When Covid-19 hits, 26-year-old dentist Marlene has to move back from Yuma, Arizona, to her parent’s ranch in Olsen County, Wyoming. There she finds out she is a changeling– A fairy switched with a human child. She learns there is a human girl in Fairyland wearing her face. The two women become fast friends! Until something much darker happens, Marlene must save her newfound sister, Krysathia, from the fae. While also trying to save herself from both the pandemic and poverty.
This is one fun summer read you do not want to miss out on!
The Gishlan series started out with War and Chess and grew into a series after the people who finished it in one single, sleepless, night demanded more. Helen M. Pugsley obliged, and has several more drafts in the works.
Books like these exist because of readers like you.
Calling all horror writers, there’s an opportunity from my friend’s publishing house for you! Grant Smith is looking for 13 spooky stories for Drakarium Publishing‘s Halloween anthology. I’d love to see the writers following this blog succeed, so come back and tell me how it went.
I love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yes, I am fully aware they’re cornier than Nebraska. My dream wedding is also on a ship while I fight zombies, in international waters, with our captain acting as justice of the peace. Knowing this my mother made me learn multiple marriage traditions so I wouldn’t come home accidently married before I ran off to sail the world with my boyfriend. (Notice what I did there?) One scene that drives me to the brink of insanity, right from the very first time I saw the movie (here there be spoilers) is in the fifth one when Jack becomes Captain Jack Sparrow in one fell swoop. He fought one bad guy, got his name, most of his jewelry, his compass, and maybe even his hat. It was a transformation scene that gave the audience whiplash.
I just assume you’re sitting down, giving this piece your undivided attention, stroking my already massive ego. Take stock of all you’re wearing. What’s in your pockets? Your backpack? Your purse? Why did you get that tattoo? We’ll pick on me for now. I’ve got one ring on my hand, and a ton of bracelets on my left arm, a bright pink sweater, and a knife, a lighter, and a ton of keys. The ring I got as a gift when I was 15; the tons of bracelets I collect. One of the bracelets is a hair tie that is also a friendship bracelet, another is one I picked up at a writing conference. My sweater came from a coworker who liked me because I was nice to her son. It’s not something I would’ve picked for myself but I love it because she got it for me. She was a small woman and she just happened to have a designer XL neon sweater in the back of her closet she never wore. Her sister chewed her out in English so that means I was meant to hear the sister say “That’s expensive!”. The knife I carry every day is more utility than sentiment. It also just so happens to be a gift from the ex I tried to sail the world with. The lighter was a gift from my father. The design on it is mountains with a crescent moon. Looking on scenes like that make me feel like I came home. As well as utility, it is a good luck charm. I used to wonder off into the woods frequently and you don’t want to do that without a reliable way to start a fire. I am 100% endorsing Zippo here. A good windproof lighter can save your life. As for the keys: I’m obviously one of the nine pirate lords and there’s a chest we have to unlock together in the 6th movie. I just keep it on me for when Hollywood calls. They certainly don’t go to my diary! Or my house for that matter! But all of these things, hanging off my sorry corpse and in my pockets, are little pieces of bigger stories. Not, I just came out of the sea like Aphrodite and there I was! A whole Helen M. Pugsley. Characters take years to become who they are.
No, I don’t mean you should spend years building Bob the tomato vendor. I’m just saying, maybe Bob has a bullet scar on his chest from when he was a younger and wilder man. That can be cannon but that event could’ve [would’ve and should’ve] happened well before your story’s timeline begins. I mean, really, scars aren’t scars the day you get them. Maybe that’s why Bob hates fireworks but told that punk who tried to rob him to “go home and love your girlfriend and your child before I snap you like a dried twig.” People need time to become people. People need their spicy memories, battle scars, weird jewelry, tattoos, favorite sweaters, favorite flavor of ice cream that actually tastes like their cousin beating cancer for the 3rd time, good luck charms, and sentimental crap they pack around for no real reason.
