This month we’re supposed to tell you about our embarrassing early writing mistakes, and friends—that's a rough topic, because I’m still making them. (*Sigh*)
Yeah, I know—the plan was to give us a soft lob about the long ago that we can talk about wryly now, with the benefit of all this time and distance.
It’s a pandemic. At this point, the misty distances of time were, like, Wednesday.
But that’s not how I roll. Thomas Mann said of my kind, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.” Since I’ve never experienced easy writing, why start now? And since I’ve never directly followed the monthly writing prompts before, why change that now either?
Oh, I have plenty early embarrassments. My first literary work, at about 6, was Go Turtle, Go, an homage of P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog, Go. (Homage, as used in the preceding sentence, is a French word meaning “blatant, direct ripoff” except by a kid who can’t actually draw.)
On the theme of not being able to draw, in the mid-80s, when I was a law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, I circulated cartoons to my fellow clerks (which I wrote about here) that I eventually had to tone down, when a third of the Justices—including my boss—insisted on also being on my distribution list. (The resulting pinnacle of my art career was that I did the drawing for Sandra Day O’Connor’s annual Christmas card. Yes, really. Which was hard, because I can’t draw. Seriously.)
And while I was a law clerk at the Supreme Court, in the evening I’d stumble over to the Department of Agriculture for night classes in Arabic, because my plan at the time was to go the next year to Beirut, Lebanon, to write the Great American Expatriate Novel about the American press corps in Beirut, which I blogged about here. That idea—to type in a seashore hotel to the background noise of desultory rifle fire—was ended before it even started by the base note punctuation of the bombing of the U.S. Marines there and resulting flight of the American press corps entirely. Which did save the world from one Earnest Yet Terrible Novel Set in Wartime, but left me somewhat at loose ends.
So instead I went on to a three decade-long legal career. The result was enough savings to finance my current novel-writing gig nicely, but it’s put me a little behind on the whole writing-bunches-of-novels part.
So I’m still making embarrassing early writing mistakes.
The latest mistake is writing at a glacial pace, while the world is on fire.
It’s a difficult business, writing novels. It’s hard and uncertain, and mostly not very lucrative. And—unlike when I was a lawyer—the days that I don’t feel especially productive don’t still come with a paycheck to reassure me that, yup, I still count. It’s even worse now, because I’m in the U.S.—we’re in a pandemic, in a terribly run country, sliding into authoritarianism unless we change that in November.
Under the circumstances, writing a YA novel some days feels like licking the end of a pencil and scribbling a few words on a notebook in the middle of a house on fire.
The U.S., with just over 4% of the world’s population, has over 22% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths. South Korea started with many more cases per population than we did, but unlike us managed the epidemic—their total death rate per population is now barely over one one-hundredth of ours.
And organizations like RepublicansUnited are now raising funds for a 17-year-old serial murderer with white supremacist social media posts who traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin to shoot three people this week, killing two. Argh.
We need to be better than this, America.
It’s enough to create a constant state of rage, but an endless cycle of rage is not a fertile ground for creativity.
So let me leave you with one good word. I’ll try to keep moving on my novel, which is going embarrassingly slow. In the meantime, let’s all try to do something in November to make sure we’re not embarrassed to be Americans for the next four years: Vote.
Good luck to us all.
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 The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 57 percent of his soul.
When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing--and, let's face it, there's less of that right now--he’s on Twitter: @deangloster