Character Matters by Dean Gloster


            Last month, I read Jeff Zentner’s absolutely wonderful novel In the Wild Light. Wow. It’s profound and so moving that my copy looks like a porcupine assembled in a stationery store, with all the post-it notes I put on pages where I teared up with emotion. It’s the story of Cash, from a small town in Tennessee, who gets a full ride scholarship to a fancy boarding school, because his genius best friend Delaney got one there, and she refused to go unless he gets a full ride as well. I won’t do justice to the book by describing it while I’m on deadline here, but it’s terrific. Definitely get a copy. It is well worth a read and re-read.

            I especially love the mastery Zentner shows in taking his time: He establishes where Cash is from and who Cash really is. Midway through, Cash starts writing poetry for a class, starting with a single line. And then, along with all the other wonderful things in the novel, we get to see Cash blossom as a poet over the rest of the school year, until, at the end, his poetry is dazzling. We readers accept that, because (like his poetry teacher) we see established early so many of the qualities that will make him a wonderful poet: His observation skills. His lyrical descriptions. His love for and connection with nature. His humor. His distinctive voice. His heart. And along with that, we learn that Cash is brave and tries to do the right thing. So when he’s tested, late in the book, and he does the right thing at apparent huge personal cost to himself, we completely believe it. Yup. That’s Cash. What he did was reflective of his character, which was well-established.

            What happens resonates with us, because we know people behave consistent with their character.

            As I type this, in the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse near Foley Square a jury is deliberating after closing arguments in a criminal case against a former president of the United States, a case involving false invoices to disguise hush money payments to an adult film actress to prevent the public from finding out he’d had a sexual liaison with her. Testimony at trial suggested that this former president wanted to keep us in the dark about that conduct while he was running for office in 2016, especially after backlash involving the release of an Access Hollywood tape of him bragging that he liked to assault women by grabbing their genitals.

            A friend and mentor of mine and wonderful writer, Martha Brockenbrough, wrote a deeply researched exhaustive critical biography of the now defendant, Unpresidented. That book also deserves a read and re-read. It's...disturbing when you think about character, and its importance.


            I had a wonderful career as a lawyer before I turned to writing stories for young people, and had mostly great clients. But late in my career, I became the go-to guy for two different narcissistic sociopaths who’d gotten in serious trouble with the judges they were in front of. By things like, you know, fraudulently transferring assets during a legal proceeding to hide them from creditors. In clear violation of a court order. By the Judge they were in front of.

            I was supposed to get them out of trouble after they fired their first set of lawyers who’d followed their instructions. Neither of them, though, could manage to straighten up and fly right. It wasn’t in their character, even when it was actually in their self-interest.


            So, dear readers—a reminder: You are actually protagonists. We have an election coming up. Vote not to elect the guy with terrible character flaws, returning him to power after a four-year gap. And don’t support anyone who excuses or enables him. If you’re too young to vote, or want to do more, sign up to write postcards to get out the vote.

            Good luck to us all.  

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 app formerly known as Twtter, at @deangloster.


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