Author Requests Privacy but Fans Aren’t Having It…

             Ha! You fell for my click bate! This was a trap to attempt to show you how to set boundaries between your writing career and your personal life. Bamboozled again! I want to show you how to set firm boundaries and keep your private life private. This is something I’ve been asked through the years, and I have two big methods you can apply to various aspects of your life.

            Just say “no”. This is what I did at first. Because I’m a mean and scary cowgirl. “I’m a fan of your work. Can I add you on Snapchat?” “No, but thank you.”, “I literally just met you 10 minutes ago. You wanna go cruising tonight?” “No, thank you.” “I wanna see your family’s ranch.” “No.” You can just do that. You can just say “No”. But politely. “Can I meet your kids?”, “Can I have your discarded tissues?”, “Can I read your WIP?” No, no, no.

            It’s all about misdirection. Completely different than “No.”, you can just have two of everything. Like, a personal social media account, and a business one. You can easily get a PO Box for about $60/yr  so you don’t have to tell everyone where you sleep. I did that because I come from a village of 20, and if someone road tripped, walked into town and said “Where’s Helen?” to one of my neighbors, they’d be like “Oh, she’s up the tree out back. Go on over!” because that’s our culture. Not telling people where I lived cut down on unpleasant confrontations like “Helen, I’ve come to kick you like an old pair of clown shoes.”

            “Say when, you scoundrel.”
            What’re they gunna do? Wait at my PO Box, in the next town over where I went to school, until I show up?

            Anyway, I’ve been doing this more and more. Things like having one social media account for the people who love me and want to know how I’m really doing, and the other I just use to be obnoxious and talk about my career. I don’t really want “I feel like a giant blood blister” to come up when someone Googles me, because I had strong opinions about getting a normal, healthy, period; But I do want all three of my books that are in print to come up instead! The thing I love about this method though, is that it’s helped me stop putting up so many walls between my heart and new friends. We have time to get to know each other, and talk, and actually build a relationship, before we plunge into the depths of my full-lilt crazy… Or you know, garden variety vulnerability.

            Anyway, you’re going to have months like “Two of my close friends died, and while I’m grieving I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop, because Grandma told me death comes in threes, but now I have to go on tour and act like I’m the happiest person alive… Aaand one of my favorite cousins is on hospice.” Not showing your friends you’re struggling is a crime, because you’re isolating yourself, and cheating yourself out of deeper relationships. Particularly the devalued platonic relationships! But no one wants to break apart in public. So. Two accounts.

  ~*~

            Those are my two methods of, well, keeping people at arm’s length. (Totally healthy!) The biggest thing I think you need to watch as an entertainer, is exactly how much information you put out there. I.e. If you don’t want strangers asking about your cousin’s cancer diagnosis, don’t put it out there. You’re allowed to be a private person.

            Yes, there will always be some vulnerability in writing and putting your work out there. It’s your baby, and it’s going to have a little of you in it. My friend told me she saw straight through Marlene, and saw me ranting about my situation at the time when I wrote about The Tooth Fairy. There is a margin, where, like it or not, you’re going to be exposed through your work. (Which, I would like to take this time to point out that all of my friends died after I got back from tour in March 2022, thankyaverymuch!) But that doesn’t mean you have to be like “Oh, my YA characters are doing stupid crap I did as a teenager.” In public. You can be cryptic and be like “Yeah, I knew some kids who did stupid crap like that as teenagers.”

            Also, not every part of your life is for Instagram. Listen, and listen well, you do not owe anyone an explanation as to how your life. Unless they’re paying your bills. Which is why I specify on Patron that that money gets reinvested back into my career, my fridge, and this website, and on Kofi that I will be spending all funds on rum, unless I’m lying and I waste it on reinvesting in my career. I try to be transparent when people donate money to my cause. But outside of the bill they’re covering for me, I don’t tell them much.

            Any who, back to The Gram.

