Quiz: Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature


Probably should be Top 100, because a lot of great portrayals (like the ones in my photos) didn’t make the list.

Apropos of the “Casting Calls” for Villains lately here on the Clotho’s Loom site, and in honor of this month in Autumn, culminating in the celebration of All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en) on the 31st, I thought we’d pay homage to some great manifestations of evil, from creative minds in the West.  Calling it the “Top Ten” may be a little ego-maniacal of me–but let the form fit the content!

Try first to guess who uttered the famous line quoted (full credit-10 points), and if you’re stuck, take hints from my brief analysis below–but be careful: examples can be misleading–heh, heh (half-credit-5 points).  The answers are in the menu to the bottom left (of course).  Score yourself–how naughty are you?

BONUS for naming the films or characters in the photos (5 points each)!  PRIZE: Roll your hands and cackle in the self-satisfaction of knowing how much you rule over the cretins surrounding you! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature

10. “Slugs! He created slugs. They can’t hear, they can’t speak, they can’t operate machinery. I mean, are we not in the hands of a lunatic? If I were creating a world, I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and dafodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, day one.”

Second-guessing God is always a good sop for the feeling of helplessness that exiles live with. The flaws of creation are readily apparent, but it’s frustrating not to be included in the divine plan. Of course, that frustration has rarely been expressed so comically.

9. “That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.”

Oh, the best don’t perform parlor tricks. They’re refined. You don’t run the show, they do. You don’t set the terms during bargaining. You don’t goad them into the silly spontaneous admissions of TV crime melodramas. A good trickster unrolls his hand, on his own terms. And then, it may have all the charm of projectile vomiting.

8. “It was between the brothers, Kay — I had nothing to do with it.”

Hanging on to a lost innocence that he traded away for power, lying to those who are still innocent to maintain appearances is the cold comfort this character takes.

7. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Beyond the obvious point that beauty is only skin deep, it’s amazing how vanity, ego, and pride make up a sizable percentage of all Western storytelling villainy. Thinking you’re better than everyone else around you–that’s a big step toward commiting heinous, ugly crimes. So ironically, beauty fades the more one values it. Also, the need for external validation–constant reassurance–of this villain, betrays a great deal of insecurity and fear.

6. “Closer, please. Closer.”

Like a coiled snake, all potential energy that can be unleashed in an instant, you’d better heed warnings not to approach him. Others have paid the price. He has about as much remorse about killing as a lethal carnivore, but his real pleasure is in the contemplation of the meal, going on behind his smiling, mesmerizing eyes.

5. “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?”

The scariest part of being verbally aggressed in a public place, like a bar-room, is not the physical size or menace of the antagonist (who is often not particularly imposing)–it’s knowing you’re suddenly confronted with someone who doesn’t acknowledge the rules, and therefore could do anything. After all, you’re in a public place of comradeship and celebration, not an arena.
The villain who utters these lines is a threat to all order, embracing chaos–he values human life as randomly as he destroys it–practically a force of nature, himself.

4. “You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

He’s seen the triviality of the whole grand scheme of war, and tried to rise above it on angel’s wings. Like every soldier, his attempts to do good have brought him into proximity of the worst horror. No one keeps his hands clean in Vietnam.

3. “Sayest thou so?” replied ——, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet.”

The age-old rhetoric of the tempter–“we haven’t done anything wrong, yet, and you can always change your mind later” is specifically designed as a logic-trap, to ridicule the intuition and fear we have built in. He’ll obscure the boundaries until you’ve already crossed them–and then it’s too late.

2. “Don’t make me destroy you.”

Denying responsibility for one’s own actions is built even into the speech patterns of some villains. Holding a gun to a hostage’s head, and claiming the policeman will be responsible if she dies, is clear psychological projection: unable to face himself, the villain sees evil in the world around him, and wreaks havoc upon it.

1. “Evil, be thou my good.”

