Author Archives: Jace Killan

The $80 Million Bank Heist (you’ve probably never heard of)

I’m a sucker for a good bank heist flick and I enjoy crime drama television, though I started to notice that many shows reflect similar stories to those in the news. After Bernie Madoff, a number of series had an episode about a billionaire hedge fund guy screwing over an everyday Joe in some sort of investment scheme. There have been other examples where these series use popular and current news in their episodes like a kidnapping, a missing spouse, a serial killer, and so on.

I enjoy reading and watching fiction that is based in reality. I like it when a story takes me to the uncomfortable edge of “what if”.

And so I keep a look out for those fantastical stories that only reality can tell, vested in irony and karmic justice, or those dramatic tragedies superseded by the ultimate protagonist. Reality is awesome and I’m grateful to be a part of it. But sometimes it can be too strange to be believable.

BanditsI love heist films like Ocean’s 11 or Bandits; Inside Man was awesome. Maybe it’s because I can imagine just for a moment, the “what if.” Not that I’d ever rob a bank, but what if I tried, could I get away with it?

I was asked to spend a couple years researching and helping with a case involving an $80 million dollar bank robbery. Yes, million and that figure alone puts the story into my NOT very realistic category.

Well it wasn’t one bank; it was actually more than two dozen banks. Believable now? What if I were to tell you that this bank heist didn’t involve guns or hostages? It didn’t involve get away vehicles or hideouts or even a crew of specialized talent. Boring?

It was one guy that exploited a connection. From what I could tell, the “robberies” happened from 2002 through 2009 when he was eventually arrested by the FBI.

To make the story even more unbelievable, the banks wired him the funds. You see, they thought they were participating in loans made to a billionaire and other landowners.

As an example, one gentleman borrowed from our bank-robbing friend, roughly $6 million using some property in Hawaii as collateral. The heist involved oversubscribing the loan, meaning that this bandit reached out to four different banks to subscribe the loan that he had made to the land owner, indicating that each bank would be in first position (and of course he failed to disclose that three other banks would be just as involved and just as clueless to his scheme). The four banks wired some twenty four million combined unaware that this same individual had transacted with many other banks on many other properties in the same manner. He used some of the funds to make payments on older fraudulent loans so that he could keep the Ponzi scheme going.

He lived large for a number of years and I imagine that there are still some funds yet to be accounted for. I’m sure he’ll be watched closely when he’s released, but the writer in me wonders if there isn’t a closing twist in this tale involving a cache of money on a private island somewhere. What if?

I’ve read numbers as low as $60 million and as high as $135 million, but the court documents and FBI seemed to settle on $79.9 million. What’s a few million among friends?

At the end of it all, he was sentenced to 72 months in prison, I believe half of which was due to not claiming some of the monies on his income taxes that he transferred to his personal accounts. You don’t want to mess with the IRS. They expected their piece of the heist totaling more than $500,000.

I find it interesting that a man who robs a bank of $5,000 could easily spend a couple decades behind bars while someone that defrauds institutions of $80 million might serve just a couple years with good behavior assuming he pays taxes on the money he’s embezzled.

So I’ve thought about writing the tale but it seems to be stranger than fiction.






Get out of the Way

turtlesRather than discuss what I would tell my earlier self, I decided to write about what I tell my children.

From age six to about nine or ten, I spent my days with two turtles, Sammy and Willy. They travelled the ocean stirring up trouble, then mystically transformed into astronaut bears who made it an effort to visit all the forests of the universe and then somehow mutated into aliens that went to scout camp. My friends grew as I grew and helped me experience fantastical adventures.

When I wasn’t with my turtle-bear-alien friends, I explored the realms of Narnia and Middle Earth. I lived on a boxcar and ate fried worms. I travelled to Oz over and over again and eventually sailed with Captain Ahab.

I remember when I announced to my dad that I had discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made my case:

–       I was good at writing
–       I loved it
–       Other people liked reading my stuff
–       And I was guaranteed to be successful because every book I had ever read was written by someone famous.

“Tell me one author that isn’t famous?” I demanded. He didn’t refute my claim, but persuaded me to go into the computer industry (we didn’t call it IT back then). I didn’t discuss my writer dream with others after that; I kept it tucked away in the back of my mind.

When I was a junior in high school, my papers were decorated in red with nice big Cs and Ds on top, quite the change from my sophomore year of A+s. From the encouragement of my tenth grade English teacher, I wrote more and took greater risks with my craft. My eleventh grade teacher didn’t like my exploring beyond the lines. I know I deserved the negative marks; I misused semicolons and my vocabulary wasn’t very strong, but the red ink didn’t teach me why my sentence structure suffered or how to fix it, just that it wasn’t good. During that year I slowly became disenfranchised with writing.

More than a decade passed. I didn’t go into IT, but business. Occasionally I’d hear my turtle friends calling from the recesses of my mind, begging me to let them out to play. I’d entertain them every now and then, but mostly I told them that I was too busy.

Another decade passed. A friend of mine from high school (quite possibly in that same English class) had a book published. My turtle friends woke up. Then I heard that my neighbor had written a short story for an anthology. I asked her about it.

“Do you write?” she asked.

“I used to.” Sort of. I want to. I really want to.

“If you’re serious about it, you should come to Superstars.”

My turtle friends begged to go and that was it. I was hooked, living my boyhood dream.

Since attending SWS, I’ve written a dozen short stories and one novel. I write everyday. I write a lot. I write to escape; I write to understand. I write for fun and for serious. But mostly I write to inspire.

A tribe helped free my turtles. I believe that It Takes a Tribe, to become a successful writer, as Nancy discussed earlier this month.

My son just turned nine. He’s been writing since the age of six. He’s fought dragons and explored alien worlds. He hangs out with friends known as the Knights of the Shadow Kingdom.

