A Villain’s Rage

Last night, I went to the movies with my son. He’s doing football conditioning and it is god awful. So, I took him to see his choice of movie as sorta a pick-me-up. We walked into the mall and looked at the framed posters on the wall for a while, contemplating our choices. A nice older lady on the nearby bench suggested we see Hobbs and Shaw or maybe one of the comedies. But my son was set on watching Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. He likes scary stuff. He likes villains….

When I started writing, I found developing the main villain to be the hardest part of the story. There has to be a deep complexity to your main villain, a reason for all of his or her actions and that reason has to be so great and so compelling to force that person to commit heinous acts. I don’t know if other people have trouble with crafting a main antagonist……but Hashkeh Nabbah’s story in Searching for Fire, his description and his behaviors was the very last thing I wrote. I struggled to describe him at times. I skipped the beginning chapter about Hashkeh Nabbah, the angry warrior, and his lair. I wrote the whole book and then went back to complete that chapter. I wonder how long it must have taken Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to develop their bad guys like Pennywise and Moriarty, truly amazing terrifying one-of-a-kind creations. I think the main reason that it is difficult to get inside the head of a main villain is that the majority of us operate on the level of a need for affiliation as opposed to power according to David McClelland’s Theory of Motivation. We just don’t think and operate the way a villain might.

The supporting villains are much easier to write. Perhaps this is because they are seemingly more one dimensional. You don’t have to describe the catalyst that caused their behavior. They just are what they are. You see this in watching the movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. In the individual stories, the supporting villains are just frightening and evil and act without motivation revealed. There’s the scarecrow Harold, the buried woman who takes Auggy, and the others. But, it is Sarah Bellows, the main antagonist who creates the stories who’s motivations must be explained and who’s inner turmoil and conflict must be resolved in the end by the protagonist.

I like these type of villains…..the ones with backgrounds that reveal deep trauma and rejection that leads to rage which leads to malevolence. You get to see them as they were before reality dealt them some cruel and vicious blows and they hardened like salt. One of my favorite recent depictions of a villain is Maleficent. The scene in the movie when she loses her wings is a really powerful moment. It explains the terrible betrayal of love and the need for revenge and cruelty.

When you see the whole story and not just the animated Disney version, which is great in its own right but lacks depth and complexity, you see someone deeply wounded inside covered by a hard outer shell.

I liked this method of storytelling so I included one supporting villain in the book Searching for Fire who has a wounded past. The description of his past is short…..just a chapter and may seem out of place with the rest of the story but the beginning is based on a true event that did happen under the Spanish colonization of the region of Texas in the 1600s. These things really did happen and so often our textbooks tend to gloss over the details.

So, anyways, here’s a toast to the villains. Here’s to the villains, the complex ones and the simple ones. I truly love them, love reading their stories. Without them, the heroes would be lifeless and without purpose or drive. The villains are often times the true epicenter of the story and unfortunately never get the credit they truly deserve nor the adoring fans…..hence the madness and rage I suppose. They sweep in on the stage and steal the show over and over again with awesome displays of wickedness. Without Lord Voldemort, what would Harry Potter be? Without Darth Vader, would we even want to watch Luke Skywalker? What would Star Wars even be without Vader?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxL8bVJhXCM

Do you have a favorite villain? Comment below what your favorite story villain is and why. I’d love to hear your responses.

Launching A Book

Traditionally, when the publishing work is done and the book goes live on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, etc., people put together what’s called a book launch event. It’s an opportunity to celebrate with friends and family and neighbors usually in your local community. Some people do book launches online. Some people put together a book signing at libraries or bookstores or coffeehouses. One friend of mine is preparing a book launch at the convenient store in their rural town….the place where everyone meets for coffee and donuts in the morning.

I noticed on Facebook that a friend of mine who is a professor at the local university also finished publishing a book. So the two of us got together and set up a “Local Authors Night” at the popular coffeehouse downtown. We set up a Facebook event online and sent out invites. We arranged for the catering and use of the back area of the coffeehouse. There will be coffee, cake balls, scones, and such pastries plus fruit trays for the guests. We both plan to talk five minutes about the books and we asked a friend from Toastmasters to welcome the guests, make everyone feel comfortable, and to introduce us. Afterwards, we’ll do book signing at two separate tables.

