Family Matters

            Okay, this is probably some super niche advice but what else am I here for? Can’t write the same blog posts everyone else is doing! Come let Auntie Helen give you some advice: Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Just kidding. That’s not it. Although Princess Bride has never steered me wrong before… The advice is “make your characters a family tree.”

            Speaking as someone who has at least 18 greats aunts and uncles, four grandpas, cousins from Sweetwater County Wyoming, to Goshen County Wyoming, Texas to Australia , family is not an easy thing to keep track of. Your imaginary friends probably don’t have a neat and tidy little family tree either. It has helped me so much to keep track of the Gishlan royal bloodline.

            Starting with War and Chess… Well we know that Princess Amethyst is King Alabaster’s daughter, right? Well who were Amethyst mother’s parents? And their parents before them? More importantly who were King Alabaster’s parents and where did they come from? And those people? And the people before them? Wait! Didn’t Helen casually mention something about writing about Amethyst’s granddaughters? Who did they come from? Who did she marry? Who did her children marry? It is impossible to keep track of it all in your head. Don’t try it.

            I found this nice little website that won’t ask too many questions or try to link you back to census records─ which is great if your friends are real! But in this case they’re not. No one can see your family tree unless you invite them too and they don’t get too upset if you character’s great aunt ran off with the duke of Flim Flam because she couldn’t handle the pressure of being queen. They even have a space with biography notes where you can write that! And if you have art/fanart/concept art there’s a place for that too! This wonderful website I’m pushing so hard is called Family Echo.

            Definitely make yourself a login so you can save your work! I credit this site with giving me fodder for the next Gishlan books! There’s about 15 generations between Princess Amethyst and the first queen of Gishlan. That’s a whole lot of people to write about. Currently, in my head, Amethyst’s great granddaughter has two kids. So. Many. People.

            Having a mapped out family tree is especially important to me because the way dates work in Gishlan is by season/day/dynasty as compared to month/day/year. So for example War and Chess would have taken place on a day like Spring, 15th day, Alabaster. I toyed with a book for a while that was all a servant girl’s diary. Dates where especially important then. I can’t have characters walking into an abandoned house to find a rumpled up old diary if I can’t figure out who should’ve been the ruling power at the time. I’m telling you, map out your character’s family tree.

            Even if you’re writing that one weird orphan who becomes the chosen one. No one comes out of thin air. Someone had to raise them too. You can either pay homage to their parents or show respect to their biological parents by including them. Even if you don’t use the information in the book it’s something you know about them. Genetics are a powerful thing. I’m pretty sure I have personality traits similar to my great great grandfather.

            And really, reading V.C. Andrews’ [the real V.C. Andrews] Flowers in the Attic series I had to stop and make myself a family tree just so I could keep them all straight. I mean, that one’s gross but it was relevant to what I was doing. If you want to incorporate inbreeding in your fictional story you’re going to need a family tree. (I will only judge you silently.) Your readers might appreciate one too. Even if you want to bring on the main character’s distant cousin of their aunt’s uncle (I’ve got family like that) you need to have it plotted out in your head where they fit. Don’t expect yourself to just carry that around in your brain.

            Making a family tree will help you get to know your main character a lot better, and who knows! Something more may come out of it! Like an entire series of books following the family around! *COUGH* Let it flow, let it fly, Family Echo is my go-to.

As always, if there’s something I haven’t covered that you’d like me to leave me a note! Don’t forget to hit subscribe! Comment and say hi! Don’t be a stranger!

Guess Who Got A New Snapchat Account

It’s me! The one who this website is named after!

Snap me for some shenanigans! Sometimes I’ll actually write and show you some cool things! Either that, or you can watch me stumble through how this app is supposed to work…

C’mon! It’ll be fun!

That’s My Friggin’ Name

            I dated a guy named Michael* once. Then I found out his name was Miguel*. It kind of ticked me off. So I asked him what he liked to be called and after a little himmin’ and hawin’ it came out to be that he liked being called Miguel more. And then I got confrontational. “Miguel, promise me something?”

            “What?”

            “Never Americanize yours or anyone else’s name in my presence again.”

            The dude was even more enamored with me, for the record.

