I’ve thought a lot about world-building lately, unrelated to fiction. The truth is, all of us—not just writers—world-build all the time: We decide who to choose as a life partner (or not); what friends, activities, and information sources will surround us.
In the United States we’re also still allowed to vote and to speak out. So we even have an impact on our future world. When I say “we” I especially mean young people and those of us who write for them.
Help heal the broken world. Please.
I always wanted to be a writer, but I took a decades-long detour as a lawyer first, which let me save some money. So now I get to do what I always wanted, write novels. I love books. I love stories. I love the craft of fiction. I admire writers and I love hanging out with them.
What I don’t like is authoritarian regimes that lie, demonize immigrants, shoot unarmed people, and lose over 1475 children—some of whom were sent to human traffickers—after ripping those children away from their parents at the border in violation of international law.
As writers, we create empathy simply by telling engaging stories. But in circumstances like ours today, I think we should do more to build a better world.
This is my father, Dean Francis Gloster. When he was seventeen, during WWII, three of his high school buddies wanted to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, and they tried to persuade my dad to join them. At the time, Marines were getting killed by the thousands in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific, and so my dad agreed—but only if they all joined the Navy instead. The four of them drove from Alturas, California, to the nearest Navy enlistment center. Only my dad passed the physical, so he was the only one who enlisted.
Joining up changed my dad’s life. He was the first member of his family to go to college, which he went through on the G.I. bill, and he completed his military service, so unlike some others, he wasn’t drafted to fight in the Korean War five years later.
His service also, eventually, helped kill him.
My father died in 2006, drowning in air that his lungs couldn’t extract oxygen from anymore, because of COPD complicated by asbestosis. His pulmonologist asked if he’d ever worked around asbestos or been in the ship-building industry. I said he’d been in the Navy.
“Oh,” his pulmonologist said. “That’s probably where he got it.”
So my dad joined the Navy to fight the Nazis and their allies, and it eventually killed him.
You can probably guess how I feel about Nazi sympathizers today.
Some “fine people on both sides” as identified by U.S. President Trump
Unless you’re J.K. Rowling (and the rest of us aren’t) writers are not celebrities. But we do have visibility in a way that accountants and actuaries don’t. (It would be a strange world where insurance brokers were paid to do school visits.) Writers are told to “build our platform,” a presence on social media. Once we have a platform, though, shouldn’t we use it for something?
Platforms should be used for more than ritual sacrifices of adverbs
As a writer, I have over 100,000 more Twitter followers than I did as a lawyer. And more visibility and more opportunity to teach and to do school visits to talk to young people. So I speak out on issues important to young people and urge them to register and to vote. Young people are less racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic than the generation I grew up in, or any generation before them. I hope they will save us and build a better world.
I wish I could tell you, fellow writers, that if you do the right thing and spend your energy speaking out to build a better world, it will improve your individual life, rather than just the collective good. Unfortunately, the truth is that few good deeds go unpunished. That’s why we have ethics and morality—the right thing is different than the expedient thing. But social media mavens urge us to be our authentic selves online, and part of what I’m about is opposing deadly racism, toxic masculinity, and resurgent authoritarianism. So I bring that to my online life and in-person communications. But it’s unpaid work, it’s somewhat thankless, and I don’t want to become that screechy guy on the Internet. I don’t always get the balance right.
Today is Memorial Day, when in the United States we honor those who died for our country to preserve our freedom to choose our own government leaders rather than the one selected by a foreign despot. We remember those who sacrificed so that we can enjoy our Constitutional rights to freedom of the press, equal protection of the laws, separation of powers, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment—all of which are under attack now by the regime in power in our country.
It’s a small thing, losing a few Twitter followers over speaking up. So many in our country have lost so much more so that we still have the opportunity to do that.
Wishing you a thoughtful and somber Memorial Day. Speak out and vote.
Dean Gloster received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's and Jesse Andrews's .” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster