My Two Words for 2022

Years back I read a book titled One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon. The concept was that rather than focusing on a list of goals and accomplishments to work on for self improvement, you should try focusing on one word. I liked the idea so much, that in my first year as an author, I broke Mr. Gordon’s rule and instead focused on two words for my first year selling my book.

I chose my two words for 2022 back in March, they are patience and gratitude. Both have helped me tremendously. Here’s how…

Patience. That’s a difficult word for me. I’ve spent years working in fast food where everything needs to happen fast! Results are tracked by seconds and we are always looking at how to make things faster and more efficient. But when I started selling books and building my brand, results move so much slower. Like planting a tree from a seed, I’ve realized it’s not going to grow overnight. Every day there’s growth. Sometimes the growth is underground, and I don’t see it. Sometimes there’s little sprouts that pop out, and those are celebrated. There were many times on this journey where I didn’t get the results I wanted. There were many events that I went to where I didn’t sell as many books as I would have liked to, but I’m confident that this is all a part of the process and I’m on the path God has for me. I have faith that even when I don’t see the full picture of what’s happening with Super Penguin, positive things are happening. Every day we are taking steps. Sometimes we are taking steps forward, sometimes the strides are long, sometimes the steps are backwards and sometimes the steps are the tiniest shuffle forward. I’ve learned this year that ALL the steps are valuable in the growth of Super Penguin and me.

Gratitude. I am so happy with how this year has gone. At most of the conventions, when you add up the cost for the table, hotel, gas, and our meals, we spent more than we made and lost money. I didn’t count, but if I had to guess 60% of the people that walked by our table didn’t make eye contact with us, 25% gave a smile or head nod and kept walking, another 10% stopped by and talked to us (some read a little bit of the book and said nice things) but didn’t buy a book, 3% shared that they didn’t want to buy a book right now but would be back soon (most didn’t return), and maybe 2% bought a book. My opening statement in this paragraph was NOT sarcasm, I’m being sincere when I say how happy I am simply because this year I chose to focus on the positive, and focus on that last 15% that was interested to some degree in Super Penguin. I am so thankful for that 15% because they have energized me to keep going. Like I told you in a previous blog post, it’s tough for me sometimes to talk about a my idea of a “crime fighting penguin wearing a cape” and not feel like a doofus. But when someone is genuinely excited about Super Penguin, it’s an indescribable feeling of joy. My imposter syndrome has faded away, it’s still there, but it’s gone from crippling to manageable.

With the risk of sounding arrogant, being an author feels pretty darn cool. This year, I got to autograph things. I’ve collected autographs for a long time, and signing my own name to something that added a perceived value to it was always something I fantasized about doing some day, and now I get to do that! Last week, during some personal reflection, I had the realization that when I was in the sixth grade we read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and in 2022, sixth graders are reading Rob Witzel’s Super Penguin. Now, before you put me in my place, I am well aware that Twain is a literary icon who has penned an extensive catalogue of classics and I’m… Rob, BUT it’s still pretty darn cool that we both made books that sixth graders in Danville, Illinois are reading. Another cool thing that happened this year, is that I was recognized by strangers this year. There were about three times where someone I had never met, sought out Super Penguin because of an ad or an appearance I made at a previous convention. Last week, at Raptor Con, a little girl rushed to our table and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, it’s Super Penguin! I saw you in Bloomington!” and then she rushed to her parents to tell them we were here! I am so thankful for all these cool moments that I got to experience.

I feel like by focusing on gratitude this year, I’ve realized how much I’ve been blessed. I’m thankful for my job. Even though sometimes my writing time gets hijacked by a work emergency, I also have the flexibility to schedule around conventions and the salary that allows me to lose money at my “side hustle” and still be financially stable. I’m thankful for every single message I’ve received about Super Penguin. If you sent me a text, email, Facebook comment or anything else about you or your kids reading Super Penguin, I want you to know that it’s burned in my brain and my heart, and I won’t forget it. Your messages have encouraged me more than you’ll ever know! I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had to spread Super Penguin‘s story because certain people wanted to highlight me and Super Penguin as part of what they do. The following people and organizations have bought books, had me on their show/podcast, offered me speaking engagements and/or highlighted Super Penguin in other ways, opening doors and building my audience. Thank you to Danville District 118, Tommy B’s Big Show on D102 & Neuhoff Media, Vermilion Advantage, Set Apart Henry County, Danville Children’s Dyslexia Center, Danville Public Library, Danville Noon Rotary, Fred Kroner at the Mahomet Daily and I’m Game podcast, Logan Lee at No One Asked Us podcast, Greg Taylor and Stephanie Spangler at Direct Line radio show/podcast, Laura Williams at Community Connection radio show/podcast and Sarah Hedrick at The Nerd Life Network Youtube channel.

