Summary of the Novel
Post-Traumatic Stress and an Interview with the Author
Sample Chapters
Comments from Readers
Coming Attractions
Leave a Note
How to Buy
Children of CIA and Secret Service Operatives
The Dead are Dancing, a novel by William Lloyd Roller
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Youth Violence in America: A Clinical Perspective on the Legacy of Trauma in Families

As a trauma therapist who writes novels, I have a professional as well as personal stake in my fictional characters. I am a family clinician who has treated over a thousand individuals and families who have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that may be caused by a number of life threatening and life altering events: natural disasters, experience of wars or combat in war, acts of political terror or torture, physical assaults, family violence and sexual abuse. I chose to write about this condition in the form of a novel because I wanted to reach a wider audience than academic and professional colleagues. I wanted to speak to readers who would respond with a gut level "yes" of recognition.

Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder -- or think they may have some symptoms -- can contact Veterans for Peace,  a national veterans' organization dedicated to veterans' issues and very aware of the prevalence of this condition among American servicemen and women.  Contact Veterans for Peace at

A person who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder has lived through an event that is outside the realm of everyday life, the experience of which, would traumatize any individual. A person's response is characteristic and universal. Specifically, memories of the trauma force their way into consciousness and cause high anxiety. Repetitive dreams and/or obsessive thoughts disturb the individual, causing a loss of interest in usual activities, loss of sexual interest, isolation and the absence of emotional expression, called "psychic numbing."

I have treated a number of patients who have participated in either overt or covert operations in theatres of war or espionage. Many had killed and tortured both combatants and non-combatants. These individuals showed all the signs of post-traumatic stress that we see in victims of violent behavior. In most cases, my patients were asymptomatic prior to their war or espionage involvement. In some cases, however, my patients had suffered abuse and violence in their families of origin before they went on to commit acts of violence and mayhem. In other cases, they had been exposed to the symptomatic behavior of parents (usually the father) who suffered from PTSD. In these latter cases, which I call second generation post-traumatic stress disorder, the children absorb wretched stories and memories from their fathers, dream their nightmares, and sometimes act out their hostile fantasies.


Trauma in the Novel

The actions of Billy and Frank and others in The Dead Are Dancing are in many ways classic symptoms of PTSD. Typical signs include hypervigilance, scanning, anxiety, suspicion, paranoia (with or without good reason), and a profound loss of time and space boundaries so that their experience of the here and now is distorted by memories of trauma. The trauma can also be brought on by stories of violence and abuse, as Bodie's tales of torture troubled Billy with horrendous images of violence. In this way, memories of the trauma can be passed to second and third generations in a family. The people who suffer this condition struggle very hard to defend against remembering the awful events that have occurred — and the actions they may have participated in.

The citizens of Cannon suffer from PTSD as a community that has endured years of war and preparation for war. The entire social fabric is woven with the memorials to past wars and plans for future wars. Each activity, from sports to religion, is filled with both real and symbolic acts of violence. In their deep devotion to town and country, the people of Cannon choose loyalty as a substitute for memory, a trade that keeps them from confronting their fears and facing up to reality. It is as if the "springs of selective forgetfulness" are forever washing their brains of any thoughts that might cause them to question the order of things and the assumptions they make as citizens of America. When Billy begins to question the order of things, he becomes a threat to the people of Cannon. He is faced with a choice: either return to the fold of public opinion or be eliminated. Black and white thinking is another characteristic of PTSD.

Senator Bob Kerrey, who revealed that he led a platoon that killed women and children in Viet Nam, has recently admitted that the act of killing — and not the fact of being killed — is one of the greatest sacrifices of war. The experience of being a killer or torturer, in whatever context, predisposes an individual to possible traumatic symptoms either in immediate or delayed forms. Their children may be the only ones to notice the symptoms, hear the confessions, and become symptomatic themselves, perpetuating the cycle into a new generation. The scars of having killed for one's country go deep and affect succeeding generations . After a person has killed for the state, as Bodie Richcreek did during the Second World War, it becomes difficult for that person to criticize the state. This is because the state offers forgiveness to the individual for the killings he committed. An unspoken pact of silence is agreed upon between the state and the individual when it comes to speaking of certain acts of violence and horrors. The individual remains quiet and the government expresses its gratitude. The pact is rigidly maintained but may be broken under severe psychological stress and madness. Bodie breaks this pact of silence when he confesses to his son, Billy. When Billy replaces his father in his mother's bed and, years later, experiences secondary impotence with Belle, he is living out symptoms that are not uncommon for males whose fathers suffer from PTSD.


Youth Violence in America

Unfortunately, children can suffer from PTSD brought on by abuse in the family or exposure to parents or caretakers who suffer from PTSD. These children can be subject to fits of rage and may be prone to violence, if not given special attention by the community and its professionals. Many outbreaks of gun violence by children can be traced back to traumas and violence that have scarred the child or the child's family. Many traumas in children go largely untreated for a number of reasons including the public's unawareness of its connection to mayhem and murder. Putting guns in the hands of these children is not a prudent decision.

I believe that youth violence in America is an outgrowth of the widespread prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Americans. Virginia Satir, the internationally known family therapist and expert on family trauma, believed that Americans suffered deeply from PTSD as a result of the many wars our people have fought — starting with the Civil War, our most bloody and traumatizing ordeal as a nation. A culture of gun violence has grown up among our people. It draws on a history of trauma and is perpetuated as the next generation falls under the thrall of guns and the glorification of violence.

An Interview with the Author

To continue exploring this topic, read an interview with the author.