Enjoy the Best, Attend the Movies

            “Enjoy the best, attend the movies” was painted on the side of Torrington’s historic Wyoming Theater. (Check out this article about our beloved theatre.) I saw it every day on my way to work for years. Pretty rad old tymie sign if you ask me. So Helen, why are we talking about movies? I thought we were book people! As a whole, we are entertainment people. We work in the entertainment industry. Books are entertaining. Which is why I can relate to “The Way I Am” by Eminem so hard.

            During the first part of the ongoing apocalypse I found my solace in movies. I mean, I was unemployed and my friends were dead. Watching five movies or more a day was pretty common for someone in that situation before Covid. I promise, Covid didn’t help any. I didn’t just watch movies, I consumed them. I got online, made memes with the screencaps, which, when a bunch of people did it all at once it attracted the attention of the creators. I chatted up writers, directors, voice actors, animators, the intern at the studio, anyone who would talk to me about my favorite movies. We were all trapped inside. It was nice to comfort each other. Bruh, I know way too much about Swan Princess. (I like animation. Bite me.)

            Watching all these movies from the Goodwill pile changed the way I saw the world. I learned to add Hollywood flair to my work. Like, I learned about how sometimes cinematic creators will use a particular color to portray a mood, or as a symbol. For instance, one of my friends pointed out that Carmen Sandiego (the new series remake. Haven’t seen it.) is about to win a fight when the background is red.  But when the background is blue we need to worry for Carmen. She’s vulnerable. She’s outmatched. She’s in trouble! Red is a warm color, and blue is a cold color. When you feel on top of the world you feel like, well, “hot stuff”, when you feel sad you, you have “the blues”. It’s things like that I started seeing and noticing when you watch a crudton of movies and then go discuss them with your friends.

            I feel like it gave me a subtle streak. If you’ve ever met me in person you know subtle is not my middle name. I’m a big girl, who wears boots everywhere, and because I came from a community populated by German and Russian immigrants I am extremely direct and generally speak my mind. Subtle doesn’t come naturally to me! I play trumpet! You ever hear a trumpet try to play subtly? Anyway, because I’ve had a visual on beautiful storytelling, I feel like I’m more equip to sneak in these odd little details.

            Like foreshadowing! Foreshadowing is done best when it’s not clapping your audience in the face. Like, foreshadowing would be watching the king fall asleep on the throne and his crown slips off, a few chapters before the crown is taken from him by a foreign power. Even though he knew the threat was there, he chose not to do anything until it was too late. Not subtle would be me watching you and your girlfriend of one month have a white trash screaming match in a Walmart parking lot. Then when you walk by I would whisper “Foreshadowing“. The only thing it would be foreshadowing would be a miserable romantic relationship, and the loss of our friendship because sometimes I’m neither funny or helpful.

            Dude, all I’m saying is don’t be afraid to study movies. They’re just visual story telling. We do stories here. Learning new techniques isn’t plagiarism. Sometimes it’s easier to consume because the director knows you haven’t showered in four days, are no longer capable of sentient thought, and are surviving on cheese puffs. They literally just spoon feed you a good yarn. It’s great. Go embrace the movie magic, fambilam.

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Do You Need to be a Reader to be a Writer?

            Do you need to be a reader to be a writer? I don’t actually know! I’ve never not been a reader. I do know every human being and the face of the planet has a story to tell. Frankly, I see a direct correlation between poverty and the inability to access reading material or education. Whoever, this blog isn’t about why you shouldn’t condescend to people who have less than you. Obviously, you’re reading. I assume, logically, you are a reader. What I do not know is being a reader is a job requirement to being a writer, I do know the benefits.

            1. You need to know the book industry.

            You need to know the current market trends. Books about covid are out, Publishers scrambling to gain footing in the industry again. I see a lot of YA fantasy going out on the shelves. You, as a writer, need to be able to identify when the appropriate time for your novel to make its debut. And that is whether or not you’re planning on self-publishing or traditional publishing. Often times by reading you will find publishing houses that produce the similar works to yours. You need to subscribe to the newsletters, follow presses on Instagram, and learn as much as you possibly can about your chosen industry.

            2. You will learn what is and isn’t appropriate for your readers by reading.

            There are particular things that audiences of different genres of fiction will not tolerate. As an example, I love children’s literature. I love picture books! However, while I still had my subscription to Kindle unlimited I had to quit reading self-published children’s books. Some of the books I encountered were just downright grotesque. There are set rules in every genre, but children’s literature has the most. The goal is to educate children, not traumatize them. Which is why traditionally published children’s books have so many stringent rules. By reading books from your chosen genre, whether it is children’s literature, fantasy, Si-fi, LGBT+, fiction, Western, nonfiction, or romance– by reading you will learn the unspoken rules.

