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.

Enjoying this blog? Keep it up and running! Patreon, Ko-Fi.

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.

Check Oblivious Luminescence for signed copies!

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

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!

Treat Your Writing Like a Job

Yes. Even if it isn’t making you money at present. Treat it like a job. Honestly, this blog makes revenue from ads. So far I’ve made $0.08. From my novels, I probably spend the money I make investing in them (art, travel expenses, hiring editors, etc), and I write poetry just for fun. Still! I treat it like it’s a job.

Part of learning to treat your writing like a job is figuring out how you work. Yes you. What makes you tick, human? Do you need a set schedule, or do you prefer flexibility with accompanied accountability?

When I was working full time (at James Bond’s library) I had a routine for my writing. If I didn’t meet a friend for lunch I’d sit in my car, or at the local bakery (Shout out to Sweet Lou’s!) and write, edit, get done what I needed to do. When I did meet a friend for lunch writing would be the last thing I did before I went to sleep at night. Just like I did when I was in school. I’d write well into the night. Whatever happened, I’d make sure to write every day. Even if it was just a sentence.

Now that I’m an unemployed louse I prefer flexibility with accompanied accountability. Hey, I tried to make myself a schedule. I tried to trick my mind into thinking I had a 9-5, but so far it hasn’t worked well. Life has too many unforeseen peculiarities right now for a structured schedule. And to be honest, I’m enjoying the wildness of it. Since I am free to eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry, and sleep when I’m tired, I also write when I feel like it. However, I make sure to write every day.

That’s the most important thing: I make sure to write every day.

Let me include this motivational poster so you can hang it above your desk to feel like I’m yelling at you all day.

Full image credit to Your Quote.

But where does my accountability come from? Chiefly, my friends. Everyone knows I write, everyone knows I have a lot more time on my hands than I had planned on having.  So every time we see each other they ask “Whatcha writing, Helen?” I am even lucky enough to have one friend who, every time she sees me, she will tell me with mock aggression “You best be writin’!” Haha! She checks in with me daily.

Secondly, it comes from my fandom online. (That’s you!) If I didn’t post a pretty picture of my work space once in a while, or a nice quote, I’d get a few concerned messages. Which is really, really nice and really appreciated.

Though structure is a thing of the past I have no shortage of accountability.

You can do it your way! You just gotta get ‘er done! (Hopefully that phrase is not copyrighted…) Yes, even if writing is just your hobby and you follow this blog because you think I’m cool. You still have to eke out time for what you love. And just like a job, you are totally allowed to give yourself vacations and holidays. It’s okay if life explodes and you need to take a couple of days to focus on the cleanup. Just remember, you’re treating this like a job now. Consciously call in sick with yourself. Consciously decide you’ve got Christmas off! Consciously decide you need a weekend getaway from your writing. But just like a job, if you just up and decide not to show up for a few days, it’s not going to end well.

Really, have enough respect for yourself and your career to take yourself seriously. Treat it like work. Work that you love doing. You’re in control. You set your hours. You make your choices. But don’t leave yourself hanging. And no matter what, it helps to have good friends holding you accountable.

Thank you for your support! I appreciate each and every one of my readers no matter how much revenue I get. Join me here next month for: Quality Matters

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!

Introducing: Me!

Hello, and welcome. I guess you could say this is my new year’s resolution. To start a blog about writing. Why should you be taking advice from a village girl in Wyoming? Because I have insight that you can’t find in text books.


As well as the author of The Gishlan Series, I was a librarian. For the past two years I had been writing and running a blog about writing for my former employer. My former employer no longer requires that piece of my services so I am free to blog under my own volition. My former employer wishes to stay out of my work life, and likewise, I prefer to keep my former employer out of my “author life”. Because fiction is so much more fun than reality… I worked for the library at a top secret spy agency. I am where James Bond goes to get his James Pattersons. I know my way around the book world!


For at least the next 11 months I want to encourage you to keep writing, put yourself out there, open your mind to new ways of thinking, and well… Since we have established I worked for a top secret spy library that wishes to remain anonymous we can have a little bit more fun! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll!


As always, if you have questions, comments, requests, etc. Smash that “contact” button off on the left side of your screen and drop me an email. Now that I’ve introduced myself tune in next month for “Don’t Let the Lovers Drive You Crazy”.