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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“I Just Made a Book…Now What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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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Enjoy the Best, Attend the Movies

            “Enjoy the best, attend the movies” was painted on the side of Torrington’s historic Wyoming Theater. (Check out this article about our beloved theatre.) I saw it every day on my way to work for years. Pretty rad old tymie sign if you ask me. So Helen, why are we talking about movies? I thought we were book people! As a whole, we are entertainment people. We work in the entertainment industry. Books are entertaining. Which is why I can relate to “The Way I Am” by Eminem so hard.

            During the first part of the ongoing apocalypse I found my solace in movies. I mean, I was unemployed and my friends were dead. Watching five movies or more a day was pretty common for someone in that situation before Covid. I promise, Covid didn’t help any. I didn’t just watch movies, I consumed them. I got online, made memes with the screencaps, which, when a bunch of people did it all at once it attracted the attention of the creators. I chatted up writers, directors, voice actors, animators, the intern at the studio, anyone who would talk to me about my favorite movies. We were all trapped inside. It was nice to comfort each other. Bruh, I know way too much about Swan Princess. (I like animation. Bite me.)

            Watching all these movies from the Goodwill pile changed the way I saw the world. I learned to add Hollywood flair to my work. Like, I learned about how sometimes cinematic creators will use a particular color to portray a mood, or as a symbol. For instance, one of my friends pointed out that Carmen Sandiego (the new series remake. Haven’t seen it.) is about to win a fight when the background is red.  But when the background is blue we need to worry for Carmen. She’s vulnerable. She’s outmatched. She’s in trouble! Red is a warm color, and blue is a cold color. When you feel on top of the world you feel like, well, “hot stuff”, when you feel sad you, you have “the blues”. It’s things like that I started seeing and noticing when you watch a crudton of movies and then go discuss them with your friends.

            I feel like it gave me a subtle streak. If you’ve ever met me in person you know subtle is not my middle name. I’m a big girl, who wears boots everywhere, and because I came from a community populated by German and Russian immigrants I am extremely direct and generally speak my mind. Subtle doesn’t come naturally to me! I play trumpet! You ever hear a trumpet try to play subtly? Anyway, because I’ve had a visual on beautiful storytelling, I feel like I’m more equip to sneak in these odd little details.

            Like foreshadowing! Foreshadowing is done best when it’s not clapping your audience in the face. Like, foreshadowing would be watching the king fall asleep on the throne and his crown slips off, a few chapters before the crown is taken from him by a foreign power. Even though he knew the threat was there, he chose not to do anything until it was too late. Not subtle would be me watching you and your girlfriend of one month have a white trash screaming match in a Walmart parking lot. Then when you walk by I would whisper “Foreshadowing“. The only thing it would be foreshadowing would be a miserable romantic relationship, and the loss of our friendship because sometimes I’m neither funny or helpful.

            Dude, all I’m saying is don’t be afraid to study movies. They’re just visual story telling. We do stories here. Learning new techniques isn’t plagiarism. Sometimes it’s easier to consume because the director knows you haven’t showered in four days, are no longer capable of sentient thought, and are surviving on cheese puffs. They literally just spoon feed you a good yarn. It’s great. Go embrace the movie magic, fambilam.

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Do You Need to be a Reader to be a Writer?

            Do you need to be a reader to be a writer? I don’t actually know! I’ve never not been a reader. I do know every human being and the face of the planet has a story to tell. Frankly, I see a direct correlation between poverty and the inability to access reading material or education. Whoever, this blog isn’t about why you shouldn’t condescend to people who have less than you. Obviously, you’re reading. I assume, logically, you are a reader. What I do not know is being a reader is a job requirement to being a writer, I do know the benefits.

            1. You need to know the book industry.

            You need to know the current market trends. Books about covid are out, Publishers scrambling to gain footing in the industry again. I see a lot of YA fantasy going out on the shelves. You, as a writer, need to be able to identify when the appropriate time for your novel to make its debut. And that is whether or not you’re planning on self-publishing or traditional publishing. Often times by reading you will find publishing houses that produce the similar works to yours. You need to subscribe to the newsletters, follow presses on Instagram, and learn as much as you possibly can about your chosen industry.

            2. You will learn what is and isn’t appropriate for your readers by reading.

            There are particular things that audiences of different genres of fiction will not tolerate. As an example, I love children’s literature. I love picture books! However, while I still had my subscription to Kindle unlimited I had to quit reading self-published children’s books. Some of the books I encountered were just downright grotesque. There are set rules in every genre, but children’s literature has the most. The goal is to educate children, not traumatize them. Which is why traditionally published children’s books have so many stringent rules. By reading books from your chosen genre, whether it is children’s literature, fantasy, Si-fi, LGBT+, fiction, Western, nonfiction, or romance– by reading you will learn the unspoken rules.

