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Welcome to Gishlan

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The Gishlan series started out with War and Chess and grew into a series after the people who finished it in one single, sleepless, night demanded more. Helen M. Pugsley obliged, and has several more drafts in the works.

Books like these exist because of readers like you.

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.

Substance Abuse Doesn’t Make You Creative

            This blog post is going to be kind of heavy but I’m going to do my best to be honest. We’re going to do some “real talk” here. I write these posts month in advance. Right now I’m in quarantine due to the covid-19 pandemic. I am safe but I am trying to keep everyone else safe too by taking myself out of the equation.

            During quarantine many of us have had to look our inner demons in the eyes. Self isolation is a bad habit we try to avoid. Humans are pack animals. We rely on each other. Right now we are all bored, we are all scared, and we are all looking for ways to comfort ourselves. I can’t see the future. I don’t know what’s going on in August. I do know that plenty of people are drinking and smoking more because we can. I know I built a wind chime on my lawn at 11am with a beer because I could. I wouldn’t be surprised if come August many of us were struggling with addition.

            I want to tell you something creatives don’t tell each other enough: Your addiction doesn’t make your more creative. Smoking cigarettes doesn’t make you an artist. Drinking whiskey doesn’t make you a writer. Anything that makes you feel altered isn’t where your creativity comes from. It’s in you. I’m sticking to legal substances. You know where you sit. I certainly am not saying that people who struggle with substance abuse are bad people. We are all just people. Even food can be a weapon. I’m telling you: This does not define you.

            And for those who haven’t danced with the devil: No. No, “pulling a Hemingway” (getting slobbering drunk and then writing until you wake up and it’s morning) will not help your create quality material. Sometimes not even a quantity of material. It’s not worth it. It’s just fun.

            To summarize: What you should take away is that you don’t need it to be creative. Whatever it is. The creativity is inside of you. It always was. The addiction of your choice won’t make you a better writer. Continuing to create will. All things in moderation.

Join me next month for Find What Motivates You

No. Wait. Don’t Go On An Adventure to Increase Your Creativity

            When I wrote the post “Go on an Adventure to Increase Your Creativity” I had no idea Corona Virus was about to hit. I was only two months in to the absolute gut punch that 2020 has been. I would not encourage any of you to be covidiots. Yes, traveling can increase your creativity. It is awesome. But now is not the time to take your spirit quest across the south of France. I will post the original blog post at a later date, after the apocalypse.

            I want you to be safe. You’re going to do what you’re going to do. We’ve all been trapped in our houses for months, because the economy is tanking we’re starting to come out. Also, it’s warm outside. Camping. We’re all camping. (I’m writing this in June.)

            If you must travel for the sake of your sanity please be mindful. Be kind, wear your mask to show respect for essential workers, support small businesses and tip, for the love of all that is holy wash your hands, and that fancy Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer you got for Christmas has a higher alcohol content than you think.

            The original version of this blog post was about not needing to travel far, or spend a great deal of money to have an adventure. Which is fitting, you really should quarantine for two weeks if you leave your state. (You know what you need to do, and you know what you’re able to do. I’m not judging.) So, maybe start small. Wonder your local national forest, national park, or state park! Go back to the movies, or a different grocery store! Pick up that list of local black owned businesses from Instagram and check them out! It’s a brave new world and we’re all just trying to navigate it during a revolution. Black lives matter.

            Get together with your friends again! It is no longer rude to interrogate them as to where they’ve been. It’s okay to refuse an invitation if they’ve visited a local covid-19 hot bed lately. Pretend it’s the zombie apocalypse you always wanted. But, maybe without the shooting. Hopefully. Would your real friends want to hang out with you if they had maybe been bitten by a zombie but they weren’t certain yet? Turning your friend into a zombie is ruder than your friend not coming to your party.

            Look, I only know two things.

  1. We are all terrified.
  2. Nothing is normal. It’s okay to not be okay.

Please don’t beat yourself up for not writing. Please see Emergency Blog Post. If you choose to go out take loads of pictures, have a good time, love with your whole heart. Life is entirely too short and too miserable not to grab the good moments when you have them.

Join me next month for Substance Abuse Doesn’t Make You Creative

Quality Matters

I’ve got one major pet peeve that will make me drop a good author like a hotcake. Not just the one book. My whole endorsement of their career. I’ll give you a hint… It has to do with the title… That’s right! The quality of their writing!