            You don’t have to post about where you’re going all dressed up like that. (I think my last dressy selfie was when I was headed to a classy event at my day job.)  You can literally just be like “Ayyo, lookit me. I’m hawt!” and people will be like “Rad!” You don’t have to post a pic of you and your besty getting ice cream at 3am, during a heart-to-heart, every time it happens. You can just go do that, and not tell anyone. You can even be hecking cryptic with your posts. For example, I announced I will be letting go of the last semblance of sanity I posses, and posted a picture of my prayer journal, where I suggested to Jesus Christ that He put Josh Groban in my life so we can get married. Am I okay? No. Will I be elaborating further? Absolutely not. Am I at least having fun? You bet your sweet bippy. Bro. If you wanted, you could just post a picture of you gnawing on a different tree every week and make the general public think you’ve finally made good on your promises to fade into the woods and become a crypted. Or, you know. You could just only post about your writing…

            As an aside, if you choose to take the cryptic crypted posting route, and you’re fairly active on social media, I firmly suggest you make a private account where your loved ones can see how you’re actually doing. Like, bro. There’s people who actually care about you. Let them in.

            One of my bigger concerns is trying to keep my day to day life out of my career. Sometimes employers get touchy about, you know, you asking for strangers on the internet to buy you rum. Before you get called into the office, make sure you can actually laugh, when HR shows you your own post. *Finger guns* This problem could be solved by taking on a pen name, and that way, H.M. Pugsley has no day job. If you choose not to take on a pen name, you don’t exactly have to turn over the name of every literary journal and blog you write for. Stay wild, moon child. Run free through the valleys of the glorious internet.

            You’re also allowed to say “I don’t want to work here anymore.” A couple of years ago, I had a job where the management made me so uncomfortable I buried all of my social media, which got in the way of trying to have a viable writing career. I think they were worried about me talking about the semi-legal things they were doing, online, to customers. Which, while I was looking into protections for whistle blowing employees, I wasn’t using social media to draw attention to them. I would’ve gone to the county courthouse, not the county Facebook page. I do highly recommend finding a new job before quitting the one you’d don’t like. However, Covid-19 made the whole situation a wash for me. Before “No one wants to work anymore” was a chant that ran wild through the streets, there were reports online about employers asking their employees for their social media passwords. Like everything else, you’re allowed to say “No. I sell you this part of my time. My personal life is mine.” or to your readership “No. I sell you these stories. My real life is mine.”

            Anyway, I know what I’m doing all the time, and I always get it right my first try. Definitely listen to me. There is no way to have your privacy without saying “No” and meaning it. There are gentle ways to redirect people, but at the end, at the bare bones of it, you have to be good at telling people “No”. Figure out which pieces of yourself you’d like to play close to your vest before you put yourself out there. You’re more than allowed to have a private life, but you have to be willing to be firm about it.

            Can’t get enough of this blog? Check out my Kindle Vella series, Take it From the Young Punk! Wanna make sure this blog stays free for everyone forever? Subscribe to my Patreon! (Following my Patreon is always free.) Trying to fuel my drinking habit? Naughty, naughty. I would never drop that link. Don’t forget to check out my three published novels from your local library while you’re at it!

Writing Is Just Show Biz For Shy People

The whole quote from Lee Childs goes “Writing is just show biz for shy people. That’s how I see it.” My man’s is right! Especially when it comes to publicity. Publicity is more like show biz than any other part of writing.

            For those of you who don’t know, I have a background in music I never shut up about. (Trumpet playing sopranos rarely do.) In recent years I’ve pulled back from it, severely. I talk about the why in other posts. Unimportant! But I do find it helpful to think of writing, like I do performing. In many ways, they are similar.

            First of all, musicians will rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse, until they can perform in their sleep. I for one associate my trumpet with the taste of blood. That is akin to editing. You, as a writer, need to read your piece over, and over again until it is just so. It also helps to get several other people involved before you show your work to a broader audience. See where I’m going with this? *Wink, wink* *Nudge, nudge* Hire an editor!!! Let your friends beta read! Take criticism! It helps to hear “Helen, you’re a bit bright on the high notes, and you need to open the back of your jaw a little wider.”

