Helen and I bumped into each other on Twitter, at 1am, on a cold wintry night as 2022 was getting closer to being, well, done and dusted. Since we were well past midnight at that stage and there were no crossroads involved, I promise, the vibes are all good, we did not sign our souls away that night.
Welcome Helen! First things first, imagine that you’re introducing yourself to a whole new audience on another planet somewhere in the wide universe, what would you say? I heard you’re a bit of a nerd? We do like nerds around here. A lot!
Hello! I come in peace! …Ignore the fact I’m filled with the hereditary rage of one thousand grandmothers… Anyway, I’m Helen M. Pugsley, I hail from Wyoming. Grew up in an agricultural community working on the family ranch, but now I live in a very small city.
I am a bit of a nerd! My parents raised me on Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Dark Crystal. I fell in love with fairy tales as a tween. Grimm Brothers was a gateway drug, and then I got into folk stories, and legends. Which, then circled me right back to where it all started: Fantasy.
So I write fantasy! I’m a little embarrassed about it, but I was hecking in to Disney princess movies well into my teen years. However, I was getting tired of young women who needed someone else to slay the dragon. So, at fourteen, I picked up a pen and became the change I wanted to see in the world. It still feels like I’m writing books for the teenager I was, and I really like that.
I’m currently working on writing The Gishlan Series, which two out of three published works are from that universe. I started it when I was fourteen, and I plan on creating stand-alones, featuring the members of the same family, until my hands give out. I want people to be able to read one, walk off, and find a different book in the series in a book bin somewhere, years later. I want it to feel like they never really left Gishlan at all. I currently am editing To Craft a Nation, which is book three of the series, and just sent book four, Rock at the Bottom of the Sea, off to the US Copyright office.
War and Chess is my first book, nearest and dearest to my heart. That one I’ve been working on since 2010. It’s the story of Princess Amethyst, who lives in this small world where everything is taken care of for her, until one day the neighboring country attacks Gishlan. She’s only fourteen, but she takes it upon herself to figure out why the neighbors are attacking, and put a stop to it. It’s definitely the book I wanted to read as a teenager. This princess gets a sword!
Tales from the Gishlan Wood is its sequel. When I was seventeen, my mentor told me to write bios for the characters of War and Chess… Then I took it too far. And we got a whole collection of short stories! My love of fairy tales led me to believe bite sized biographies were what the world needed. And I enjoyed watching the characters I had raised from infancy, grow up, get married, have children, have grandchildren, and so on. It’s really helped set the stage for what I’m trying to do with the Gishlan Universe next.
The third book, that is not set in Gishlan kind of gets treated like my red headed step child. It’s called The Tooth Fairy, and it’s a novella about a dentist that has to move home during the 2020 portion of our lovely global pandemic. In so many words, she finds out she’s actually a changeling– a fairy, swapped with a human in infancy. So, naturally, our heroin takes it upon herself to try to save the human girl from the clutches of the fae. I wrote this one for adults, so it’s riddled with authentic cowgirl swear words, it includes themes of human trafficking, and violence. It was fun to write, and I hear it’s quite a lot of fun to read!
Cowgirl swear words *chuckles* Sounds like somethign right up my alley!
What are the main influences to your writing? What inspires you and where do your ideas come from?
My real life. I know that sounds narcissistic as all get out, but it’s the truth. The Tooth Fairy is a prime example of that. The cover art even features a stone formation on my family’s property! We call it The Thumb.
Anyway, I found myself away from my chosen career path, and back at the family ranch. It made me bitter, but it also let me use an idea I had been toying with since I was in school. Changelings. With mass quarantine, I had an opportunity to do that weird thing Americans do, and get back in touch with my heritage. So, naturally I went hard for Scottish, and Irish folklore.
So yes, with The Tooth Fairy we go hard into the lore of the world right before our eyes. Which was fun! I had never done urban fantasy! It gave me a place for all of my frustration and my obscure knowledge of legends older than the country I live in.
To further flip you out more: The book opens with our main character being a toddler, telling her mother the fairies are after her. Apparently this is something I said to my mother a lot as a small child, and I’d get so freaked out she had to tell me “Helen, fairies aren’t real!” So I figured out the tooth fairy wasn’t real pretty quickly, haha! I was sworn to secrecy, at like five! Don’t worry, Mom and I still went through the rigmarole of her paying me for my teeth, via pillow deposit. She even showed me the box where she kept them, once or twice, when I was still losing baby teeth. “Can I have them?”
“No! I already bought them from you!”
“They would make a cool bracelet…”
You have written 3 books to date? What has writing 3 books taught you? If you could go back to the very beginning of your writing journey, what would you do differently, if anything?
That’s right! …Well, actually, I’ve published three to date. I’ve written more, and I have two more Gishlan books on deck. They just need polished. So, five?
I know. I’m a tease.
