“Look Marcus, you’re a decent writer and you’ve got some interesting ideas for characters,” said the man in the suit, “We can’t sell this wilderness adventurer stuff these days. People don’t get it.”
“What do you mean? Every few years hollywood comes out with a Western or an adaptation of a Jack London novel and they do fine. Hell it wasn’t long ago they made a good profit on Huckleberry Finn.”
“You don’t get it man, we can sell stories of triumph over nature. Surivors of a plane crash eating each other to survive. Young kid dying from eating the wrong plants after having a hissy-fit that his dad was cheating on his mom. Those will sell, but this? Who do you think you are, Edgar Rice Burroughs?”
“Of course not. Burroughs created some of the most memorable characters of his day.”
“Yeah, and they reflected people’s aspirations back then. The west was still pretty wild before it was tamed by Hollywood, Barbed Wired and Mob-run casinos. People moved out west to live off the land. Now they build cabins in Aspen and visit during ski season. Hell, more of the population has lived in cities than the rural areas since 1920 and there’s no sign of it ending. You know what that means? Two generations of people who’ve never lived outside the city unless it was to visit summer camp or to visit Grandma and Grandpa. People don’t understand it and hell, I don’t understand it.”
“What’s not to understand?”
“Okay, you’ve got this character, Joshua right?”
“So he lives off the land and helps people out.”
“Yeah. If they need it.”
“Well, that’s noble and everything, but why does he do it?”
“What do you mean why does he do it? He does it because they need help.”
“Doesn’t ask for money? Just leaves after helping them?”
“You know what I call that?” Asked the man in the suit.
“Suspicious. No political agenda, no witnesses? I mean, he’s not an alcoholic, trying to atone for a past wrong, avenge some injustice?”
“No. Just sees work that needs doing and helps them as needs it.”
“Yeah, there’s already a character who does that.”
“Superman. And people hate Superman. They don’t feel he’s realistic.”
“What? You’re not supposed to thing he’s realistic. The man is bulletproof and flies.”
“You’re missing the point Marcus. That’s not what’s unrealistic about Superman. What’s unrealistic about superman is that he’s all-powerful and benevolent.”
“Well that’s what Christians say about God.”
“Yeah, and how many of them have read the bible and really believe that crap? Basic rule of PR. Tell people something often enough and they’ll believe it. How many times does the bible say god is good?”
“Probably a few?”
“At least 61 times. Though I might have lost count in the Gospels somewhere.”
“You counted that?”
“It was to win a bet.”
“Huh, I never figured you for an atheist.”
“I’m not Marcus, but how many times before the new testament does he kill people, order people to kill people or enact ecological genocide because he’s unhappy with the state of affairs of the world?”
“Probably a few.”
“To say the least.”
“Wait, so you’re telling me people will believe in a character who does terrible evil things, but says he’s good, OR they’ll believe in someone who is good, but with some fatal flaw, but they won’t read about a guy who just wants to get the work done that’s in front of him because he wants to live a decent live and doesn’t want to get a bunch of attention as a result? That’s insane.”
“Of course it’s not insane Marcus. People hate aspirational figures. People want models to be fat, we cheer when someone formerly beautiful gains a bunch of weight and loses it; when someone beautiful gets an addiction and recovers. Hell, we celebrate them more than people who never get the addiction in the first place. You know why? Because people without flaws grate on the nerves. They’re a constant reminder that we’re not good just the way we are. They’re a reminder that we need to do good things to be good people. As a species, we won’t stand for it.”
“Yeah. You know who the three most famous people to stick to their principles in the face of social pressure in western history are?”
“Socrates, Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr. You know what people did to them?”
“Hemlock, Crucifixion and A Gun.”
“Right. People won’t buy it in fiction and they won’t stand for it in real life. Go write him as an alcoholic and we might be able to sell it. Make him guilty over having killed a man and we might be able to. Make him a racist and have to learn a lesson about the humanity of black people or some shit and we can sell a million copies in the first month. No one would believe this guy could exist otherwise.”
“No thanks. I’ll try elsewhere.”
“Your loss Marcus. Let me know if you change your mind.”
“Out of curiosity, where’d you get the idea for the book?”
“I just wrote what my dad did. Didn’t polish it much either.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It must have been tough with a guy like him around?”
“Nah, he showed me what’s possible and how much easier his way was.”
The man just shook his head.
It didn’t really matter which publisher it had been or what the guy’s name had been in the suits. They’d all said pretty much the same thing. No one is buying stories about good people doing the right thing. Good people gone wrong, or bad people being redeemed was where it’s at.
Oh, Marcus had tried before to write people like this, but there were so many people like that in real life that what was the point in imagining a world that was the same as the one you lived in.
Sometime after the twentieth publisher he got the idea. Rather than write a world like that into existence, why not just live it. He’d been doing so for some time, but that was where he got the idea. Screw them for saying people wouldn’t want to live near someone who lived their convictions. What kind of cynical foolishness was that?
Upon reflection, it wasn’t foolishness at all. If that was how the world worked then fine. Didn’t mean it had to be how he worked.
“There’s nothing someone can do to make me act against my convictions,” he thought. “I don’t have time for people who are so small.”
One of the things Marcus learned over the next few years was that there were few people who would in fact, stand up when the situation demanded something of them and do the right thing. Too many people who would instead, wait for someone else to solve their situation for them.
Why shouldn’t they, after all… Lawyers solve your legal problems when you run afoul of the law, Accountants solve your financial problems when you miscarry the ‘1’, restaurants and fast food solve your culinary problems, which lead to health problems, which pills and pharmacists solve for you. That’s ignoring the whole technological industry of gadgets whose sole purpose seems to be creating problems that they can then solve (for a year or two) with their new widgets.-most of which, weren’t problems if you didn’t buy the previous widget anyway.
He remembered his Grandpa Jack (whom he’d named his son after), welding a splitting wedge to a tube and running it on a pole so that his wife and grandkids could safely split wood with a light hammer when he was in town on business in the winter. It hadn’t been hard, it had needed doing. So he’d done it.
It had taken a few years, but that was the start of it. No need to raise Jack in the mire of this business. Initially skeptical, Rosemary eventually agreed and they decided to build a cabin in Ely, Minnesota. She’d been no stranger to hard work, having grown up on a 30,000-hen chicken farm, but she’d also liked living in the city because it was so much more exciting and there were so many people around. Now that she was raising Jack, she didn’t like the focus the boy had on TV and comic books. And some of his friends were worrying to her. Not because she thought he’d be lead astray. (Actually, Jack was well-liked and charismatic), but because she was worried he’d lead them astray. Jack was a good boy of course, but his ability to find trouble and be in the middle of it with none of it landing on him seemed a bit unnatural to her.
But then, that could just be a mother’s natural inclination to worry about he kids.