To him, I say, cheers. Write on my friend, write on.

Another son just started Junior High. He told me yesterday that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up—a photographer.

To him, I say, cheers. Let me know what I can do to help you. I believe in you.

Another son just started high school. Some of his teachers are “tough”. He tells me that their teaching is “all wrong”. We’ve explored his perception and identified that their teaching is—different.

To him, I say, cheers. Don’t get discouraged because you don’t understand. Fight to learn, fight to understand, and fight to be understood. And most of all, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do or be what you want. I’m here for you and support you. I know you can do it.

I think that the greatest thing we can do for young people is to get out of their way.

Unfortunately I can only go back in time in my stories. I would love to have not waited twenty years to do what I always wanted to do, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never. Cheers. Write on my friend.



Writing Therapy

ShadowlandsWhen asked why I write, a favorite quote comes to mind from the movie Shadowlands. “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—waking and sleeping.”

My answer for writing is much the same. I write because I can’t help myself. I write because I’m helpless. I write because the need flows out of me all of the time—waking and sleeping. I write to understand. I write to process. And in writing I find peace and clarity.

A couple years ago, just before I picked up writing again, I had lunch with a dear friend. She told me that she had been depressed and was struggling in her marriage. I gathered that she had been contemplating suicide. Around that time I had a phone conversation with her husband who indicated that he had also been depressed and had toyed with the idea of suicide. Perhaps this hit me so hard because just a year earlier, a good friend of mine had ended his life. The idea of two great people wanting to die weighed heavily on my mind. Of course I offered encouragement and support and plead with them to get some psychological help. I believe they did and to my knowledge they’re doing better, but the thought of taking one’s own life continued to demand attention in my mind until I dealt with it in writing.

It was the first thing I had written in several years, a piece of flash fiction. I’ve never told anyone the meaning of the story until now. The underlying thought that my discovery-writing mind concluded was this:  who’s to say that after the fact, after the suicide is complete, that anything changes? I mean, if life does continue after this existence, who’s to say that the problems, the depression, and the trials of this world end with this life?

I’m sorry, this is probably too philosophical for a writing blog, but my point is that writing has taken a question, a conflict in my mind and processed it through my tapping fingers into text. Since writing, The Passing Therapist, I’ve processed many stressors the same way. I’ve started a couple blogs where I post my developed thoughts.

The best part of it all, even if no one reads what I have written, is that I am finding myself happier. Writing has become my sanctuary, my confession. Writing helps me realize that those things that I stress about are not as bad as they seem and easily dealt with when my mind is clear and resolved. The resolution comes after I have conquered the conflict through prose. Writing is my therapy. I write because the need flows out of me all of the time.


They say there are no new stories. I didn’t really know what that meant, other than there are common themes through some stories, similar character arcs and that sort of thing, but Twilight and Hunger Games were both very popular “new” stories, right?

I’ve been cranking along on a novel that I’ve now been writing for about two years. It’s a YA fantasy, so word count isn’t the reason for its slow development. I’m a discovery writer and I’m learning, feeling the downsides to this writer type. I started the novel as an exercise, trying to implement point of view and showing versus telling. Fifteen thousand words in and the story began to take shape. Then I learned about pacing and yes my craft was full of pacing problems so I rewrote the story. Then I learned about strong character development and so I rewrote the then twenty thousand words to develop stronger characters.

A year into the novel and a quarter of the way through, after several reworks, I got bored of the piece and went on to write a few short stories, my novel calling out continually to my subconscious, letting me know that I have yet to compete a story of length. So at the beginning of the year I recommitted to writing, adding 5000 words to my story each month. Well, had I done so, I’d be completed with the writing phase of my novel.

lego movieEarlier this year (not long after my recommitment to this story) I watched the Lego Movie. I love legos, always have. The start was entertaining. Then as the story developed, I saw my story, the one I’ve been writing, developing for the past two years, come together on the silver screen. Well it was much better than my story and it was completed, but the underlying morals, messages, the character development, all of that was my story, just with legos in a lego world versus some magical realm I had concocted.

This killed my buzz, my energy and momentum. Why bother writing a story that is already told so beautifully?

My dad taught me how to play the guitar when I was fourteen. He showed me four chords, C, Am, F, and G. It took awhile to build the muscles so I could play the sequence without pausing. My dad showed me that those four chords in that sequence were the base of La Bamba, Can’t Help Falling in Love, Sherrybaby, Hang on Sloopy, Mr. Bojangles, and just about every Peter, Paul, and Mary song.

All these songs have different words, different rhythms, different tunes, but underneath, they’re all the same. La Bamba evokes a different emotion than Mr. Bojangles. And I like them both.

So while my story might have been told, it wasn’t told by me, with my characters, in my style of writing, in my world, from my character’s point of view.

I bucked up and recommitted.

Million Dollar OutlinesI knew I needed to deal with this discovery writing problem. I wanted to finish the book, not spend the rest of the decade rewriting it. I decided to buy Million Dollar Outlines.

After describing me to a T, David Farland suggests that if authors are set on being discovery writers, they shouldn’t bother purchasing his book. Well I do love discovery writing, but it’s not entirely working for me, so I kept reading, after all I had already paid for it. He later suggests that many writers take a hybrid approach, using outlining methods but leaving themselves room so they can still discover the rest of the story.

That’s what I needed to hear. The book is a tremendous help and has great stuff for any type of writer. After reading through it, I was able to outline the rest of the story, and it gave me some great ideas on my already written part, so yes, I’ve rewritten the completed section once again, aligning it with my outlined plot and am currently 32,000 words into the novel. I’m back on track and recalibrated. My new goal is to turn the novel over to beta readers by the end of the year. To steal a line from the movie, “Everything is awesome.”