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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You Are A Writer. Act Like It.

            I just watched Row vs. Wade get overturned in the supreme court. This means states have the right to choose to legalize, or ban abortion individually. I started my day off listening to how open carry applies to all states. This is a time of great change, and we are all terrified. There’s been a lot of talk online about “Today we grieve, tomorrow we stand and fight.” But not all of us want to go and stand on a street corner holding a sign, and we know if you have two brain cells, you’re not going to storm the capitol. So I offer you this: You’re a writer. Act like it.

            Yeah. You. Following this blog. Your words can inspire change. People listen to you because you can string entire sentences together in a semi-intelligible format. Your community respects you as a creative because you’ve published work. (Traditional press to Wattpad, it doesn’t matter.) I was floored the first time someone quoted one of my infamous pro-hemp rants on social media. You have power, you have a voice, you have the resources.

            This is not the time to think about throwing bricks. This is the time to start writing letters, gathering information, educating yourself, and time to build arguments that can actually hold water. This is the time you need to look around and say “How can I help my neighbor?” This is your time to crawl out of the woodwork and make your voice heard.

            If you follow me on social media you’ve seen me holding up pride flags. One of my young mentees had rocks thrown at him for wearing a pride shirt. I’m done being quiet. You’ve seen me repost pro-choice rhetoric. I am here because one of my ancestors chose not to have an abortion. I want to make sure my grandchildren have a choice. I hate talking about the deaths of children in any capacity, but my silence is compliance if I don’t speak up. And yes, I feel we could be replacing many paper products with [THC free] hemp. I’m Christian, but every day I watch groups of Christians, much louder than I am, jam popular culture with hateful messages. Being silent in my love for my brother [sister, or sibling] was not how I was taught to be a Christian. I want the LGBT+ population to be safe, because those are my neighbors; I want people who can become pregnant to have choice because God gave me free will first; I want renewable goods, because I was taught that being a Christian meant being a steward of the earth. And yeah, I’m a Wyoming girl. I rather like guns. God put mountain lions in my home town. My mother chased a black bear off her front porch a week or two ago, using only the power of her “mom voice”, and I would’ve been much more comfortable with that situation if she had grabbed a gun first.

            We can’t all wield the raw power my mother has, so some of us write. Alone you are just one voice. Together, we are many. Today I helped put stickers on a newsletter with a group of children. They were fascinated by how the pile of papers raised where the sticker was placed, and couldn’t believe that something less than a centimeter wide could cause a hill in a stack of freshly printed paper. You are an important contribution. I, by no means, mean to tell you what to think. I’m only telling you to write. You’re a writer. Act like it. Stand up for what you believe in. Also, if you are an American, you need to vote.

“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.

I’m Bad About Talking About My Books, Part 2: The Tooth Fairy

            Well, I guess I’m doing these posts in the order of which the books were published. The Tooth Fairy came to fruition in June of 2021. I’m so bad at talking about my books no one really knew it existed until I went on tour in 2022.

            The Tooth Fairy is its own thing, and has nothing to do with Gishlan. Forget about Gishlan. No Gishlan. The Tooth Fairy takes place in Olsen County Wyoming in the heart of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. The main character Marlene wonders around rotting fields in July because it was more profitable to leave crops where they were, than try to sell them. Her family is a victim of cattle poaching, because everyone was starving, and the meat processing plants couldn’t operate. In trying to confront the thief she learns fairies are real, and dropping “you’re not my real mom!” at the woman who raised her in a fight is a little too close to home. Marlene is a changeling– a fairy switched with a human in their early childhood. There is a girl wondering around Fairy with her face: Krysathia. Marlene comes to realize life with the fae isn’t as idealic as it first appeared and takes it upon herself to free Krysathia.

            Ooh, where to start on this one. This one was my crapshoot project that became baby. I run an advice blog. I wanted to self-publish one book, just one! So I could help other people reach their goals more effectively. I know. So noble. But where do you think I put all my rage and grief over living through 2020? This baby is irrevocably mine. It looks like me.

            Frankly, I had so much fun making it I’m writing a second one where Marlene is back in Yuma. Krysathia has a boyfriend now, and the trio share one brain cell. Marlene’s house is haunted, there’s an evil witch, and a nice Irish girl. This project started in 2021, and takes place in 2021, and one day, I hope to see how the rough draft ends.