            Another immortal quote: “If you practice like a fish, you wrestle like a fish.” That was from my 4th grade teacher, Mr. E, and it still rings in my head, even though I can’t remember what E stood for. He was a coach, and he meant “If you let people toss you around the mat like you’re a dead fish in practice, you’re going to get tossed around like a dead fish at tournaments.” I distinctly remember him applying that to our school work. So, the lesson here is: Give practices your all. I like to do silly little writing prompts when I haven’t been writing. I set a timer for five minutes and go ham. I’m bougie, so mine come from a nice book an elder in my community gave to me, to encourage me to keep writing, when I was just a wee lass. Having only five minutes to write with a prompt will also encourage you to quit editing while writing.

            Okay, seriously. Did ya’ll see me do that Wyoming Arts Council Funded Tour? Because I will not be doing it again. (Just kidding. I would love the opportunity, but I was using that as an expression.) Look, I need you to understand: I am so shy when I go to practice for praise team at church, I can barely ask which stand I can use. There’s no hiding on stage though. Even when you’re one of six people. There is no hiding when you’re trying to do publicity either! I’d say using the internet for advertising is probably one of my strong points as a published author, but with the time I took off work to do my tour, I learned that most of the people I interact with daily had no idea I wrote. In my defense, at what point in conversation would it have been appropriate to bring it up? *Cue nervous chuckle* Anyway, I also treat book signings like they’re performances. I get dressed up, I pull on a not-steal toed pair of boots, I stop thinking like an introvert and start thinking like a showman. I’ve got cool stuff to show you! The book signings where I also do presentations are particularly like that. I think of it like giving a tour (I grew up in a historic town. I can do tours!), but instead of a real place, I’m showing you Gishlan. Razzle dazzle, baby! (If you’d like to learn more about me and my touring check out chapter 15 of my Kindle Vella series.)

            If you want [what little] I have, you have to be willing to hustle. Travel, put your name out there, work with people, keep your finger to the pulse, put your work out there, make yourself available, join some clubs, network, be an active member of your community, and don’t forget your sparkle.

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I’m Bad at Talking About My Books Part 3: Tales From the Gishlan Wood

            Okay, this is literally the one that’s hardest to talk about. I also did these in order of publication. I’m definitely not chicken! What?!

            I wrote Tales from the Gishlan Wood when I was seventeen, under the advisement of my mentor June Wilson Read. It was a cute relationship. She had her “nest” behind my parent’s house, so she’d always have a way to come home to Wyoming, while splitting her time in North Carolina. I had been visiting since I was tiny, and she even kept board games and crayons for me. When I wrote my first book, War and Chess, I was excited to show my real life author friend what I had made. At fourteen I had already started querying publishers but, of course, I had no luck. (War and Chess was a mess, honestly, and being an author is a bigger responsibility than I could’ve ever imagined.) So June told me “Why don’t you write bios for your characters.” and ya know, as you do, a whole book of short stories fell out.

            Back then, at seventeen, I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the characters. And yeah. That meant writing more than a page about each of them. I sat in my room and pretended to interview them. Suddenly Haylend–*Ehem* King Haylend didn’t seem like such a villain, but “my sweet, misunderstood, villain, baby” You have “UwU” we had “Rawr XD” we are not the same. I learned Teacher P is a recovering alcoholic, I learned what became of Princess Amethyst, and where the blue fairy came from. I learned who Prince Quillpeck grew up to be, and I fell in love with the relationship he has with his wife. I even got to meet Amethyst’s grandchildren! And I loved every second of it. Thought you might too so I published it.

            Let me tell you, publishing was no small feat either! I published War and Chess at 20. It was then I decided I’d published one novel, once a year, until I keeled over. And then God laughed. I think I got the job done at 25, maybe 26? When you can drink legally, you stop caring, I promise.

            Anyway, my parents let me take a year off, [look for a job,] and write. So it was painstaking hours sitting in my father’s chair (I didn’t have a desk at this point), until my back screamed, editing a manuscript I hadn’t touched since I graduated high school. When I finally presented it to my former publishing house they asked me for eight books instead. “Make Tales a series!” they said. “Take it or leave it.” I said. They left it until our contract expired and I walked away. No hard feelings, just wasn’t the right fit.