Ogres have layers, onions have layers, characters have layers. And lest we forget parfait! Layers take time to develop. (Except parfait. You can get that at McDonalds. Literally fast food.) Build your character with multiple dimensions, let them go through stupid phases, lose their father’s pocket watch and purchase its replacement at a swap-meet, fall in love and have it go wrong, tattoo the best day of their life in Roman numerals on their arm, and be just as complex as any of us! You’ll concoct a cool human.
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Trigger warnings and content warnings. Do they belong in books yet? I don’t really know. Will I continue to put them in every review I write because the material brought back “a spicy memory”? You bet your sweet bippy.
So. What is a trigger warning? A trigger warning is something you put before material you created where you know there is something that is a common trigger for a lot of people. Triggers are things that bring someone great emotional distress because of things they have experienced in their lives. (Loss, sexual assault, prejudice, violence.) You know how your veteran friend hates fireworks? That’s a trigger.
Well then, what is a content warning? A content warning is for things that generally make people uncomfortable. Things like fetish play, graphic violence, assorted phobias. Generally, just things you know someone in your following will be bothered by so you want to make sure they have time to mentally prepare themselves for it before they enjoy your creations to the fullest.
I got really into making memes on Facebook during the apocalypse, and there, where 50K people are telling jokes to pass the time and cheer each other up, trigger warnings and content warnings are very important. You want people to enjoy the things you make to their fullest extent. Not spend their evening reliving the worst times of their life. That will not win you positive feedback or great reviews.
Another place I’ve seen trigger warnings and content warnings used heavily in web comics. I like horror. But I also like “Content Warning: Hey Helen, here’s one of your weirder phobias and this is going to be a reoccurring theme for a while.” It makes me stop and ask “Do I actually have the energy to read this right now or is it going to ruin my evening and then I won’t sleep?” I got to choose whether the media I was consuming was right for me. It was actually “CW: Being trapped underground.” I’m adventurous but caves make me uneasy. I took a breath and enjoyed not one, but three episodes of that web comic where our main character was stuck in an ever shifting tunnel. Without knowing that that was going to happen there is a chance I would have stopped reading the comic and not picked it back up.
Do trigger/content warnings belong in books? I don’t really know. This is the first time creators, especially authors, have had this much control over what we get to show the public. What we get to keep making. You get to decide if what you created will upset your audience enough that you want to gently warn them before they start reading. It’s the same as “Oh, by the way, there’s a giant spider next to the faucet in the barn. She’s fairly harmless. Just don’t let her scare you.” You’re the creator. You get to decide.
Either way, for social media, here’s how I taught the groups I moderate to tag their posts with questionable content. TW stands for Trigger Warning, and CW stands for Content Warning:
TW/CW: Example . . . . . . . This is where you post most of the questionable content. There may be some in the accompanying image, but it is largely frowned upon. Adding all those dots allows people to scroll past quickly without looking at your post. This will keep you from getting kicked out of a lot of groups for being inconsiderate. It is the kind thing to do.
All in all, it’s ultimately your decision. But now you have a general idea of what’s going on and why it’s important. Now you won’t accidently hurt someone with what you created.
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Oooooh, I’m so excited to finally be able to post this one!
No really. Don’t just hate-like other people’s trips on Instagram. Go on your own [once you are fully vaccinated]! I know what you’re thinking: “Helen, not everyone can afford a vacation!” I know! And that’s why I said “Go on an adventure.” I’m not telling you to go take some bazillion dollar vacation for 1,000 days and 1,000 nights, live in a cabana, and shirk your responsibilities so you can write. I’m telling you, leave the house once in a while and go explore [once you are fully vaccinated]. Then you’ll have some extra writing juice.
Here’s me at Guernsey Lake in February of 2020, before the freaking pandemic.
It was winter. It was the off season of the park. I was unemployed, and so was my buddy. Guernsey is practically in our back yard, it was a nice day so we just went. That, my dear, is what I mean by “adventure”. And honestly, it was a cheap adventure. I needed to top off my tank for $20, and since it was the off season it costed $6 to get in to the park. Really, you can’t go wrong with a cheap day trip. Just go [if at all possible because everyone’s life is different]. Take pictures and use all the #Travelgram hashtags like a cool kid!
