Characters Are Not Built in a Day

            I love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yes, I am fully aware they’re cornier than Nebraska. My dream wedding is also on a ship while I fight zombies, in international waters, with our captain acting as justice of the peace. Knowing this my mother made me learn multiple marriage traditions so I wouldn’t come home accidently married before I ran off to sail the world with my boyfriend. (Notice what I did there?) One scene that drives me to the brink of insanity, right from the very first time I saw the movie (here there be spoilers) is in the fifth one when Jack becomes Captain Jack Sparrow in one fell swoop. He fought one bad guy, got his name, most of his jewelry, his compass, and maybe even his hat. It was a transformation scene that gave the audience whiplash.

            I just assume you’re sitting down, giving this piece your undivided attention, stroking my already massive ego. Take stock of all you’re wearing. What’s in your pockets? Your backpack? Your purse? Why did you get that tattoo? We’ll pick on me for now. I’ve got one ring on my hand, and a ton of bracelets on my left arm, a bright pink sweater, and a knife, a lighter, and a ton of keys. The ring I got as a gift when I was 15; the tons of bracelets I collect. One of the bracelets is a hair tie that is also a friendship bracelet, another is one I picked up at a writing conference. My sweater came from a coworker who liked me because I was nice to her son. It’s not something I would’ve picked for myself but I love it because she got it for me. She was a small woman and she just happened to have a designer XL neon sweater in the back of her closet she never wore. Her sister chewed her out in English so that means I was meant to hear the sister say “That’s expensive!”. The knife I carry every day is more utility than sentiment. It also just so happens to be a gift from the ex I tried to sail the world with. The lighter was a gift from my father. The design on it is mountains with a crescent moon. Looking on scenes like that make me feel like I came home. As well as utility, it is a good luck charm. I used to wonder off into the woods frequently and you don’t want to do that without a reliable way to start a fire. I am 100% endorsing Zippo here. A good windproof lighter can save your life. As for the keys: I’m obviously one of the nine pirate lords and there’s a chest we have to unlock together in the 6th movie. I just keep it on me for when Hollywood calls. They certainly don’t go to my diary! Or my house for that matter! But all of these things, hanging off my sorry corpse and in my pockets, are little pieces of bigger stories. Not, I just came out of the sea like Aphrodite and there I was! A whole Helen M. Pugsley. Characters take years to become who they are.

            No, I don’t mean you should spend years building Bob the tomato vendor. I’m just saying, maybe Bob has a bullet scar on his chest from when he was a younger and wilder man. That can be cannon but that event could’ve [would’ve and should’ve] happened well before your story’s timeline begins. I mean, really, scars aren’t scars the day you get them. Maybe that’s why Bob hates fireworks but told that punk who tried to rob him to “go home and love your girlfriend and your child before I snap you like a dried twig.” People need time to become people. People need their spicy memories, battle scars, weird jewelry, tattoos, favorite sweaters, favorite flavor of ice cream that actually tastes like their cousin beating cancer for the 3rd time, good luck charms, and sentimental crap they pack around for no real reason.

            Ogres have layers, onions have layers, characters have layers. And lest we forget parfait! Layers take time to develop. (Except parfait. You can get that at McDonalds. Literally fast food.) Build your character with multiple dimensions, let them go through stupid phases, lose their father’s pocket watch and purchase its replacement at a swap-meet, fall in love and have it go wrong, tattoo the best day of their life in Roman numerals on their arm, and be just as complex as any of us! You’ll concoct a cool human.

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Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings

            Trigger warnings and content warnings. Do they belong in books yet? I don’t really know. Will I continue to put them in every review I write because the material brought back “a spicy memory”? You bet your sweet bippy.

            So. What is a trigger warning? A trigger warning is something you put before material you created where you know there is something that is a common trigger for a lot of people. Triggers are things that bring someone great emotional distress because of things they have experienced in their lives. (Loss, sexual assault, prejudice, violence.) You know how your veteran friend hates fireworks? That’s a trigger.

