#365: Obvious and Legible

Two red geranium flowers pressed against white paned window. Snowy outside, dappled golden hour sun.
North La Salle, Detroit, MI (Feb 2022)

Notes back from my editor. I’m nearing – if not already in – the final stretch for the new novel. I spent most of the week metabolizing the feedback, prepping for a last round of beta/sensitivity readers, and working on the new season of the podcast. I also visited a fourth and fifth grade class at the Boggs School, a place that, for several reasons, holds a special place in my heart.

To quickly follow up on last week’s letter, I wanted to share this quote from Alice Gregory, by way of Robin (who was one of said recommenders of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind):

Living virtuously is hard. It takes generative intellectual work that is far more interesting than the defensiveness of "being bad." I would rather consider the challenges that go into a consciously lived life than the inevitably hurtful products of a cruel one.

A truly radical 21st-century novelist wouldn't ask us to see ourselves in made-up villains, and then, hopefully, revise our opinions of the real ones in our own lives. Rather, they would ask us to see the arduous and often acrobatic effort that goes into living a life of common decency. They would coerce us into believing that virtue is interesting and fun to think about and far more dazzling to encounter than malevolence.

The quote comes from this Times piece, which Gregory ends with a challenge for us novelists: to animate “at least one character who is virtuous, not in the intimate way that everyone seems to be up close, but in a way that is obvious and legible in the book’s own universe.”

I have to say: this seems far more kosher in stories for younger kids than ones for teens or adults (which maybe why I find myself writing for kids!). If I had to guess, I’d say it’s due to oversimple cultural expectations that children are more impressionable “blank slates” in need of moral examples. Whereas adults supposedly more fixed/jaded/cynical/hopeless. Supposedly.

But isn’t that all the more reason to have dazzling virtue in adult stories too? To not give up on the hope of decency?

I tried to work Moana and Maui into the last couple of paragraphs but I’m too pooped this Sunday evening to tie them in successfully. Go watch Moana if you haven’t already! Perhaps the most Nausicaän of all Disney/Pixar protagonists …