Sally J. Pla was prepared to face her first San Diego Comic-Con International a few years ago, despite her crippling anxiety. Unfortunately — or fortunately? — the Olivenhain woman broke her leg and was unable to attend.
Pla, an author who was diagnosed with sensory processing issues, considered the mishap to be a blessing in disguise so she wouldn't have to face the large crowds. But, she added, the event also inspired her to help others who may have similar feelings of anxiety.
"I would get sensory overload and constant stomach aches," she said. "Things were really bewildering for me. I never saw that in fiction. Today, if you look at the numbers, one in 68 kids is getting diagnosed on the autism spectrum these days."
Pla released a book called "Stanley Will Probably Be Fine" on Feb. 6. The 280-page children's book, with comic sketches, follows a 12-year-old boy who is overwhelmed with anxiety when entering middle school. He finds salvation in comic books and eventually becomes brave enough to visit Comic Fest, stopping at iconic San Diego landmarks, such as Petco Park and the zoo, along the way to help him in the Trivia Quest.
The former freelance writer and business journalist, who still hasn't been to Comic-Con, said she wants children with anxiety, and those on the autism spectrum, to identify with Stanley.
"My mission is to keep writing books for kids and populate the world of children's literature with books that have characters whose brains operate a little differently," she said. "I just want to show kids that if their brains operate a little differently, that's OK. These books are not about autism spectrum disorders; they're about kids. It was really important to me to represent that in fiction."
She also wrote a book called "The Someday Birds," which is about a young boy with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Pla is also working on a third novel with a female protagonist, as well as a children's picture book about autism in the vain of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."
While the books can be a "mirror" for children with such disorders, Pla said they can also serve as "windows" for others to see what living with anxiety or on the spectrum can be like.
"In literature, we talk about books being both windows and mirrors for kids," she explained. "This is a window so kids can see how somebody else lives and slip inside someone else's skin for a little bit and see what life is like for them."
For more information about Pla, visit www.sallyjpla.com.