I’m grateful for every single person who purchased a book this year! Over 1000 books were sold! I’m still blown away by that figure, and can’t wait to see what Year 2 brings! But before I wrap up, I have to say “thank you” one more time to the people who without their help, Super Penguin wouldn’t exist. To my mom, dad and sister, thank you for all the encouragement you give and support you provide. I love you all and am so thankful I was placed in this crazy group we call family. To Cindy, thank you for reading through pages and pages of misspelled words, incorrectly placed punctuation and incoherent ramblings to make me not look like a dingus when people read the book (and thank you for the future help on SP2). Thank you Gardner for being my wingman on all the trips across the midwest, being someone I can brainstorm new ideas with (and for not sharing the crazy ones) and for the physical labor of lugging boxes of books and 5 foot penguins in and out of conventions. Thank you for every fist bump that you offer when we sell a book. When I’m bummed about a slow day of sales, or getting denied to a convention, you’re always positive and encouraging when I need it the most. Thank you Halley for the encouragement and most of all for the patience you have with me. Thank you for taking care of the house and our boy while I’m out doing all the things that I love to do. I know it’s not easy putting up with me, but you always do and always make me feel loved. And thank you Parker for inspiring me, I know you can’t read this now, but someday you will. You inspire me to be the best writer, creator, book seller and dreamer that I can be so that I’m a good example for you to follow any and all of your dreams.

I’ve put a lot of thought for what my word will be in 2023. Patience and Gratitude aren’t going anywhere, and will still be a very important part of next year. But in 2023, I am going to focus on Execution. I have lots of ideas that pour out of my brain all the time, but frequently those ideas die very quickly. This year, my focus is on that happening less. Some of the things I want to execute include finishing book two, creating an audio book for Super Penguin 1 & 2, getting in the routine of (minimally) bi-weekly blog posts, expanding the Super Penguin brand with some memorabilia, and more social media presence including the use of TikTok. I hope you’ll follow along on this journey!

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Evansville RaptorCon: The Year One Finale

Hello friends! This weekend we were in Evansville, Indiana for RaptorCon which also happens to be our final convention stop of 2022! This year has been an incredible experience! I’ve learned so much, and so much fun at all the conventions, book fairs and other events!

RaptorCon was a great little convention. I’m told it’s just the second year for the convention, and it’s slowly getting bigger and better. We are planning on being back for 2023!

This convention was especially memorable for me because I was able to meet actor Jason Marsden. If you’re a fan of 90s pop culture, you’d recognize Jason from the sitcoms Full House and Boy Meets World. You’d especially recognize his voice as he is the official voice of Goofy’s son Max in A Goofy Movie (and countless other Disney projects). He is also the voice of the boy-turned-cat Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus. Jason posed for a picture with his copy of Super Penguin and signed an autograph for me. He walked around the vendor floor too and stopped by our booth to chat for a little bit.

When I was a youngster, I watched A Goofy Movie quite a bit. It was one of my favorite Disney animated movies, and one I still enjoy today. I even have the movie’s soundtrack on my phone (listening to Powerline as I type this, if you know, you know).

After the drive home, I spent some time thinking about all the people I was able to meet in 2022. Not just the celebrities that were influential parts of my childhood, but also new fans eager to read the books and new friends we made on the vendor floors. I’m eagerly looking towards our 2023 Tour and can’t wait for all the memories we will make in Year 2!

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

Super Penguin and the WWE

This weekend, while selling books at FanBoy Expo, I met one of my favorite WWE superstars and WWE Hall of Famer, Rikishi. As I talked with my non-wrestling-fan friend, Gardner, about the wrestler, and what it was like to watch Rikishi, I had a realization that wrestlers like Rikishi had quite an impact on a young me.