            Well then, what is a content warning? A content warning is for things that generally make people uncomfortable. Things like fetish play, graphic violence, assorted phobias. Generally, just things you know someone in your following will be bothered by so you want to make sure they have time to mentally prepare themselves for it before they enjoy your creations to the fullest.

            I got really into making memes on Facebook during the apocalypse, and there, where 50K people are telling jokes to pass the time and cheer each  other up, trigger warnings and content warnings are very important. You want people to enjoy the things you make to their fullest extent. Not spend their evening reliving the worst times of their life. That will not win you positive feedback or great reviews.

            Another place I’ve seen trigger warnings and content warnings used heavily in web comics. I like horror. But I also like “Content Warning: Hey Helen, here’s one of your weirder phobias and this is going to be a reoccurring theme for a while.” It makes me stop and ask “Do I actually have the energy to read this right now or is it going to ruin my evening and then I won’t sleep?” I got to choose whether the media I was consuming was right for me. It was actually “CW: Being trapped underground.” I’m adventurous but caves make me uneasy. I took a breath and enjoyed not one, but three episodes of that web comic where our main character was stuck in an ever shifting tunnel. Without knowing that that was going to happen there is a chance I would have stopped reading the comic and not picked it back up.

            Do trigger/content warnings belong in books? I don’t really know. This is the first time creators, especially authors, have had this much control over what we get to show the public. What we get to keep making. You get to decide if what you created will upset your audience enough that you want to gently warn them before they start reading. It’s the same as “Oh, by the way, there’s a giant spider next to the faucet in the barn. She’s fairly harmless. Just don’t let her scare you.” You’re the creator. You get to decide.

            Either way, for social media, here’s how I taught the groups I moderate to tag their posts with questionable content. TW stands for Trigger Warning, and CW stands for Content Warning:

TW/CW: Example
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This is where you post most of the questionable content. There may be some in the accompanying image, but it is largely frowned upon. Adding all those dots allows people to scroll past quickly without looking at your post. This will keep you from getting kicked out of a lot of groups for being inconsiderate. It is the kind thing to do.

            All in all, it’s ultimately your decision. But now you have a general idea of what’s going on and why it’s important. Now you won’t accidently hurt someone with what you created.

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Go On An Adventure to Increase Your Creativity [Once You are Fully Vaccinated]

Oooooh, I’m so excited to finally be able to post this one!

No really. Don’t just hate-like other people’s trips on Instagram. Go on your own [once you are fully vaccinated]! I know what you’re thinking: “Helen, not everyone can afford a vacation!” I know! And that’s why I said “Go on an adventure.” I’m not telling you to go take some bazillion dollar vacation for 1,000 days and 1,000 nights, live in a cabana, and shirk your responsibilities so you can write. I’m telling you, leave the house once in a while and go explore [once you are fully vaccinated]. Then you’ll have some extra writing juice.

Here’s me at Guernsey Lake in February of 2020, before the freaking pandemic. 

Photo by Grace Nadeau

It was winter. It was the off season of the park. I was unemployed, and so was my buddy. Guernsey is practically in our back yard, it was a nice day so we just went. That, my dear, is what I mean by “adventure”. And honestly, it was a cheap adventure. I needed to top off my tank for $20, and since it was the off season it costed $6 to get in to the park. Really, you can’t go wrong with a cheap day trip. Just go [if at all possible because everyone’s life is different]. Take pictures and use all the #Travelgram hashtags like a cool kid!

“But Helen, whyyyy must I leave my cave?” Because you are a plant with feelings. I will not be citing my sources. But sitting indoors looking at the same walls cannot be good for you, as most of us found out during the pandemic. Go get some sun, look at a different town, go to a different McDonalds, the one on the other side of town, go off your particular beaten path. We all know the epic tale of Stephen King and his giant desk. King told us that tale out of caution. Doing nothing but making yourself hate the craft by pushing yourself too hard will not help you in the long run. One day you will quit and everyone will ask why. You’ll have to pause and say “I guess I got burnt out.” Ask me about music. I dare ya.