            Anyway, I feel the same way as the famous Tweet by @kirkobainz “If white people know how to say Daenerys Targaryen, they can learn to pronounce your name correctly.”

            Now me, a white lady whose ancestors hail from Caucasia, doesn’t have much trouble with my name being mispronounced, often. But I do have people shorten my name to Helen Pugsley, rather than Helen M. Pugsley. (I’ll come back to that one and why it’s a problem.) I’ve been Hellen, I’ve been Helen S. Pugsley, Helen Pierce, and Helen Puglsey. (That last one I do a lot.) The point I’m trying to get across to you is that: There is nothing wrong with correcting people about your name. It’s your friggin’ name! You need to make sure people get it right. Spelling, pronunciation, that weird 3 you added in middle school… That’s basic respect everyone owes you. Even if they have to practice saying your name several times.

            So, back to why Helen M. Pugsley, not Helen Pugsley is my friggin’ name: I am Helen M. Pugsley. I have been since I was in high school when I read “Thanks for turning the mousy Steph into Stephanie Meyer” in the back of a Twilight novel. That’s when I decided “I need a cool name for all these short stories I keep posting to Teenink.” My father taught me anonymity is cowardice so I beefed up my own moniker. Helen to Helen M. Pugsley. What a courageous change! (Sarcasm works so well in print.)

            I never used to worry much about the M. I used to use it to see if the people or organizations I was working with had an eye for detail. I heard a story once about a band who, in their contract, would ask for a bowl of M&M’s with all the blue ones removed. They got to a venue and had a perfectly normal bowl of M&M’s. Because the M&M’s weren’t done right they knew they’d have to check the sound equipment. When they checked the sound equipment it was done in such a way that something could have come loose during the performance and seriously injured or killed someone. The M. was always my canary until recently.

            There is a perfectly lovely Welsh woman named Helen Pugsley whose career as a classical singer is gaining momentum. I am here for it! That is probably my cousin! You remember where I said my ancestors came from? But unfortunately, I’ve let people call me Helen Pugsley rather than Helen M. Pugsley so many times Google can’t tell us apart. Now my Helen M. Pugsley knowledge panel is a picture of her and a link to her Twitter account, and her Helen Pugsley knowledge panel announces that she wrote War and Chess. I’m sure Helen would rather be known for her music. While I love music, I don’t have a desire to try to make a living off of it again. (*Cough* Link drop to previous blog post.)

            Helen, if you’re reading this, we have to duet this song. You’re a blonde, I’m a brunette. I’m also an operatic soprano, but I think my status as a brunette is more relevant here. It could happen. It needs to happen. We owe it to the world, Helen.

            Anyway, because of Helen, I recently had to grow guts and actually tell people I am Helen M. Pugsley not Helen Pugsley we’re two different people. Desiree Goodtimes and I on the other hand?… I am definitely not the one who’s been churning out mass amounts of pirate smut! Who does that!?

            I’ve been on the other side of the name thing too. When I worked for the library I did most if not all of the advertising. I can tell you from experience, as a venue, I get more ticked off when I find out you let me get your name wrong  than when you shoot me an email and tell me I got it wrong. Shoot the email. It’s your friggin’ name.

            Anyway, here is permission to advocate for yourself no matter your situation. It’s your friggin’ name. People need to get that right. Even if it used to be your name, you need to correct people. (I’m looking at you, trans community!) Don’t settle, make people pronounce it right, spell it right, and remember it right. It’s your friggin’ name.

*Indicates name change

How To Submit a Query

Asking “Did the publisher find you” is like asking “did your job come knocking on your door while you were unemployed, chilling on the couch, in your boxers, not applying for jobs?” Babe. That’s not how it works.


Go chase your dreams. You’ve heard that phrase right? Well dreams need chasing! Go submit that manuscript! Like, left click on that new tab button up top and go find a publisher! What are you still doing reading this blog post?!


Okay, maybe you’re sick of Auntie Helen’s semi-condescending tone. Maybe you’re like “But Helen, how do I chase my dreams when I haven’t written a resume in 20 years, and I’ve never written a query letter.” Cool story, bro. You’ve come to the right place to learn!


