Socialworkersspeaks on FacebookFollow Us on TwitterRSS Feed

Social worker, author using science fiction, satire to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect

Book cover

Book cover

National Association of Social Workers member Robert Eggleton is no stranger to writing. His investigative report to the West Virginia Supreme Court, “Daniel’s Death, West Virginia’s First Child Maltreatment Fatality Report,” helped prompt the state to enact its first child fatality review process.

Eggleton was later appointed by the State Medical Examiner to West Virginia’s first child fatality review team.

Eggleton shed many tears while working on that influential document. “I had to write that report at home because I didn’t want to become a mess at work where everybody was dressed up as emotionally-detached professionals,” he said.

Now Eggleton is an author who is using science fiction and satire to educate the public about the mistreatment and abuse of children. His novel Rarity from the Hollow follows Lacy Dawn, a little girl from a troubled home who gets help from an android in fixing her family. Lacy Dawn just has to do one little thing to return the favor — save the universe.

Proceeds from the book sales will go to the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.

SocialWorkersSpeak.org talked to Eggleton about his social work career, how he got started in writing and his motivation to write Rarity from the Hollow.

Q: Why did you decide to go into social work? What kind of social work did you do? 

 
Eggleton: During my youth in tumultuous 1960s America, I was increasingly active in social justice issues, including civil rights and antiwar protests. I was inspired by my mother, who had unconditional respect for always doing the right things in life, and music during those times that had socially relevant messages.  I camped at a tent city when a traditionally Black neighborhood was to be demolished for interstate construction and was kicked out of high school for unauthorized distribution of youth organizing anti-war literature. Before I was old enough to be drafted into the Army, I volunteered to be trained by students from Antioch College in draft counseling and worked at our local Legal Aid Society office in that field. I also volunteered at two walk-in drug counseling programs, mostly talking down kids who were experiencing bad acid trips. At that time, there was a temporary out from the draft – a 2S Deferment. Since I also worked to support my family, which had just established eligibility for the new food stamps and public housing programs, college seemed like the appropriate choice. I went to summer school in high school to get my last credit and enrolled at West Virginia State University, a traditionally Black institution that I believed might be a good fit. At the same time, although idealistic, I was also very practical – my family needed money. After admission, I overheard a professor say that there would always be jobs in the field of child welfare, whether the country was going through good or bad times. My other academic subjects were not particularly strong as public school had always been mostly a place where I dissociated from trauma, or where I organized other kids to fight for social justice, instead of a place that I valued for learning. So, I checked out becoming a social work major. With my personal background, casework, group work, and community organizing social work seemed right up my alley. To actually get paid for advocacy seemed like a dream come true – it was. I feel overwhelmingly rewarded for having served as a children’s advocate for more than 40 years.

Q: How did writing books come about? 

Eggleton: Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel. I started writing short stories as a child. I’m the oldest sibling from an impoverished family. My father was an alcoholic veteran suffering from World War II-related post traumatic stress disorder with night terrors and anger outbursts. My mother was downtrodden but very protective of her children. Since there was no money for toys or recreation – we didn’t have a television or car – perhaps to help us all escape a harsh reality I started writing and sharing short stories to entertain my family, peers, and others in the neighborhood. My stories got better and my audience grew. In the eighth grade I won the school’s short story writing competition and began to dream of getting my family out of poverty by becoming a rich and famous author. After I finished graduate school and was awarded an MSW from West Virginia University in 1977, all of my jobs included writing nonfiction related to child welfare. This included service manuals, policy, investigative reports about systems, institutions, and programs, research and statistical reports. In 2002, I accepted a job as a psychotherapist at our local mental health center. It was my first professional job that didn’t include the production of written materials. My need to write was unmet and began to gnaw on me. I returned to writing fiction in 2006 to satisfy this need. Thus, the Lacy Dawn Adventures project and Rarity from the Hollow” were created.

Robert Eggleton

Robert Eggleton

Q: In Rarity from the Hollow, a young girl is helped by an android to fix her family, including a veteran father suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? It seems you weaved your experiences with your family and social work into this science fiction novel.