Growing up, I didn’t watch wrestling every week. I was younger than the PG-13 material that was on the show, and my mom didn’t like me watching it. If I was able to sneak it on to the television, it usually wasn’t long before I was told to turn it off, or change the channel. The one time this rule didn’t apply though, was when we were visiting my grandpa down in Biloxi, Mississippi, or when he was visiting us.

Whenever I was around Grandpa on a Sunday or Monday night, we were watching wrestling. If we were at his house, we’d go to my grandparents’ bedroom where in one corner, they had a medium-sized TV, and a few feet away was Grandpa’s recliner. Grandkids would sit on the bed. If there were a lot of us, we’d crowd onto the floor, too. This was one of my favorite pastimes because I felt like I got to break mom’s rules because Grandpa overrode the rule.

I was drawn to the characters and their stories. There were some really cool characters like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. There were also scary characters like The Undertaker and Kane. And then there were some bizarre ones like Mankind and Goldust. While the matches were fun to watch, I was drawn to the drama of their stories, and there was so much drama. Friends became enemies, enemies became tag team partners. Testosterone fueled fights were mixed with comedy and heart for a very entertaining show week in and week out.

Another one of my favorite activities as a boy was playing with action figures. I had a box full of Star Wars, X-men, Batman, and GI Joe action figures. Before I was exposed to wrestling, I would segregate the toys. If I was playing Star Wars, the other toys would stay in the box. But after I was exposed to wrestling, that changed. I mixed the characters and started making my own wrestling matches. Han Solo versus Cyclops for the World Heavyweight Title, a tag team match of my favorite GI Joe and Chewbacca versus Robin and Wolverine and whatever crazy combinations my brain could create. Those franchise crossing brawls then led to a change in how I played. I stopped recreating scenes of things I knew, and started making up my own scenes. Villains, like Darth Vader, became heroes. The “good guys” turned heel and became baddies. Wrestling made me a more creative kid during playtime.

As the years have gone by, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of my favorite wrestlers! The pictures below show three of those meetings. On the left, I met “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair at Indiana Comic Con in 2019. In the middle is from January 2021 when I met Hulk Hogan in his restaurant in Clearwater, Florida. And on the right, was from a trip my dad and I took to Lafayette, Indiana to see the Hardcore Legend Mick Foley on his “Have a Nice Day Tour”.

I haven’t watched wrestling in a really long time. I’d probably guess it’s been close to a decade since the last time I tuned into Monday Night Raw or an episode of Smack Down. From time to time, I do enjoy getting nostalgic and watch old Youtube videos of the Rock & Sock Connection, or Rikishi doing the Stink Face to one of the McMahons. I’m looking forward to watching again some day when Parker is old enough.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

Set Apart Zoom Chat

This past Thursday, I had a really awesome opportunity to meet some really awesome kids from Set Apart in Henry County, Indiana. I’ve shared in a past blog post about Set Apart, who they are and how I learned about them, you can click HERE to read about that!

Before I talk about Thursday. Here’s some backstory to fill in some gaps between August and Thursday. The kids at Set Apart have been reading Super Penguin as part of their class and are about halfway through it. A few weeks ago, Heather, Set Apart‘s Director sent me a message if we could do a Zoom call with the kids, and talk about the book and about being an author. I jumped all over the opportunity.

The kids I spoke with are 1st and 2nd graders. They asked me some really great questions about the book and about being an author. We talked about their favorite super heroes and “If they could have any super power, what would it be?” and then took a picture together.

I really wanted to make this meeting happen for several reasons. I’ve been very blessed to hear encouraging words from people throughout my life from conversations with mentors, at school assemblies, audio books, banquets and even Tik Toks and Facebook videos. I’m also a big believer in paying things forward. Because I’ve been the recipient of these encouraging words, I feel I’m responsible to share them and some of my own.

(Note: I’ve struggled typing this next paragraph over and over again in an attempt to make it sound not-vain, it’s just something that excites me. So please read it in a not-vain way haha!) Also I still can’t get over the fact that I have fans, and that I have opportunities to meet them and talk with them about something I made. Many of you already know how much I enjoy meeting people that create the things I love and enjoy, so to sit in the seat of the creator and talk to fans of my thing, felt really, really cool.

There was also something that I learned, that I wasn’t expecting.