First, start with a hook. Get the publisher’s editor invested in your story. For example, here’s the first paragraph of Tales from the Gishlan Wood’s query: “Since the publication of War and Chess readers who have finished the first book in one long night have asked Helen M. Pugsley ‘Where’s the next one?’ She has spent her winter compiling the stories she wrote in the same world of War and Chess into a book. It includes the life stories of seven favorite characters that you already have met and a few smaller stories. . Teacher P wants to tell you about the family he loved more than life itself; The Blue Fairy, Belleminka, wants you to know she was always more than just a soldier; King Haylend wants to tell you his woes and explain his long held vendetta against Gishlan; Prince Quillpeck yearns to break his vow of silence and speak of his life under a tyrannical father, and his own rise to the throne as king; King Alabaster wants to honor Amethyst’s mother’s memory, and of course, Queen Amethyst, her children, and her children’s children have stories to tell. So do the very lands themselves, as this book will include a glossary of the countries and a map. This is the sequel to War and Chess you don’t want to miss out on. This compilation has the working title Tales from the Gishlan Wood. The stories are told from their point of view drawing the reader in and making them feel like they are chatting with a friend. Helen hopes to turn her books into a series, and has two more pieces in the works. Their working titles are To Craft a Nation and Rock at the Bottom of the Sea.”


So now that your intended publishing house knows why they give a crap, give them details. Important ones. They want to know how many words your book has, and if it’s simultaneously submitted. If this is not the first press you’ve run up to and gone “PLEASE HELP ME LIVE MY DREAMS!” then yes. It is simultaneously submitted. Paragraph two of Tale’s query: “Tales from the Gishlan Wood is a fantasy novel, about 42,000 words long and simultaneously submitted.” That’s it. That’s the paragraph. That’s how you do it.


And then, tell them who you are and why they want to work with you. Like, no. You’re not just Tina who likes cats and painting stained glass windows. You’re Tina who has written for the school paper, the church newsletter, has experience in social media marketing, won a poetry contest and likes cats and stained glass window painting! Que sera, Tina! I present to you the third and fourth paragraph of the Tales from the Gishlan Wood query: “Helen M. Pugsley published her first book, War and Chess, on August 18th 2016. In 2019 she had a poem called ‘Constellation’ published in Madness Muse Press’ Magazine, Environmental Issue. Most recently she has been able to write a monthly blog post on writing for James Bond’s Library, as well as enjoying a small following on Wattpad. She has had the privilege to write devotionals for American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains newsletter, had work featured in Wyoming Writers’ newsletter. Her haiku ‘Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years’ was published in Teen Ink Magazine’s April 2015 issue. In 2013 she won Honorable Mention for her flash fiction story in Scholastics Art and Writing Awards, and again won Honorable Mention in the Scholastics contest in 2014 for her poetry. In 2012 she won honorable mention in the Famous Poets annual contest, had an article about her summer camp experiences published in the camp’s newsletter. Helen M. Pugsley also holds second and third place awards in Wyoming Young Authors from grade school.


Helen comes from a small town in Eastern Wyoming but enjoys traveling and is always planning and the next trip… Helen has held over fifteen book signings for her debut novel, War and Chess, across three states. She has been all over North America. One of her proudest accomplishments is walking into Mexico alone. So far she has only crossed one ocean (on the way to Hawaii) but she hopes to change that with a flight to Scotland.”


Ehem. What you have observed is my writing accomplishments in chronological order, in the first paragraph. The second is how one of my interests, traveling, could behoove business. I want to travel. Give me a reason. But Tina, you don’t think people are going to enjoy your stained glass window painting about your book?


And last but not least, close out with something polite. “Thank you for your consideration! I look forward to hearing from you.”


Anyway, here’s me humble bragging on my success, and calling myself auntie in public. Again. Go chase your dreams! You learned from the best! You learned from Auntie Helen. As for help with your resume, call your local library. If you setup an appointment a librarian will literally help you with that. I’d offer to help but I’ve been super unreliable lately and I feel really guilty. Good luck!

Join me next month in May for Treat Writing Like It’s Your Job. Got questions, comments, deep concerns? Smash that contact button!