Eggleton: Yes, the characters in Rarity from the Hollow are more real than not. I’ve already mentioned that my own father experienced what was then called, “shell shock.” I wrote what I knew best, composites and enhanced attributes of people that I’ve met during more than 40 years of working as a social worker. The concept of sensitizing people to the huge social problem of child maltreatment through a comical and satiric adventure demanded that I use realistic characters.  Part of my job at the mental health center was to facilitate group psychotherapy sessions. In 2006, I met the real-life Lacy Dawn, the protagonist of my stories, during one of those group sessions. She was an 11-year-old ,empowered survivor of extreme child abuse. She spoke about her hopes and dreams for a bright future – finding a loving family that would protect her forever. It was inspiring.    Rarity from the Hollow was perhaps the first an only science fiction adventure to specifically predict the rise of Donald Trump to political power – parody with no political advocacy one side or any other. The allegory included pressing issues that are being debated today: illegal immigration and the refugee crisis; extreme capitalism/consumerism vs. domestic spending for social supports; sexual harassment and complicated tax code.

Another way that my experiences as a social worker influenced my writing is related to social advocacy and fund raising. I have had considerable involvement in these aspects of the profession when working for small community-based nonprofits. Since I began working in the field of child welfare, I can’t remember a day that I didn’t take work home with me, emotionally. All of the tears in the world, however, will do little to help needful children, and my internalization of this fact has kept me strong. I didn’t want Rarity from the Hollow to be a depressing or an emotionally draining story. I could have written another novel like Push by Sapphire, which was adapted . But, I didn’t feel that a Precious-like story would be an effective social change agent. It was a great piece of work that didn’t raise any money to actually help kids. I wanted to produce a novel that people would enjoy reading, not just one that was merely meaningful or that people would get depressed by reading. My experience as a social worker in fund-raising taught me that targeted benefactors want to have fun during functions for that purpose. My goal was to produce a book that was fun to read.

Q: Science fiction, from TV shows such as Star Trek to novels by Phillip K. Dick, have been used to convey messages about social problems – isolation, racism, poverty, inequality. Do you hope to accomplish that through writing?

Eggleton: The overall goals of the Rarity from the Hollow project are to sensitize readers to the huge social problem of child maltreatment and to raise some money to help a wonderful nonprofit agency where I worked in the early 1980s, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. I was the director of Emergency Children’s Shelters. Seventy-five percent of proceeds from this project are donated.

Over the years, my feelings that something more needed to be done to help maltreated children grew and grew. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations in protecting kids – losing an average of between four and seven children every day due to child abuse and neglect.

Yes, I want my fiction to convey messages about social problems. In 2015, I retired from my full-time job to invest in that approach – writing fiction that includes social commentary without being preachy. But, although an avid reader, in the beginning I didn’t know anything about the literary world. Naively, I thought that all I had to do was to write a great book.

As you mentioned, historically, speculative fiction has fueled social activism, debate, and the adoption of evolving or devolving social policy depending on one’s values. In 380 B.C., Plato envisioned a utopian society in The Republic and that story represented the beginning of a long string of speculations: ecology, economics, politics, religion, technology, feminism. In the 1970s, Ursula K. LeGuinn, was credited with coining the term, “social science fiction” to distinguish that subgenre from hard science fiction.

The impact of speculative fiction on my personal world view began in the 1960s when Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss, Frank Herbert and others wrote about the stuff that many American teens at the time were reflecting upon – social and political issues at a tumultuous time. Protests against increasing militarism during the Vietnam War were fueled by the writings of Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut. Speculative fiction then was more than simple escapism, as evidenced by Ursula Le Guinn winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970.
Another of my role models is Charles Dickens. He may not have been the first novelist to address the evils of child victimization in fiction, but his work has certainly made an impact on us all. Every Christmas, Tiny Tim pulls at our heart strings, now by cable and satellite television, and stirs the emotions of masses.

 Q: Tell us about the benefit you are doing connecting with Rarity from the Hollow. How can folks get involved?

Eggleton: West Virginia has the poorest economic outlook and the highest heroin overdose death rate in the nation, both correlates of child abuse. Since your members are most likely already sensitized to social problems, the best ways to help this project would be to:

  • Donate directly to the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.
  • Buy Rarity from the Hollow.
  • If you like the novel, post a review of it on Amazon.
  • If you think that your friends, coworkers or family members would like the novel, tell them about it.
  • If you have a Twitter account, like and retweet posts about the novel tweeted from my Twitter account @roberteggleton1 .
  • If you participate on Facebook, like this page and share posts about the novel from the Lacy Dawn Adventures page.

 Each day social workers help millions of people overcome life’s challenge. To learn more about how social workers can help you visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” website.

|   Leave A Comment
Tagged as: , , , , , ,

Advertisement

Leave a Comment