I enjoy talking with readers about my book and my current projects, and I've been fortunate to have readers who enjoy the discussions brought about by Red Lory. One of the more common questions is: Who is the good guy? I never answer that question directly - instead I like to ask an admittedly frustrating question of my own: Is there such a thing?
On a typical Saturday when I was growing up I'd find time to watch an episode or two of the classic TV show The Lone Ranger. It's a western so you automatically know the show's formula: Good Guy in white hat brings Bad Guy in black hat to justice. The line of morality was clearly drawn, and we knew who stood on the correct side: The guys in the white hats.
It wasn't too long ago when America's good guy list looked something like this: Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno, Mel Gibson, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, and Lance Armstrong. One who has traveled far down the road of repairing public perception is Kobe Bryant. The list doesn't have to exclude the everyday good guys - school teachers, spiritual leaders, police officers, and soldiers to name a few have all fallen from grace. The question has to be asked: Were they ever good guys? But was there ever such a thing?
A good guy is generally known as a man or woman with honorable intentions, actions, and character. Someone we'd like for our kids to become. You know, someone like pre-scandal Tiger Woods. Or someone we immortalize in bronze. And when the good guy falls short of our standard he or she becomes someone we look down on because they did something we'd never do. We're not capable of such wrongdoing. Right?
I've found this line of thinking to be troubling. It's not troubling to me that someone I cheer for on Sunday afternoons or vote for at the polling station could be found guilty of wrongdoing. That possibility is assumed. It's the idea of defining someone that troubles me. It's comforting to hear that there are good guys and bad guys. Armed with that belief, we can then convince ourselves we're the good guys. And beyond that, it's easy to convince ourselves that others with whom we share no commonality are the bad guys.
"You're a good guy." That has a nice sound to it doesn't it? A sound of permanence. Through my writing I try to show that such a mentality about the permanence of that label is damaging. Having the capacity for selfishness and greed can be a dangerous thing if acted upon under the label of goodness. How far can selfish actions stretch before the person is no longer good? We've all seen and heard apologies or statements that admit wrongdoing but also end with, "but that's not my character." Our character isn't a constant; it's a living and breathing condition that is only as good as our actions and defined by perception.
So what are we left with? If we're not good, what are we?
We're nothing more than human at our very best and nothing less than human at our very worst. And that's what I enjoy writing about. The belief that someone can be labeled with permanence as good or bad is one that forgets an individual's independence. It also denies a person the ability to recover from mistakes or misconceptions. A label gives a false sense of permanent immunity from culpability. I don't write stories that cater to moralists who see a person as either good or bad, religious or irreligious, forgivable or unforgivable. I write stories like Red Lory because over and over again I find myself on one side of a line that divides good and bad, and I can't tell which side is which.