Category Archives: Author’s Perspective

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. 

SPFBO

One of the best things about the writing community is when an established author devotes some of their valuable time to helping out those of us who are still up-and-comers, particularly indie authors. You’ve heard about that sort of thing a million times over on this site via Superstars Writing Seminar, but today I’m going to talk about author Mark Lawrence‘s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (or SPFBO for short).

For the past three years running, Mark has coordinated a contest with ten blog reviewers per year (even more generous with their time) where self-published fantasy authors can submit their work and have it compete. The books are divided up equally among the bloggers, who then read each of their entries and select their favorite to advance. There were three-hundred entrants the year Unwilling Souls was in the mix, working out to thirty books per blogger, so as I said above, this was a significant time investment on the part of these reviewers.

The ten favorites would then advance to a final round, where all ten bloggers would read all ten entries and then vote on the best, which is declared the winner. But this isn’t like the Super Bowl, where only one team goes home happy. Each step of this process is a chance to increase the number of reviewers who have been exposed to your work and, if they like it, who may tell others about it. Unwilling Souls didn’t win its heat of thirty books, but it did runner-up. Mark kindly held online interviews with each of the runners-up of their respective heats, a chance to give a little extra exposure to books that had just missed the final-round cut. In addition, the contest put me in touch with several authors and bloggers increasing the number of cool people I know as well as the size of my networks that are critical for an indie author.

The SPFBO is just one example of the community of authors and reviewers working together to spread the word about great books that don’t have the kind of exposure you’d see with a traditional bestseller. It’s a community indie authors in particular need to get plugged into. I’m not sure if there will be a 2018 SPFBO or not, but even if the contest is put to bed, my larger point stands: get out there, find people who are enthusiastic about reviewing indie author’s books, and get in touch with them. The main tool indie authors have at their disposal is word of mouth, but that requires a lot of upfront work on our part, spreading the word until hopefully, one day,

About the Author:

Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. He is the author of the Unwilling Souls series, as well as stories in the A Game of Horns, Dragon Writers, and Undercurrents anthologies. He writes the kind of stories he likes to read, fantasy and science fiction tales featuring vivid worlds, strong characters, and smart action all surrounding a core of mystery. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his twitter (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Conquering First Draft Fear: How to Proceed with the First Round of Revisions

You’ve done it! You’ve written the first draft of your book! A very merry congratulations to you, and you deserve a beer. Maybe even a vacation. At the very least, a trip to the gas station to buy three packets of candy. If you feel proud of yourself, you absolutely should. If you don’t feel very proud of yourself, then congratulations again, that just means you’re a writer.

Any good writing website or book worth its salt will tell you your next step is to revise the sucker. Yes, you must do this step. Yes, everyone else hates it, too. Some books or fellow writer humans will advise you to put the book down for a set period of time to let it “rest,” like a good yeast bread needs a good rise. Unfortunately for your book, it doesn’t keep getting better in that resting period like bread does. No, no. It’s still the piece of crap you left a few weeks ago. So instead of the story rising like bread, think of it this way: YOU’RE doing the rising. You walked away for a few weeks and grew wise enough to rise above the piece of crap you made in order to come to a place where you can look past your subjective love of the story and objectively say, “Ah yes, indeed, this is a piece of crap.”

That might sound a bit dreary, but I know you. *winks* I know you because you’re a writer like me, and although you see what you’ve written as a piece of crap in front of you, you still love it and will do the work necessary to make sure it’s a remarkably great piece of crap instead of just a regular, old piece of crap.

First, may I just confirm what you’ve already been feeling? Yes, it’s hard. It’s going to be difficult at times. But let me reassure you as well: if you’ve already written the first draft, you can certainly complete these revisions. Not only that, you can do it in less then ten years. Maybe even less than five. If you’re lucky and ignore all of your adult responsibilities, a month.

Let me tell you the secret of doing revisions. You’re going to be surprised, because you’ve already learned this lesson when you were writing the first draft.

Ready?

Here it is.

You make yourself do them.

Just like you made yourself sit down and write when you didn’t feel like it, when you didn’t feel inspired to do so. You get yourself in the zone however you did when you were writing. You sit down with your cup of tea. You put on the music that gets you going, and you do it.

Everything else is just details. Should a comma go there? Is her hair dark brown or more of a medium brown? Do I italicize internal dialogue? Is the book long enough? Will people like it? Will I ever make it through all these stupid edits?

All of those fears and questions? Just the details.

Keep yourself focused on the big task in front of you: Just. Do. The. Revisions.

Finishing What You Start, Or Not

When I first started writing fiction in 2009, one of the first things I learned were Heinlein’s Rules. While they all have a place in the heart of every writer, the one that sticks out the most to me is “Finish What You Start.” It’s the single most often prescribed bit of writing advice I give to aspiring authors. The ability to sit down and finish a story, good or bad, is critical to learning the craft. However, I’ve also come to understand (and experience) that there are simply times when you shouldn’t finish what you start – you should put it down and walk away.

I’ve had an idea for a novel in my head for the last several years and I’ve toyed with outlining it here and fleshing out dialogue and characters there and I decided that I’d sit down on really focus on it last year. My intent was to write about 10,000 words and really determine if the story was something I could commit to fully. While it sounded good to me, and I was pretty sure I could write it, could I make it an authentic story? Could I answer the most important question in every reader’s mind – “Who gives $&@#?” I believed I could and I promptly sat down wrote about 8,500 words and stopped dead – seriously, like in the middle of a sentence.

At the time, I believe the words I spoke to myself were “What in the hell are you doing, Kevin?” My great idea wasn’t as great as I’d believed it to be. From my reading and occasional instruction of outlining and character dynamics, I realized that while I had a fun premise to explore, my character was simply horrible. I’d designed goals for them and tried valiantly to put them into some type of story line capable of captivating an audience. On paper, everything was a fit, but I realized that I didn’t “love” my protagonist. In fact, I kinda loathed them. Every time I wrote their dialog in that 8,500 starter, I cringed. It got to the point at the end that I threw up my hands and said “I’m not finishing this.”

A few years ago, this would have bothered me tremendously. Having learned that finishing what you start is critical to success as a writer, my younger self would’ve pressed on and turned out something vaguely akin to a novel that was destined for the circular file. Instead, I realized that while I’d seemingly done my homework, outlined and plotted the story, and built my character in a way I thought would work – the whole mess didn’t come together. Was it a result of my talent? Or my motivation? Or did I just not believe in the story anymore? Your guess is as good as mine. What mattered was that my brain said it was time to stop – that I wasn’t getting anywhere fast and that I was laboring over a first draft instead of letting the ideas around my outline flow. That story went into the dark recesses of my hard drive likely never to be heard from again. It simply didn’t work. I didn’t need to send it to my first reader or any beta readers – I could sense that the story was dead on arrival and I stopped.

I recently went back at looked at what I’d written in the 8,500 word, suddenly truncated start and completely agreed with my decision. In some similar cases, I’ve looked at something with fresh eyes and starting typing anew – pushing that gestated idea to finalization. As I read the first chapter, I thought I might be able to do just that. By the end of chapter three, I knew it was a lost cause. That character, and their storyline, went into the experience file. From there, I went back to another one of Heinlein’s rules – “Write something else.”

I’ve been busy ever since.