Category Archives: Karen Pellett

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. 

From a Certain Point of View

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Our view of events in stories, and in real life, is frequently tainted by our past and emotions. Two individuals who have similar stories will react to another person’s actions differently based on their personalities and personal experiences. Thus, giving our history the ability to become metaphorical sunglasses, tinting the truth of what is before us. And, because of this, allows the main character’s “enemy” to fool easier through the power of incomplete truths.

In the sixth Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, when Luke Skywalker returns to Dagobah to finish training, only to find that is mentor, Yoda, is dying. Afterwards Luke has a heart-to-heart with the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Your father… was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be the Jedi Anakin Skywalker and “became” Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”

That revelation was a prime example of incomplete truth—once the knowledge became apparent to the main character, their perception becomes completely altered as they are forced to re-evaluate their beliefs. Darth Vader was a bad guy, plain and simple. But learning that Darth Vader was once Anakin Skywalker, someone’s husband and father, changes Luke’s reality. He was forced to re-evaluate the truth that he thought he knew.

Throughout the Harry Potter series, Harry has a distinctive personal enmity toward the Potion’s Master, Severus Snape. J.K. Rowling gives the reader permission, from the start of the series, to despise Severus Snape. For one, he had the gall to despise Harry’s father (James Potter). Secondly, Snape openly showed hostility toward the chosen one (it didn’t matter that Harry never wanted to be the chosen one). Only at the conclusion of the final book/movie, after Snape is killed by Nagini, does Harry learn that his emotions and past tinted everything he thought was true. Only then is Harry forced to re-evaluate everything he thought was real. Only then does he see the sacrifice and honor of a once hated man, turning Snape into an individual that Harry admired enough to give one of his sons the name Albus Severus Potter.

Other examples of incomplete truths include the M. Night Shyamalan movies The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable where we view the story from the incomplete truth of the main character’s lives. It is only in the end that we are given the lens of truth, revealing the stories from a whole other angle giving the characters, and the viewers, a complete mind-flip moment.

Incomplete truths often tend to be blessed happenstance on the part of the author/creator, but if done well can come across brilliantly. If done poorly, can cost you your reader’s faith & trust. The true brilliance is when an author is skilled enough that they plan out the incomplete truths or omissions from the start. This is why I love the work of Brandon Sanderson. The story Warbreaker is told from the point of view of two Idrian princesses—Vivenna and Siri. At the beginning of the story, the princesses’ planned futures are switched, pulling the proverbial rug out from under the feet. Siri is sent to marry the God King while Vivenna is left feeling lost. Taking matters in hand, Vivenna decides to be the heroine of her own story, and marches off on her own to rescue Siri from the horrible life that Vivenna was meant to live. I thought I knew where the story was headed, and I was enjoying the ride. Then, halfway through, Sanderson flipped everything that Vivenna, Siri, and even the readers, thought they knew on its head; unravelling the twisted and incomplete truths. Only later, if you go back and look, do you realize that Sanderson hints of reality scattered throughout as brilliant nuggets of creativity.

So, next time you find yourself reading or watching a story that mesmerizes you with a mind-flip moment, go back and see if you can determine for yourself—is the use of emotions and history making it easier for one character to fool another through incomplete truths? And if so, was it simply a beautiful happenstance, or was it planned brilliance on the part of the creator?

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. 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 novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

You’ve Got to Have Friends

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

While the point of view character is the individual we root for throughout the story, it is often their best friend or side kick that makes the story real to me. Take a look at all the movies or books that have stuck with you throughout time and I bet you will find that part of the solid foundation was built on friendship. In fact, it is that friendship that helped make, or even sometimes, break the main character. Yes, the main character tends to be dynamic, interesting, or flawed in a way that draws the reader in; mainly the person every reader wishes they could be, to some degree. But it is the friend who truly makes the story feel complex, real, and believable.

For one, friends can be solidifiers for a group. Consider Han Solo, he is not the main character in the original Star Wars trilogy; the story is about Luke and Leia, growing up separately, learning who they truly are, and finding the strength from within. But it is Han who brings the humor, the quirky friendship, the tenacity, the fantastic one-liners, and the spunk. He is flawed, but he is fabulous. And, with his background in smuggling, he provides an alternative perspective and solutions way “outside the box”.

Because the friend often resides on the outskirts of the main plot, they also have a tendency to be the counter balance for our hero/heroine. Even though I adore Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) with her love of literature, he r wild imagination, and her spirit, it is Diana Barry that makes the story whole. She is the putty in Anne’s hands; she is the Dean Martin straight man, to Anne’s Jerry Lewis hilarity. Diana is guided into mischief by her friend, which helps the scene come alive, because we’ve all been that friend who is going to get into trouble because as a direct result of their BFF’s actions. Diana also is Anne’s safety net, and listens to her woes, providing counterpoints and possible solutions to Anne’s difficulties with the exasperating, but delectable, Gilbert Blythe.