There’s a lot of little details to think about when planning a book signing event. This past Friday, we participated in a local festival downtown on the main road called Broadway. The festival is Artwalk and showcases local musicians, authors, and artists. There are craft activities for kids and plenty of food vendors as well. Here are some pictures from the event on Friday.

It rained a lot earlier that morning and afternoon. We expected a smaller turnout but the turnout was great! It’s fun to join up with a local festival because much of the planning for the event is already coordinated and all you need to provide is your products and your booth. Here is a picture of our booth at the Artwalk. We sold about 30 copies of the book Searching for Fire.

We sold the signed books for retail price plus local sales tax and we took both cash and card via a square reader for our cell phone. Square readers are easy to order for free and if you want one for a book event, plan ahead about two weeks for delivery. Also, pay close attention to the type of square reader you need for your cell phone. At the event, keep very close eye on the square reader to prevent it “wandering off”. If that happens, you need to notify your customers that their personal data has been taken. Not good. Other than that, it is real easy to use a square reader. There are several tutorials to get you started and you just set up your products in your square reader library on the cell phone app.

If you plan a book event, it is a really good idea to have at least one volunteer with you. While you sign books, that person handles the money transactions. Other volunteers can help with other activities such as a refreshments table. Also, be sure to order your books several weeks in advance from your publisher. Some publishers provide a nice quantity of books free with your contract and others offer books at a discount to you. The discount is larger if you buy more in bulk.

Before the event, prepare a detailed list of what you need. The following are some items we brought to the Artwalk:

Bottled water, battery back-up for the cell phone, cell phone, square reader, any additional cords needed, and tablecloth. (We got a custom tablecloth with a picture of the book cover. We ordered this through Vistaprint with one of their online coupons. They also do flyers and tote bags and business cards, etc.) We put the books in a plastic tote with a plastic lid to protect from inclement weather. We also needed a booth tent. We got some nice pens. Don’t use gel pens that smear when you sign books. We bought a sales order book at Dollar General to keep track of all sales. You will also need to fill out a sales tax form for a festival as well. Bring a money box and plenty of coins and small bills for exchanging money.

We did some drawings for the Artwalk as well to bring in customers. We did a free drawing for the community in which we gave away three signed books to three individuals. The other drawing we did was sponsored by a local company. In exchange for buying a book that night, our customers entered into a drawing for gift cards. The local company donated 6 gift cards ( 2 $25 Applebees cards, 2 $25 Buffalo Wild Wings cards, and 2 $50 Wal-mart cards……….and yes, I live in the Midwest lol). At the end of the night, we did the drawings. We announced the winners on Facebook and thanked the local company. The next day, we delivered the gift cards to the winners.

For the drawings, we purchased two dry erase boards from Dollar General and 2 metal stands (use metal to avoid them blowing over in the wind). We used dry erase markers to write our messages about the books and the drawings. We had enclosed boxes for the drawings and individual drawing sheets for the customers to fill out.

Other than that, we did two other things to make our booth stand out at the event. Since it was an Artwalk, I spent about a week beforehand drawing pencil images of the main characters and scenes in the book. The drawings were in a black sketchbook. We displayed this on the table and the kids loved looking at it! We also bought some small wolf statues to place on the table to go with the theme from the Searching for Fire book cover. The kids played with these too while we talked to the parents.

If you do more than three festival events a year, it is also a good idea to apply for a separate checking account for tax purposes later on. Also, you could consider setting up a paypal account as another means of payment.

