Category Archives: Jace Killan

Jace lives in Arizona with his wife and five children. In addition to writing he enjoys music, photography, and anything outdoors. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Utah State University and is the Chief Financial Officer of a biotech company.

Amnesia

Why are books better than their movie counterparts? There are several reasons, but I believe the strongest has to do with insight into the mind. We are given a telepathic link to the point of view character’s mind. But that link streams data in bits instead of a massive info dump (in good writing anyway).

This can be problematic if not done right. We all love a good twist ending. That mental whiplash, once everything seems to be resolved, can be an exhilarating experience. I remember watching the Sixth Sense when the child psychologist discovers he’s dead.

I immediately wanted to watch the movie again. When I did, it was a totally different experience. But the twist wouldn’t have worked if he knew he was dead all along. Consider that for a moment. In twists where the characters know what is going on, but not the reader, a twist comes across more like fraud than hand-clapping thrill.

That’s because there is an unspoken agreement between the reader and writer. The writer promises a good story, an exciting tale, an emotional journey. The reader promises to go along with the ride and believe the words and trust the characters as they are presented. When the reader discovers that the characters were withholding critical information, even though there had been an apparent telepathic link, then that trust is broken and the reader feels deceived, not entertained.

There are many ways to help the reader discover along with the POV characters so that discovery becomes a journey. The one gimmick I’d like to discuss is amnesia.

The Maze Runner did it well, forbidding the reader much of the world where juveniles run mazes. Because of Thomas’s amnesia, the reader is sucked into the story, waiting with baited breath every bit of information they can glean together from the world before them.

I recently read a book where amnesia was used well. Sleeper Protocol by Kevin Ikenberry was a fantastic sci-fi novel where the main character discovers his identity and memories through a series of scientific supported phases under the supposition that rediscovery (integration) can be detrimental to the mind if it happens too quickly.

The sixth sense was essentially an amnesia story, disguised. That’s why it worked so well.

Others, like Dan Brown’s Inferno, use amnesia as a tool to propose a purpose and deciding event for the character in order to up the stakes, or increase the drama and embellish the character arc.

Arguably one of the best amnesia tales is Jason Borne whose head wound left him with no prior memory although he had exceptional skills, spoke foreign languages, knew martial arts and spy craft and so on. Also it allowed the reader to empathize with someone who killed people for a living.

Fifty First Dates used amnesia to tell an incredible, funny, and yet heart-wrenching love story.

I myself have an amnesia novel in the works. It’s temporary and as it wears off, the reader discovers the apocalyptic world, as fascinating as it appears, isn’t at all what it seams and instead turns into an exciting thriller.

To write the piece, I did extensive research on the brain and memory loss. In my world, it has to be, believable. Basically there are different parts of the brain where memory is stored. Episodic memory involving experiences and events are different than Semantic Memory involving facts and concepts. These two types are stored in separate parts of the brain. This is why Jason Borne doesn’t remember any specific event but he knows at this altitude he can flat out run for thirty minutes and not break a sweat.

This is also why is would not make sense for Thomas of Maze Runner to recall his name but nothing else. Unless of course there was some medical, scientific, magical reasoning for it that James Dashner covers well.

What are some of your favorite amnesia stories?

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.

Crit Groups Suck I mean Rock

It was my turn. I passed out my thirty pages to the group to take home and love. I knew they would. They’d come back the next week and beg for more. The prose. The story. The insight. They’d share with their friends. The leader of the crit group (a group I paid $200 a month to be a part of) had been published—four times. She’d probably kick my submission over to her agent. I’d have publishers beating down my door, demanding I quit my day job and finish the book.

The next week I waited nervously as we went through the opening formalities. Then they pulled out their redlined thirty pages and looked at me. Not with eyes of amazement or envy, but…pity? Confusion?

“Well,” said the four-time published author, “where do I start?”

I learned a lot in the next twenty minutes. It was like prancing around the high school cafeteria, butt naked.

They wanted to know what happened to the peanuts. See, my character went on a road trip with his dad. He stopped in the gas station and bought peanuts. I never mentioned them again. They wanted to know what happened. The group leader suggested if I put it on the table, that I use it.

I sucked at POV. I hadn’t written a story but wrote about the scenes I would have watched on television, shifting camera angles back and forth. Good for television, bad for storytelling. This was the first time I learned about the concept known as Point of View.

“But beautiful imagery in the fire scene.” That coming from the four-time published author. I didn’t know what imagery was. But I had written something that I had experienced, building a campfire.

After the experience, my pride more than bruised, more like destroyed, and surprisingly with no agent deals, I about gave up writing.

Fast forward 10 years. Tonight, I just got off the phone with a phenomenal crit group. We submit1000 words each week and critique them. We probably overanalyze things, discuss word variations, plot structure, character development. The benefit of this group, hasn’t been the critiques, the multiple eyes and perceptions that catch inconsistencies or typos (like mine tonight where I wrote “her waste” instead of “her waist”).

No the greatest gift of this crit group has not been so apparent. In reading other writings as a fellow critiquer, I have to ask myself a number of questions: Why does this work or not work? Why did I misread this? What do they mean here? Why did they take it that direction? Why did they use that word? How might I have said that? Why do I love this character? Why do I enjoy this character? What made that piece great? And on and on and on.