            I bounced around for a while. That’s where I get all my really weird publishing house stories, which I’ll tell you if you buy me a beer sometime. *Cough* I mean root beer. I write for teenagers. I’m behaving! I had one publisher contact me through my work email, to see if I really worked for James Bond’s Library. Another had a printer in her basement, and part of the contract I was offered meant I’d have to buy 500 books from her. Yeah, all sorts of spice. What really drove me nuts, and made me hesitant to work with any of the more reputable publishers was their lack of enthusiasm for my book. I’d rather work with someone who could put my book in front of 500 people, and likes my work, than someone who could put it in front of 5,000 people, and is totally apathetic. I was holding out for just the right home for my books. I say it all the time “If you’re in Book World for money, get out.” Librarian, author, publisher. Nope. You have to be smart with money so you don’t live in a cardboard box, but at the end of it all, you really have to love what you’re trying to do for the world. I wanted a publishing house that felt the same way. In the time I was holding out, War and Chess fell out of print and the copyright reverted back to me. Suddenly I had two homeless books.

            Grant Smith and I had met at our old publisher. We liked each other’s work and bonded over it. Grant had his own publishing blues, and solved his problems by building his own publishing house, Drakarium Publishing. I’ll be honest, Grant had to wear me down. I was always “No, you just want these books because we’re friends!” but even his kids liked them. And I am so happy he wore me down. First of all, I absolutely love working with my friend! Second, I love how this press is a passion project of his. He is truly interested in bringing the world good books through Drakarium Publishing. And again, reverting to that subject that makes my skin crawl: money. Grant is much more interested in making sure books get into people’s hands than he is in making a quick buck. He actually had to talk me into lowering the price of War and Chess. You can thank Grant for it being $9.99. And in person, it’s nice to see people go “Oh, I can bring my kids two books they’ve never read before for the $20 in my hip pocket.” Seriously, Drakarium Publishing makes beautiful books, because they’re good books, and you can actually afford them. Go check them out on Goodreads. I know this sounds like an ad, but I’m honestly gushy over this.

            Because War and Chess and Tales From the Gishlan Wood now have a home, it frees me up to think about my other two books, To Craft a Nation and Rock at The Bottom Of The Sea. Both are already written, and you can check up on their progress here.

            So yeah, Tales was a passion project, published by a passionate house, so you should buy it passionately. See it on Amazon, or get your signed copy on my Etsy shop.

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“I Just Made a Book…Now What?”

Folks frequently say to me “Holy crap. Helen! I just finished my first book!… Now I am lost. What do I do next?” And yeah, it’s a terrifying, beautiful moment, the first time you see your paper baby whole and intact. So let’s take it from the first rough draft. You just put an ending on this bad boy.

            Step One: Rip it open yourself. And what I mean by putting that violent image in your head is, edit it. Shut your back page, and start over on the title page. You need to read it through at least once, and then go back and edit your book, after you’ve read it for the first time in its entirety. Repeat the editing phase “until it’s done.” this may take a few months to a few years.

            Step Two: Bring others in on it. This is the part where you show it to your best friend, a beta reader, find a sensitivity reader, find an editor, etc. Let’s go through these roles and what they should be doing [to my understanding.]

            Best friend: Gives support. Tells you the truth about your story even when it doesn’t please you. Provides you with encouragement.

            Beta reader: I learned the hard way, you should probably let them see it before an editor. Which, make sure they’re cool with it not being super-polished yet. You’re going to have bad grammar still. They, like your best friend, read it and give you feedback, but with more detail.

            Sensitivity reader: Makes sure you didn’t accidently write something racist, sexist, homo/transphobic, ablest, etc. It’s usually like, you wrote someone in a wheelchair, so you get your friend who uses a wheelchair, to give their opinion about how you portrayed that character in a wheelchair. Sometimes you don’t need one, but it’s still nice to think about. No one wants to accidently perpetuate harmful stereotypes. It’s easier to change your manuscript in order to change society, than to ask society to change so you can write that.

            Editor: Makes sure you don’t look like an idiot in public. However, you need to figure out if you need a content editor (edits your content. Makes sure your characters eyes are blue on all of the pages, not just blue on page three, and brown on page six.), or if you need a line editor (edits the way you wrote things. I.e. “Helen, no one speaks red-neck this fluently. Complete sentences, please.”) You need an editor. I don’t care if you are an editor. I don’t care if you’re the grand-master English professor! (I don’t know how academia works! There’s definitely one English professor to rule them all! I’m sure!)  I don’t care if you’ve written 70 books! You need an editor. And you need an editor that has the same mother tongue as the language you wrote the book in. It helps if you can find someone local so they speak with the same regional dialect as you. *nods at non-American followers* You cannot read your own manuscript, and get it polished to the point it needs to be polished. You will always know what you meant, and what you actually wanted to say will never appear on the page without help. Editors take all the ugly out of your baby books. These editors are also different than the editors of a press.

