Category Archives: Guest Posts

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.” (, 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. 

Using Conventions & Appearances to Build Your Base

One of the toughest things an author has to do besides cranking out a sizable body of incredible work is to get those works in front of reader’s noses. Jim Butcher, Stephen King, and all of the other household names don’t have to do that since the world is ready to drive like a maniac to the bookstore to get their next novel. When our latest work comes out, few of those same rabid readers notice. It’s possible the only being that is waiting to read your book is your dog, who has been loyal and supportive for all those years of toiling behind a keyboard.

The problem is to get your name and novel to the readers, which means they have to connect your name to your book. One way to do that is to go to genre conventions as a panelist and find other appearance opportunities to garner some name recognition.

If people remember that you were funny, smart, or even just nice and friendly, they’re going to connect your name to positive thoughts. “Oh, yeah, that person who was on the panel at BigCon who kept making me laugh.” If they remember enjoying your humor, they might pick up a book to re-experience the fun. If they can recall how nice you were to them as you signed a free bookmark and not trying to guilt them into buying a book, they’re more apt to plunk down a few bucks to make up for running out of money because they bought a ten dollar hot dog and a five dollar soda.

There are several Fictorian posts about getting into conventions, so I’ll just give you this link if you want to find out more.

The other thing you can do to get your name out there is to look for other interesting opportunities. A good example happens to be tomorrow’s Free Comic Book Day, a worldwide event that happens the first Saturday in May. There are readers who will be converging on one location in your neighborhood, so why not be there to smile and to offer them something. Tonya and I will be at Freedom Comics in Lebanon, Missouri tomorrow. Tonya is a professional cosplayer and an author, so she thought it would be a good idea to go to the event dressed up as a comic book character. The shop is advertising us and will allow us to sell books and prints. We’re going to be bringing some copies of my graphic novel to give away in exchange for an email address for our list. Afterwards, there will be a slew of new potential readers who happen to be local. Now that they know who we are, we can send them some information when the next book comes out.

You can create your own event if you want. Do a “Meet the Author” at your local library. Visit some colleges or even high schools to talk to some classes about writing professionally. Bring books and set up an impromptu display at your local Starbucks while you eat your bagel and sip some expensive coffee, poking at your keyboard on your next blockbuster. The idea is to be accessible and to build some recognition. If you don’t try, it will be hard to accomplish your goals.

If you’re gifted with a very high midichlorian count, you can always use today’s reference to assist:

May the Fourth be with you.


About the Author:

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
His latest novel, Solar Singularity, co-written with Josh Vogt and Peter Wacks, is a finalist for the 2018 Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. The winners will be announced at San Diego ComicCon.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and

10 Steps After “The End”

Guest Post by Editor and Author Adria Laycraft

So you wrote a book … CONGRATS! Not as many people as you would think make it this far. Writing and completing a novel is a big accomplishment. Take a moment and relish that. You deserve it.

Now here are ten steps to take before seeking critiques from others:

1.  Let it rest. The more space you can manage to put between yourself and the work, the more discerning you will be when you come back to it. But you MUST get some distance in order to see the work objectively.

2.  You let it rest, right? No, overnight is not enough. Go write something else. Plant tulips. Walk the dog. Take up yoga. You’ve had your head in this story for way too long, you know it’s true, so really try and get clear of it … and only time can do that.

3.  Now before we get into step three, I want to make sure you realize how serious I am about that rest time. If you’ve really done that, then it’s time to read through, make notes, and edit yourself. Draw up your plot points. Look for places to increase the tension. Be ruthless and delete what doesn’t further the plot, no matter how well written. You will likely do some line edits in this phase, but don’t let it consume you. There’s time enough for that later.

4.  Write a back cover blurb. This tests your knowledge of theme.

5.  Now write a synopsis. Two pages, single spaced, that sum up your story’s plotline, including the ending. This forces you to examine plot in big picture mode, and it will be useful later when you are sending in your submissions. Steps 4 and 5 are somewhat like reverse engineering–you want to take the finished product (your manuscript) and break it down to study the bare parts, the ingredients, and check their quality and coherency.

6.  Search out your story promises. Does the opening reflect what’s important? Does the ending resolve the promises made? If your opening scene is romantic, but it turns into an action thriller, that’s not fulfilling the story promise. Does the opening hint at things that are never important later? Those story promises need to be filled, or the hints rewritten to point to important plot items. And first lines are important, so if there is a place, person, or thing featured in the first lines that isn’t an integral part of the story, it needs to be deleted.

7.   Rewrite based on your findings, then scan through it again.

8.   REST. Yes, again. For weeks. Months if you can stand it. Here again we benefit from seeing the story anew after we’ve ‘forgotten’ it a bit.

9.   Now read again, fresh-eyed, and search for lines where you say the same thing twice and rewrite into one. Watch for where the word choices aren’t quite right and find better ones. Polish your prose so descriptions use subtext that enhance your theme, and subtle foreshadowing is in place to help make your ending surprising but inevitable. Check any spelling, punctuation, or grammar you are unsure of. You want your manuscript to appear as professional as possible.

10.   You’re ready for beta readers! Remember to be clear on your theme and plot before receiving critique so you can see where suggestions work or don’t work for the story you are trying to tell. Be prepared for many more revisions! Even a book deal will mean more editing to come. Writing, and publishing, is very much a long game.

Editor, Author, and Wood Artisan, Adria Laycraft tries to use her fickle creative squirrel nature as a tool, bouncing between several projects at any given time while wondering why people stare. Her new website (coming soon!) is at with information about editing services. Watch for her novel Jumpship Hope coming from Tyche Books.

How do I know it’s a Rough Draft?

