Wyoming voice with a fantasy twist

LUSK – Growing up on the Wyoming prairie many would have thought the landscape uninspiring, at least for a young writer with fantasy genre aspirations, but Helen Pugsley saw nothing but potential in the vastness around her. Pugsley’s appreciation and respect for Wyoming, while communicating that feeling that many young people have of “wanting out to see the bigger world” is one of the perspectives that lends her books weight, authenticity and humor.

On Monday, Pugsley presented her third book, “The Tooth Fairy” to those gathered at the brown bag lunch event at the Niobrara County Library.

Pugsley had previously introduced audiences to the land of Gishlan in her “War and Chess” and “Tales from the Gishlan Wood” published in 2016 and 2017. While “The Tooth Fairy” is not set in the same world, it draws from the same well of humor and cultural observation. Pugsley has managed to write a contemporary fantasy while still firmly rooted in creating another world for her readers. The first two novels were published by small publishing houses, however Pugsley chose to self-publish her third book.

Tooth Fairy was written during, about and reflective of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is dated for 2020 and 2021. Pugsley partly chose self-publishing because she wasn’t sure if “anyone would want to read a book about the pandemic”. The reviews on Amazon and Goodreads would indicate otherwise. In Tooth Fairy, Pugsley addresses the contemporary issues of human trafficking, the pandemic, political upheaval and racial tensions without getting mired down or allowing those issues to be the main focus. 

Pugsley’s first person writing style, combined with the scattering of rural references allows Wyoming, and other rural readers to relate to a fantasy book that might not be their first choice for genre. Content that eludes to a shared experience like, “I picked a field my family owned, sighed as I pulled on my gloves, opened the gate, drove through and closed it behind me-the most important part.” put not only a smile from the reader but a sense that is rare in contemporary fiction, that the writer actually does know what she’s talking about when setting a book at least partly in Wyoming.

This is largely due to the fact that Pugsley grew up on her family’s ranch in Jay Em and now resides in Laramie, WY. She credits her mentor, June Wilson Read, another Wyoming writer, her teacher Mrs. Cervelloni and her parents among the many who have helped her along her creative path. 

During the author luncheon Pugsley talked about the ups and downs of publishing including the differences between working with a publisher and self-publishing. While she acknowledged that the financial risk was much greater when self-publishing, the stress of contracts and the process of working with publishing companies can, in itself be hard. She emphasized to those gathered that whether its a publishing agreement, artwork collaboration or event, it is very important to always have a contract that is explicit and acceptable to both parties. This lays out expectations and can help to avoid any break downs in the future. Her first two books are both in their third print run and she has worked with multiple publishers to ensure a future for her work. 

Pugsley can’t say what the future holds for either the world of Gishlan or the characters she created in “the Tooth Fairy” however she does know that just like you or I these characters have lives beyond the pages of the stories she has already written and she looks forward to finding out what stories they have to tell.

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