Not numbered among the classical seven deadly sins is the master sin of all Judeo-Christian mythology: Despair. It’s tantamount to rejecting life itself. This character renounces all conventional morality, because he can’t be best at it. Rather, he’ll embrace a whole new system of his own concocting, and without the hypocrisy of justifying it under another name. He simply gives up on goodness. And with his power, that means Hell for the rest of us.



Casting Call: Supporting Characters, part 3. Antagonist, or Savior?


I set out to create Dr. M– in the grand style of Byronic hero: alone, brooding, handsome, powerful, and potentially dangerous. Shades of Mr. Rochester.  Not just an attractive “bad boy” for my heroine, in sharp contrast to her husband–but a bad man.  A man that everyone had heard of, and yet few encountered in the flesh.  His name: first, an homage to the early days of fiction, in which certain characters’ names were revealed only by initial, lest they be taken for living persons and subject the publisher to lawsuits.  Just by reading about him, one is always on the verge of uttering something wrong.  Second, I chose M– because, it seemed to me that more tragically demented figures in Western fiction have names that start with “M,” than any other letter: Montraville, Manfred, Moriarty, Magneto, and Montresor, for a start.  And I made him a doctor, for. . .well, best you read the book to find that out.

His appearance is of a robust 60 years of age (a vast amount of experience, and yet, not an old man.  Absolutely no sign of physical decline–to augment this, he stands over six feet tall.)  He wears a long black coat and slouch hat, that shade his eyes more often than not in spite of his height, from a habit of looking down upon everything, with a voice persuasive and even hypnotic.

Dr. M– is long used to getting what he wants, because few have the will to deny him. And is he out merely to seduce Nexus–or save her from the abyss, and himself in the process?  I thought Daniel Day-Lewis, famous in younger days as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, and lately wrapping as Lincoln, with his looks, frame, and voice talent–strong hints of danger possible, for the summoning–would be a perfect fit.


Disambiguation In Promoting Books of Literary Fiction; or, Publishing and Marketing Moby-Dick for the Masses


Imagine if Herman Melville were a self-published (Indie) author today, and had to compete in the ebook marketplace with his brand new novel, Moby-Dick. Not only are the electronic bookshelves of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and others crowded to overfull already, but he’s really relying mostly on the tactics of word-of-mouth, and of name recognition–he’s published a few well-received pieces already, though he’s no Longfellow. And let’s face it, his cover is not the greatest, anyway. So what would be your prediction?

If you guessed critical and commercial failure, I agree. And if you’ve taken more than the bare minimum of English courses in college, you probably already knew that’s exactly what happened in the 1850s. Melville’s masterpiece did not enjoy success until the 1920s–and I’m not sure how much good that did the author, as he was thirty years dead, at that point.

So. . .who here wants to write this decade’s Moby-Dick?

Dummy me, I kind of tried to.

Never mind the 1850s–think about now. What’s the problem? Melville’s novel is more than good–for those who have actually read it, you understand it’s so mind-blowingly great almost as to be in a class by itself. Right up there with John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Odyssey of Homer.

Well, it’s just that, as a book marketer and seller, Melville made one hell of an author.

Think first about the title: not only is it a proper name, but, unlike say Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly or Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, it doesn’t even sound like the name of a person. Well, he chose accurately, anyway. So okay, taking a cue from those others, he adds a subtitle: the Whale (published in Great Britain under that title). So that’s one hurdle overcome, sort of. But since he can’t hover around the shelves of every bookshop from Nantucket to Paternoster Row, answering questions from potential buyers and readers, another problem arises.

What in the seven seas is the book about?

Well, it looks as if it’s about Whaling, we can hear the old spinster telling her sister, prowling among the stacks for their next guilty pleasure. How dreadful. (Today’s equivalent might be about Fossil Fuels.)

Of course, it’s about much more than that–has to be. It’s so deuced long.

So, our generous ladies crack the binding long enough to see the name-drop of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the dedication. Fine. A bit impertinent. Okay, give him a paragraph or two (here I’m invoking Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.) Call me Ishmael.

