Yes, Virginia. There is research in Fantasy Writing.

            So I work in History Land, rather than Library Land. Wild shift, but there you have it. Because I’m trying to keep up with the people I work with, I wind up doing a lot of reading. I have a goal to read one non-fiction book a week, because I have perfected the art of skimming text, and retaining important information… It will take me a month or more to read a novel. Shuddup.

            Anyway, my coworker and I got on the subject of historians, and then broadened out to non-fiction writers in general who don’t do proper amounts of research, and fill in the gaps with fiction. They are annoying, and sometimes it’s an honest mistake. When it’s not, and someone bends the timeline to fit their narrative, that’s when it really makes my blood boil.

            If you think your ears were burning, then I was ranting about you at work, because not only did you publish inaccurate information, you had the audacity to target one my friends in a public forum. You opened your mouth, and used your influence in your community to do permanent and irreparable damage to their life, and career(s, who has one job anymore?), because you were jealous they’re a better human being than you ever will be, and probably more talented. But hey, how can we find out if they’re too heartbroken to write? Congratulations, you’ve beat someone who wasn’t competing with you, but trying to work by your side. The only reason I haven’t stooped to your level and called you out by name, is because God reminded me I’m a Christian and revenge belongs to Him. Also, yeah. You need to check over your manuscript for the reprint. That’s not how it went down.

            If you think your ears were burning because you did something awkward at that conference, where we were hanging out: Don’t worry about it, fam. I’m awkward too. I get two drinks in me and start taking selfies with people I just met. By the way, did I ever send that to you? Text me. Honestly, mistakes happen. Sometimes we make assumptions without having all the information, and then we have to change because we found new information. It’s chill, man. Just fix it for the reprint.

            Anyway, the Nice Lady in the room, started giggling and asked “Helen, remind me what you write again?”

            “Young adult fantasy, ma’am.”

            “Ah. And in fantasy, I’m sure there’s not much research, because you’re making up everything, right?”

            And unfortunately, I hit her with the “WeLl AcTuAlLy” and not in that tone, on purpose. I just know how I probably sound. And poor Nice Lady got trapped in a conversation about how I am so fricking frustrated with the intricacies of the Gishlan eco-system.  Like I told her, “I don’t want a palm tree, just growing next to a cottonwood.” which, made her giggle, because of course, she’s nice, and was originally gently suggesting, maybe, just maybe, I should be nicer too. But I went on to explain “I had to make sure the soil would support cotton crops, because otherwise, everyone would have to wear leather.” The ecosystem mimics my homeland, Goshen County, with heavy spoonfuls of Oregon and California. Because a fourteen year old started this series for me, and she wrote a beautiful looking place that felt like home. I had family in all three places. Do you know how not impressive a redwood is to a four year old? Everything is big. What’s a big tree? Did you know we have cotton in the Bible Belt because of an iceberg that predated humanity deposited enough PH in the soil when it melted? The other part of the world where cotton grows easily is India. I had to learn that, so I could give us those nice princess dresses we all love so dearly.

            I had to think about where they got wood to build furniture, where their rock quarries were, what kind of stone they had, I had to think about what kind of food they were able to grow, I had to look at the blue prints of multiple castles, to see how I wanted to build Slipsong Castle, which has housed 19 generations of Amethyst’s family, thus far. I just had to log in to an online database to tell you that. I had to build the Gishlan royals their own family tree, to keep them all straight. There is only so much land will support and I have to have approximate knowledge of these things so I don’t break science.

            I didn’t tell the Nice Lady this because it was some sick own. It was just the truth. Yes, I can make up crap as I go along. But I wanna make up good crap, so I choose to research. I think she was actually interested, and curious, when I explained things like “If you have giant mushroom farmers, you need them to have an economy for mushrooms, an ecosystem that will support the mushrooms, a purpose for growing them, and you need to know how mushrooms work or the mycologists will come after you.” We can’t have the mushie farmers gathering their seeds in the fall. (Mushrooms don’t have seeds. They produce spores. So when you have that urge to kick shrooms in the field, it’s because that’s how they spread, and at one point, the instinct to kick the shroom probably kept some of your ancestors alive… Either that or the mushrooms are farming us for our delicious rotting corpses, and they told you to smack their sex organs to further their agenda. Cool right?!) Buy the t-shirt here.