It affects writers in all stages of their careers. Indies, hobbyists, NY Times Best Sellers, anyone. When a writer sacrifices the quality of their work for putting the piece out there, their careers suffer. I’ve seen some of my favorite series come to awful ends because the writers got tired of writing them. I’ve seen some potentially great indie stories fall flat because no one took the time to polish them up before they put them out there. Let me teach you how to combat that. 

If you’re worried that your fandom is going to be upset that you haven’t published anything new in a while: Babe. Please. I just figured out I can read a book a day. But the books you make will follow you for years. No pressure! What I’m saying is: Babe, babe! When your readers get your book they’re going to devour that sucker in a day. If you’re lucky they might read it twice! But what kind of book do you want to produce? A quick and dirty one that made them go “Wow. That wasn’t up to that author’s usual standard” or one that makes them go “Wow! That was so worth the wait!”

If you’re worried no one’s going to take you seriously because you only have one book on the shelves… or less: People are jerks and will work weekends and holidays to discredit you. (Ope. There it is.) Let them talk! But, make sure your books are the best that they can be before you put them on the shelves. Make sure your next publication sparkles like my freshly polished collection of trumpets! That’ll make their traps clap shut! And if you must publish your work to show you’re writing do it somewhere informal where you can still maintain control over where you work winds up. Try one of those story sharing apps. There’s a million of them. Even Goodreads has a section for original stories. I, personally, use Wattpad. And I can say, I have thrown some of my worst work on there just for a laugh!

What I’m trying to say is: Don’t choose creating a great quantity of writing for public consumption without making sure what you throw to the public is quality writing. By all means! Go make $h!t! Just don’t put $h!t on the shelf. You’ll win more readers making good books, than a ton of books. Go look at Harper Lee.

Join me in July for Go On Adventure to Increase Your Creativity

Treat Your Writing Like a Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full image credit to Your Quote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergency Blog Post

This not the usually monthly blog post. This is a special bonus one. An emergency one.


Kids, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. For those of you vaguely aware of the passage of time, it is May! I wanted to tell you: You have my permission not to be productive. 


This crap is depressing. We’re engaging in behaviors we’ve trained ourselves not to. Self isolation, staying home and not going out, covering half of our faces when we go out, staying six feet away from other humans when we definitely know we’re supposed to be touched! Or at least we’re worth standing a foot away from to have a conversation.


Not only that, but our workplaces, our favorite restaurants, our favorite shops downtown are in danger. And if we touch our faces at the grocery store Grandma will get the plague. Last but not least, if we’re lucky enough to be quarantined with someone we love we are certainly… Begging for space. 


I am so proud of you for bearing it all. You’re hanging in there. You’re staying tough. Whether you’re essential or not. Whether you’ve been laid off, or you’re gutting your PTO. Whether you’re working, or not. I am proud of you.


You absolutely have my permission to take a break and not make something cool. I saw this image 

in my feed. Unfortunately, I do not have information about the artist.


The bloody world is on fire! You don’t have to do anything more than survive! If making a book is going to overwhelm you don’t do it! If making a book is going to provide you with solace and escapism, then by all means: write the damn book! 


This is not the perfect time to write! The perfect time to write is waking up out of a dead sleep at 3am, next to your lover, and you shout “I’ve got it!” And you proceed to tell them “You are my muse.” As they stand over you, you, scribbling words in your mother tongue on some scratch paper that wasn’t important until now, and they think Wow, what a magnificent human being.


Art needs life to sustain itself. This is a weird and frightening time. One where we’re just supposed to sit in our houses and wait for the boogie man to go away. This isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t fun! It’s okay if you don’t feel like making an entire book. You have my permission to rest.

How To Sumbit a Query

Asking “Did the publisher find you” is like asking “did your job come knocking on your door while you were unemployed, chilling on the couch, in your boxers, not applying for jobs?” Babe. That’s not how it works.


Go chase your dreams. You’ve heard that phrase right? Well dreams need chasing! Go submit that manuscript! Like, left click on that new tab button up top and go find a publisher! What are you still doing reading this blog post?!


Okay, maybe you’re sick of Auntie Helen’s semi-condescending tone. Maybe you’re like “But Helen, how do I chase my dreams when I haven’t written a resume in 20 years, and I’ve never written a query letter.” Cool story, bro. You’ve come to the right place to learn!