Now, depending upon the edition, there may or may not be a footnote (today’s hyperlink) explaining the allusion of that name. Or, by chance, our sisters may be Bible-saavy enough to have vaguely remarked it. But who wants to go looking things up, even before purchase? Bah.

You can see where this is going.

So many authors are intent on writing good books, that they think little about marketing them until, the publishing industry not being a charity, they find themselves having to take on the role of bookseller. This is how Louisa May Alcott had to learn to sell—literary quality be damned–she had a family to support. It happened to me. And honestly, I’m not so much interested in selling everyone my book, as I am in simply making it visible to them. It sure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s cool. But I’d like potential readers to at least have the choice. “Never heard of it at all” is harder for me to take than “Not up my alley.” Because there should still be thousands out there whose alleys it is, er, up.

Which brings me to my own little production, Clotho’s Loom.

Start with covers, and titles. As I perambulate the aisles of my local, modern, and oversized brick-and-mortar bookseller (take a guess,) I don’t really see a section headed “Literary Fiction,” per se. There’s “Contemporary,” there’s “Fiction,” and there’s “Just Published,” and between them, if you already know an author’s name, you can find something to interest you. Otherwise, it’s choose by binding and title, an even dicier game than cover image. And what are those images? Near as I can tell, anyone with pretensions to highbrow fiction goes with a simple nature photograph. A farm, maybe, some wheat. Horses are good in the deep background. Trees and flowers. Look at all of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, for example. If you hadn’t heard of him, you’d think he was a cross between Ansel Adams and a park ranger. And how about that cover on The Road?–best thing since AC/DC’s debut album, Back in Black. So, at least the cover of Clotho’s Loom was taken outdoors–in Baltimore’s Druid’s Ridge Cemetery, in fact–though it’s of a statue, an object. Not exactly clear whom of, either. And the title names her, but. . .can I really put a footnote about Greek goddesses on the cover?

Open the book, reader, give it a shot. Okay. Well, there’s something going on here that’s trying to resonate. Decent vocabulary. Plenty of detail. A little slow. Nah–where’s that YA vampire section?

So now you know I wasn’t patting myself on the back with this comparison, because it’s not the author Melville I’m referring to, so much as the failed literary agent of Melville–like so many of us, that person happened to be, as Thoreau put it in another context, “our own scurvy selves.” Paradoxically (given the lurid subject matter,) the YA vampire books are safe—one knows, the talent bar fluctuating a bit, pretty much what one is getting. And you can spot them from 50 yards away.

What’s the solution, for the more ambitious of us? How do we find our readers?–How do they find us? Simple. But not easy. Disambiguation. Among works, yes. Also, within one work.

Moby-Dick is about whaling. But think harder. It’s also about. . .travel? Sure. Think about the characters, not just the plot and setting. Ah. . .revenge! Well done. Also, distinguish among the characters: why, there’s a philosopher, a pragmatist, an oracle–it’s a whole blessed microcosm! And look at their names. Ahab, Starbuck. Kinda go along with Ishmael. Keep going.

The 30-second elevator pitch is just not going to work for this one–or, to the extent that it does work, it only scratches the surface. But at least we have the beginnings of a list. Today, Melville could “tag” Moby with those. He could create a Listopias. They’d probably make concise tweets. And yet, will those be enough? Well, no, but they are a start.

Clotho’s Loom has two protagonists, a man and a woman: Will Wyrd and Nexus Wyrd (yeah, yeah, the names signify something.) They share equal stage time. He’s drafted to serve in the military overseas, while she, abandoned, must birth and raise their baby alone, amid the trials of a harsh environment–both home and workplace. That’s my standard line.