Everything we do has a ripple effect. Sometimes we don’t get to see the effects, sometimes we see pieces but we’ll never see the whole thing because the rippling never stops. When I wrote Super Penguin, I made it a point that I wasn’t going to talk down to or dumb down the vocabulary for kids. It wasn’t any kind of righteous decision, if anything it was kind of selfish. Writing a dumbed down story wouldn’t have been fun for me, so I used the vocabulary that I wanted to use. I figured if a kid read a word they didn’t know, they’d figure it out with context clues, or ask a parent/teacher/older kid to explain it. (I also don’t even know if I could dumb down the vocabulary without making it sound like a caveman wrote it!). In the zoom meeting, Miss Heather shared that she appreciated that I didn’t dumb it down, because as an educator for these kids, it’s provided an opportunity to work on learning new vocabulary. When I wrote Super Penguin, I had absolutely no intention of it being used in any kind of educational way. If anything, my only hopes were that people were entertained and if they weren’t, they wouldn’t ask for a refund on the book. But that wasn’t God’s plan. He took my book, scheduled a divine appointment last August and now some really cool things are happening.

I’m looking forward to our next zoom call when the kids finish the book and we can talk about the ending and Super Penguin 2!

There’s also some other events coming up that I’m very excited about! Aside from the conventions and book selling events, on November 17 I’ll be at my hometown’s Danville Public Library for Family Reading Night! And later this month, or early December, I have some things set up with a local school and talking to more kids about the book! More on that in a future blog post!

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

October Check In

Hey friends! The busy season is still in full force, and my usual blog time has been filled with several other events. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working on finding balance in my life. I’ve got quite a bit going on, in several different directions. Some days are harder than others, but dialing the blog back to monthly updates instead of weekly ones is part of my search for balance.

I’ve been busy since the last posting. We’ve been to three book related events in Bryan, Ohio, Danville, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. I also spoke at a luncheon for Vermilion Advantage. At the luncheon, I shared my story of creating Super Penguin. This weekend, will be the FOURTH state on the book tour with a stop in St. Charles, Missouri for a comic convention.

I’ve also been busy planning things for 2023! We have a confirmed stop in Iowa, and pending applications for conventions in Michigan and Florida!

Last but not least, I posted back in August about the things I learned about dyslexia from my friends at Set Apart. Since that meeting, through some personal connections, I’ve gotten plugged in with Danville’s dyslexia center. I got a tour of our local center and I’ll attend a meeting at the end of the month, with the intention of joining the board.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

September Check In

Good morning friends! It’s been far too long since my last post, and I wanted to provide a little bit of an update on me and Super Penguin.

This fall is slated to be one of my busiest seasons and I’ve been working hard on finding balance. Parker is getting bigger and more curious every day. He’s so close to walking so there’s a lot of excitement around that. Football season has started! For those of you that didn’t know this about me, for the last 10 years or so I have done the color commentary for WRHK in Danville. So most Friday nights, I’m on the airways talking about football. Add in most of my family’s birthdays, Packer games and of course my real job, it’s harder than ever to find time to write. Though it’s not nearly as frequent as I’d like, I am still finding pockets of time to work on Super Penguin 2.

This fall is also loaded with book selling events! I started the book tour with a plan to do one event a month. But as opportunities arose, I jumped on them and I’ve now found myself scheduled for an event four out of the next five weekends! It’ll be an exciting stretch and can’t wait to get started, but it’ll be a test to be able to find the balance with so much going on. One of the events is in my hometown of Danville, Illinois at the Danville Public Library on October 1st. It’s a Local Author Fair, and I’m extra excited to be a part of that one! If you live in or near Danville, make sure to stop in and say hello!

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

Divine Appointments, Dyslexia and “Set Apart”

A few years ago, in a Sunday morning sermon, I first heard the term “divine appointments.” All these years later, my definition of the term is, “meeting the right person, at the right time and it being so important that it couldn’t just be coincidence, and in my opinion, God had something with making sure our paths crossed.”

Since that sermon, I’ve had a reminder in my phone every day to “pray for divine appointments.” I wish I could say that every time that reminder went off, I stopped what I was doing and prayed a quick prayer, but in reality most of the time I used the excuse that I was too busy or too distracted. However, there are several days that I do pray that prayer, and days like today that prayer works its way into reality.