            3. You will Anglish gooder.

            Why yes, reading will improve your grammar, spelling, vocabulary, diction, and in general make you Anglish gooder. If you’re like me, and I like to pretend I’m a special snowflake, you’re a redneck who does actually talk that way (“gooder anglish”) when they get really tired. Obviously I had to learn to code switch from somewhere. Part of it can be credited with books. (I did go to school, I do watch movies, and listen to the radio, etc.) There’s a certain something about seeing words on a page that helps you make words on a page, and that’s important too.

            Listen, books are much more accessible than that were 20 years ago. 100 years ago! In the 1800’s when they were institutionalizing women for “novel reading”! Most of my friends that experience homelessness from time to time have an android phone. There are multiple apps for reading. In fact, I use an app from the State Library to listen to audiobooks while I clean hotel rooms for a living. I love the fact that audiobooks have made reading more accessible to people who have visual impairments, and to people who have trouble processing information visually. Now if you have a pair of headphones and a phone you can read! It’s amazing! And even if you are missing the WiFi to download books, the library can help you there too.

            Some people just don’t enjoy reading. And that’s fine! If you just want to write your book, put it out there, and be done with it, go ahead don’t worry about reading. I do believe that if you want to be serious about your career in writing you need to read. If rolling up your sleeves and getting serious about a career in entertainment isn’t in the cards for you right now because you’re just trying to survive the winter, then don’t feel guilty! Sometimes survival is doing your best. If you don’t have time to read right now I’m not going to shame you for it. You’re allowed to be a hobbyist. I think being a reader will greatly advance your writing career, but I do not know if it hinges upon it.

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Survival Mode Will Drain Your Creativity

            Why hello there! Not only am I still in survival mode, but my fingers are wooden from the cold, and my eyes are going crossed because I am so exhausted from this past week of work. By the time you read this (because keep in mind I write these a few months in advance) hopefully things will be better for me.

            I just moved to a new city, new apartment, and new job because I couldn’t find a job in my home town that paid a living wage. Let me tell you, this move took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. Not to mention Covid is still hanging around and I have to think about “Is this gas station safe to go inside? Am I going to expose the people who were kind enough to help move me?” Because I switched homes, I didn’t abandon my people. They’re stuck with me. Lately, I’ve been simply working on how to get the next thing I need. How do I get clean clothes to go to my new job with? How do I get to my job if my car just broke down again? How do I pay for gas to get to this stinkin’ job? Can I turn the heat up in here or is it going to break the bank? My air mattress sprung a leak. Do you think packing tape will work to fix it? All the questions like that press in on you until you’re so drained from just trying to stay somewhat okay, you realize it’s been days since you’ve actually written a scratch. Or painted… I mean, this is a blog about writing but you do you boo boo. You could be beating yourself up about not playing the flugelhorn right now. I don’t know your life.

            I know you’re used to Auntie Helen’s German butt bullying you to greatness but: SURPRISE! It’s okay. It’s okay if all you do for a period of time is survive. Like, bruh, how you gunna write if you don’t figure out how you’re going to eat today? It’s okay. No, really, it’s okay.

            Like, did we not learn this in Covid? You know, the part where we were all under quarantine and were too depressed and frightened to function? Now we eat fear for breakfast! *Throws glitter* Not really. But, I’m sure you get the point I’m trying to make even though I can’t see it because my eyes keep crossing.

            Survival mode will drain your creativity. Just like in Minecraft. Ya know, the zombies try to eat your face so you can’t put 60 cakes in your inventory, or however this game works. Idk, the young friends I play with would probably laugh at me. Some of us just want to build sprawling panda ranches and golden castles! Which, ehem, since life is not Minecraft, that’s not an option in real life. Bruh, you gotta work your butt off to keep the lights on and the roof over your head. I’m not going to shame you for needing to work 60 some odd hours a week! You’re allowed to be tired! You’re allowed to be frightened. You’re even allowed to work 20, say “I have nothing left to give” then collapse in a heap. Or even “My chronic illness is spanking my buns right now and I’m just going to curl into a little ball for a few years until I feel better.” and work 0 hours. Like, being in pain takes a crap-ton of energy.

            No one comes to this blog for coddling, but this time you’re getting it. Sometimes life just punches you in the teeth like a grand symphony of violence, and you’re left reeling. It’s okay if you don’t have the juice for your… Uh, flugelhorn, I guess. Sometimes surviving is enough and you definitely need to quit beating yourself up for it.