Then, while asking the questions, developing a response that is constructive and then sharing that response with the author has helped me better understand my own writing weaknesses.

Robert Heinlein said, “When one teaches, two learn.” This my friends, is why you need a crit group. Because when all six of us teach, all six of us learn and we are getting better, I am getting better.

Here are some things crit groups have taught me.

  1. How you mention something in a story can add great significance to that something…like peanuts.
  2. If you put something on the table, use it.
  3. Good writers are not born. Everyone sucks as some stage in their writing career. If you want to be a good writer, persistence will help.
  4. DON’T PAY FOR CRIT GROUPS – even if they are a four-time published author.
  5. If you don’t like your crit group, find another. There are plenty. Maybe join two.
  6. If you’re the smartest guy in your crit group, maybe join a second (don’t necessarily quit your first because Robert Heinlein had a good point.
  7. Make the time to submit, attend, and offer feedback in your crit groups.
  8. Be consistent.
  9. Writing prompts, given by someone in the crit group is a waste of time. I’ve got plenty of ideas and too little time.
  10. Join a group that writes the same genre as you. It’s hard to get feedback on legal thrillers if everyone else is a fantasy guy.
  11. Be appreciative. They’re helping you and maybe you’re helping them.
  12. Take all feedback. If it helps, great. If not, throw it away quietly.

The Art of Miscommunication

A few years ago, at the family cabin, my wife chastised one of the kids for running past a wooden stake, topped with a pink ribbon.

“Get over here. The neighbors put up those stakes because they were tired of people going into their yard.”

This surprised me, as I knew my dad had surveyed the property in an effort to divide the lot. The stakes were commissioned by him, not the neighbor.

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“Your mom.”

My mom hadn’t communicated with my dad about the survey. So my mom, in an effort to understand reality, assigned a narrative that made sense to her, along with a motive. She didn’t know about the stakes, so obviously it came from the neighbors who shared her border. But why would they do such a thing? Because they were sick and tired of her grandkids disturbing the pine needles on their property, obviously.

Had she just called the neighbors, or mentioned it to her husband, the miscommunication could have been avoided, instead the narrative she created was passed around to my wife, then my kids and i’m sure others in my extended family still think the neighbors are a bunch of pricks because of it.

Two parts in the example above, create and build tension.

  1. Using point of view, we can develop a perception of reality unique to our characters. The disparity between these perceptions are where we breed tension, with each character reacting according to their perception to a situation.
  2. Having our characters assign motive to others without understanding their perception of reality.

In Les Miserables, Fantine hates Jean Valjean because he fired her. He hadn’t, that was her perception. She was fired by a female supervisor who’d discovered her illegitimate child. The supervisor brought up the situation to Valjean, omitting some detail, and Valjean invited her to do what she thought best.

Later, after Fantine plummeted into poverty and sin, all for the noble cause of caring for her daughter, she confronts Valjean with anger, matching the hatred he must hold for her. Only, he doesn’t even know who she is and tries to help her as he would anyone in her situation. The tension explodes, becoming another inciting event for Valjean when he understands Fantine’s perception of reality, he’d fired her, his motive, he despised her for her sins. His perception of reality was quite different. Anyone could find redemption. She’d made a mistake and should hardly have to pay for it the rest of her life. In fact, God could use that mistake to bring about a wonderful miracle that was Cosette.

Later in the story of Valjean we find another miscommunication between Javert and Valjean. Javert expects to be shot for spying on the revolutionaries. Valjean volunteers to shoot Javert, not because he wanted to be free of the old prison guard, but because he wanted to save Javert’s life. This blew Javert’s mind and he vowed to continue to hunt Valjean down, which he does later, but when it comes time to arrest Valjean, his perception of reality has changed so drastically, he chooses to not live in his newfound reality and kills himself after letting Valjean go.

As a reader we can bask in the tension created by conflicting perceptions of realities from two or more characters that we’ve come to know through their point of views.

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.

A Passing Therapist

30484017-368-k42724“Martin,” I hear the voice say. “Martin.”

I raise my head from the desk.

“I’m here to help.” A man stands in my office doorway, but with my lights, off he’s just a backlit silhouette, his face shrouded in shadow.

“I came as quick as I could,” he says.

“Come in.” I blink hard to dismiss the blur in my eyes. “Turn on the light?”

With a flash my vision returns. I squint, allowing my eyes to adjust to the brightness. I see an older gentleman, dressed in a brilliant white suit.

“Please, take a seat,” I say.

He does.

He’s a slender man with glasses and a trimmed mustache; the only indication of his age is his grey hair. He tilts his head back and looks down his nose at me in an uncomfortable stare.

“What’s with the outfit?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood.

He offers a slight smile. “I just came from a funeral for one of my clients, a sweet gal—decided to take her life.” He shook his head unapprovingly.

“Aren’t you supposed to wear black to a funeral?”

“Most do.” He leans forward in his chair. “Well let’s get down to business, Martin. Tell me what’s troubling you?”