 Guest Post by Barb Galler-Smith, Fiction Editor, On-Spec Magazine

I’ve been asked how do you know when a story is ready for submission? As an author, it’s always the moment I’m finished. Fortunately another part of my brain (the editor) stops me before I make too big a fool of myself and actually submit it before I’ve done a little bit more work.

Different editors and authors will tell you slightly different things. In my years with On Spec magazine I’ve learned a lot about stories, about when they are ready, and when they only appear to be ready.

What is a first draft? Well, it’s not usually the first thing you put on paper. That would be the “almost” draft, sometimes known as a sketchy outline. Then you might write down the things that fill in that sketchy outline. This might include a note to yourself to check some details, and plot points, and character notes, and the major theme, the premise, and the major conflict(s). THEN you have a pretty decent outline. If you are a “pantser” this process is a little different. But either way, the next step is the “Ugly Draft”.

The “Ugly Draft” is exactly that. It’s the words as they come out of your head without the editor even being aware you are writing. You’ve snuck it in under that annoying part of the brain that stops you from finishing a complete sentence without going back to fix something other than the momentary spelling error. It’s full of homophones, other mistyped words that are actually words (eg. in writing this my brain typed “being aware” but my fingers typed “vein aware”). The end of the Ugly Draft is an easy, but involved process.

You spell check. That can fix a lot.

You search for your buzzwords (that, was, were, could, should, nodded, turned… you get the drift?).

You search for all useless words that end with ly or ly. or ly? etc. These -ly words are adverbs that usually (not always) add nothing. Another useful search is for “weasel words” such as also, very, though, some, or many. These are not specific and good writing demands clarity and specificity. I also like to search for “like” because it’s often used in common speech as a conjunction, which it isn’t.

So you’ve done all your checking and searching and on the computer screen the copy looks pretty darned good. This leaves you at the beginning of the Rough Draft.

You turned off the grammar checker while spell checking because fiction is loaded with fragments, especially dialog, and having that pointed out on 2/3 of the work is irritating. Of course, when the grammar checker was turned off, you also ended up with a few fragments that were just wrong, a few run-on sentences, a few sentences so unwieldy their meaning was lost, some misplaced modifiers, actions out of order and a dozen more foibles.

The real Rough Draft is that draft in which you fix all those things you didn’t notice before to the very best of your ability. After that, the process varies a little bit depending on how you plotted, researched, or even how you think (sequentially or randomly) which can affect the order of sentences, actions, and scenes.

Let it sit for a couple of days (unless you waited until the last minute as I usually do and cranked it out in an afternoon–outline, ugly, and rough all in one).

Then send it to one beta reader who will read it and let you know if it all makes sense. This is important. That reader need not be an editor or another writer. That person does need to be able to tell if a story works or not, and preferably why it may not work, where it slows (if it does), or anything else critical to the story. If you have written science fiction and don’t hold a degree in astrophysics or biochemistry, you might also want to run it by someone who passed physics or biochemistry in the past five years. Or do a heck of a lot of research for that one line in the story!

After that, you fix anything wrong with it. At this point you also have to decide if the beta reader is right (usually) or is out to lunch and knows utterly nothing about your art (not usually). Voilà! You have done every single thing you know how to do to make the story perfect. You now have a finished FIRST DRAFT!

If you have a lot of short story writing experience and some good story-telling skills, this could also be your Submission Draft.

You may have noticed I said Submission “Draft”. Yep, and this is where I get your story in my Submission piles.

So how do I know it’s not ready?

The list is long:

You sent an Ugly Draft. You sent a “First Draft”. It doesn’t follow our specific guidelines regarding format, word count limits, preferred spelling and usage. It’s not “Speculative” not “fiction”. It’s SF/F elements aren’t integral to the actual story. It’s full of profane and vulgar language for NO reason. It’s got gratuitous violence, graphic sex descriptions, and anything else that could overstep a general PG-13 rating and for NO reason. It’s hate-mongering. And as the King of Siam in the musical used to say “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera”.

We also note things that are more subtle.

1) It takes too long to get going. The actual story starts somewhere around the middle of the submission. That means there’s a whole lot of back story we just do not need there.

2) The pacing slows to a crawl in the middle. This usually happens because nothing is happening.

3) Talking heads in which there is no story along with it. Nothing happens.

4) Dialog has characters telling each other things they already know, but the author wants to makes sure the readers know this too.

5) It’s dull.

6) It’s really dull.

7) It’s really really dull. (You get my point? Something needs to happen!)

8) The characters have no aspect that the readers can relate to. Some of my favourite characters from On Spec stories: a puppet, a contract killer, a senior farm wife from Saskatchewan. They share nothing in common but each imparts a sense of humanity I can relate to.

Nothing is ever sent to the editor without flaws. It’s our job then to read through a good story, and find those places in which our skill or knowledge can make a story better. Our goal is to make that story better for everyone–the author, editor, and most importantly, the reader who WILL notice little things. We want that reader to get to the end and say “That was a satisfying read!”

So if you have done the best you possibly can (and do not over edit it yourself–but that’s another blog!), please consider it YOUR Submission Draft. Send it out. While it’s out there, write another story. Then another.

Bottom line, how do I know it’s ready and not “rough”? I know when it propels me from start to finish on the first reading. I miss little things like minor typos, unwieldy sentences, odd settings, and minor science errors. It’s ready because it’s a solid, interesting story.

Barb Galler-Smith resides in Edmonton. She’s been an editor with On Spec magazine since 2008. She’s co-author of the Druids Saga historical fantasy trilogy: “Druids”, “Captives”, and “Warriors”–all available from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. She is an award-winning writer and has judged both Canadian and international writing competitions. She loves reading short fiction, teaching writing, and freelance editing.