As a therapist, I see a lot of misinformation surrounding mental health and healthy relationships floating around the internet. Once I had the idea for The Starless Series, I knew I had to incorporate these themes. Not only to make them more accessible to people who couldn’t access mental health services, but to help educate in a fun and interesting way. There are tons of textbooks or self-help books out there, what if there was a creative piece of work that could take the same tools I use with my clients and bring them to the masses?

I am a social justice warrior in my heart. There would be no way I could write books without this being a mage part of the story.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

My work is non-fiction, so here’s an excerpt from Stardust Emerging, the third installment of the Starless Series.

“Why did you change your mind about the Shielders, Dom?” I asked him, trying to stop playing with the sore in my mouth. I’d rubbed it raw a few days ago, and now it was bothering me to no end.

“What are you on about?” He turned to face me, his features almost hidden in the moonlight.

Dominique Fuller and I were on lookout duty on the far side of Mackinac Island again, sitting in the cool Michigan summer darkness and waiting to be relieved from our duties. We still had an hour or two more of our watch, but time dragged on as exhaustion edged closer. While we waited, we took turns asking each other bizarre or personal questions to help pass the time. I’d enjoyed getting to know him better in tonight’s chat.

Besides, over the last few months, he’d grown closer to my sister, Mabel. As any big sister would do, I’d grilled him with questions surrounding his love life before the coming of aliens. If he was uncomfortable, he never showed it.

“When you first stormed into our lives way back when, you almost killed Clairfic.” His name caught on my tongue. The feeling of fire ants crawled over my skin in irritation, my cloudy feelings bubbling under the surface. I set them aside, trying to keep my tone as even possible.

I didn’t want to think about him or what happened.

Faking a cough to try to hide my blunder, I continued, “You were so mad my family could befriend an alien in the beginning, we all thought you might, you know, kill him and take us prisoner. What’s changed over the last few months?”

He chuckled, the sound echoing through the night. “I don’t know… I still don’t like them, but what other choice do I have right now?” He paused, shifting his weight to rest his hunting rifle on his other shoulder. “We’re stuck on an island in the middle of a war no one can escape from. That doesn’t leave me very many choices, does it? I guess I just changedto survive.”

Through the dim moonlight, I tried to study his face, searching for a clue to his true feelings. If he was lying, it didn’t show. Instead I could’ve sworn compassion, and perhaps some understanding, broke through his normally rough façade.

Dom’s thick beard had grown in, becoming tattered at the ends. He refused to do anything about his rugged appearance, stating that wasting precious resources to keep himself tidy was stupid. Though his outfit — half La’Mursian, half Human — was in pristine condition. Heaven help him if he was caught in a dirty uniform. Years of his Army training was evident in his pin-straight posture and ever-searching eyes as he scouted the horizon.

He turned, his hawk-like stare catching mine. “Why are you asking me this? Think I’ll turn rogue and fight with the other side?”

I laughed, my own voice echoing off the trees. “No, of course not. I’m just curious.”

He snorted.

“What? I am!”

“Does this have anything to do with Clairfic?” he asked.

I froze, the question catching me off guard. Though my family had tried to get me to talk about my breakup with Clairfic, I’d refused every time. Eventually, they’d given up, leaving me to figure out my feelings alone. Just the way I wanted it.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

The deciding factor for me was having potential clients call to work with me (therapy), but having to turn them away ethically, whether because I didn’t live in their area or because I wasn’t a good fit. Both weighed heavy on me. I thought, “If I can’t see them and work with them, what if I could create something they could take with them and use in their own way?” I was already using writing as a tool for myself, sharing it might prove useful to so many others looking to explore healthy relationships and mental health.

After getting The Starless Series to readers, it was evident pretty quickly readers wanted to talk about mental health and see characters struggle in a real way that didn’t pity them or make them a joke. It was wild to hear how the story impacted how they viewed healthy relationships, too, because a lot of time in romance (whether sci-fi or fantasy), the relationships take a questionable turn. Each message allowed readers to explore at their own pace and to explore their own issues in the pages of The Starless Series.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’m proud to work with Hannah Bauman as my editor. Without her support, I wouldn’t be where I am today or have the books I do. With her guidance she allowed me to use my voice for good and help change my small corner of the world. Bringing the message of The Starless Series alive has been a dream and dreams don’t come true without the hard work and determination of a team. I’m glad Hannah is on mine.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

In terms of therapy and the stigma surrounding it, I think being open about going and learning from the process can definitely change minds. I would love to see mental health be more accessible to more people and for therapists to earn a living wage. Talking to your political leaders about mental health is a must and can help change this for so many. The more we talk about it, the better it will be for everyone.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership means respecting others, being authentic, and remembering kindness. We are all struggling these days and taking a moment to take a breath and support those around you can do wonders. A real leader knows their own boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. And they do it all with kindness.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.) Go to Therapy NOW. Don’t wait until things get really awful, confusing, or painful. Therapy is a great tool even when you may not know what to work on — therapists can help navigate it all.

2.) Create a support network of fellow professionals that can help in various arenas. Family is great, but they don’t have the lens to help you in a professional setting. Creating a group of all kinds of people will help you grow in ways you never imagined.

3.) Ask questions, introduce yourself, and never take no for an answer. No one knows you exist, so help them along by having an elevator pitch to talk about what you do. I’ve made a lot of contacts that way and it’s been a great experience!

4.) Saying no is okay. We can’t do it all and sometimes saying no leaves space for things we really want to do and should do! It’s fun to give back to the community, but you aren’t a free resource all the time. Knowing when you can accept an event, project, you name it and that you will have the energy to do so, is a great gift to yourself and the person asking.

5.) Take a breath once in a while. You don’t have to go as hard as you think. Your ambition is your friend, not the enemy. That said, self-care isn’t a dirty word. You have to set boundaries and hold them. Taking time for you helps your work and allows you to connect with people on a deeper level.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t use your energy to worry. Use it to believe.” When I was in grad school, I was a pile of nerves — I didn’t think I belonged there. This quote helped me focus on what I could do: believe. I might not have been the best student, but I knew I knew I was capable of growing and learning. I kept the faith and graduated with two masters.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to sit down and chat with Brene Brown. She has really done a wonderful job talking about mental health on a global scale and I would want to more about her journey on a one on one level.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with her on Instagram and at






This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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