            Step three: Decide if you’re traditionally publishing or self-publishing. I could write an entire blog post on comparing the two alone. In fact, I’ve wrote myself a sticky note that says I need to now. The two sects of the industry are very different, and are going to have very different effects on your book. Here are some comments I’ve written on that in the past (1), (2), (3).

            Step four if you traditionally publish: Look for an agent. This is the site CJ Box recommended during a book signing. An agent is someone who will find publishing houses that might like your book. They cost 20% of your royalties. Since my last royalty check was $8.53, they’re kinda hard to convince to work with you.

            Step four point five if you traditionally publish and give up on finding an agent: Go find a tiny publishing house. This publishing house will be ran by a max of five people but they’ll all be super enthusiastic about it! Which is fun! You get to work with people who love art more than money… But also money! This may be your best option if you’re trying to get your debut novel published. Try out this website. It’s how I found Ink Smith. Submittable has an awesome website for finding places to submit work to in recent years. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, let me save you some time: Go talk to Grant Smith at Drakarium Publishing.

            Step four if you decide to self publish: Line up your freelancers. Go find your cover artist, figure out if you want or need a social media manager, get a formatter, pick which platform and where you’re going to self publish on. (Pst… Jennapiper does cover art, editing, and formatting!)

            Step five if you traditionally publish: Get that contract in your hot little hand. Theydies and gentlefolk, this has never failed me. For my country girls out there: Getting the contract is like getting the ring before you give him the baby. Don’t give your baby up without the binding vows, my dudes.
            The reason I say this has never failed me was because the first time I got one of my books under contract, they had two years before the book was forfeit and the contract was void. The publishing house came up with this themselves! I got impatient and held them to that. If you have no enthusiasm for my work now, what’s it going to be like once you produce it? The second time I waited months for a contract, but it sounds like the press went belly up in covid. Heart breaking! Nice folks! Third time was the charm, and the publisher’s editor completely understood my rigidity in wanting a contract once I explained my past experiences.

            Contracts also help keep you from a lotta damn hurt feelings in business. Both parties know what to expect from each other, and then you have it, in writing, what is expected from the both of you. You get to make sure you’re doing right, they get to make sure they’re doing right. There’s no room for “But you said…” “But Steve told me…” No. That’s it. So it is written, so it shall be done.

            Step six if you traditionally publish: Decide, with your publisher, which freelancers you need. You are traditionally published. You are now working on a team. Your book is now a collaboration. The people at the publishing house do not work for you, they work with you. If you pay them [for anything aside from copies of your books], you are not traditionally publishing, you are being scammed.

            By the time I came on to Drakarium Publishing, I came with my own editor, my own cover artist, and I learned to do my own marketing. However, I still got Poor Richard and Grant to chat and approve the cover art. Grant and I were both over the moon with what Richard brought to the table. Because my favorite Richard wasn’t able to do the text, Drakarium Publishing hired another graphic design team to do all of the text on the cover. That being the title, my name, the back of the book, and suchlike. Because I didn’t find a formatter Drakarium Publishing did! It’s all about teamwork, and you need to communicate with the team. Yes, if you are self publishing and reading this paragraph anyway, you will be making all these calls yourself.

            Step five if you decide to self publish: Mash the go button and be stressed. It is time to pray and chain smoke. Hopefully, [the publishing outlet of your choice] will accept your cover, and you’ll have measured the dimensions right, and they don’t find too many type-os, and they’ll actually produce your book. For me it was Amazon.

            Step seven if you decide to traditionally publish: Mash the go button and be stressed. Buy yourself a cigar. That way your system will be too flooded with tobacco to actually function properly. At least you’ll have a small publishing house filled with people feeling the exact same thing.