“But how do day trips make me write gooder?” (Hehe, you know you love me.) I’m sure you don’t write books that read like Saw movies. (The first saw film was made by some college film students on a tight budget. They wanted to see if they could make a movie with one room. They could.) Your characters are probably traveling across the land, searching far and wide, watching the sun set, riding horses, standing next to the ocean, meeting new people etc, etc. Sometimes you just need to go outside and listen to how snow crunches under your boots, or remember what a pool smells like, maybe go actually ride a horse. From the journal I was using back in spring, I have a bunch of scraps I call “studies”. One is me sitting on the trunk of my car, parked next to a lake in Utah, another me staring up at the stars on my lawn, and then there’s when I went to the Oregon Coast. The ocean and I have a long standing love affair. Chances are you’re not writing something where your main character is trapped, chained to a desk, stuck in a routine. Break free! Once you are fully vaccinated.

Kids, there’s more to life than writing. There’s more to writing than actually writing. Get living! As soon as it is safe for you to travel, do so. Don’t just hate-like other people’s adventures. Go get vaccinated and have your own! It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.

I had written this article shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began and had to pull it before I told people to endanger their lives and others. (Bet you didn’t know I scheduled these months in advance, huh?) Now I’m asking “How many near death experiences do you need before you start tryna live?” We were all kind of trapped and in survival mode for over a year. Help yourself to healing and a dose of vaccine. Go get vaccinated and go party!

Please note, I will not be arguing with anti-vaccination comments. You know your own situation, and you know it’s your civic duty to protect your friends and neighbors by getting vaccinated if you are healthy enough to do so. Thank you for your continued support of my work.

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The Self Publishing Industry is Not A Bad Thing

            It’s no secret, I have made some deprecating remarks on self-publishing in the past. I don’t try to hide it, I’ve said what I’ve said. The industry has changed a lot since I started out in 2010. It’s incredible to see the rises and the falls of all the trends in how books are published. Self-publishing used to be janky. Like, it was literally some stranger you hardly knew from the internet with a printing press in their basement. Which, hey, if that’s what works for you, more power to ya! I know people who’ve done it! Now, largely Amazon, has turned self-publishing in to an easy to navigate, user friendly, industry, that gives you equal publicity to traditionally published authors right out of the gate. That’s incredible.

            The self-publishing industry has given voice to the voiceless. Women, people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, and those who fall under all three labels have often said it’s harder for them to get published, or as readers find books they actually want to read. Full disclosure, I would totally read a high fantasy novel with non-binary, butch, lesbian, warrior princesses who are not white. You see how edgy that sentence felt? That’s because books like that aren’t mainstream yet. Yes, even in the sphere of fantasy. Now because of self-publishing you can actually find books like that for sale online. Now because of self-publishing, larger presses (I’m talking Harper Collins) are actually looking at books like that. Now books like that are making their ways into libraries and getting in to the hands of people who need them.

            The self-publishing industry is breaking creative boundaries. You know what the self-publishing industry gave us? New adult fiction! Love it or hate it, having a new genre is cool as all heck! If it weren’t for people self-publishing books about college-age kids I wouldn’t have ever thought to say to myself “What if a 26 year old dentist finds out she’s a changeling?” and thus, The Tooth Fairy was born.

            One of the coolest things I’ve watched is tropes come over from fan-fiction, to the self-publishing industry, into the mainstream. Unfortunately most of my examples have to do with sex, and I am not comfortable with having that discussion on this blog.

            The self-publishing industry empowers authors. Self-published authors amaze me. To be perfectly honest with you, ISBNs are a little mysterious to me. Yes, I know they’re the 13 digit name for a book, like a social security number, but you have to buy them? Cancel them? Who da what now?  I don’t know everything (shocker!) and what I don’t know, self-published authors usually seem to out of necessity.

            I gotta be honest, I love talking marketing with them because that’s one of my quirky special interests. Particularly social media! I’ve nearly ruined Christmas by chattering about how Facebook algorithms work. I am resisting making a Parler account. Resist!