First, start with a hook. Get the publisher’s editor invested in your story. For example, here’s the first paragraph of Tales from the Gishlan Wood’s query: “Since the publication of War and Chess readers who have finished the first book in one long night have asked Helen M. Pugsley ‘Where’s the next one?’ She has spent her winter compiling the stories she wrote in the same world of War and Chess into a book. It includes the life stories of seven favorite characters that you already have met and a few smaller stories. . Teacher P wants to tell you about the family he loved more than life itself; The Blue Fairy, Belleminka, wants you to know she was always more than just a soldier; King Haylend wants to tell you his woes and explain his long held vendetta against Gishlan; Prince Quillpeck yearns to break his vow of silence and speak of his life under a tyrannical father, and his own rise to the throne as king; King Alabaster wants to honor Amethyst’s mother’s memory, and of course, Queen Amethyst, her children, and her children’s children have stories to tell. So do the very lands themselves, as this book will include a glossary of the countries and a map. This is the sequel to War and Chess you don’t want to miss out on. This compilation has the working title Tales from the Gishlan Wood. The stories are told from their point of view drawing the reader in and making them feel like they are chatting with a friend. Helen hopes to turn her books into a series, and has two more pieces in the works. Their working titles are To Craft a Nation and Rock at the Bottom of the Sea.”


So now that your intended publishing house knows why they give a crap, give them details. Important ones. They want to know how many words your book has, and if it’s simultaneously submitted. If this is not the first press you’ve run up to and gone “PLEASE HELP ME LIVE MY DREAMS!” then yes. It is simultaneously submitted. Paragraph two of Tale’s query: “Tales from the Gishlan Wood is a fantasy novel, about 42,000 words long and simultaneously submitted.” That’s it. That’s the paragraph. That’s how you do it.


And then, tell them who you are and why they want to work with you. Like, no. You’re not just Tina who likes cats and painting stained glass windows. You’re Tina who has written for the school paper, the church newsletter, has experience in social media marketing, won a poetry contest and likes cats and stained glass window painting! Que sera, Tina! I present to you the third and fourth paragraph of the Tales from the Gishlan Wood query: “Helen M. Pugsley published her first book, War and Chess, on August 18th 2016. In 2019 she had a poem called ‘Constellation’ published in Madness Muse Press’ Magazine, Environmental Issue. Most recently she has been able to write a monthly blog post on writing for James Bond’s Library, as well as enjoying a small following on Wattpad. She has had the privilege to write devotionals for American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains newsletter, had work featured in Wyoming Writers’ newsletter. Her haiku ‘Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years’ was published in Teen Ink Magazine’s April 2015 issue. In 2013 she won Honorable Mention for her flash fiction story in Scholastics Art and Writing Awards, and again won Honorable Mention in the Scholastics contest in 2014 for her poetry. In 2012 she won honorable mention in the Famous Poets annual contest, had an article about her summer camp experiences published in the camp’s newsletter. Helen M. Pugsley also holds second and third place awards in Wyoming Young Authors from grade school.


Helen comes from a small town in Eastern Wyoming but enjoys traveling and is always planning and the next trip… Helen has held over fifteen book signings for her debut novel, War and Chess, across three states. She has been all over North America. One of her proudest accomplishments is walking into Mexico alone. So far she has only crossed one ocean (on the way to Hawaii) but she hopes to change that with a flight to Scotland.”


Ehem. What you have observed is my writing accomplishments in chronological order, in the first paragraph. The second is how one of my interests, traveling, could behoove business. I want to travel. Give me a reason. But Tina, you don’t think people are going to enjoy your stained glass window painting about your book?


And last but not least, close out with something polite. “Thank you for your consideration! I look forward to hearing from you.”


Anyway, here’s me humble bragging on my success, and calling myself auntie in public. Again. Go chase your dreams! You learned from the best! You learned from Auntie Helen. As for help with your resume, call your local library. If you setup an appointment a librarian will literally help you with that. I’d offer to help but I’ve been super unreliable lately and I feel really guilty. Good luck!

Join me next month in May for Treat Writing Like It’s Your Job. Got questions, comments, deep concerns? Smash that contact button!

Submit Your Work Even if You Don’t Feel Lucky

Happy March! Do you punks feel lucky? Well do ya? We’re going to talk about when you don’t feel lucky but you still want a viable career as an author.


You’re scrolling through your feed. There it is, like a lighthouse on a stormy night: There is the perfect submission call. It’s in your genre, if your work is chosen they’ll give you lots of money, and the press doesn’t look janky. But then there’s that little nagging voice in your head. “My work isn’t good enough. It won’t get picked. I’m not good enough.”
Shutup.


