I write fiction. “I thrive on rejection” is an example.
This month on YAOTL we’re blogging on the blurred line between reality and invention.
I borrow heavily from the real world in writing my novels. The emotional energy and themes come from what I struggle with in life. And I take the basic facts too. I plucked medical details for my first novel, about a girl who donates her bone marrow to her younger brother, from my wife’s world. (She used to be a pediatric ICU nurse and now works at the George Mark House, a children’s hospice.) And whole scenes were taken from my real life. (One, almost verbatim, except for the Green Day songs.)
Unfortunately, as I sat down this week to write about this, I was again derailed by the news, this time about three separate acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S.: A white supremacist in Louisville failed to break into a black church and then shot two black strangers at a Kroger supermarket. A Trump supporter was arrested for attempting to assassinate 11 prominent Democrats with 13 pipe bombs. And an anti-Semite murdered eleven people at a bris celebration in a Pittsburg synagogue.
So instead of talking about how we use reality in our fiction, I’d like to talk about how fiction changes our reality.
The first point is modest: As we writers know, words matter.
Whether we tell lies matters. How we talk about other human beings matters. And if we promote hatred and fear, pushing dehumanizing narratives of fear of the other (Soros-funded caravan of [insert shorthand here for scary brown people]!) to a country with easy access to weapons, it matters. Fatally, it turns out.
But there’s an even broader point about how stories change us.
I survived my sometimes disaster of an adolescence by floating on a raft of books. I read thousands of stories, about people who took action to change their world and changed themselves in the process.
The protagonists in those stories solved incredibly difficult problems and learned things about themselves and their world.
They didn’t wait for a hero to appear to save everyone. They became that hero.
Here’s the bad news: No hero is going to save us if we don’t do it ourselves.
Susan Collins isn’t going to save us.
Unless mere hand-wringing is required, Jeff Flake isn’t either.
And Robert Mueller won’t save us. Even if Mueller isn’t fired first, and his report isn’t immediately hidden from the public (like the FBI’s supplemental investigation of Brett Kavanaugh), that report won’t do anything by itself—any more than the New York Times’ lengthy exposé showing that Donald Trump and his family had committed half a billion dollars of tax fraud to avoid taxes on his father’s estate.
What will save us?
You. And your work over a long time ahead.
But only if you choose to be a protagonist.
Protagonists persevere. Protagonists change what they do, because they have to.
And protagonists put in the work. They slog through the story’s discouraging middle, despite setback after setback as stakes grow and the situation grows dire.Protagonists don’t quit.
Be a protagonist.
Historically in the U.S., most old people vote, but most young people don’t. In fact, most Americans don’t vote. That has to change. We have to change it: By voting, by registering young people to vote, by making individual donations to campaigns, and by working to get out the vote. Every YA literary festival for teens should include a voter registration table. Every school visit to high school seniors should come with information on how to register to vote, tailored to that state. We have years--maybe decades--of work ahead of us, to assure fair, representative elections free of vote suppression and national leadership of compassion and empathy instead of hate- and fear-mongering. It will be good, healing work. But a lot of work.
Changing the world is in our hands.
It is a gift, of sorts, to live in pivotal, dangerous times, because it gives us the real answer to the question who we are and who we choose to become.You don’t have to ask yourself anymore what you would have done if you’d lived in a place like Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.
Because you’re doing it.
So do good and don’t give up.
And while you’re at it, when you have a chance, tell the stories of hope and empathy, not just of despair.
According to his social media post just hours before yesterday’s murders, the shooter targeted Pittsburg’s The Tree of Life synagogue because of its participation in the HIAS National Refugee Shabbat program helping refugees who have fled from persecution and violence. (You can read more about that program at https://www.hias.org/national-refugee-shabbat )
In the first day since the shooting, two Muslim-American organizations, Celebrate Mercy and MPower Change, have raised over $55,000 through crowdfunding for the Jewish victims of the shooting, to cover medical and funeral expenses.That’s the world I want to live in, where Jews work to help Muslim refugees, and Muslims raise money for Jewish victims of anti-Semitic hate crimes.
It is, actually, the world we live in, and we shouldn’t forget to tell that part of the story.
Do good. Be well. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 6.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 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 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’s hobbies are downhill ski racing and Aikido. He’s currently writing a novel about a 16-year-old boy who gets a sketchy summer internship and finds out it’s with Death herself.
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster