Category Archives: Craft & Skills

PTSD: Not Just for Veterans

As an author, when I think of an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) my brain jumps to characters like Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon) from NCIS or Dean Winchester (played by Jensen Ackles). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” (VA.gov, 2019). Military veterans, emergency personnel, and those who play demon hunters on television, more than anyone, qualify in my opinion as enduring multiple life-threatening experiences. But PTSD also occurs in children, teens, adults, and even parents of children with special needs.

Anyone can develop PTSD from long exposure to high-intensity situations, extended stress, lack of sleep, grief, fear, etc. I am a mother of three amazing special needs children (two boys and a girl) who struggle with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders—Combined (ADHD), cardiac issues, anxiety and self-harm and I suffer from PTSD. The onslaught of my children’s diagnoses, information, advice, doctors’ appointments, guilt, financial issues, and stress grew over the years like a slow-motion avalanche, burying me until I struggled to breathe. Two years ago, while still in the throes of this emotional barrage, my father died from a sudden heart attack. Our relationship had been filled with rough patches over the years and we didn’t talk much, but he was still my dad. The grief, stress, and trauma of flying to Seattle to help my bed-ridden mother deal with the aftermath of his death was the final trigger. I spiraled downward to the point that I was curled in a ball on my couch, covering my head, and yelling, “Don’t touch me” to anyone who came near.

It took another three months of night terrors, anxiety, panicking at loud noises, and freaking out over personal space issues before I admitted to myself that my life was out of control and I called my doctor. After talking over my traumatic life events and the physical, mental, and emotional reactions I had to them she diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since then I’ve learned what events can trigger my PTSD (i.e. large crowds, competing noises, etc.) and have developed coping strategies to reduce the number of episodes I have—mostly relating to self-care.

My PTSD doesn’t only impact me. My children and husband are impacted by it as well. Although all three of my children live on the Autism Spectrum, each of them is influenced by it in a different way. The techniques one of my sons uses to cope with his autism is a natural trigger for my other son. When that occurs, they make mixed-martial arts fighting look like thumb wrestling. They need me on top of my game when that happens. But the extreme chaos of noise, motion, and emotion trigger my PTSD. Every time an episode strikes, I relieve those moments just after my dad died. My mother screaming in the dark of night. Me falling off the couch, scrambling for protection beneath the coffee table. All my senses screaming that an intruder was killing my mother. And I was going to be next.

I have spent the last two years learning pre-emptive coping skills, such as:

  1. Helping my children understand PTSD, why I have it, and what the triggers are.
  2. Time outs – not for the kids, but for me. When I feel the tension rising and fear kicking in, I let them know that mommy needs a time out. They’ve learned that when I can get 10 minutes of alone time, they will get 10 minutes of focused time with me when I come out.
  3. Hiking as a family (nature has a great calming effect for all of us).
  4. Sensory Garden – We’ve transformed our back yard into a calming tool that triggers all the senses in a positive way. It is our safe zone when any of us are stressed.

Yes, I still have those moments when the constant chaos of living within a special needs family can be overwhelming, but I’m pleased to say that the number of times I’ve curled into a ball on the couch has dramatically decreased over time.

I don’t want to scare you away from writing a character with PTSD; my goal is the exact opposite. I’m hoping that by sharing my story, you will identify ways to expand not only what your characters can do and be, but how their PTSD impacts individuals around them. discover what can cause PTSD, how to identify the triggers, what treatments are available, and find sensitivity readers who can help open up your understanding to new dimensions you may not have considered.

I suggest starting your research with the following websites:

With your newly acquired knowledge and a solid foundation of research, it will help you be prepared as an author to write that story about men, women, children, animals, and even robots with PTSD. We need more people, especially authors, who are willing to open the world to a discussion, support, and empathy regarding mental illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. She was born in Utah, but over the years migrated to California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and the greater Seattle area. In the end, she returned to Utah (though her heart still resides in Seattle).

Karen has worked as a photographer, a business analyst, and a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant (and stinkin’ cute) children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides, she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy, magical realism, as well as stories and essays on raising children on the Autism Spectrum. Karen lives, plots, writes, and hides in the suburbs of Northern Utah. 

Real Characters

Like many of you, I read a lot. I love the new stuff and the classics. LOTR, Les Miserables, Moby Dick, all fantastic books. But there is no denying that they hold a different voice than novels of today. It’s not just words either. 

First Person POV like, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought…” has changed. Before it was like the telling of something that happened. But now, even though most First Person POVs are written in past tense, there is a closeness to them that makes it feel as if it is happening now. Present tense often has the effect of feeling like it is taking place in the near future.

First Person today or Close Third allow the reader to get inside the POV character’s head. This sets the medium apart from movies or television and I would propose that this is why the book is most often better than the movie.

For an author to do this effectively, the character needs to be alive with real thoughts and preferences and opinions. How else will they react to what comes their way? And isn’t this fantastic story telling? When the characters take hold and even argue with us the author.

