Displaying a book with the German title “Darko Drexler,” Stephanie S. Sanders can hardly suppress a smile. And what aspiring author could? Since publishing her first book one year ago, the Kellogg resident’s “Villain School: Good Curses Evil” has been translated into four languages, and her dream of becoming a published author has been further realized this month with the release of a sequel — “Villain School: Hero in Disguise.”
Villains-in-training Rune Drexler, Countess Jezebel Dracula and Big Bad Wolf Jr. are back to save the day in spite of their devotion to the devious, and Stephanie describes her sequel as following the story of the villain kids who are “too good to be bad.”
“The premise is that these kids aren’t really very good at being villains,” Stephanie explained. “They’re too good to be bad, so they end up in a School for Wayward Villains. The first book follows three kids as they go on a ‘Plot’ to try and prove themselves as evil villains. The second book follows their story a little further. Their school is infiltrated by a superhero, who has come to take down their school master, and they don’t know who they can trust.”
With villains acting heroic and a few superheroes behaving rather poorly, readers can’t be sure what to expect from Stephanie’s characters, and that’s part of the fun.
“I wanted to play around with a stereotype — the ‘bad’ villains,” she said. “The world isn’t really very black and white. In real life, you can’t really divide people into good and bad, hero and evil. You can look at someone who is supposedly a bad villain and find out they are a little more complex than that and that they may even have good tendencies. I think it’s a good message for kids, that not everyone is as black and white as they seem.”
“Hero in Disguise” — released Oct. 2 — also has a few surprises for fans of the first book.
“I don’t want to give everything away, but I will say that some unanswered questions are resolved in Book Two.”
A native of Atlantic and graduate of Mount Mercy College, Stephanie admits she has been writing since she could first pick up a pencil and spent years trying to get her stories published, collecting her rejection letters one by one in a folder and struggling, like any writer, with frustration and writer’s block. But then the idea for “Villain School” came one night in a dream.
“I woke up with an idea about villains going to school,” Stephanie said. “I jotted down just a few words about it, and it became the story. A little over a month later, it was finished.”
Rather than attempting to find a publisher for “Villain School” on her own, Stephanie first began searching for an agent. The Nancy Gallt Literary Agency agreed to represent her and eventually found a willing publisher for “Good Curses Evil” in Bloomsbury, the British company that published J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.
Stephanie said she will never forget the day she learned her book would be published. She and her family — her husband, Benjamin, and her daughters, Kyra and Kaelyn — were driving to Newton from Kellogg on Highway 6 and were just approaching Casey’s General Store.
“My agent at Nancy Gallt Literary Agency, whose name is Marietta Zacker, was on the phone, and she said, ‘This is the call that will change your life.’ I remember I cried and laughed at the same time. I was just so happy.”
Since then, “Good Curses Evil” has been published in Germany, France, Romania and Turkey as well as the United States. And although the process of getting a sequel on the bookshelves brought far fewer challenges, Stephanie said writer’s block did strike again.
“I had about 80 pages written of the second book, and I got stuck,” she admitted. “I couldn’t even figure out what I originally intended to write, and I got really frustrated. I’ve got this little box of ‘random plot twists’ that sits next to my computer, and my husband grabbed it and said, ‘I’m gonna pull something out of here, and whatever it says, you’re going to write about it.’ So he pulls one out, and it said something like, ‘There’s a prophecy, and the villain is the one that’s described as the hero.’ I was like, ‘That’s perfect!’ I took it and ran with it and wrote a whole story based on it. It was the inspiration I needed to write a whole book.”
Despite the occasional struggle for inspiration, Stephanie explained getting a book published was much easier the second time around.
“I was fortunate enough that they asked for a sequel,” she said. “I told my agent that I had one in mind, so she approached them, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to see another book.’ It went through the same editing process, and here it is.”
Since becoming published, Stephanie has hosted a few book signing events and spoken to students in area schools about her book and life as an author. She also will participate in the WOW! Festival showcasing Iowa authors in Des Moines later this month.
“It’s always fun to find those few kids who love reading and writing,” she said. “They get so excited.”
Although the continuation of the “Villain School” series may depend partly on book sales, Stephanie said she will continue to write while balancing family life and her other pet projects, including a furniture restoration business she recently started.
“I’m always writing. I’m always working on something,” she said. “I’ve got two books out to my agent right now that we’re trying to find a home for. There’s just no guarantee in the book world. One is a steampunk story, and the other is a fantasy, maybe a level up from ‘Villain School’ for a little older audience.”
In conjunction with the release of “Hero in Disguise,” Stephanie will host a book party from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Newton Public Library. The event will feature activities for children, refreshments and prizes, including a chance to win prize basket with a cat-a-bat, just like in the “Villain School” books. Copies of “Hero in Disguise” will be available for sale, and Stephanie will be on hand to sign copies of her books.
“When I was younger, I used to dream about publishing a book and think ‘I’m going to be famous’ and ‘I’m going to sign books’ and ‘People are going to recognize me on the street,’” Stephanie laughed. “But really, life hasn’t changed that much. Obviously I’m not J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. But it has changed a little bit in the fact that every once in a while people will stop me and say, ‘I’ve read your book.’ Then I get this little glowy feeling. Writing probably doesn’t pay any better than anybody’s regular full-time job. In fact, it probably pays worse than most people’s full-time jobs, but thankfully, it isn’t about money. I just love to write.”
For more information about Stephanie and her books, visit www.villainkids.com.
Mandi Lamb can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 424 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.