The final information to add about launching a book at a public event……..marketing is so important! Social media is great for this…….Facebook, Facebook events, Instagram, and even a blog such as this. Make certain you thank the people involved with the event and any sponsors. You can do a Facebook Live of the book signing as well or you could make a YouTube video. Prior to this event, I did use YouTube and create a video excerpt of the book Searching for Fire. Basically, I downloaded blueberry voice recording software for free, I setup the book cover as the video image, and I recorded myself reading one of my favorite parts of the book. It turned out well and I recommend trying this. Here is the link to my YouTube video for Searching for Fire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNwayIWQg6g

Be sure to pick out a nice outfit for the event. We wore some shirts with book themes on them. Fix yourself up to look nice and most important of all, smile! Look like you are having a good time! Celebrate! This book launch party culminates at the end of a very long writing, editing, and publishing process. You did it! Have fun with the party!

So these are some ideas for doing a book launch event. You might want to consider other things like themed refreshments or favor bags or bookmarks with your favorite character on them from the book. You might have a graphic artist friend too that might help you with creating some awesome digital art or a cool video. But most of all, try to stick to a decent budget and don’t overspend. If you can get help from friends and family, do so! Most of the time, they are very happy to assist you with this exciting venture!

I’d be interested in hearing other ideas on book launching. Feel free to comment any tips or suggestions. Thanks and best of luck with your book launch event!

Luck Helps Those Who Help Themselves

I’m starting to plan for the first public event for the book Searching for Fire. There’s a lot of things to consider: sales tax id, how to use a square, how to setup a paypal account, how to setup the accounts associated, etc. Then there is the packing list for the event and books to be ordered and how to price them, etc. etc. My husband agreed to help me out on this one. It is the Artwalk in my hometown which features a wide array of artists, musicians, and literary folks, as well as food vendors from my local community. It will be on Broadway in the downtown area this Friday from 5 to 9 pm. There will be lots of arts activities for children and lots of fun things to do and see that night. I am really looking forward to it! That is also the same day the kids go back to school so we are gathering school supplies and getting clothes and such all ready for their big day too!

Starting to prepare the display table.

A book launch event should be fun – a time to celebrate months and months of preparation. In other news, the book got the first review today on Amazon and got 4 stars. This makes me super happy and I breathed a big sigh of relief. I was so fearful it would just get one star…..or worse, half a star or a big ole goose egg zero stars………which brings me to an interesting topic. …..

A friend asked me to help her with writing. To be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about the subject. I do not hold an advanced degree in English or frankly any degree related to writing. I haven’t poured through tons of manuals or expensive online classes. We got to talking. I offered to help any way I can but I got the impression that the more we talked, the more prepared she was for writing than I. She talked about Scribner and other softwares and technologies and even some theories on writing. I just listened greatly impressed by her knowledge.

Writing to me………..it seems the one main element that you have to possess is an unusual one. It is not flashy or super sophisticated with all sorts of advanced technologies. The element that seems most crucial to me is this…………courage.

Now, hold up, before I go any further…….I don’t want you to think I mean this kind of courage.

I mean you gotta have courage like this…….

Do you remember being a kid at the public pool and your friends dared you to jump off the high dive? You look up at that behemoth of a diving board and the tall ladder leading up to the top and you sorta gulp. But you say, “Sure! Let’s try it!” And you follow your friends to the line waiting at the tall metal ladder. One by one, the kids climb up the ladder. Some of the kids have done this before and take running leaps off the top board. Other kids are like you and they slowly climb the ladder hesitantly and then carefully and slowly walk to the edge to look over and at the far, far distance down below. Yikes! You think to yourself that you would prefer to take the chicken exit but you have seen what happens to the kids that bail. Some of them get chuckled at and some of them never do gain the courage to overcome their fear and jump. And yet, you’ve seen others…….over-cocky and maybe a little arrogant types that over turn their jumps and end up doing painful belly busters. You don’t want to do that either.

It’s your turn. You’ve been waiting for this and your friends are counting on you to try. You climb the ladder rung by rung with a nervous feeling in your belly. Maybe even your mom has stopped watching from the poolside cabana chair and is now standing and watching you. She’s squinting into the sun. Her hand is over her eyes as she watches you above. She wants you to try but she’s also deeply worried about you and ready to jump in at a moment’s notice to save and protect you.