Already, the book proceeds along two very different plotlines, at intervals–though I tried to thematicaly parallel and even unify them. It also has action and suspense, male and female bonding, and a few philosophical conversations. Like a stew, as Huck Finn says: the juices swap around, and everything tastes better than the sum of separate ingredients. At least, that’s what the cook was going for. But it’s hardly disambiguated. Is it a military novel? A Jason Bourne clone? Or women’s cozy fiction? Both? REALLY?

I always tell my students: when a problem is too complex, you must analyze (break it down into smaller parts). This can be done in mathematics (as with factoring in algebra,) chemistry (using a tool like a centrifuge,) as well as in logic and rhetoric. It can always be done. What we need here is to know the ingredients–we need a recipe!

In recipe books and blogs, there’s usually a photo of the succulent end-product. But the real recipe always starts with components the cook has to buy and gather—not the tasting! Or, if you prefer another metaphor, we can “reverse engineer” our own books for simplification—very similar to the way Cliff’s Notes and SparkNotes work.

Dramatis Personae:

Will Wyrd, a 39-year old man, a former Marine sniper, now a college professor

Thalia, Will’s teacher and soldier for a Middle-East nation at war

Amad, Thalia’s brother

Colonel Mingo, U. S. officer in charge of reacquiring Will and other veterans

Jim Poland, an FBI agent

Nexus Wyrd, a 40-year old woman, a lawyer and, for undisclosed reasons, never before a mother

Dr. M–, her suitor, and successful capitalist

Thomas Wright, founder of the law firm employing Nexus

Mr.Domino, Wright’s partner

Sage, Nexus’ friend and guide

Dramatic Situation:

Will is “reactivated” (drafted) 20 years after his enlistment ends. But instead of complying, he flees the country and embarks on a mission to end the war his own way.

Meanwhile, Nexus discovers that she’s pregnant and must birth and raise the child amid much danger, both at home ,and in the workplace of her law firm.

Complication: the two, while compatible as mates, were not equipped for a successful marriage when they wed. How can the enforced separation prepare them better to reunite? (Here, no doubt about it, as I put it this way I see that I lifted the complication straight from the Odyssey.)

Elements: irony, foreshadowing, symbolism, allegory. As this is a blog post and not an actual handbook, I’ll stop here.

I think that’s plenty for any potential reader to go on.

CONCLUSION: 1) Authors of plain old fiction and genre fiction have two initial tiers of audience:

The primary audience tier: family, extended family, friends and colleagues.

The secondary audience tier: Potential readers who would love your book, but need to discover it as a better example of its kind.

2) Authors of literary fiction, unlike genre authors, have an additional tier:

The tertiary audience tier: those readers who would love your book, if only they knew how really profound it is, but more importantly, just what it was about.

For everyone without an established reputation, the primary audience will have acquired the book within a few months, leading to a sales slump, unless the author can “promote through” to the second tier. And I think all the blog posts, tweets, book tours, celebrity endorsement blurbs, trailers, and paid advertisements in the world will not be effective until the specific audiences for that story can be identified and targeted.

For authors of literary fiction, there’s no point in crying out how really great a writer you are. If you can gain discoverability, the issue of quality will take care of itself, as you accrue reviews and word gets around.

The remaining question: what is the book about? For real? As Ahab says, “STRIKE THROUGH the mask.” NOT—how great is it, what are its ephemeral trappings, what are its gimmicks, which famous person pretends to love it, where does one buy it and at what bargain price?

Moby-Dick is really the story about a ship’s captain who, having been crippled by his prey in the course of whaling, kidnaps an entire crew and enlists them in quest of a single beast, who he imagines to be the incarnation of all the world’s evil. He will sacrifice anything: men, money, and material to this egomaniacal pursuit of cosmic justice. Further, using the sea as a conceit, and by presenting the alternative reactions of members of the crew, Melville investigates a long list of philosophical questions regarding humankind’s relationship to the natural universe.

Clotho’s Loom is really the story of a man and woman who met and married before they were ready. They are torn apart just at the moment when they should most be together, her mid-life pregnancy. The next year is devoted to adventures that mature them, while they seek reunion. While all events, like Will’s military reactivation, appear to conspire against them, StJean questions whether the forces of chance and so-called Fate, as well as ignorant human will, are not actually working together for ultimate good.

