Zeal Talk by Dean Gloster


            When it comes to talking about risk-taking, I’m not a reliable narrator.


I’ll start, enthusiastically, anyway

            I have been diagnosed with PTSD and what’s called a counter-phobic mechanism: The opposite of the more common defense of avoidance, those of us with a counter-phobic mechanism move toward the thing that scares us, as an attempt to banish the anxiety it creates or to master our fear, which we otherwise find intolerable.

            So, in my 20s, I took up standup comedy, in my 40s I took up downhill ski racing, and in my 50s I left a secure legal career to take up writing for young people. Then, at 59, I took up martial arts in the form of Aikido.


With some of these, I may operate at a high enthusiasm-to-skill ratio.

            Originally, I just thought I was brave. (Yay, high enthusiasm-to-skill ratio Dean!) but later found out—after years of therapy—I instead have a classic case of a psychological syndrome. (Mixed yays and boos, self-awareness. But I do recommend therapy.)

            So take my advice with a grain of salt.


And sometimes, two ibuprofen

            First, try new things, and push the edges of your comfort zone: That’s how your comfort zone (and your area of expertise) gets bigger. I write young adult fiction. But I’ve also written picture book manuscripts. And after I’m finished with the two YA novels and the nonfiction book I’m currently working on, I’m going to try writing a middle grade mystery.

            Second, do the hard work to get better. When you start writing a new novel, you can’t really tell if it’s going to be great (or what the market will look like for that kind of novel by the time you’re finished.) You can tell, however, if you’re learning things as a writer along the way and improving in response to the challenge of the new work.

            Third, don’t be afraid to put something aside, if you can’t make it work for now. It’s important to finish some things. We learn more from completing a work, including how to finish. But other things you may not yet be ready to finish. It’s okay sometimes to move onto something else, as long as you don’t do that all the time.

            Fourth, whatever you do, it’s more than okay to do with an excess of zeal. I hope someday to develop a more sustainable life philosophy, but for now:

Fling yourself at life so enthusiastically

That life itself flinches.

            There are worse ways to go.


Happy trails

Dean Gloster 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 YA short story “Death’s Adopted Daughter” is in the anthology Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop from Autonomous Press, and his YA short story, “Proof of the Existence of Dog” is now out in the anthology Spoon Knife 7: Transitions. He is at work on two more YA novels, one in draft and the other in revision, and makes periodic anti-authoritarian limericks and other ramblings on the prince of fools app formerly known as Twtter, at @deangloster.


  1. Looking forward to whatever you take on next. It is challenging yet so rewarding discovering what we can do or learn to do later in life. May you enjoy the life you create!

  2. A big YES to doing the hard work to get better.


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