            Final step for either: Oh sweet Mary Mother of God, we did it. Get with your people and celebrate like you just put a dude on the moon, burn your cigarettes so you don’t raise your insurance, collapse in a heap for 12-24 hours.

            Bamboozled again! Now you actually have to sell copies. That is a whole other blog post. The journey with publishing a book doesn’t end with it actually getting published. Unfortunately. There is no rest for the wicked. Now the real hard part begins. Get out there and be proud of all the work you’ve done!

            A ton of people have asked me about publishing children’s books.  I have both traditionally published books, and self-published through Amazon. I am a fantasy writer who favors YA, although I have written and published outside of my genre. I’ve reviewed tons of children’s [picture] books but I’ve never published one, and unfortunately, I think children’s books authors need to find someone more authoritative than me on that subject. I do recommend traditionally publishing your children’s book, however. Children’s picture books are possibly the hardest genre to get published in because the vetting is so intense. I feel in order to create a successful children’s book, you do need the manuscript to go through that vetting. Self-publishing will not do that for you.

            You may not write similar books, and thus will have a different experience. For example: I have no idea what the romance novel market is doing, because most days I’d rather dig my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, than read perfectly lovely books I’d never shame others for enjoying. Go ask my ex, I am a cold, dead, fish.

            Make sure your book isn’t anywhere on the internet for free. Many places consider that “published” because no one is going to buy something they can get for free. If you hope to traditionally publish, they need to be able to turn a profit from your book. We’re running out of rich hobbyists, people!

            That’s pretty much what happens after you make an entire book, and actually want to show it to other people. I double dog dare you to go forth and learn much more than me, then come back and rub it in my face so I can learn from you.

How To Work With Freelancers

Disclaimer: I schedule these posts months in advance, so if we have beef now, we didn’t when I scheduled this.

            Oof, it feels weird to write this one. I mean, it’s not exactly “Throw out their grain every night no later than six. They’re used to me coming home at 5:30 so they’ll get grumpy if they get too hungry.” But there are a whole lotta things I wish I knew before I got thrust into positions of leadership, much less positions where I had to make decisions. Hopefully, I can keep someone else from making the same mistakes, and just for spice, I threw in the habits of some of my least favorite bosses.

            They’re just people, bro. Maybe they’re not available right now because they’re taking the kids to Disney Land! Every people comes with baggage. Sometimes that thing is late because they’re fist fighting a land shark, or more likely, doing something like dealing with a family emergency. Yes, you need the thing, and you need it on time, but you also need empathy and compassion if you want to keep that talent in your corner. Another thing that will help you is to keep track of their time zone, that way you’re not asking for urgent work at their 3am.

            Be clear about what you want. If you want a drawing of a guy, playing a fish shaped banjo, on The Great Wall of China, then you need to tell your freelancer that you want a guy, playing a fish shaped banjo, on The Great Wall of China. Don’t just say “Some person, on a wall, playing some sort of oddly shaped instrument.” that’s hecka up to interpretation. If you’re not clear you could get some lady, sitting on a garden wall, playing a heart shaped guitar. Which, then you will be sad because that is not what you wanted.

            Be clear about when you want it. This one gets tricky for me. I’ve worked on an “as you’re able, and I still have money to pay you” basis, but as the event I needed the work for got closer, it got hairy. You know what it’s like when a person with three feet of hair starts loosing hair from stress? Not fun. And you’ll find it in your food. Don’t do this to me, Joe. Pick a deadline out of the air. Even if it’s “within the next six months” it will help a lot. And if it is “soon”, “soon” is not a real deadline. “By the last day of the month” is. To be honest, I’ve done it to others too. You need solid dates you can nail down on a calendar. It will help you, and the team stay on track.

            Come with a napkin drawing. You remember banjo fish guy? I promise you, if you show up with a stick figure drawn on a greasy napkin, your freelancer will be excited. A really crappy version of what you want is better than no version of what you want. I can tell you from experience, as a free lance social media manger, that it’s a lot easier to adjust a message from a newsletter, and change it to a Facebook post, than to wonder “Is this right? Am I allowed to say that? Is this too edgy? This is what they meant, right?” Because with social media management, you’re often turning three paragraphs into three sentences at most. (Yes, I am taking on new clients. Message me for more information.)