You may have seen on Facebook that today I was at the Indiana Toy and Comic Expo. I met lots of neat people, and new Super Penguin fans, but the meeting that will stand out today was with Heather. Heather asked some questions about the book, making sure it was appropriate for “her kids.” See, Heather, a former nurse, left the medical field years ago to start working at Set Apart, a program through the Salvation Army that works on reading skills with kids struggling with dyslexia. We started talking about dyslexia and I learned a ton. What really pulled at my heart is the ripple effect of what dyslexia can lead to later in life. I kept researching after our conversation. Here’s some things I learned.

  • About 20% of people suffer from dyslexia.
  • According to a study at the University of Texas, about 48% of incarcerated people suffer from dyslexia.
  • According to another study by the American Association of Suicidology in Bethesda, MD, about 5% of teenagers had either suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide.
  • According to the same study, 19% of teenagers with dyslexia had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide.
  • Many suicide notes that are found after a person has committed suicide, show dyslexic patterns.

Bottom Line. Teaching these kids to read could literally keep people out of prison and save lives.

I was quickly drawn to this cause and this has lit a fire in my heart. I don’t know how (yet) but Super Penguin and myself are going to be a part of helping kids with dyslexia. Heather and I briefly talked about some ideas with Set Apart and I can’t wait for those next steps, and I’m actively looking for ways to help kids closer to home too.

If you’d like to learn more about Set Apart CLICK HERE! And if you’re reading this and have a connection to a literacy program PLEASE send me some information on the contact page. I want to help any way that I can!

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!

Character Names Part 1

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on my process for coming up with characters (why they are that animal, where the name came from, references to other pop culture stuff) I thought it would be fun to open up my old notes and share some of the behind the scenes info. Warning: there may be some mild spoilers for Super Penguin in this post. Reader Beware!

Annie Freese–A LOT of thought went into creating Annie. Not only is she the hero’s best friend, but I have BIG plans for her in book two and beyond. I had those plans front of mind when I created Super Penguin’s best friend. The name “Annie Freese” is a play on the word “antifreeze”, nothing more than a silly pun, but one that usually gets a giggle. I chose a polar bear for Super Penguin’s best friend, to represent unlikely friendships. Not only is there a big size difference between the two animals, but in the “real world” it’s nearly impossible for polar bears and penguins to ever meet in the wild. Polar bears live in the northern hemisphere, and wild penguins only live south of the equator.

Annie Freese

Tom Trunk–Thomas’s full name is Thomas T. Trunk, a reference to Spider-Man’s antagonist and Peter Parker’s boss J. Jonah Jameson. Like Jameson, Trunk runs the newspaper that employs the hero (though Frost is a writer and Parker a photographer). I picked an elephant because of their power and size, but also because they aren’t the most intimidating creatures (which becomes important in a few scenes when he goes toe to toe with Annie)

Sampson “Sam” Hart–While I believe I put the most thought into Annie, the character that took me the longest amount of time to name was the team-leading lion, Sam Hart. I knew pretty early on that I wanted this character to be a lion. I’m probably heavily influenced by The Lion King‘s Mufasa, but to me, lions are a symbol of strength and leadership. When it came time to name the lion, I struggled. For the longest time, his placeholder name was “Zeus.” Why Zeus? Because I hated the name, but knew when it came time to enter the Find and Replace functions into my manuscript, it wouldn’t cause problems with similarly spelled words. I kept Zeus as the name and started working on the lion’s backstory. I came up with the idea for the lion to fall from power, and his fall would be at the hands of his love interest, who would later turn out to be working with the main antagonist. If you know your Bible stories, you’ve probably already made the connection but for those that haven’t, the lion is named after Sampson from the story of Sampson and Delilah. Sam’s backstabbing love interest is, of course, named Lyla. Sam’s last name “Hart” is proudly a Care Bears reference. I watched quite a bit of Care Bears as a child, and one of my favorite characters from the show was Brave Heart Lion. He’s pictured below in all of his 90s cartoon glory. Cut out the “e” and you have Sam’s last name, “Hart”

Brave Heart Lion of The Care Bears

That’s all for character names this week, but I will do it again! Leave me a comment below or on the social media link for any characters you’d like me write about the next time I do this!

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t done so already, click the follow button, or subscribe on the homepage for updates! Also, please give Super Penguin a follow on FacebookInstagram, and follow me on Twitter for more Super Penguin content! Have a great week!