Your feet feel the hard nubbles of the concrete slab of the high dive. You’re very aware in that moment, feeling the adrenaline in your body. Pools of water surround your feet as you look at the edge. Then you slowly walk step by step to the end. You look down for a little while, enough time that you won’t look like a coward. Your heart is pounding now. Your breathing is a little jagged. You step a few paces back and then……

You run off the ledge to freefall. And it is terrifying and exciting at the same time. Your eyes are wide open and you straighten your body out to execute the jump just right so you don’t belly buster. The last thing in the world you want to do is belly buster cause that is embarassing.

And you close your eyes and hold your breath right before you finally hit the water. And it is the best feeling in the world when you come up for air. You realize it is not so hard as you thought it could be. You realize that the biggest obstacle you faced was dread.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

-JFK

And you maybe even chance going off that high dive a few more times that day.

Anyway…….that’s the kind of courage it seems to take to try to create and show something rather than spend lots and lots and lots of time writing as a hobby but never going any further.

So, honestly, I don’t know a lot about these new templates, and theories, and ideas, and software, and techologies and all these great classes to take on writing. But I do know that eventually you gotta act.

As I was writing earlier this year, I kept two fortune cookie fortunes on my desk. The first read,

Luck helps those who help themselves.

The second read,

The simplest answer is to act.

A long time ago, I had a good friend in the military. He was a decorated war veteran and served six of seven year-long tours in Iraq and Kuwait. He was an Army officer and retired a Lt. Colonel. When we would travel together and I would drive, he would get super frustrated with my driving. I would be polite and always let people pass me or cut in front of me as we traveled around the Washington DC Beltway. He would always look at me and say this mantra of the military:

He who hesitates is lost.

I just figured he was an angsty type of driver but turns out he was trying to teach me a very valuable lesson that I picked up on later in my 40s.

Just act. Don’t waste your life never acting.

Writers by nature, tend to be very introspective and thinkers. They think a whole bunch before they finally make a decision to move. They remind me of the Ents in Lord of the Rings. There’s a certain quote by John Green that sums up their behavior well:

Writing is a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.

So, my main point with this extended post is just to encourage you to act. To use another metaphor…..a pilot can take a brand new plane onto the runway and wait for the go-ahead from air traffic control. He can study all the manuals, memorize all the control panel buttons, put all the latest technology into his plane, learn each and every possible idea about piloting, perfect each and every detail of his manuevers, etc. But eventually, he is going to have to make the hard decision to move forward and race at breakneck speed, barreling down that runway, hoping and praying that those wheels come up and those wings start to lift. He’ll pass the point of no return. He’ll have to do it. The sink or swim point. Fly or crash and burn in a blaze of fantastic but embarassing glory. The belly buster.

Just do it.

-Nike

Eventually you just gotta do it and when you do, you will want to try again. And remember, a plane doesn’t fly until it reaches a point of intense pressure. To fly, to defy gravity……..that is a worthwhile moment. So, if you are facing a whole lot of pressure writing…..well, maybe that is just you getting prepared for lift off.

So, that’s my cheap and unsophisticated two cents on writing. It’s not fancy. It’s not long enough to turn into an hour long class but it is authentic and real.

And finally, as a side note, the last thing I would add is take the pressure off yourself. There’s so much pressure already on you from daily life……why add more to yourself? Remember to have fun with writing. Make it playful. Just write for the sake of telling a story to yourself or maybe to the one person out there in the whole wide world that might read your stuff.

Don’t write to be successful. Don’t write for fame and fortune. Don’t write for riches or fly b******. Just write for your own enjoyment. It show s in your words when you enjoy what you are writing. Some stuff we try to write to impress others often comes across later in reading it as pretentious and stuffy and just full of it. Don’t believe me?

Consider this:

When I first started to write poetry, I wrote short but decent stuff with meaning like this:

Late Bloomer

They say you gotta sit in the dark a long while before you see the light,

Hell, I’ve been sitting here for years and yeah, I guess they’re right.

Well I’s seen a share of sadness and a couple shares of doubt,

But I suppose a seed’s got to be buried before it will start to sprout.