            Stop hovering. Micromanagement drives me batty! Either you come with “I made this [rough sketch of fish banjo guy] but I just need you to clean it up.” or you stop telling them how to do their job. I had a boss that would try to stand over me while I was working on the company newsletter and try to dictate to me like I was a scribe. “Tell them that…” It was very distracting, because often times we weren’t even working on the same place.

            Eventually my patience wore thin and I said “Why don’t you make a draft of what you want to say in your office, then email it to me?”

            I feel I was polite enough, but I believe he got the message because he blushed and said “No thank you. You write in your off time…” then went to his office.

            I had another boss that would physically stand in my way to survey me while I worked on an assembly line, then complain when my productivity went down. Other times, she’d take the work out of my hands, try to show me how to do it, do a much worse job than me because she hadn’t been doing it 100 times every day (I’m not exaggerating) for the past few months, then, once again, act surprised when productivity and quality went down.

            I understand. The people under your employ and the things they produce are a reflection of you. But you hired them because you trust them. If you don’t, why did you hire them?! Admittedly, I have had to go behind people I’ve worked with and make slight adjustments (now everyone I’ve ever worked with is going “Omg, was it me?!”), but it’s a lot better than having to present the world your napkin drawing.

            Don’t say it’s good when it’s not. Sometimes, you shouldn’t make that adjustment yourself. “Can you change the font? That’s a little hard to read.” is completely different than hovering. That “Well, what do you think?” usually means the freelancer showed you work for feedback before finalizing it, and they want your input. It’s completely different from standing over someone while they work!

            “I will certainly take a look at this for you before you finalize it” > “What are you doing now?”

            Get it? The difference is they asked.

            Communicate, communicate, communicate! That’s it. That’s the secret to any relationship. Communicate.

            But you have to watch how you communicate. You also have to learn how they communicate. I ran into that with a boss I friggin’ adored, and accidently made a mess of things. Some people need direct, clear, communication. Some people need a gentler approach my Germanic butt is still learning. Paying attention to how someone needs you to communicate with them is the hardest part, but you’ll learn as you go, and you get to know them.

            Use contracts where you can. Gentleman’s agreements are all well and good. My friends and I are just generally happy to work for each other! But even so, contracts set those healthy boundaries, and give a sense of expectations on to both (or all) parties.

            Throw out their grain every night no later than six. Oh wait. They’re not horses. Don’t do that.

            They are your partners, not your slaves or servants. I’m going to tick off a lot of employers by saying this, however, someone has to say it. You, an employer, hire talent because that person either has a talent you don’t have or because you don’t have enough hands, or hours in the day, to perform that talent. Be it a cover artist, or a ranch hand, you needed them. And you know what? If they’re worth their salt, they’re going to be snapped up by someone else if you mistreat them. They don’t owe you butt kisses. Treat them like a partner; keep them in the loop, communicate with them, tell them what you need and what you expect. You didn’t buy them from some online slave auction, and they can and will leave if you mistreat them. Do not abuse your role in their life. They are not horses.

            Pay them on time. For the love of all that is holy, PAY THEM. I’ve seen more than one friendship ruined over that. Whether it was cash, farm fresh eggs, your first born, or that weird braid on the back of your head you only think no one knows about, you need to pay them what you promised them when you promised it. If life punched you in the jaw, tell them so! “Can you please hang on to this work? I’ve hit a hard time financially, but I hope to pay you within the next three months. Thank you for your time and dedication.”

            Or, alternatively “Hey bro. My mom found The Neck Braid and made me clip it. I need time to grow you another one, but The Neck Braid will live again!”

            And no. You don’t get the work until you pay for it. Don’t let them give it to you either. That’s immoral. No one wants to work for free. If you run off with the work in hand, you’ll forget you haven’t paid them. But you should also give them a general idea of when you think you’ll be able to pay them. Maybe you’ll be paying them a little each month until it’s paid off!

            All in all, just remember they’re people, not horses… Much less robots! And you hired them because they know what they’re doing, but you also need to communicate and tell them what you want. Set up the expectations of your professional relationship, then actually pay them. You’ll be fine. There will be hard days, but that’s the biz, kid.

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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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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

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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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