“But Helen, whyyyy must I leave my cave?” Because you are a plant with feelings. I will not be citing my sources. But sitting indoors looking at the same walls cannot be good for you, as most of us found out during the pandemic. Go get some sun, look at a different town, go to a different McDonalds, the one on the other side of town, go off your particular beaten path. We all know the epic tale of Stephen King and his giant desk. King told us that tale out of caution. Doing nothing but making yourself hate the craft by pushing yourself too hard will not help you in the long run. One day you will quit and everyone will ask why. You’ll have to pause and say “I guess I got burnt out.” Ask me about music. I dare ya.
“But how do day trips make me write gooder?” (Hehe, you know you love me.) I’m sure you don’t write books that read like Saw movies. (The first saw film was made by some college film students on a tight budget. They wanted to see if they could make a movie with one room. They could.) Your characters are probably traveling across the land, searching far and wide, watching the sun set, riding horses, standing next to the ocean, meeting new people etc, etc. Sometimes you just need to go outside and listen to how snow crunches under your boots, or remember what a pool smells like, maybe go actually ride a horse. From the journal I was using back in spring, I have a bunch of scraps I call “studies”. One is me sitting on the trunk of my car, parked next to a lake in Utah, another me staring up at the stars on my lawn, and then there’s when I went to the Oregon Coast. The ocean and I have a long standing love affair. Chances are you’re not writing something where your main character is trapped, chained to a desk, stuck in a routine. Break free!Once you are fully vaccinated.
Kids, there’s more to life than writing. There’s more to writing than actually writing. Get living! As soon as it is safe for you to travel, do so. Don’t just hate-like other people’s adventures. Go get vaccinated and have your own! It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.
I had written this article shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began and had to pull it before I told people to endanger their lives and others. (Bet you didn’t know I scheduled these months in advance, huh?) Now I’m asking “How many near death experiences do you need before you start tryna live?” We were all kind of trapped and in survival mode for over a year. Help yourself to healing and a dose of vaccine. Go get vaccinated and go party!
Please note, I will not be arguing with anti-vaccination comments. You know your own situation, and you know it’s your civic duty to protect your friends and neighbors by getting vaccinated if you are healthy enough to do so. Thank you for your continued support of my work.
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For the health and safety of myself and others I will be taking a two week break from all social media.
No. You’re not in trouble. No, you didn’t do anything wrong. No, I’m not mad at you. I just need to focus on what’s in front of me at this time and I know I can’t be as present online as we’re all accustomed to.
Thank you for your understanding. I hope to come back with all sorts of stories from new adventures!
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This year, I got awarded a scholarship to attend the WyoPoets conference. (Thank you, thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!) I showed up wearing my trademark Gibson roll, but by the end of the conference I literally let my hair down.
Day two, I was having lunch with a nice lady who admitted it was her first outing since Christmas time. Covid changed a lot of things for all of us. I told her “Everyone is so kind and open here! I love it!” and I confessed “I showed up with my hair in a roll because I’ve trained myself not to swear when I can’t feel hair on the back of my neck… But someone dropped the F-bomb the first evening here in a poem!”
She looks at me and says “So you literally let your hair down?”
I had to laugh! Yes! In a literal and figurative sense, yes.
You’d never know it, but my grandma raised me to have good manners. That, and I was super into princess books. *Coughs in Gishlan books* My thought process when I walk across the room is “Heel, toe, heel toe, you just made eye contact with someone so smile sweetly. Time to sit in a chair. Only use the edge. Never let your back touch the back of the chair. That is just there for decoration.” God help me if we’re eating. That’s probably why I need a six hour nap after “peopling”. Sometimes being prim and proper can be rather restrictive.