            So this is me telling you to go ahead and lose yourself in your research. Write what you know, but go forth and know more! The libraries, museums, and archives are here to help you do just that… The mushrooms on the other hand…

            No one wants to see your character chase the bad guy through the house with a broadsword, and then get enlisted in the war, and go into battle with a cutlass. (Because I will die if I don’t over explain, everything, to everyone, all of the time: broadswords and claymores are supposed to be used in open spaces. Like fields. Battle fields. Cutlasses are smaller, and easy to maneuver around a confined space. Like your apartment. Which is why I sleep with one.) Guys, I’m telling you, if you’re a fantasy writer, get yourself a blacksmith. Here! Borrow mine! Lonnie is amazing and has spent hours teaching me about steel grades, knife types, general maintenance, and who else knows. I just absorb. One of these days, I will have him forge me a broadsword so I can practice acting out scenes before I put them on paper. Research! The one I have now, the balance is way off, and the pommel obviously isn’t doing anything.

            Even when I was writing silly fanfiction for the The Road to El Dorado meme group, I took my happy self to the library, and asked for books about the Aztecs… In doing so, I found out I should’ve asked for Mayan! Either way, I wound up learning a lot about the culture, and the people. “You can’t write offensive content about a mermaid, because mermaids don’t exist.”–or so an indigenous woman sang to me on Tik Tok, to the tune of ‘Colors of The Wind’. If you have skin, and a culture, and you choose to write characters with different colored skin, and a different culture than yours, I strongly recommend you listen to people with that skin tone, and culture, talk about their experiences. Maybe even hire a sensitivity reader. There are plenty of content creators on social media, that will voice their frustrations with the entertainment industry, talk about their culture, and their experiences as a human with skin, that mushrooms will eventually eat. I don’t recommend you ask these content creators to work for you for free (you do that, you get what you deserve), but I recommend you actually consume their content and learn from it. Although the fic remains unfinished, I’m pretty fricking proud of what I made.

            So yeah, that’s my advice for this month. Find what interests you, pull on a thread, then threaten your kidnappers with fan theories about ‘El Dorado’ and how it ties in to Mayan mythos. Google the domestication of cats, then have your characters ride large ones through your cotton fields! Write about how Alaska doesn’t really grow vegetables, but people still thrive there. Learn how to darn socks, and can fruit. Teach yourself folk magic, so you can borrow it for your wizards. Read old magazines from the 60’s, so you can get a handle on the fashion. Trap your entomologist friend with the sweet allure of coffee so you can try to understand how he’s trying to cure cancer with fly brains. After all, I was just picking my coworker’s brain about herbal remedies for colds, so I could give plants to my imaginary friends! Just go have some fun doing research! It’s still important, and kinda fun. 

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I’m Bad About Talking About My Books, Part 1: War and Chess

I’m Bad About Talking About My Books, Part 1: War and Chess

            No, seriously. I’m bad at this. I just kind of forget to mention it in conversation. I’ve ticked off a lot of friends by, them knowing me for months, maybe even years, and them having no idea I wrote and published three books! (Wrote five, but who’s counting? *COUGH*) When I do it online it feels like “U buy buk? [Link to Amazon]“. So here I go. In other words, here’s everything you never wanted to know about War and Chess.

            I wrote War and Chess when I was 14. I wrote it outside of school, and never told people I was working on it. (I love that for baby me! I was hardcore swerving on gifted kid burnout!) The inspiration came from this really weird dream I had, where, ehem, I filled Amethyst’s role. I think there were even wild hogs running around! Which is weird, because that’s not a problem I have, in the region of America, I inhabit.

            Anyway, I loved all things princess. Still do! Although I wasn’t a frilly kind of girl, I was obsessed with the concept of being born with responsibility. It sounded taxing! Anyway, I loved Disney (still do) but at the time, Merida didn’t even exist yet. I was fed up! So when I had this dream about a princess who didn’t need a man (or a boy) to save her I latched on to it.

            I made Princess Amethyst take the driver’s seat in her life, and for her country. I put her on the front lines of a war, and I gave her a clever brain and a quick wit to solve the awful mystery, and to sass everyone within earshot. She talks like a real fourteen year old, because I was really a fourteen year old. I tried hard to keep that through the years. Both in the 2016 first edition, and the 2021 reprint.

            But I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself, as I haven’t even laid out the plot yet. Fourteen year old Princess Amethyst lives in her own little world as a spoiled princess, until one day the neighboring country attacks unprovoked. Even though she’s just a young teenager, she takes it upon herself to figure out why and put a stop to it. She even learns to use a sword, and like a total Mary Sue she gets good at it! Hehe.