            But what’s not empowering about choosing who gets to do your cover art, your editing, your marketing (it could be me), and setting your own prices for books?! You’re in control every step of the way! And when you need or want to pull your books you can. I saw an author publish a book, realize everyone was out of work due to Covid-19, and then drop prices the lowest they could on Amazon! Tell me that’s not empowering!

            You can do well if you choose to do well. Off the top of my head Diary of an Oxygen Theif, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, and Fifty Shades of Grey, are all books that were originally self published but are now a big deal. Googling it now, I just learned Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of poetry, started out self published! I am so glad artist Joss Hellman told me to go read it.

            Anyway, what I mean by “you can do well if you choose to” is this: If you choose to hire a copy editor, if you choose to invest in good cover art, if you choose to get your friends involved as beta and sensitivity readers, if you choose to learn what you can about marketing, if you choose to put in the work you can go far. I, Helen M. Pugsley, crusher of dreams will not promise you that you will go far. I’m saying you have a much better chance. At the very least, you will produce a quality book. Most likely, you will end up with a tiny, but ultra dedicated fandom.

            All in all, self-publishing as a whole is a good thing. But at the end of the day you have to do what’s right for you and your particular pieces of work. I don’t want to self-publish the Gishlan series. That is not my dream, it never was. I want to traditionally publish that. I would self-publish The Tooth Fairy, because I wrote it as a break from Gishlan, and I don’t feel like watering down some of the more explicit content for the sake of a publisher’s comfort. This is your life. Choose your own path. But, hating on the self-publishing industry is cancelled.

You Don’t Need Money to Become a Published Author

            I have been in this industry for a decade. I have seen every type of scam, scheme, and actual honest help. There are scores of people out there ready to take your money so you can achieve your dreams. (Trust me. I have poetry about it written in glitter pens from a decade ago.) So let’s talk about what you think you need and what you actually need.

Scam: “Give me $1,000 and I’ll give you a book.” and sometimes they promise fame and fortune too. These people do a really crappy job doing exactly what you could accomplish all by yourself but often give you an inferior product. It used to be a guy with a printing press in their basement, now I’m sure it’s more of a guy who knows how Lulu dot com works. It’s basically vanity publishing, and often, because of that, your books won’t even be available on Amazon. Sometimes they just take your money and run. Don’t give them money.
(I’ll let you guys know of a few of the “publishing houses” that have approached me climb into my inbox. Tehe!)

Scheme: I have seen smallish companies that offer to do things like take over the production of your book from start to finish. Which, I mean, if you wanna throw $1,000 at someone to do that for you go for it! Just do your homework and make sure they’ll actually do the job right. They’re usually upfront with their practices. “We’ll do all the work it takes to get your book self-published on Amazon. Editing, cover art, listing it,” etc. They have different tears of help they can give. They’re not necessarily bad. They just do things you could easily do yourself.

Actual honest help: Okay. This is what I do. It’s still not ideal, but it’s what’s working for me. Over the years I have accumulated a team of freelancers to do everything I can’t do well myself. Poor Richard does my cover art, and sometimes gets memes about how crazy I drive him made about him, even though he assures me I’m not that bad; Caren Speckner is an awesome human who edits my stuff so I don’t look like an idiot in public while allowing me to keep my Goshen County accent. (Most people cry “That’s not grammatically correct!” but that’s how I talk…) Cierra does my logos in that traditional American tattoo art I’m so fond of and allows me to pay her in bones and bottles, because I’m a cowgirl who likes booze. In Tales from the Gishlan Wood she’ll be doing the flags.
If you choose this rout Pay. Your. People. That street runs both ways and I’ve seen authors walk off with 35+ hours of work without paying their freelancers. Not a “I’ll pay you $5 a month until it’s done.” just poof! Not cool.
The reason I say this is not ideal is because these people’s services are something a traditional publisher should be paying for. The reason they should be paying for them is because traditional publishers know more about making books than you or I. At least they’re supposed to. Poor Richard’s cover art might not fit current marketing trends! Accent or no, it’s still grammatically incorrect. And traditional American tattoo art? Not in my good Christian suburbs. The price you pay for a good traditional publisher is less creative control. But. I am confident that if I got a wild hair and started self-publishing my books, say, next week, it’d be the best quality product I could offer the public. Perhaps, one day, I will find a traditional publisher that shares my vision.