Well, I never wrote it up like that before. Quite a shifting of priorities. And no longer ambiguous. The description also makes clearer who the best audiences are.

More on that, later.


Ebook Promotion and Marketing at Work, One Word / Brick / Weld / or Stitch at a Time


And no, I don’t mean doing it while your boss has her back turned!  Just choose your metaphor.

I’m preparing a substantial post on “disambiguation” as a literary-fiction promotional strategy for Sunday.  Meanwhile, as I write, The Boiler Plot (reviewed two days ago here, and currently on a KDP Select free promo) sits at the  #4 slot in Suspense on Amazon UK.  Incredible!  Congratulations Emily McDaid!  If you haven’t done so yet, you have only today left to look down a few posts, and click through to help her hit #1, there or in the U.S.!

Also, by coincidence, Shawn and Clothos’ Loom are featured today as “Talent in the Spotlight” on Humanmade.net.  These good folks bring visibility not only to writers/authors with novels, but artists and art of all kinds–so as long as you’re not a robot, and if you’ve got something you created, give them a look at http://www.humanmade.net/

Next, there seems to be much buzz around Pinterest these days, and you may have seen our “Casting Call” characters gathering there.  I’ve added two more boards, “Great Movie Posters” and “Great Comic Book Covers” to go along with the literary fiction ones: http://pinterest.com/shawnstjean/  I feel the motif that unites these boards is Storytelling.

Finally, and also as I write, 188 people have entered the Clotho’s Loom Giveaway on GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/32666-clotho-s-loom-a-novel-of-literary-romance-and-realism  I’m hoping to register 1000 before it’s all over!

EDIT: latest promo blurb by one of many generous sites: http://bookgoodies.com/clothos-loom-by-shawn-stjean/

This is all part of the day-to-day business of gaining “discoverability” for one’s novel, acting as one’s own literary agent and publicist, which is actually more difficult than writing it in the first place!

BONUS: Download The Boiler Plot For FREE on Amazon!

That’s right–if Shawn StJean’s review below sounds good to you, Emily McDaid’s novel, The Boiler Plot, is being offered FREE for the next few days:


Don’t miss out on a worthy up-and-comer!


A Strong Cup of Tea, Boiled by Microwave, by Emily McDaid

BOOK REVIEW by Shawn StJean


If Oliver Stone were twenty-five years younger, instead of shooting Wall Street (1987) on film, he might do as well digitally adapting The Boiler Plot (2012) for Hollywood, or at least Pinewood. Because while the technology of the media agents Stone likes to target may have improved how the times are recorded, the song of human frailty remains the same. Or, as Gordon Gekko might say: “Greed is [virtually] good.”

In U.S. author Emily McDaid’s debut novel–equally classifiable as thriller/suspense, tech-noir, or social criticism, the setting is modern east-London. The first-person narrative of heroine Alex Sanderson commences in media res, her reportage nearly buried amid the throng of an oppressive courtroom. Crimes have been committed, millions swindled out of hundreds of millions in cyber-cash. Some of the perpetrators have escaped, but others stand at the bar of justice, awaiting sentence. Outside, “the buildings were popping up like a line of dominos.” An apt conceit, and nice bit of foreshadowing. This e-book in no way resembles one’s average paperback. Alex’s voice is one of a young, professional Public Relations account manager, on her way up (a la Bud Fox,) and she knows how to turn a phrase that haunts the later narrative. In fact, a director darker than Stone–Christopher Nolan, perhaps– could easily frame the story as a noir procedural, with a world-weary voice from the future recounting the inevitable slide of events toward their sordid denouement. The bulk of the story demands, How did it all come to this? And of course, like any novel worth one’s patience, The Boiler Plot raises the question to a more universal level.