I would’ve probably used a pen name. I know how that sounds, but most of my adult life, I’ve been in the public eye, or fighting to be in the public eye. I’m not comfortable having a LinkedIn because people would be looking for my books, and stumble upon every place I’ve worked since I was a teenager, and vise-versa, I’ve been asked if I can “actually work” in job interviews because I “look pretty artsy fartsy.” (Construction jobs don’t value creativity.) So I’ve learned to have a heavy divide between my public life, and my private life. It’s funny, no one has been to my house, but I think everyone has seen pictures of the inside.
The reason I chose to use my given name is because my father taught me “when you got somethin’ to say come out and say it.” Hiding behind anonymity is cowardice. I ain’t no coward. But I’m trying to find the border between “brave” and “alive”. I’m also pretty fond of my name. Names are a gift from your family. Anyway, I have a lot of things like that I’ve learned throughout the years. So much so, I have a blog I update once a month!
Have to say, I like the sound of your parents. Say hello to them from Liz of Cover to Cover, all the way from Estonia!
Justice always finds the monsters when it’s all said and done.
Are your books all completely different to each other, or do they have an overarching thematic that you have found yourself committed to?
I’d say “No, they’re all completely different!” but I feel like that’s going to call down my small but mighty fan base singing a chorus of “Nuh-uh! You have an anti-war, feminist, ‘be yourself’, agenda woven into every single book!” (Super grateful for the, roughly 500 people, that have been scary dedicated to my work since 2016.)
How do you feel about clichés? Can a book exist without clichés?
Heh heh, no. Clichés are annoying but they’re always going to be there. Like the demodex on your face. *Smirks* I don’t think you should purposefully throw them in, unless you’re working off a specific formula, but they’re going to be there.
Is there something that you know you will absolutely never write about? A topic, a certain character, even a genre?
Ugh. Romance. I am a cold dead fish.
I try to never say never. Even Tales From the Gishlan Wood had some romance. Prince Quillpeck and his wife falling in love was my favorite story, but I don’t think I’ll ever write an entire, honest to goodness romance novel. I can definitely see romance going on in the background, but it will never take over the whole plot of a book. So yeah, you allos and aces can come sit with me. There’s not a whole lot of lovin’ going on, but there’s plenty of platonic love. (Sometimes there’s mention of sex, but never actual raunchy sex scenes.)
Other than that, hardcore, I’m not going to write about grotesque violence to femme-presenting people without the victims getting some sort of justice in the end. Justice always finds the monsters when it’s all said and done. At minimum they’ll get out of that terrible situation alive.
Which main character from your books is your all time favorite and why?
Ooh that’s a hard one… I could never pic– Amethyst. Princess Amethyst. All the way. Full send. She’s really my first born, and would definitely be the password child.
I wrote her when I was fourteen, so she really started out as a Mary Sue, but then evolved into her own person. We both grew up, and now I’m writing about her great great grandson. I’ve followed the entire timeline of her life, start to finish.
So I hope the fourteen year olds reading my books now, draw the strength from them I needed when I was fourteen. That’s why I made them.
What is it that you wish readers of your books were able to experience when reading your titles?
Escapism. The world is on fire, and I think we all need a place to hide out for a little while. Drakarium Publishing and I try to keep prices low, so the ticket to another world is accessible. If that’s not plausible, there’s multiple Wyoming Libraries that are happy to loan you my books through your local library’s inter-library loan program.
At the same time, I think we all want to see ourselves in the stories we read. So I hope the fourteen year olds reading my books now, draw the strength from them I needed when I was fourteen. That’s why I made them.
Name an author, or few, dead or alive, that you wish you could share a house with for a week and talk about absolutely everything and anything?
Ooh, this could get spicy! Tons of my friends are authors! Hey Aaron, hey Grant! Kally Jo! June Read! Let’s get the big Air BnB and drive each other up the wall for a week, because we’re fairly solitary creatures! Can I bring my best friend along, and bully her until she publishes her novel? She definitely doesn’t have enough going on. (Note the sarcasm.)
Eh, if we’re doing strangers, I think Xiran Jay Zhao would be amused by my fangirling until it came out that I forgot what socially acceptable behavior looks like in communal living spaces. Hans Christian Anderson, Oscar Wilde, and I, could all be weird and overly emotional together. That would be a lot of fun.
What’s next for Helen M. Pugsley
It’s winter now… So it’s very hard to wonder aimlessly and find stray pieces of fruit successfully…
Eh, that’s just what I do when I’m not writing. Inside of my career, I’m going to set my 2023 reading goal to “One book” and enjoy reading, and writing as much as I possibly can, while I try to find the time to edit this poor, neglected manuscript of mine. (To Craft a Nation) I’m also working on reaching a better place, financially, which will immensely help the writing. Other than that! Please stick around! I don’t know for certain what comes next, but I can guarantee it’s going to look awesome, even if it catches fire!
And there you have it! Don’t forget to wander over to Helen’s website – it has a ton of links to connect with her and where to find her stories, including fan and commissioned art and news about the progress on upcoming books.