            Like many things in life, you don’t need money but it sure as Heck makes things run smoother. Jeeze. My biggest expense when I published War and Chess was buying copies to resell. I’d buy them 50 at a time, so that costed about $300.  I remember I would save my money $20 bill by $20 bill at a time in a ceramic pig I made in middle school that sat in the corner of my parent’s house. (Obviously, I have no money hidden there now.) It was a big investment but I made the money back by selling copies at book signings. Those were some treasured and adventurous times.

            Not having money doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. It means you have to work twice as hard to accomplish the same thing. You can publish a book without spending a dime (especially if you self-publish on Amazon). If you’re sleeping on your own career because “YoU cAn’T aFfOrD iT.” I’m here to tell you it’s bullsh*t. You can do anything you set your mind to.

That’s My Friggin’ Name

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

            “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Indicates name change

How To Donate Your Book to a Library

            Having worked for James Bond’s library I have up close and personal experience with the subject. But every library is different so I turned to the Library Think Tank – #ALATT on Facebook. One of the biggest groups of librarians online. I asked them what’s their process for accepting donations from indie authors. (You’re not James Patterson. I promise.)

            The short answer: Don’t.

            If you’re afraid to have your feelings hurt you can stop reading right here. Otherwise, I’m going to hurt your feelings.

  • Build a connection with your library.

The library you visited on vacation and casually decided to gift them a copy of your book is more likely to put it in the book sale rather than on the shelves. Your local library, where people know you, and actually like you are more likely to support you. People in your hometown want to read your book but some folks just don’t have the cash to get their own copy. Your local librarians understand this. If they think there’s patrons that want to read your book they will be twice as likely to actually put it in the connection.

DO NOT just buy a copy of your own book from Amazon and ship it to the library without a note. It’s a sure fire way to make a librarian go “What’s this? Hmm. Weird.” Then toss it in the cart that runs over to the book sale without a second thought. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

  • Get reviews.

Yes. Even if you and the librarian have matching friendship bracelets you need to get reviews. Preferably from people who don’t like you. Or just don’t know you! Embracing the stranger danger is probably best in this case!

Why? Because librarians have a lot to do and don’t feel like reading your book in their personal time. (I told you I’d hurt your feelings.) Personal time is when you can read Chuck Tingle if you want to! Or fan fiction! They want to read the reviews at work and see if it’s a good fit for the library’s collection. Also, the librarian you’re friends with might not be the librarian in charge of acquisitions.  The folks in cataloging get the final say. That’s their entire job. And if they can’t quickly discern if your book fits the collection they’re going to set it aside with every intention of cataloging it later. Later could very well mean never.

  • You gave a gift. Don’t pester them.

You remember that time your aunt gave you that weird bowl with cats painted all over it, and she got mad you didn’t fill it with Orange Fluff and bring it to Christmas? But you still had it. It was just in your house holding out of season fruits you paid too much money for? And then because she made a big deal out of it you started resenting it and now it sits in your cupboard holding other bowls? Yeah. That’s what happens if you call them up twice a week and ask if your book is on the shelf yet. That’s the trickiest part of gifts. When you give someone a gift they’re under no obligation to use it. Hopefully they like it. Don’t be your mean aunt.

  • Build a quality book.

First, turn to page 101 in War and Chess. Now click this link. This is why I don’t deserve a PS5. Out of all the book signings I’ve had, and all the places I’ve been to, there are five places in the world that have my book. All of them are in Wyoming.