Thankfully, the people at WyoPoets, while all polite and lovely, weren’t stuffy. It was just a bunch of people trying to write poetry, and often times that means talking about your childhood, or your family, or that nightmare you had last week. One poem that really struck me was about how the author had learned to play organ from her grandmother under a photograph of a stillborn baby. Another, the author prefaced with “I still have trouble talking about this”, and another made me laugh because it was “Kid, don’t climb into my tree house. It’s not safe.” The one with the F-Bomb was a rip on Robert Frost. Also hilarious!
There was a load of poetry read there that weekend. But the ones that were my favorite were the ones that were the most honest. And, uh, yeah, I had to give back into that and share some deeply personal things in verse too. I feel like I connected with my new friends on a really deep level. Less chit chat about the weather and more “Where do we go now that there’s a vaccine? How do we carry on without our loved ones?”
That’s my advice. Once in a while, keep it real. Do something that makes you uncomfortable because it’s honest. I usually buy myself a bracelet on trips like those, but this time it was a pair of hair clips.
Hey, that three star review has nothing to do with you.
I know. Wild. They’re really not trying to insult you or your artistry.
Not to braaaaaaaag or anything but I read over 100 books in quarantine. By the time you read this I’ll probably be up to 150. And you know what? I didn’t particularly care for every book I read. Here’s my personal rating system:
★★★★★ “Omigob, this book is amazing, everyone in the world should read it.”
★★★★☆ “This book is pretty good.”, “This book is really good, but this author is incredible and I feel like they could’ve done better”, “This is actually a five star book but I haven’t taken my dinner out of the microwave yet so I’m a little hangry.”
★★★☆☆ “All my friends thought it was cool but I can’t understand it with my pea brain”, “Meh.”, “This fantasy novel broke physics too many times.”
★★☆☆☆ “I hated it but I have scruples and won’t give one star.”, “I took off a star every time a female character was harmed to further the plot, but the story line was still good.”, “I managed to slog through this.”
★☆☆☆☆ “This book was ridiculously problematic. Seriously, they were more sympathetic to social issues in the 1960’s. I can’t believe this is published this year. The only reason I haven’t lit my copy on fire is because I believe in freedom of the press.”, “My friend Ann Miner told me ‘life is too short for bad books’. She was right. Thus, in her memory I will not be finishing this book.”, “Andrew Ne!derman, stop pretending to be VC Andrews.”
You see that? The only place where it was about the author was when I didn’t feel like they had done their personal best… Or they were pretending to be an absolute queen who deserves to rest in peace without her name dragged through the mud. A rating on your book has very little to do with you.
In example, I try to read blind. I read Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy A. Bastion. I adored it! It was incredible! The art was breath taking! The storyline had me enraptured. But then I read the second one. It was also breath taking, enrapturing, and incredible… But maybe a little discombobulated. The illustrations were to die for! But then that cliff hanger… So I gave the first one five stars, and the second four. I gave The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern three stars. If you haven’t heard of that one I promise you’re about to. It’s extremely popular! It was good, but I’m not cool enough to get it. None of that was meant to be an attack on the author.
I know a low rating can feel like a personal attack. In fact, one of my one star reviews is a personal attack. I told one of my former friends he was wrong to revenge porn his ex-girlfriend and told him I didn’t want to be around him. That was the result. But that’s neither here nor there! Sometimes, your book shaped baby just doesn’t speak to others the way it spoke to you. If you must read your ratings see what the common theme is. Maybe Grammerly isn’t the best line editor. Maybe you need to stop using sexual assault as a plot device. Maybe you’re marketing to the wrong audience! If you’re going to torment yourself, at least learn from it.
As someone who used to message innocents who gave anything less than five stars (SORRY!) and got blocked multiple times for doing that (my sincerest apologies!) because I was hoping for more in depth feedback (really, it won’t happen again!) it’s best to let it go. Amy Tan doesn’t read her reviews. You and I aren’t Amy Tan, buckaroo, but just like people aren’t obligated to give us more in depth feedback. We’re not obligated to read reviews if they’re just going to do a number on our mental health.
The best I can tell you is to gain a team of freelancers who are incredible at what they do, and pay them well to do it. That way, when someone does run up and slap that one star on your book, you can know you did your dang-est to make the finest book you could possibly make.