There is a villain in my second novel, With Arms Unbound, with the unfortunate name of Festus Mulgrew. He’s a meth cook from central Florida with a pet spider named Junior and a problem making eye contact. Like any decent villain on the page or the screen, Festus wasn’t born bad. There are reasons why he is the way he is. But that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. If anything, his humanity makes him even scarier, or at least more believable.

I can’t do the mustache-twirling bad guy any more than I can do the square-jawed, puppy-saving hero. I’ve never met anyone like that. My heroes are flawed and my villains have at least a couple of redeeming qualities. Just like in real life.

When sketching the character of Festus “Methlab” Mulgrew, in addition to giving him a backstory rife with abuse and abandonment, I gave him a personal philosophy for survival under harsh conditions. That philosophy is also my own. The difference is that while Festus used it in a negative way, it has helped me to quit drugs, adhere to a strict workout regimen, manage money, develop discipline, be assertive, and focus long enough to write a few books.

If anyone within the sound of this pen is struggling with self-mastery, this may help: Think of yourself as a nation. I am the United Federation of Malcolm Ivey and like any other sovereign country, I am composed of the following:

~ Borders: These are my boundaries. Thou shalt not cross.
~ Allies: My homeboys. Every nation has alliances.
~ Enemies: Other hostile nations. In my world there are many.
~ Military: My defense system. Keep strong and confident through regular exercise and stand ready to protect my borders and allies against any threat.
~ National Debt: The money I owe.
~ GDP: The money I earn.

You can even give yourself a national bird and your own anthem if you want. The point is to take a hard look at all the various agencies that make up your nation and ask yourself if they’re being run efficiently. We ultimately have the power to mold ourselves into nations with robust economies, plentiful natural resources, and solid foreign relations. We can eliminate our deficits, strengthen our alliances and win our wars. Whether we choose to be a super power or a third world country is entirely up to us.

[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in July 2014.]