Get yourself a good copy editor, an ISBN, and there are a lot of libraries that absolutely require your book be translated in English. America has no official language but English seems to be the most common tongue. If your book has type-os, ugly cover art that doesn’t match the story, disturbing imagery for the target audience─ There was one librarian who told me a story about reading a book about the tooth fairy to her story time kids. It was written by a local author. But what made it memorable was the tooth fairy ripping off her face in the end. That story time group is in middle school now but they still pop in and complain about their shared trauma.─ all of these little things will prevent your book from entering a public library’s collection.

            Last of all, you need to understand that your book might not make it in. Every library is different. Some libraries have an acquisitions board! Some libraries are prepared for you and have instructions on their websites! But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The real trick to getting your book in a library is putting in the time and work, and making a good book. There’s more to books than plot. If you do make it in understand you’re lucky and always say thank you.

Join me next year for a whole new bundle of blog posts! Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss a thing. Thank you for all your support. You reading this means you helped me achieve my goals of keeping a monthly blog for one year! Thank you! As always, if you’ve got questions, something I didn’t address yet, or you just want to say “Hi” go visit that Contact tab off to the left. I practically live on social media! Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Happy Hanukkah, and New Years! (We survived!) Be blessed.

NaNoWriMo Is Weird

            NaNoWriMo is weird. You’re just expected to write 50,000 words in 30 days!? Do you have a death wish? Don’t get me wrong, the whole non-profit organization is great. I love it! In my own way I participate every year! But the holiday, NaNoWriMo, concerns me.

            Have I ever told you the story of my music career? I have? Well here’s the story again: Once upon a time there was an operatic soprano who played trumpet. If you’ve met sopranos, and you’ve met trumpet players individually, you would know that a trumpeting soprano is the human version of glitter. Really arrogant glitter.

            This little trumpet playing soprano left home at 18 and played on street corners for tips. She traveled all around the continent (yes, Canadian and Mexico too) dooting for dimes, moved into an apartment, then only played a mute because it was too loud, then stopped playing all together after a while. She stopped singing in choirs in favor of getting a job *Snorts in global pandemic*

            Why did she stop making music? She got burnt out.

            I loved music. It was everything to me. But one day, after a while, I just stopped! My stereo is still more important to me than my TV, I have a display of instruments in my house (pretty, pretty please don’t rob me), and I sing to myself but other than that… I’d like to think that writing was more of everything to me but in all honesty, I got burnt out.

            DON’T GET BURNT OUT.

            I cannot stress it enough. Do. Not. Get. Burnt. Out.

            You know what happens when I sit around making jewelry for my Etsy store until my fingers hurt? I don’t want to look at the pretty things I just made, I don’t want to think about jewelry, I don’t want to wear jewelry. I want it waaaaaaay the heck over there! Thankfully, I keep going back to it, but only when writing is too much.

            Do not use NaNoWriMo to hurt yourself. I know we all want the good grade but it won’t help you in the long run if you write for thirty days, wind up hating it, and then never touch a keyboard, a typewriter, or pen again. If you’re having fun then by all means keep going! If you’re loving the extra accountability, then keep going! If you’re just having a good time himming and hawing, and actually having someone listen to you talk about your book, keep going! But if you’re going to use NaNoWriMo and all its weirdness to hurt yourself throttle back. When you get obsessed that’s how you know it’s time to take a break.

            NaNoWriMo is weird and it is not kind to those of us who want to be the very best that no one ever was. We put too much pressure on ourselves and it’s not a good time. NaNoWriMo is weird, here’s your permission not to break your neck and make yourself hate writing.

If you want to see me epically fail at my NaNo goals you can find me on their website. I’m nelehjr. Next month’s blog post will be about gift giving! How to Donate Your Book to a Library! Of course, if you want me to cover something I haven’t yet, smash the contact button, or drop me a comment.

Boo! It’s the Fear of Failure

I have to share something truly scary with you guys: I want to give up.

That’s right. I said it. I want to turn around and dump all of this off. I want to unload every single piece I’ve written, my life’s work, online for free so someone will read it and love it. Maybe Wattpad? I am tired.