See, that one wasn’t too bad and it was authentic and from the heart because I played at writing poetry then. However, things changed a few years later after I had failed a couple of poetry contest submissions. I figured I needed to be more aloof and more intellectual and more big city and more of what I truly am not. And so I wrote this one:

Thoughts on Writers and Figs and Such Matters

Kindred soul, I heard your muffled cry in the library stacks.

The rhythm of your fragile heart still beats within,

rustling the yellowed pages of this forgotten book.

I have found your anguish.

Your essence escaped life on the winds

waiting for love’s embrace.

You lived and breathed like a golden songbird

buried beneath the sands of time in a locked box waiting for a key.

Sylvia, immortal,

for your sake, how I wish your discontented hand settled on a plump ripe fig

so many years ago in the distant past.

But then, I would have never felt your spirit.

Ok, so………..this second one is not terrible but is admittedly a little over the top. Too emo and a little on the weird side in my opinion. I wrote it to impress poetry authority figures rather than write the things I really thought and felt about the world around me. It’s stiff and awkward and frankly, I haven’t even read The Bell Jar all the way through…….just some passages here and there, some Wikipedia, and some Cliffnotes online. Not authentic. Not good.

So be yourself. Be playful with your writing.

and to finish on a high note, one last quote from the great Elton John.

You could never know what it’s like

Your blood like winter freezes just like ice

And there’s a cold lonely light that shines from you

You’ll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use.

……Don’t you know, I’m still standing better than I ever did,

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.

That’s my point from Elton John’s Still Standing (and I bet you’re now thinking of a piano playing gorilla from the movie Sing lol). My point is be brave as a writer but also be playful at it like a kid and willing to show and share your authentic voice.

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

-Oscar Wilde

Ok, that’s all I got. It ain’t much but it’s from the heart. That’s it for tonight, folks. Have a great night and keep writing and creating.

Happy

Yesterday, I took a photo with my first copy of the book I received in the mail from Amazon. It was a happy moment and took 7 months of steady progress. I just wanted to write Searching for Fire to tell an action story that entertains.

Thank you Archway Publishing and a special note of thanks to friends and family that supported this. The dedication at the beginning of the book is to a very close friend that believed in this and helped it along. This is someone I admire and respect very much.

My children picked out the cover design and my sister, who works in library science and info systems, was my first editor. My son encouraged me every time I got down or had doubts or frustrations. He would say with a smile, “Mom, it’s actually good…….it may not be Rick Riordan good……but mom, it’s good.” Rick Riordan is his favorite author and he’s read House of Hades so much that the book is in two pieces, taped together, but still on his book shelf. He’s a good son and a good reader.

There were many nights when I could have and should have done laundry or cleaned dishes or tidied up the house, but I was hard at work at the computer typing away or reading and re-reading over and over again. My husband took over and kept the household going and was very patient with my distant and distracted behavior. I’m lucky to have that kind of support.

Well, if you’ve managed to read this far…….thank you also for sharing in this big day! I’d love to hear your stories about projects in the works, etc. Keep creating!

I hope you have a wonderful evening!

Pause and Look

I work at a frame shop for photography and artwork. You would not think an art house would be incredibly busy……..but it is. I work Monday to Friday and by the end of the week, I probably frame well over 750 pictures, some ranging as small as 4 x 4 all the way up to 20 x 30. I frame collages of high school photos, wedding pictures of smiling brides and grooms, lots of pictures of animals. People, by the way, at least a good portion of our customers absolutely adore their cats and dogs. There are pictures of famous people, pictures of politicians, business photos, boat photos, car photos, beautiful women in gowns, and occasionally some provocative images too. There are mostly funny and smiling photos and sometimes some sad and some that make you wonder……

Today, I framed a poem from Mary Oliver. I had often heard the quote about what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life. But this one was different. It made me pause and I guess that was the whole point of the poem…..to suddenly pause in this great hectic hustle and bustle of daily living and working and home life and community.

Here is the poem below. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. I liked it. And I hope you like it too.

My First Blog Post

Lose Yourself

Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?