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Both War and Chess and Tales from the Gishlan Wood Are Available

Both War and Chess (the reprint) and Tales from the Gishlan Wood are available for purchase on Amazon because of Drakarium Publishing.

I am excited for these books to reach the hands of readers, finally, and so grateful for everyone who put their blood, sweat, and tears to get them here. These two books couldn’t have happened without the help of artists, editors, Drakarium Publishing, my Patreons, and an entire community of people who just generally like me! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Things I Would Tell My Younger Self

            I published my debut novel before I could legally have a beer. One of the side effects of being young is having the opportunity to learn through experience. Sometimes experience feels about as pleasant as stepping on a rake. Sometimes experience feels like riding a singing narwhal through a music video #Awesome. Here are the things I would tell my younger self if I got the opportunity:

This be the younger Helen.
  • They are coming. Light the beacon in the watch tower. There is still time. (We could’ve saved the citadel, but alas, it has fallen.)
  • Brush your friggin’ hair, ragamuffin… Oh, oh, you just brushed it. It just does that. My bad, dude.
  • If make-up is itchy and uncomfortable don’t wear it. If make-up makes you feel pretty like a Viking about to go into battle, then wear it. Don’t wear it, or not wear it, to impress other people.
  • You look cute, stop fretting. (Yes, I know this is my third comment about my appearance but I’m looking at photos.)
  • I literally do not know how you did it. You fought off poverty and mental illness with one hand, then threw on a smile and some fake nails from the dollar store, and sold books with the other hand. Are you homeless right now? I guess by some standards you are. Eh, you always find a safe place to sleep at night, and food to eat in the morning. That in itself is impressive.
  • It’s okay if you don’t feel like a woman 100% of the time. The world sees you as a woman 100% of the time, and knowing what that feels like is the reason you decided to make a feminist brand centered on helping teenage girls find their power.
  • Take more pictures.
  • Quit hating on social media. That’s your future bread and butter.
  • Quit being so snobby! Jeesh! This is a projection of your insecurity. You’re afraid you’ll never be anything more than a dirty little kid from Cow Town. Who cares if you’re not! When you’re old (me) you’re going to wish life was simple.
  • You have so many reasons to be proud though.
  • Please, please, please, start trusting people to show up and show out for you. I know exactly why you don’t, and how and where you got hurt, but I promise, the ones who showed up are your ride or dies.
  • Seeing your name in lights will get you higher than any substance you could ever abuse. Grind.
  • Stop caring what people think so much… I know I did. *Profuse sweating*
  • *Heavy sigh* I know you’re poor but you should’ve really hired a line editor. Yes, you. Not the publisher. You still did your best though. I’ll fix it later…
  • Okay, seriously, that mean thought you’re having about yourself? No one else is thinking it… Except that one guy in the corner, but he can suck a lemon. Do you know how hard it is to make people care about something? I do it for money now (marketing) and I can tell ya, no one’s paying that much attention.
  • Consider a pen name. You get stalked multiple times. (You know I keep that thang on me! *Opens coat to reveal a loaf of French bread*)
  • There’s nothing wrong with staying single while you focus on your career. [Probably.] Men is too headache.
  • Say thank you. I know you already did but just say it one more time to be certain.
  • Frick, I am so proud of you. You saw what you wanted and you went after it. You didn’t compromise. Traditionally publishing a book before you can shoot whiskey is quite the feat! …Bruh, they don’t let kids smoke until 21 these days! Weird, huh?
  • You’re not a bad person for sewing some wild oats. Just minimalize casualties.
  • Stop being embarrassed of your Goshen County accent. It’s part of who you are.
  • While you should not be embarrassed by your accent, code switching is a thing. And there is a time, and place, and season, for everything under heaven.
  • I know you’re doing that weird thing young people do where they look for somewhere to belong. I promise you, it’s not where you think it is, and you and your people have next to nothing in common. Ya’ll just get together and make magic though!
  • Write every day. Even if it’s just a sentence.
  • You have pretty eyes. *Bats eyelashes*
  • Stop working to impress your enemies. You will never be good enough for them. Just kick some dirt over that poop and keep walking.
  • I’m serious about the pen name. You could’ve been Wait. Helen Wait.
  • It is a privilege to be yeeted from the presence of your haters.
  • That speech you made out of nowhere? That was hecka impressive. I don’t know that I could do that today. That was dope.
  • Not compromising your dreams, and being flexible are two different things. I like your moxie though.
  • Hug the cat again for me, would you?
  • That thing you’re worried about. Yeah, it turns out okay.
  • The master sword sleeps in the crypt. They will probably never guess the riddle to find the crypt. Do not find it. They will torture you for information. Let what was once the citadel rest in peace.