No hard feelings, of course, but the press I was in a gentleman’s agreement with and I decided it would be best if my books and I moved on back in July. It’s like a breakup. Even if you were unhappy and it was just not working it still hurts. And yeah, much like a breakup, I wish them well and hope they get all the happiness this world has to offer too. But still, it’s about as disheartening as a punch in the jaw. (Actually, a punch in the jaw would make me incredibly angry but that’s beside the point!)

Like I started off saying, I just want someone to love my books as much as I love them. I’ve spent 10 friggin’ years in Gishlan. This October will make it official! I am, in all seriousness, thinking about self-publishing my Gishlan series. Which, is something I promised myself I’d never do because self-publishing is great for hobbyists! More power to ya! But this is so much more than a hobby to me. My itty bitty vegetable garden is a hobby, my Etsy shop is a hobby, making memes in Facebook groups is a hobby. My writing is not a hobby.

You know what’s easier than rounding up all the freelancers I’ve been working with for the past five years and tapping my foot impatiently at them while we try to meet some fancy smancy deadline I made up? Giving up.

I could just drop it. Never talk about it. I could swear off writing (even though I actually can’t because I get this weird itch under my skin when I don’t write and BLEH!) I could just let this skill set I’ve been working on since I started elementary school get rusty, let the stories die inside of me, never make another blog post, get out of the game. I could.

But why? Why sacrifice that year I lived off of the royalties and revenue from War and Chess? Or all those hours where I broke my back over an antique kitchen chair as I typed out 40,000+ words during a global pandemic? Or that time when I was 17 and I gave a nice lady with eyelids that reminded me of butterflies $10 to read my fortune at a street fair, and she told me “I don’t think you’ll publish your book. I know you will. Kick some ass.”? Why would I let go of that time I was first world starving in my first apartment, pressing 700 shirts a week, wondering if anything good would come of my life or if I’d just pay bills and slowly rot away, but instead one March day I got email a contract for War and Chess? I coyote howled all the way to the grocery store where I bought sparkling grape juice I couldn’t really afford because I was 19 and wasn’t legal to drink yet. Why would I let any of it go?

The fear of failure. That’s why.

This is friggin’ terrifying. Here I am pouring my heart out to you guys in fiction, and someone who doesn’t even read young adult fantasy could just come up and “I don’t like it.”, give it one star on Amazon, and “It needs more romance.” Or not even that! War and Chess has been rejected 25 times and Tales from the Gishlan Wood has been rejected 26 times. Both pieces could never meet the right publisher! And what about the other two books on my desk? They just go inside of my coffee table which is a trunk containing manuscripts? I could completely fail.

But you know what? War and Chess has been accepted by indie presses twice, and Tales from the Gishlan Wood has been offered three different contracts. I just feel that it’s important to find the right publisher where we, me as an author, and them as a press, can mutually benefit each other. And as for books three and four: one day one of my friends will ask “OH! Is this the one with the pregnant lady who swears a lot?! Yass!” and somewhere out there, there is a little girl who is really excited to see her mermaid book in print. Even just to read it! (Because I only just did the first draft editing and she watched me write it from afar.) I firmly believe there are people out there who need these stories and I want to do it in a way that can reach the most people. And if that’s not it, then I’m sure people need the story of me wanting to give up because I’m so gawldarn tired of failing but then persevering. Even if that person isn’t a writer. My childhood heroes ran brothels. The sex industry just isn’t for me even though I respect the con craft. Some examples: 1, 2, 3.

What’s catastrophic failure to the owner of a brothel? The church shuts your practice down? Dell Burke offered to shut down the power plant for them if they dared. For me catastrophic failure would be amassing a fandom over the course of 20 years then saying a bunch of narrow minded garbage that defames a certain group. *Looks into camera* So why not give myself that chance and keep working?

Don’t sweat. I’m currently querying agents because I obviously can’t find the right publisher on my own. Don’t get me wrong! I’ve worked with good people! We’re just not right for each other. I’m not giving up and neither should you!