You and that negative voice need to put a sock in it! Look, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I know that’s a well worn saying, but it’s true. If you think you have a half a chance, take the chance.
I personally submit to any contest that doesn’t have an entry fee, as long as I have work that fits the call. A lot of people have different opinions of contests with entry fees. I personally don’t bother with them, unless I feel like I’ve got a good shot, or I know the organization. My advice? You know your wallet. It’s completely up to you. Spending money on your career doesn’t make you a writer. Writing does. As long as you’re the one earning your money, don’t let anyone shame you for what you do with it.


Really though, I’m not telling you to go out and send off that one story you really, really, like to every contest that comes across your dashboard. Some places just aren’t looking for what you like to write. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or your work, or with the contest holders. It’s just not a good fit. Be wise about who you send your work to.


Now, where do you find all these contests I keep talking about? The first place I’d check is Submittable. You’re going to need an account there anyway so you might as well spend some time there, make a profile, play around with the site. It’s the software most publishing houses and presses use to keep all their submissions straight. It’s a writer’s dream come true too. Anyway, you’ll be asked to use it eventually.


Otherwise, I’ve had quite a bit of luck with social media lately. Facebook groups, paid ads, following presses and publishers, etc. Social media is made to be filled with things you like and things you want to see. Use it to your advantage, make it a tool. You don’t have to unfollow your brain-candy pages either.


Last but certainly not least, I’ve joined Wyowriters and Wyopoets. Both of their newsletters often have someone calling for submissions. I recommend getting on with your local writing clubs. It’s nice to have a community.


All in all, this is me giving you the permission you never asked for to put yourself out there. Hey, even if you’re not up to contests yet. Try your hand at getting a following on Wattpad! (I write there too so I can have some fun without all of the pressure of being Helen M. Pugsley.) Submit your work even if you don’t feel lucky. Put yourself out there! Go get the career you’ve always wanted!


Tune in next month for How To Submit a Query. As always, feel free to smash that contact button if you have questions, or comments

Don’t Let the Lovers Get You Down

*Honks on party horn!* Happy Valentine’s Day! And happy birth-month to yours truly! Let’s talk about love, lust and paradise. By this point all the candy hearts and pink are probably about to drive you crazy.

If you’re in a relationship you’re probably like “Oh. This is the month where we pretend everything is fine, requires no effort, we’re just going to flaunt each other to our friends and HOLY POOP ON A STICK WHY IS AN IPHONE A VALENTINE’S DAY PRESENT NOW?!” And if you’re not… Well… I’ll just leave you where you are in fetal position wrapped around an empty box of chocolates. Yeah, I see you, boo.

So what does our respective relationship statuses have to do with our writing this month? It’s the pressure of having romance rubbed in your face at every turn! You’re thinking about romance and it’s seeping into your writing. Is your main character (MC) a strong independent person who don’t need no other half? Oh. Wait. Now they’ve found their perfect foil and receive g’luck kisses before they march off to the war. Oof.

Your inherit, perfectly valid, universal, need to be loved is seeping into your writing. Search your feelings. You know it to be true. [Excluding romance writers] don’t let your main character’s love life completely derail the plot.

Once upon a time I was reading this really kick buns young adult (YA) novel where the female MC was like “Oh gosh! We have to save both of my parents from the bad guy or else I’m going to be an orphan! I already grew up in that classic Disney situation where I was raised by my father!”

And her boyfriend said “What are we?”

“Excuse me?”

“What are we?”

“Philosophically?”

Then he huffed off to be angsty elsewhere while she tried to plot how to save her relationship rather than her parents. Meanwhile, I felt like I was standing there going “Um, my dude, aren’t your parents about to be sacrificed hideously before a pagan alter or something?”

Because he went to be angsty down a dark alley she had to save his buns too. You know. Just before her parents. Who were on a tight schedule. To die. Probably before her boyfriend. Because, teenage girls in fantasy novels don’t understand task management, apparently…

Anyhow, as a reader, I found it terribly unsatisfying. The author completely derailed the plot for romance. I felt like they could have had that fight just after they attempted to save the parents. You know. The main plot of the book? Or even while dangling above a pool of sharks! Because they had a wee set back on the way to victory.

What I’m trying to spit out is, don’t follow a sub-plot because you’re emotional about your relationship status. (Unless of course, you’re a romance writer and that is your plot. Then you follow that plot, son of Eros!) Romance is great. But it’s a lot like ranch dressing. It enhances the flavor. No one wants to drink ranch dressing [even though every Midwesterner has tried it at least once]. Don’t let it get away from you now or you’ll have to restructure in editing.

Tune in next month for “Submit Your Work Even If You Don’t Feel Lucky”