            Anyway, that was a strange and beautiful time where I learned a lot. Mostly about marketing and salesmanship! Also the value of friendship, and I don’t mean monetary. I’m excited to publish again because Drakarium Publishing saw potential in me, and I’m excited to do book signings again because The Wyoming Arts Council saw potential in me! I am grateful I got to learn all these lessons myself though because the cup of tea I was just drinking told me “One thorn of experience is worth a whole forest of warning” -James Russell Lowell

            If you see potential in me too, and wanna keep reading the weird junk I make subscribe to my Patreon! You’ll help make sure I keep this blog up, running, and free! You’ll also feel like a cool kid when you get to see these posts a week before everyone else!

I Made Recommendations on Shepherd!

Yes! I made a list of books for learning the old legends. Particularly the things about fairies.

Shepherd is an up and coming book directory that allows authors to make lists of books related to the books they wrote. I’m excited to see how this site will grow!

Check out my list for The Tooth Fairy here!

No One Is Going to Do It For You

            A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, and not in the future because I can’t see that direction, I was in the chow line. There happened to be to writers behind me and I started eves dropping in on their conversation. One writer was a sweet lady who looked like she could make a mean pineapple upside-down cake, trying to write children’s books about dogs, the other was a gentleman about the same age as her who had written an action thriller of some sort.

            The guy looks down at her with these big ol’ puppy dog eyes and says “If I submit your book to publishers will you submit mine?”

            “I uh…”

            “We can trade?” He twists his cap in his hands and tries to look cute.

            I know this woman with the kind face is not going to say “No.” which is a complete sentence, by the way, and I so want to step in and be like “UH-UH!” She finally says “Uh-okay, I guess…” and they swap emails.

            I knew this dude was about to let her work her butt off to get his book published while he switched up on her and “Oooooh, I’ve been too busy!” That’s reason number one you shouldn’t do that with other writers. The second is that they were working in two very different genres. Chances are he reads action thrillers, and she reads kid lit. Because that’s what they enjoy. So there’s very little chance a fellow writer, who is not an agent, will have read any of the books that press makes. Sometimes when I really get heavy on submitting to publishers I wind up with some of my new favorite books coming in the mail. The two that come to mind are Eat Knucklehead, and Three Sailors and A Hermit. Third, there are so many kinds of different publishing houses out there you need to know what you want to find the right one. I’ve been offered multiple contracts for Tales from the Gishlan Wood but the fits weren’t right so we parted ways.

            I’ve had it happen to me too. Friends have asked me to write their books, I’ve dated men who want me to make their career finally get up off the ground (the first step is put down the whiskey bottle, Benjamin. You’re not Hemingway. Make it happen and clear you head so you can function!) And I’ve met people who want me to “help” them find a publisher. I.e. do all the heavy lifting and research.

            I’m happy to cheerlead! I’m happy to text you and hold you accountable! I’m happy to drop you a link that may or may not work for your purposes. But ain’t nobody gunna do it for you. Rachel Hollis told me “No one cares about your dreams as much as you do.” Meaning, out of all those cheerleaders you have no one is going to cry and hurt as much as you will if your dreams don’t come true. Your friends will be sad but it’s not their battle. It’s yours. So stop trying to get others to do your work for you.

            And I mean, I’ve done it too. The last time I was 14 and just wrote War and Chess. We didn’t consistently have a computer and internet at my house because Dad used to take the computer and it’s hotspot with him to work his nightshift as a security guard. So I asked him if he’d research publishers for me while he was at work. Both my parents just laughed and said “Do it yourself, kid.” So I wound up doing it at school a lot, and whenever my father wasn’t working. Gosh, I do not miss explaining to grumpy teachers why I only had internet sometimes. Or a word processor. I used to write my essays in cursive in red ink and count the words by hand. Let’s all stop for a minute and count our blessings.

            The biggest thing in your way is you. I have a friend who writes too. She’s a journalist. She writes and edits on her phone. Ladies, gentleman, and those in-between, that is dedication. I admire her so much. So what’s stopping  you? One of my teachers made us all memorize the mantra “adapt, improvise, overcome”. At the very least you have internet some of the time or you wouldn’t be reading this.

            Setbacks happen. Believe me, I know. I’ve been rereading some old blog posts and they’re hurting my feelings because I really emphasize taking the time to do it right. K, cool, me. That was before I felt like giving up! Guess I just can’t now! You have to power through them, be like water, and find a way around the problem.

            No one cares about your career as much as you do. Make it happen and stop expecting others to do it for you. Do your homework, do your research, keep on keeping on, don’t give up.

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Characters Are Not Built in a Day

            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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Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings

            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
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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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