These things take time. And it’s about as much as having bamboo shoved under your fingernails then lit on fire. Go for your goals! Battle that dragon! Lay siege to that castle! Pick one that the beefeaters aren’t guarding. I don’t want to see you die. Learn a new language! Travel the world [when it’s safe to do so]! Write your bleedin’ book. Publish your bleedin’ book! Whatever you came here hoping I would tell you to do! Do the thing!

And please continue to follow my career so I can disappoint you, as all heroes do eventually. *Whispers* except you, Dell. You’re perfect.

Happy Halloween! Come back next month for NaNoWriMo is Weird. And as always don’t be a stranger. Contact button is to your left, comments are below. Would love to hear from ya!

Find What Motivates You

            Oh jeeze. Here we go… In October of 2019 I made a bet with my best friend. Every time we have dinner together we go back and forth about the novels we’re writing. More than once I’ve finally broken through writers block by talking my entire story through with her. But this woman… This woman whom I love like I love the sun, can never seem to finish writing one of her books.

            She constantly makes jokes about it too! So I only feel slightly horrible for throwing out the “I love her but…” again. (Das toxic. Don’t talk about your friends like dat.) Well, this gorgeous, dear, beloved friend o’ mine who happens to be a sun goddess, kept telling me about this fantasy novel she was working on. It involved the female heir of ancestral magic, born to common wealth, who needed to reopen a one hundred year old city she had no idea existed, and an evil king who wanted all that magic and power for himself. It was epic.

            So I badgered her about it. “Can I read it?”

            “No! It’s more idea than book right now.”

            “Make it for me.”

            “I’m busy!”

            “Gib me buk!

            And she finally relented when we struck our bet. We bet on her drive. If she could finish writing the first draft of this book before October 31st at midnight she could give the raunchiest, nastiest, sexiest, speech at my wedding. The kind that would make a sailor blush. And I would not be allowed to ring her neck.

            For the entire month of October we were like Sarah and Jareth from Labyrinth. Every day, “How’s my book coming along?”

            “Shut up you, @#$%! %^&*!

            “You know, I win either way. I either get to read the book or my mother never has to know what I’m into.”

            “Oh. She’ll know. Everyone at your wedding will know.”

            It got especially bad on Halloween. Every time I got a break at work I was all “In 9 hours and 23 minutes, you’ll be mine!”

            I just so happened to be up at midnight. So I texted her to gloat. “I win. No ratchet speech for you!”

            And my golden ray of sunshine says to me  “*Yawn* Oh, our bet? I finished writing three hours ago.” then promptly emailed me a full length manuscript to prove she wasn’t lying. I quickly sped through 150+ pages of awesome to make sure there wasn’t filler pages of “ffffffffffff” or quotes from medieval monks like “By God, it’s finished. Get me a drink.” It was 150 pages of story.

            I have never been so happy to lose a bet in all my life.

            I was so excited I even made a vague Instagram post celebrating her! She did it! And now, unfortunately, I am going to show you all what a real blushing bride looks like on her wedding date. Now all’s that’s left is to find a good man with strong teeth and a compatible kidney.

            What I’m telling you you need to do is find what motivates you. (Aw look. Here’s where the title makes sense!) Set your eyes on a goal! Maybe you wanna get interviewed by Oprah! Maybe you want to get the bloody book out of your head because it’s just taking up too much space! Maybe you want to make a raunchy speech at your best friend’s wedding! I don’t know your life! Just set your eyes on the goal and go for it, then give yourself a reward if and when you get there. You know what I get for finishing this blog post? A piece of pie. I’m feelin’ rhubarb.

            There is nothing wrong with setting rewards for yourself. Sticker from the sticker box? Interview with Oprah? Dinner out? (I’m told you shouldn’t use food to reward yourself but I’m already dummy thicc. It’s too late for me.) That shirt you’ve been eyeballing from The Cute Store downtown? Motivate yourself! Sometimes the achievement of the goal itself just isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to promise yourself a reward for getting there. Now if you’ll excuse me, that pie and I have a pressing appointment…

Join me next month for Boo! It’s the Fear of Failure. As always, if I haven’t covered something you need drop me a line! There’s a “Contact” tab on the left hand of your screen.