— Eminem

This is one of my favorite songs. I have a secret. Sometimes I listen to this song to get hyped for writing. The motivational beginning inspires me just like my favorite quote by Laurel Ulrich, “Well -behaved women seldom make history.” This second quote is often associated with Marilyn Monroe or Eleanor Roosevelt, an amazing woman I named my daughter after.

But back to the Eminem song, I like the lyrics and Ulrich quote because in them you can feel a rebellious nature and angst with the status quo, a desire to achieve more. To be more than your environment, more than what life dictated for you……more….more……more. They remind me of a poem I wrote 10 years ago:

Pilatus Flower

I went to the top of Mt. Pilatus a long, long time ago

and stood in the cold wind looking at the white desolation below.

I took a rocky path along the curve of the silent mountain and past the wintry bridge,

to a spot where a single solitary flower clung to the side of the ridge.

I reached out to pluck the bloom but hesitated in that instance.

It was in that moment that I realized the power of persistence.

I heard someone say once, “It doesn’t matter where you came from;

it only matters where you go.

I say, “It doesn’t matter where fate placed you. It just matters that you grow.”

Keep striving and growing, my fellow writers. Reach for your dreams with your words and pull those amazing stories out of hiding from your mind and your heart. Get to that moment in your story when the words flow out of you like rushing water and you lose yourself in the writing. That moment when the story is all you want and the storyteller is all you want to be. There’s magic in that moment. Gold, pure gold.

Keep creating! Keep writing! Keep being more!

My Name is Janea. My pen name is J. Speer

I am celebrating today. Today is a great day for me. My family welcomed a new niece into the world this morning. My 14 year old daughter passed driving school. And today, I received a package from Amazon in the mail…….one I have been waiting on for a few days now. I opened the cardboard box to reveal the first copy of my first published book. It is called Searching for Fire. The book is a young adult fantasy fiction story with lots of action and adventure. It is a North American odyssey with some dastardly villains and interesting plot sequences. It is published with Archway.

This story started out a long time ago. Over ten years ago, I used to write a great deal of poetry and short stories. I wanted to be a writer someday. I wrote a giant file folder full of work and I submitted to several publishing companies and online contests. I waited and waited impatiently and finally received one acceptance letter from a Boston company. But here comes the hard part……….I lost confidence in myself. I never sent my work in.

Lack of confidence………I have a feeling many other people who write have felt this. I wonder how many have thought to themselves, “I’m just not good enough. This is not good enough.” I know I did. I put the file folder in the back of a cabinet and life went on as normal for over a decade……..

At this point, you are probably wondering what changed?

A friend helped me.

It was January 2019 shortly after Christmas and I was kinda in the dumps…..considering the winter weather and just general life malaise. She invited me on Facebook to her new entrepreneur meeting. At first, I thought, “No, not really interested.” But I went.

The meeting started with 20 minutes of motivational talk and then she said each of the 20 participants had to stand up one by one and say what their dream is or had been. She said, “If you don’t have the courage to say what you really want to a crowd of twenty people in a room, how do you ever expect to manifest it into your life?” One by one, each brave soul got up and said their secret dream. I, however, was too shy and remained quiet.

I went home that night and sat in my mini-van in the driveway and thought for twenty minutes. Then, I went inside the house and opened that old cabinet and searched for the old file folder. I pulled it out from the back and sat down at the kitchen table to read. I had just assumed over the years, that it was not worthwhile. But I was wrong. Some of the poetry and short stories were quite good. I picked one short story, my favorite in the bunch……….and eventually turned it into a novel. I worked six hours a day for six weeks, writing after daily 8 hour shifts at the factory. During the day at the factory, I would go through every detail of the upcoming pages in my mind and then jot down my ideas as soon as I got home.

And that is the story of how Searching for Fire came to be. It is my first book and admittedly perhaps more a lump of coal than a polished diamond. But I truly hope it does well on the market and most of all, I just want people to be entertained and happy reading it.

Thank you for reading about my adventures with writing and I would love to hear from you too on your creative works. Keep writing! Keep creating! Keep being more!

Bless you,

J. Speer