            At any rate, I’m getting far too far ahead. Back to book one, The Tooth Fairy. In spite of its title, it is not for children. No, really. It is not for children! I tell kids they can swear like me once they pay bills. All stories are driven by conflict and there is no shortage of it in this book. I believe there is a lot less violence, but Krysathia is a victim of human trafficking. When I mention this, people tend to get extremely uncomfortable, and people have gone so far as to tell me I shouldn’t write about such things, as if they aren’t happening to people every single day, right in our own front yards, on our interstates, at our gas stations. I can’t tell you how many sweet grannies I’ve met who’ve told me they were trafficked when they were younger, and I want to honor their survival by creating a character who has to live with that, but also, it’s not the end for her. The scariest thing is, that the same tactics have been used to trap female presenting people for hundreds of years! I own a book called Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls or War on The White Slave Trade, copyright 1911. It’s not going to get better if we pretend it’s not happening. In essence, Krysathia had someone she should have been able to trust use her for personal gain.

            Although I really do love YA as a genre, I love to write it, I love to read it; Not worrying about poisoning young minds was very freeing. So was cursing like that in public. And let’s be honest, after saying all of that, I feel freer. It’s weird to know my friends from church are reading my little covid project, but so far no has chastised me for it. (Dear Jesus, I am so grateful I found this church!!!)

            Although I am quite shy about this book, you can read it if you want to. I got all things that are good. I’ll keep it here for ya.

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.

            Can’t get enough of Helen’s ramblings? Love this blog and wanna help keep it running? Subscribe to Helen’s Patreon to access this content early, and a ton of poetry and short stories! A portion of proceeds go to Helen’s secret neck braid.

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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.

Write. You’ll Feel Better.

            I have been in the midst of a weird dry spell, and I don’t know how long it’s been, but it’s not quite letting up. I call it “writer’s block”, but instead of not knowing where to take whatever story I’m working on next, I just don’t have the motivation to write. And that’s scary. I can’t remember feeling this way, ever.

            It’s complete apathy! I’ve been writing since I was four. I don’t not write. I remember hearing about girls who the Taliban would kidnap and torment because they were literate, as a kid. I wrote for them too, because they couldn’t. I started collecting old books–each over 100 years old, as a teenager, and I remember how angry I felt when I realize how few were A) Written by women, and B) Written by women under a masculine pen name. I wrote for them too because they couldn’t get published. I chose to be “Helen M. Pugsley” because I was going to use a feminine name, by thunder! Now I’ve lost my Your Quote streak, I’ve got a pile of sticky notes holding ideas for future blog posts under the calculator on my desk, I’ve got submission calls rotting away in my inbox, and a notebook full of loosey goosey poetry, because I don’t feel like doing anything but
Calling
This
Steam of
Consciousness
Poetry.

It sickens me.

            And you know what else? I tried writing the next book of the Gishlan series one day in The Night Heron but I completely forgot I write in first person POV, and wrote the first pages in third person, omnipotent! I was so ticked off! However, even when you feel like me, you gotta keep going.

            I read a decent bit of advice on Instagram, about writing. “If you don’t use a facet for a while it’s going to spit out a bit of muck when you first turn it on.” I’ve stayed in so many out-of-the-way places I now have this quirky habit of letting a facet run for a minutes before I use it in a new place! As far as I can tell, the person who said that is completely right.

            Bruh, make yourself write. Write absolute crap! Write some silly fan fic about your OC and Captain Jack Sparrow smooching on the back of a whale! Throw it up on Wattpad so people can laugh with you!

Write the
Bad
Poetry
That
Reads
Like
This.

Write because you can’t make yourself care about writing anymore! Write Tik Tok scripts because you’re camera shy! Add adjectives to your grocery list because you can! Write the first pages of your friend’s thesis and then email it to them to make them mad! (Hehehe, I don’t recommend that, actually.) Write from the weird prompt book someone gave you for Christmas 20 years ago! Just write! Shake the dust off!

            And I think I can promise you, once you do you’ll feel a lot better than apathetic. You’ll have that bliss that comes with making something, even if it is an ugly bastard. You literally don’t have to show it to anyone. Chill. Write, simply because you can! Make some weird crap because no one can stop you. And just think of how proud your ancestors who never learned to write, because they were farmers and they didn’t need to, would be of you! Write because the cat keeps yelling at you to take him for a walk, but fuzz butt doesn’t run your life! He can wait! (Seriously, he wants to go get the mail with me and I am in my pajamas.) Write because you are an unstoppable force of sheer chaos and nobody owns you! Just write, and make yourself feel better.

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