Category Archives: The Writing Life

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. 

I must increase

I am at a writing retreat. (Thanks, Dave!)

My first day here, I wrote from about 8 in the morning until 9 at night, with breaks for meals and occasional chit-chat. I produced about 2,500 words. That is perhaps 250 words an hour, or one lonely page.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those words. They’re good words. And I am super glad I have 2,500 words more than I did when I came to this retreat, but I need to produce a lot more than that. In fact, today I’d like to double that.

I’m not sure how to do that, but here is what I am going to try today.

1) Outline. I usually write more or less into the dark, but today I’m going to try to figure out at least some rough idea of where this is going.

2) Sprint. Do at least one timed 15 sprint each hour, with the stopwatch running. Try to hit 250 new words in that time.

3) Check in hourly. Report both on what I’ve been doing, and where the count stands.

4) HAVE FUN. Put in the most fun things I can imagine into the book, so that I will be excited to write.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And if you have some ideas for me, I’d love to hear them.

Okay, time to make the donuts.

–JDP

The Times, They Are A’Changin’

This blog was originally set up as a means to help new writers get their voices heard. The members of the Fictorians are chosen through a process intended to ensure quality content and steady publication.

In the past several months it has been increasingly difficult to maintain the schedule that we have set for ourselves. As a result we have had some members posting multiple times per month, and the time demands have simply become too much for us to maintain the same level of blog posting.

Effective immediately, Fictorians is going on a temporary limited hiatus. As a group we are re-thinking the purpose of the blog, and the expected demands on Fictorians members.

Please stay tuned for further announcements or information about these changes. It is our intent above all to maintain the highest possible quality of content.

Comments welcome.

Arranging a Launch Event

I’ve gone to a number of launch events at fiction conventions like Can Con and Ad Astra. These events usually take place in either the convention suite or the publisher’s suite, and the publisher has arranged for snacks, drinks and copies of the book to buy. Typically the writer thanks everyone for coming, reads an excerpt from the book, and is available to sell and sign books for the duration of the event.

What if you’re self-published, or your publisher isn’t springing for a launch event for you? You can do your own event.

First: Venue. Some restaurants and pubs may have rooms that you can rent – or, better yet, you can reserve them for free if enough food and beverage is sold. Consider your audience. If your book is YA, you might do better holding your launch in a local book store or community center – your audience might not be allowed in a pub, or have money to buy meals at a restaurant launch. Conversely, if you hold it in a restaurant, you won’t need to worry about liquor licenses or catering.

Second: Stock. You don’t have to focus on just one book. If your current book is part of a series, you will want to bring the prior books in the series, for new readers who want to start at the beginning or who missed the previous installment. You will probably sell the most copies of the book you’re actually launching, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few other things on hand.

Third: Advertising. Consider posters and flyers. A sandwich board out front may attract passers by. Invite supportive family and friends and ask them to bring guests too. See if your local newspaper will do a write up. Let local writing groups, sci-fi clubs, etc know about your launch. Get the word out.

Another potential: Double (or triple) up. If you know someone who’s launching a book at the same time, you might want to coordinate. It’ll be easier and probably cheaper to share the work and the cost. The event will be doubly appealing if there are two or three authors there to read and sign.

When I first published short stories, I teamed up with two other local short story writers to hold an “Author Launch” where we sold copies of the anthologies we had stories in. We took turns reading excerpts from our stories. We held our launch in a pub, where our guests bought food and drink and allowed us to reserve the room at no extra charge. I sold a number of books to people who weren’t family and friends…they were local sci-fi and fantasy fans, who turned out to the event, liked what they heard, and bought books to take home.