I saw a documentary about the filming of Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There is a scene where a samurai guy whips around his sword and taunts Jones. The documentary said that the original script called for an intricate fight scene where Jones eventually beats the Samurai. But Harrison Ford argued that his character had a gun and would simply shoot the Samurai dead. The story was rewritten.

Recently I have been writing a thriller involving a hitman, an FBI agent, a financial guru in witness protection, and I needed another character to round out the mix—a face of the evil corporate conglomerate. Fei. She is a middle-aged Chinese national and she runs a section of the corporation, laundering money made from sex trafficking and drugs.

I’m a discovery writer so often times I start with an idea and see where it goes with a distant idea in mind. I did not expect what Fei decided to do.

I needed her to ask the hitman to kill this guy, but Fei let me know that this was not an easy thing for her to do and that she’d developed feelings for this dude. I pushed it. She had her lover killed. Part of her was sad, and another felt power and control. She handled the death in a very interesting way. Two chapters later and Fei is now a serial killer. I did not expect that at all, but Fei, with her personality, her childhood issues, her lust and disgust for men, her struggling marriage with a husband who is reluctant to come out of the closet, all of these dynamics have formed and created Fei, a person, a character, someone that I would recognize if I bumped into her on the street (and then I’d run like hell in the opposite direction).

Real characters aren’t cliché. They aren’t faceless drones. They are a compilation of many people. They have wants and goals and dreams and they struggle and have weaknesses. And when they are real, we as readers recognize that and the story resonates with us.

I watch people. (Not in a creepy way). I observe their mannerisms. I listen to their word choices. I notice their posture and eye movements. These things make someone unique. And I ask them questions. I listen to how they respond. I strive to understand their ambitions and fears.

All of these mesh and mingle and come out in my writing.

I came up with Jared Sanderson about 7 years ago. He is very real to me. I could describe his physical features that are a mesh of three of my friends. But this little segment, which is his intro into the story, shows a bit of who he is as a character.

“Jared Sanderson gnawed on the side of his thumb as he waited for the attorney. He had forgotten to moisturize so his skin flaked and cracked at the sides of his fingers. By impulse, he chewed away the dead skin, especially when nervous.”

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Jace Killan

I 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 check out my books here or at my website www.jacekillan.com.

Marketing Secret: Don’t do what I do

I have dreaded this blog post ever since I signed up for it. And that was before being rejected by the agent I pitched to back in February. So be warned, this post will be brutally honest. And short. This month is all about how to get the word out and create a market for yourself. That includes everything from advertising to creating a personal brand. I suck at all that stuff. And that might even be a great exaggeration of how well I do. I doubt I really climb into the neighborhood of “suck.” Adjectives that might be more appropriate range from “abysmal” to “self-destructive.” How my first three books sold as well as they did is a mystery to me. I did virtually nothing to market them. I invested maybe twenty bucks total in Facebook or other ads, and when they didn’t nudge my sales noticeably, I abandoned that effort in less than a week. I have never done a book signing. The closest to that was a last-minute appearance at a library “meet local authors” event, where I sold a couple of books. I’ve never done an interview, except a short one here on this blog. No radio shows. No contest entries. No Twitter campaigns. No viral, guerrilla, non-traditional or creative marketing. I keep intending to do all that. But some of it costs money, and those that don’t cost money, I have never been satisfied with the end result, and so never seriously made any effort to do it. That’s why not getting picked up by an agent has had such a negative impact on my motivation. The main reason I pursued an agent was to get into the traditional publishing model where all I had to do was write. Guess that’s not happening soon. I’ll have to get off my lazy butt and try to find a way to get it done. Hopefully all the great articles on this blog for this month will give me the guidance I clearly need. So, take my advice. Don’t do what I do.