We aren’t merely witnessing the rise and fall of one particular cadre of mortals. The occasion may be the release of the latest, greatest internet-linked gadget (think iPhone 5 on steroids,) but no one escapes implication in the malfeasance, and malfunction. The world of the 2008 banking crisis envelops London like the ubiquitous fog of legend, and its organic tendrils drift everywhere, seeking purchase. The weakness and complicity of every person along the line (from the sociopathically capitalist creators of the scam, to the PR executives and their minions, to journalists who by turns parasitically endorse, or may bend laws to investigate, the companies, or passively fail to do homework altogether, and finally to consumers blindly begging to be in on the next trend, accepting its legitimacy as boilerplate) is exposed by McDaid, by slowly rising degrees. In the end, the dominoes can’t fall selectively. Blame the faceless corporate and media entities if you must for our slavish devotion to circuitry, but–as with redundant electronics–it takes more than one loose wire, to blow the whole board.

While, to this U.S. reader, the sense of the London media establishment’s claustrophobia, even amid the city’s byways, public spaces, and watering holes, is rendered as if by a native writer, the characters are sparely fleshed out, according to need. Alex is an inheritrix of the tradition of gothic heroines, intelligent, still-innocent if potentially cynical, and intuitive, but confined within a skyscraper-edifice rather than an ancestral mansion: “The bell pinged for the fifty-second floor and I stepped into our colourful, well-lit lobby decorated in primary colours. But the cheerfulness didn’t usually rub off the walls.” Replacing secret passageways, trap doors, and torture chambers, she must navigate the 21st-century equivalents for a career woman: minor tyrants taking credit for her ideas, casual workplace sexism, the lack of trustworthy compatriots (though McDaid’s Jay comes into his own here.) And worst of all, her slow indoctrination and sense that she can’t beat, and must join, with the old boys–even as an unwitting pawn. Second in importance is Noah, an industry tech analyst and investigative journalist, a love interest for Alex, compensating for the sins of his past with an almost-too-moral insistence –but can he be trusted?

Which brings me to the novel’s great strength: “Not everything in this room is at it appears.” The sense of paranoia engendered by the steady discovery of layers of embedded code, virus-like, enhanced by our advance knowledge of the crash and our narrator’s own suspicions, has us recurring to the great advantage books have over films: the power of own imaginations. I found myself repeatedly interrupting my reading to concoct or predict scenarios worthy of lesser writers, only to be happy in my disappointment later. McDaid doesn’t cheap out by steering her readers into a third act of overdone action or trick reveals–ultimately, the mode is realism, here.

In fact, if the book has a major flaw, it may be the schizophrenia of its legacy: a production by a transatlantic author. I found myself wanting a more “American” payoff to my television-conditioned sense of melodrama. But perhaps the British (adopted, in this author’s case) don’t write that way. Example: I fully expected, given the plot’s preoccupation with holograms, that at least one of the cast would reveal itself as a contemporary ghost, a techno-spawned phantom. Not much of a spoiler, to say I missed the mark there. But that’s a pretty fine compliment, if paradoxical, for a work of fiction: arguing to yourself, that no, after all, “they were all real.”

A bracing brew—highly recommended!




Coming Soon

Between traveling recently and a late-summer cold, I’m a bit behind on posts.  Here’s what’s in the works:

Stop by tomorrow for the first of my full book reviews on this site, of works by Indie authors.  The idea is to heighten the visibility of new novels that deserve your attention, as fans of literary fiction.  I’m not publicizing this service, as it will be offered sporadically, but If you’ve checked out Clotho’s Loom and feel you know of something that would interest me, I’d be happy to take a look, and perhaps devote some space to it here.  I’m very willing to help out my fellow self-publishers.

If all goes as planned, tomorrow’s review will be tied to instant FREE copies, for those I can intrigue.

Also, for fans of the “Casting Call” series, I’ve a post this weekend featuring the dashing fellow below.  Who is he–and what prominent Clotho’s Loom character is he slated to play?