As if by command, I shift my gaze from his face to the papers on my mahogany desk. “What do you mean?”

“Obviously, something is bothering you. As a therapist, it’s my job to help with this sort of thing. Have you been depressed?”

I slouch in my chair, the leather’s high-pitch moan expressing resistance. “I guess so.”

“Good. Honesty is the first step, you know. Have you been stressed?”

Many thoughts are muddled in my mind; I try to dissect them, isolate them, but as I do they fade away. I look around my office at the stacks of files in disarray, strewn across my desk and on the floor. In the corner lay a hoard of fast-food wrappers, mingled with junk mail and empty beer cans—traces of my discretions discarded—or collected.

“Yeah. I’ve been stressed,” I admit.

“About what?”

“It’s this damn lawsuit.” Emotion swells in my gut. My jaw clenches and I look at the ground, at anything but him.

“Go on.”

“It’s not my fault,” I say, louder than I expected. “I was cheated, but I’m the one being sued. I’m on the hook for everything—for nothing.” My voice cracks a little.

“I’m not following you.”

I stand from my seat and slam my fist onto a stack of papers. “I didn’t do anything wrong, but they’re taking everything away from me.” In a burst of rage I fling the stack on my desk, scattering documents across the room, a blanket of white covering the office floor.

He looks away, ignoring my action. He waits a moment before returning his gaze into my eyes. “What do you mean by everything?”

“Everything, you moron. I’ve lost the house, the cars, the boat, the land, the business.” I raise a finger each time I name a possession. “I lost everything.”

“So now you have nothing?”

“Are you patronizing me?” I sit down and cross my arms.

“What about your family?”

I think for a moment, trying to summon their image from the back of my mind but it doesn’t come.

He points to a picture on the wall. “Where’s your wife?”

As I stare at the photograph, a longing grows within me. A youthful man embraces a pretty woman, sitting on a park bench, surrounded by fall foliage, while two small children smile and a dog sits guard. That isn’t me. Not anymore.

The therapist persists like a conscience, “where are your son and daughter?”

They’re usually in the house playing, being loud and bothering me but I hear nothing. I’ve been so busy, so engrossed in my task; for a moment I’ve forgotten. I focus on the faces in the photograph and I remember. “They’re out of town with my sister.”

“Did you lose them?”

“I just told you that they’re out of town with my sister?”

“I’m only referring to what you said about losing everything. Did you lose your family too?” He sits in his chair, almost expressionless, too calm, too peaceful, looking down on me, judging me.

“I don’t know, maybe.”

I wait for a reply but there is nothing, only silence—no sound of breathing, no clock ticking. I look at the timepiece; it is still. Batteries must’ve died. The therapist remains silent. I have to fill the void with something, anything.

“Cathy and I have been struggling for awhile now. It’s this lawsuit. It’s destroyed us; it’s destroyed me.” There. An admission, maybe he’ll ease up.

But he doesn’t. His eyes continue to peer, to condemn. So I let it out. “Okay. I’ve probably lost all of them, is that what you want to hear? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t care. She was probably only in it for the money and that’s all gone. And the kids never liked me anyways.” It’s his turn to talk.

“It sounds to me like you’re saddened because of your loss of everything, but everything to you means everything material. It appears you’re trying to minimize the pain of what you’ve really lost.”

“Now you’re not making sense.” I cross my arms.

“Perhaps not.” He leans forward in his chair, looking–peering–into my soul. “So what are you going to do about the depression?”

“Do? What can I do? Aren’t you here to help me? Give me some pills, some advice. Tell me what to do.”

“I don’t prescribe medicine. I’m only here to help you realize as gently as possible.”

“Realize what?” I ask but I don’t mean to. I’m not sure why I continue to play his games.

“You’ve lost everything.”

“I know!” I stand, slamming both hands down hard on the desktop. “Haven’t you been listening to me?”

He doesn’t flinch. “You’ve lost Cathy.”

It hits me like cold water. He’s not really a therapist. He’s here for something else.

“Are you her attorney? Does she want a divorce?”

“Martin, I’m a therapist but not the kind you might think. Cathy’s thought about a divorce, but that doesn’t really matter now.” His gaze shifts away from mine for the first time since we’ve been talking. He’s looking at my desk.

“Why?” I ask. “Because of the lawsuit? Am I going to prison? Are you with the FBI?”

He shakes his head, seemingly surprised with the inquisition. “Unfortunately Martin, your depression will be your prison.”

“If you’re really a therapist, then help me. Please, help me.” The emotion in my voice surprises me. I struggle to hold back tears. He was right. My depression has me bound.

“I’m trying to help you, son.” His eyes look at my desk again. I follow his gaze, looking at my side. Turning my head a little, wiping the tears from my eyes, I see a pistol resting on the desk. I look back at the therapist who offers a soft smile as he nods his head.

“You want to know what I’m going to do about my depression? Maybe I should kill myself and break free from the prison.” I reach for the gun, its handle moist. I look at my hand covered in blood and notice the crimson puddle on my desk, spilling onto the floor.

“Martin,” he says, “I’m trying to help you realize that you already did.”

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.