            Spoiler alert: I’m going to relegate spoilers to this paragraph. I assume most of the people who are reading this post have read the book. But just in case! Princess Amethyst finds that the king of the neighboring country, attacks her country because he’s afraid to die without a legacy. Which is creepy the 2021 reprint came out in December in time for me to go on tour in March of 2022. It was eerie selling a book that mirrored world events. I didn’t think people like King Haylend honestly existed, but there Putin is proving me right, unfortunately. My heart breaks for Ukraine. Spoiler end.

            War and Chess does have a strong “war is ugly” message underneath. Military recruiters tend to hit impoverished communities harder. Impoverished communities like the one I grew up in. If you’re a poor white kid with seven brothers and sisters living on a ranch, your options are kind of limited. Many of my friends and neighbors have joined various branches of the military to pay for college so they can escape poverty. Going forward, please keep in mind I do not have a problem with the soldiers serving our country, I have a problem with the system that makes it impossible to escape poverty, unless you agree to participate in harming another and put yourself in harm’s way, or you take on massive amounts of debt instead. My father used to watch war documentaries in front of me as a kid, and I think that had a profound effect on me. I’d come home from school and learn about WWI. I learned lessons from the lips of little old men that still ring in the back of my head. Lessons about how hatred will destroy you, and the real value of art. Three potatoes. You can eat, and still be hungry, or you can have a piece of art and still be hungry. When we turned 18, my best friend and I both got calls from our parents’ home phones from recruiters. I had the sheer audacity to tell them “I’m sorry, I’m a pacifist.” although, I had been in countless school yard fights– My mother who had been eavesdropping laughed for hours… I personally think my best friend’s response was funnier. She told them “You’d have to send me to fat camp.”

            “W-what?”

            “Yeah, no. I’m way too chubby. You’d have to send me to fat camp. I don’t mind enlisting, it’s just going to take me longer to do the job.”

            The recruiter got out of that conversation pretty quickly.

            Anyway, I wrote War and Chess, in part, because I was already sick of war.

            It took me five years to get the thing published. I bought sparkling grape juice, and danced around my first apartment. I was so poor I freaked out about the five cent discrepancy between the listed price, and the actual sale price of my juice. I couldn’t believe it was really happening finally!

            It took another five years to find a home for Tales from the Gishlan Wood and it’s out of print predecessor War and Chess. The story of tales is for another time, but I wanted things like matching cover art, and to find a better line editor than the first edition had (*cough* probably only me.), and to be able to say “Here is a budding series.” to my new readers, and “Thank you so much for waiting” to the ones who stuck with me. I was grateful Drakarium Publishing did that thing I’ve been telling you all for years will never happen, and found me. Grant, the owner of the publisher, and his children had read War and Chess and loved it. I hecking love Grant! Match made in business heaven!

            So after living by myself in Gishlan for eleven years, I am proud to finally invite you all inside my imaginary world where farmers become knights, princes become wondering vagabonds, mermaids have green hair and dark skin, centaurs go to bars with fairies, and we’re all obsessed with cute kitties, and choose violence.

            All joking aside, I do try to content warning these books well. I started writing this series as a teenager, because it was something, I, as a teenager, wanted to read. I did not intend these to be books for children under 13. There is graphic violence, mentions of sex (because a  loving and consensual relationship is where I draw the line!), death, pregnancy, child loss, suicide, murder, violence, violence, organized crime, and everyone swears in Gishlaner. So if I haven’t frightened you off, check out my book from your local library, or buy it on Amazon.

Available Now!


All three of Helen M. Pugsley’s published works are available on Amazon.

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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!

Announcing: Both ‘War and Chess’ and ‘Tales from the Gishlan Wood’ to be published by Drakarium Publishing

This summer, because of Drakarium Publishing, the reprint of ‘War and Chess’ and the first edition of ‘Tales from the Gishlan Wood’ will be on the shelves and available for purchase!

We’ve got a lot of work to do in preparation, but there will be more information to follow. Thank you all for your support.

Gishlan Now Has Its Own YouTube Channel

Because I am obviously insane the Gishlan series now has it’s own YouTube Channel. The Music Of Gishlan can be found by clicking this link. I plan to publish more scores as their corresponding books come into print.

If you would like to try your hand at playing one my public Musescore profile can be found by clicking this link. I would love to hear you perform!