Discover Your Best Method to Revise

April 2018 was a great month to learn about the various ways we can approach the art of revision. Yes, it is an art. Although there are skills we all need to employ, like the skills of grammar, understanding theme, knowing how to revise a scene, knowing how to choose beta readers and accept their feedback, and so much more, all those skills must be combined to form our individual approach or art to revision. Please come back to these posts any time and find those gems of wisdom which will help you create your best ever story told! For easy reference, I’ve summed up the posts and have added links to them. Cut and paste this blog into your Revisions folder so that you have an easy reference to answer any questions you may have regarding revisions. Oh, and one last REALLY IMPORTANT note: let it rest, have fun, party and reward yourself for a job well done and then when you are ready, buckle down, and just do it! Revision can and should be a rewarding process. In, Conquering First Draft Fear: How to Proceed with the First Round of Revisions, Kristin Luna tells us that time away from the manuscript gives us the ability to rise past the subjective fear and to recognize what is and isn’t working. All our fears about revisions are details – and in the details! You know you still love the story and you will do the necessary work. Kristin’s most important piece of advice regarding revisions – Just. Do. The. Revisions. Mary Pletsch’s three part series on beta readers is a must read. – Beta readers are not editors although their feedback is invaluable; you may want to include non-disclosure agreement; always be sure they know your deadline; beta readers aren’t meant to be cheerleaders who are emotionally supportive. They need to be upfront and honest about what is and isn’t working and we as writers need to know why. Be clear what you don’t want (grammar, for example) and what you do want (plot, dialogue or character issues). Check out: What is a beta reader? Part 1 of 3; Beta Reading and Emotional Minefields (Part 2 of 3); and Beta Reading and Emotional Minefields (Part 2 of 3) Being a couch potato is a good thing, Kim May tells us in Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit, Treat yourself for finishing the first draft and then do nothing for at least a week to give your creative side time to rest and so you don’t end up resenting your work. Author and Editor Susan Forest – After you receive comments from your beta readers, how do you handle their feedback? Put their advice into two columns: line edits and global revisions. Phrase all comments in the positive. For example, even if you agree that the protagonist is weepy and weak, revise that comment to something more positive like Angela should stand up for her position. Divide the comments into small workable batches and note them at the beginning of each scene before you revise. For more great tips read Organizing Critique Comments for Implementation . In When A Pantser Revises, Chris Marrs likens a pantser’s first draft to putting together a jigsaw puzzle and in the process of putting the puzzle together, a picture emerges in a way you haven’t dreamed. Pantsing the first draft gives free license to the imagination from where wonderful gens emerge. Knowing where your writing is strong and where you tend to gloss over or not do as well in the first draft is a very cool approach to revising your novel. In Revising in the Wild West, David Heyman candidly talks about his strengths and weaknesses in the first draft and his approach to creating a better novel. Having the first draft read aloud to him helps David catch things he’d miss visually. Then, he looks for three things: things he does well (yay!); those he doesn’t do well; and things he doesn’t do at all. Jo Schneider’s approach to having finished the first draft is a fun one – party! In This is Only the Beginning, Jo explains that as an outliner, she writes the first draft quickly and then after a rest period is truly excited to discover what unplanned things happened to her characters. She makes bother reader critique notes when she reads the first draft along with specific plot, scene and other notes. After that, it’s time to revise the outline and see what awesome hybrid has been created. How do I know it’s a Rough Draft? It’s dull. Very dull, in fact. Fiction editor Barb Galler-Smith knows when an author has a story is ready to be polished for publication when it propels her from start to finish and she can over look minor errors. Drafts vary – there’s the UGLY draft which consists of everything as it came out of your head, the ROUGH draft where you’ve cleaned up the manuscript as much as you could, then after you’ve received feedback from your beta readers and made those corrections, you have your FIRST draft completed which could also be your SUBMISSION draft. In Revisions, edits and proofing. The real work of writing., Sean Golden explains that it’s easy to be in the creative zone and to write the first draft but the real work is in the number of specific passes Sean makes to get his manuscript ready for an editor. First, he looks for the big things like character arc, conflict and plot holes. Then it’s passes on dialogue, contractions, passive and active voice. Like a poker player, every writer has tells which make his voice unique but some of which are bad ones and need to be culled. In Your Writing Poker Face, Gregory D. Little explains that it’s important to understand our tics and the habits we fall into because then we have an opportunity to not only correct the bad ones, but also to celebrate those which make our writing voice unique. But best of all, it helps us avoid self-plagiarism where we tell the same stories, explore the same themes, and the similar characters over and over again. Frank Morin reveals the agony of receiving feedback from editors in Embracing the Pain – Receiving Editors’ Feedback. However, the purpose of feedback is to make the story fulfill its potential and a writer’s growth comes from constructive criticism. Although much needed, it can still be a painful process Embracing the Pain – Receiving Editors’ Feedback The joy of revision comes after Frank’s embraced the feedback, accepted responsibility for the flaws and he embraces the work and the story truly becomes amazing. Editor and author Adria Laycraft shares her 10 steps to take before seeking critiques from others. Highlights from her post include: writing a back cover blurb and a synopsis to know the story better; drawing up plot points, looking for tension, and assessing if scenes further the plot. Oh yes … let that manuscript rest a while! To read more, check out 10 Steps After “The End”

This month I wrote about three things we can do to understand out story and to approach revision systematically: 1) In Before You Revise, Know Your Story – 5 Simple Steps, the big takeaways were to write your About Statement in one line and change it into a question. If you’re climax addresses this question, you’ve been consistent with your theme and purpose. Create a scene by scene outline which will help you see if the story is cohesive and if each scene is doing its work; 2) If you’re writing a series, don’t revise your first draft until you’ve thought about and plotted your second novel, or at least the series arc. It’s too easy to perfect the novel and later, and tragically after publication, discover that there were certain things that should or should not have been included. So, Don’t Revise – Plot the Next Novel!; and 3) What does it mean to revise a scene and how do you do that? That’s the question I answer in How to Revise a Scene which includes all steps from identifying your scenes, to their role in the story’s structure and how to assess specific scene impact.

We hope you’ve found something to help make the revision process a little easier, more fun and rewarding. Happy revisions!