Then there are the friends who find courage within themselves, strengthen the hero, and if need be fight their friend when the hero goes astray. For that . . . I give you Ronald Weasley. In both the books and the movies it was Ron who won my heart as a character way more than Harry Potter (I know, sacrilege). Yes, he is flawed, but he had the most growth out of the main trio in my book. He felt second rate, awkward, and lost in a crowd in the beginning (believe me, been there done that). And yet by the end, he created his own solutions, found his own strength, and helped fully defeat Voldemort. To me he had the best combination of Han Solo and Diana Barry in any character ever.

He had outstanding one-liners.

Think Sorcerer’s Stone when our intrepid trio return from their first experience with Fluffy, the three-headed dog, where Hermione states (movie):

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” Before stomping off to bed.

Ronald tells Harry the classic line, ”She needs to sort out her priorities!”

Need a say anything about spiders:

“Why’d it have to be spiders? Why couldn’t he have said, ‘Follow the butterflies.’?”

Or later, after meeting Aragog he says, “Can we panic now?”

Ron also had his own mishaps, mistakes, and misdemeanors that he grew from, and he provided the perfect counterbalance of growing up in a magic world, to Harry’s life in the Muggle world. It may have been Hermione who was the walking encyclopedia, but it was Ron who firmed up what it meant to live in the magic world. He made the magic feel real, especially when faced with the consequences of shoddy magical mishaps (don’t get me started on the whole vomiting slugs thing).

What all this boils down to is, that if you are creating a story, a world you want your readers to be sucked into so much that they will make the return trip time and time again, then make sure that you give due diligence to your point of view character’s BFF. By so doing you will add dimension, flavor, balance and believability to your story. Believe me, if you do, your readers/watchers/fans will come back to your work time and time again, in all its many formats. If you don’t, you have wasted a golden-snitch of an opportunity.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. 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 novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

When Crap Hits the Fan

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

There are two major rules to being a better writer: 1) read abundantly (especially in the genre that you are writing), and 2) participate in critique groups.

In 2016, both of those rules went out the window and run over by a bus. And both for the same reason. Life happens.

Five years ago, I attended a conference at my local library with other writers where were guided in the art of critiquing. The group I was a part of clicked so well, that by the end of the day we agreed to keep a good thing going. Thus, C.R.A.P. (Creative Rockstar Author People) was formed. For the next four years, we met at each other’s homes, chowing down and glorious cookie pizzas and hummus while providing feedback on each other’s works in progress. Sometimes we laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days afterwards.

The beauty of C.R.A.P. was the individuals that made up the group: Betsy was a genius at snark, voice, point of view shifts, and story mashups, Jessica was a savant at description, plot gaps, and setting, and T.J. was the grammar guru, character flaws, and the one who ensured that we did honor to our male characters. Their feedback was incalculably valuable. Our brainstorming sessions enlivening. Their friendship immeasurable. And, they provided the perfect counterbalance to another critique group which I am a part of. My writing was propelled to higher levels as a direct result of being a member of these groups.

Then 2016 happened and our worlds were tossed about on the tempest of life. We lost one member to a move across the country. Another, changed jobs and had a new baby join their family. Two of us had family members diagnosed with cancer. As for me . . . well, let’s just say that I’m the magnet for insane life complications, so we’ll just skip what happened to me last year.

As a direct result, C.R.A.P. hit the fan and we stopped meeting. We planned on Skyping our meetings in a vain attempt to keep the group intact, but each time we had to reschedule. It took many months before I realized that since, we stopped I had not written anything new, nor had I read a single book for enjoyment. I still attend the other critique group, but always arrived with previously written works that needed drastic editing help. I was in severe writing depression and this other group was my lifeline.
But I missed C.R.A.P. They had become family.

So how do you replace family? You don’t. There will always be a place on my calendar the next moment we can all get online to meet. But I needed that counterbalance. I personally needed that second stash of writers to enhance and expand on the information gained from my one remaining critique group. I felt like an orphaned writer wandering the streets of literature town begging, “Please adopt me.” But my heart wasn’t in it.

Instead, it was time to start over; start fresh. Over the last few months some of my friends have asked me what to look for in a critique group. My advice: 1) you must be open to others criticizing your babies, 2) find a group with a blend of backgrounds and writing styles, 3) your partners should inspire and improve your writing, not tear you down, and 4) it is okay to say no thank you.

A successful critique group must work well together. But how are you supposed to know that if you have never worked with these individuals before? In talking to another critique member, we agreed on a plan. We sent out notices to those individuals who’d expressed interest in being part of a new group. As part of the selection process we requested that these individuals email submissions of their works in which we would read and provide feedback on. Then, we asked them to do the same for us. Afterward, we would make a group decision. Could work as a team for the greater good? If yes, then we have a new beginning for the new year. If not, then we would utilize our Get out of jail Free card and start the process over again.

Will it work? I sure hope so. Because writing is my therapy and my critique partners my support group.

Will I give up on C.R.A.P.? Never. I will never give up on family.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. 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 novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.