            3. You will Anglish gooder.

            Why yes, reading will improve your grammar, spelling, vocabulary, diction, and in general make you Anglish gooder. If you’re like me, and I like to pretend I’m a special snowflake, you’re a redneck who does actually talk that way (“gooder anglish”) when they get really tired. Obviously I had to learn to code switch from somewhere. Part of it can be credited with books. (I did go to school, I do watch movies, and listen to the radio, etc.) There’s a certain something about seeing words on a page that helps you make words on a page, and that’s important too.

            Listen, books are much more accessible than that were 20 years ago. 100 years ago! In the 1800’s when they were institutionalizing women for “novel reading”! Most of my friends that experience homelessness from time to time have an android phone. There are multiple apps for reading. In fact, I use an app from the State Library to listen to audiobooks while I clean hotel rooms for a living. I love the fact that audiobooks have made reading more accessible to people who have visual impairments, and to people who have trouble processing information visually. Now if you have a pair of headphones and a phone you can read! It’s amazing! And even if you are missing the WiFi to download books, the library can help you there too.

            Some people just don’t enjoy reading. And that’s fine! If you just want to write your book, put it out there, and be done with it, go ahead don’t worry about reading. I do believe that if you want to be serious about your career in writing you need to read. If rolling up your sleeves and getting serious about a career in entertainment isn’t in the cards for you right now because you’re just trying to survive the winter, then don’t feel guilty! Sometimes survival is doing your best. If you don’t have time to read right now I’m not going to shame you for it. You’re allowed to be a hobbyist. I think being a reader will greatly advance your writing career, but I do not know if it hinges upon it.

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Survival Mode Will Drain Your Creativity

            Why hello there! Not only am I still in survival mode, but my fingers are wooden from the cold, and my eyes are going crossed because I am so exhausted from this past week of work. By the time you read this (because keep in mind I write these a few months in advance) hopefully things will be better for me.

            I just moved to a new city, new apartment, and new job because I couldn’t find a job in my home town that paid a living wage. Let me tell you, this move took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. Not to mention Covid is still hanging around and I have to think about “Is this gas station safe to go inside? Am I going to expose the people who were kind enough to help move me?” Because I switched homes, I didn’t abandon my people. They’re stuck with me. Lately, I’ve been simply working on how to get the next thing I need. How do I get clean clothes to go to my new job with? How do I get to my job if my car just broke down again? How do I pay for gas to get to this stinkin’ job? Can I turn the heat up in here or is it going to break the bank? My air mattress sprung a leak. Do you think packing tape will work to fix it? All the questions like that press in on you until you’re so drained from just trying to stay somewhat okay, you realize it’s been days since you’ve actually written a scratch. Or painted… I mean, this is a blog about writing but you do you boo boo. You could be beating yourself up about not playing the flugelhorn right now. I don’t know your life.

            I know you’re used to Auntie Helen’s German butt bullying you to greatness but: SURPRISE! It’s okay. It’s okay if all you do for a period of time is survive. Like, bruh, how you gunna write if you don’t figure out how you’re going to eat today? It’s okay. No, really, it’s okay.

            Like, did we not learn this in Covid? You know, the part where we were all under quarantine and were too depressed and frightened to function? Now we eat fear for breakfast! *Throws glitter* Not really. But, I’m sure you get the point I’m trying to make even though I can’t see it because my eyes keep crossing.

            Survival mode will drain your creativity. Just like in Minecraft. Ya know, the zombies try to eat your face so you can’t put 60 cakes in your inventory, or however this game works. Idk, the young friends I play with would probably laugh at me. Some of us just want to build sprawling panda ranches and golden castles! Which, ehem, since life is not Minecraft, that’s not an option in real life. Bruh, you gotta work your butt off to keep the lights on and the roof over your head. I’m not going to shame you for needing to work 60 some odd hours a week! You’re allowed to be tired! You’re allowed to be frightened. You’re even allowed to work 20, say “I have nothing left to give” then collapse in a heap. Or even “My chronic illness is spanking my buns right now and I’m just going to curl into a little ball for a few years until I feel better.” and work 0 hours. Like, being in pain takes a crap-ton of energy.

            No one comes to this blog for coddling, but this time you’re getting it. Sometimes life just punches you in the teeth like a grand symphony of violence, and you’re left reeling. It’s okay if you don’t have the juice for your… Uh, flugelhorn, I guess. Sometimes surviving is enough and you definitely need to quit beating yourself up for it.

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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.