JOLIET – From a memoir to surviving the foster care system to a series of adventure books for young children, Dani Mitchell – who goes by the pen name D.A. Weiss – is realizing her long-standing publishing dream.
For Weiss – a past juvenile counselor in Cook County, a present behavior specialist at Mount St. Joseph in Lake Zurich and a student at Argosy University in Schaumburg working on her master’s degree in human services – the goal for her writing is not fame, fortune or recognition.
It’s a personal mission for inspiring others to work through life trials and realize their goals.
Christine Yarbrough, a qualified intellectual disabilities professional at Mount St. Joseph, said Weiss has a wonderful heart for the intellectually disabled women she serves. She even seeks out additional resources for them.
It’s quite the dedication for a job that doesn’t pay well and requires a two-hour commute from Weiss.
“You come into this field because you care for the ladies and want the best for them,” Yarbrough said. “She [Weiss] does epitomize that.”
A child of the system
Until she was 6, she lived with her mother, who Weiss said abused drugs, had schizophrenia and occasionally abandoned Weiss. Eventually, the system stepped in and Weiss went to live with her grandparents.
All was well for several years, until her grandmother died and her grandfather remarried, in part to give Weiss a female role model and mentor. But Weiss said her stepgrandmother indulged in alcohol and was abusive, mostly verbally. At age 11, Weiss was removed from that home and placed in foster care.
“My first foster home was turbulent,” Weiss said. “The foster mother put on a façade for the system, but behind closed doors she was verbally abusive and – at times, physically abusive, too. … Unfortunately, DCFS didn’t know that she had a guy living in the home with us. He was an alcoholic, very verbally abusive and became physically abusive to me as well as the foster mother when he was drunk. I missed school because of his belligerence.”
Weiss ran away from that home several times and was eventually placed in a second foster home. This one was much better, Weiss said, although it had more children, five as opposed to two in the first home.
“I believe that the foster mother and foster father did care for us,” Weiss said. “They wanted to be sure we had a good home and wanted us to feel part of their family.”
Weiss said she was bullied in junior high and experienced an incident of sexual abuse in her childhood. At 19, Weiss was emancipated from the system and wanted to tell her story – but she didn’t pursue it until she left her job with Cook County.
“A lot of people who call themselves survivors don’t know how to live,” Weiss said. “I wanted to bravely go out and say, ‘It’s OK to confront the past.’ It’s OK to stand up and say, ‘I am a survivor,’ but it’s also important to say, ‘I’m not going to let my past control what I stand for.’ ”
Putting pen to paper
Weiss released her memoir, “Child of Void” in 2013, which is aimed at teens and adults. This past year, she also released the first three books of her Parker and Phoebe (a Chihuahua and a Yorkie, respectively) children’s adventure stories: “Parker and Phoebe K9 Time Travelers,” “Parker and Phoebe and the Penguin Tour Guide” and “Parker and Phoebe in the Wondrous Garden.”
The Parker and Phoebe series is for children age 3 and older. The catalyst for their fun is a magical, purple-tasseled bone their human “mother” bought them.
“Most of my stories about Parker and Phoebe will be about adventure and learning to share,” Weiss said, “and that it’s OK to have an imagination.”
Weiss is writing three more Parker and Phoebe books, a historical fiction novel of a teen growing up during the Civil Rights movement in the months before the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and a novel about an affluent woman finding fulfillment in overseas mission work.
But Weiss’ life passion is her pursuit of neuropsychology and plans to begin her doctorate in the fall at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.
Weiss has, she said, a soft spot for mentally ill individuals and their families. She wants to find the cause of schizophrenia; she wants to discover effective ways to treat people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She also wants to provide reassurance.
“I want to let them [the families] know it will be OK,” Weiss said. “It might not seem like it at first, but it will be OK.”
Purchase D.A. Weiss’ books at www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore