The Power of Literature
I was talking to a friend of mine recently about fiction writing. He’d finally gotten around to reading Interrupted, and was telling me how much he enjoyed it. We discussed the book for a while, and he made the comment that his favorite thing about the story was the strong Gospel message. That, of course, got me excited and I got the delicious opportunity to go on my “book rant”.
What? You’ve never heard my book rant, before? Poor thing. I’ll explain it to you now.
Fiction writers have an amazing opportunity. I don’t think that enough people realize just how powerful fiction can be. Think about the market for a YA Fiction book. Now, Interrupted is marketed as inspirational fiction, but it is available in just about every Barnes and Noble in the country. And in all the book stores I’ve ever seen it in, it’s been displayed right along with all the other teen fiction books out there. So right next to some book with a guy and girl making out by the beach on the cover, there’s Interrupted! With its pretty blue cover and nightgown-clad heroine. She looks so pretty amidst all the trashy bellybutton-revealing covers out there. But anyway, I digress.
The point is, any teenage girl could pick up a copy of my book and take it home. She may not even realize it’s Christian fiction at first. She doesn’t know anything about the characters, or the story, or the Christ-centered message. All she sees is a pretty cover with little twinkling stars and a sweet font. (Can you tell I’m like obsessed with my books’ covers?) But then, this teenage girl brings the book home. She starts reading. She relates to Allie’s pain and suffers along with her. Maybe she’s experienced some kind of sadness in her own life that she starts to think about. She smiles at the sweet little things Beatrice says. And then…
And then she gets to the Gospel message. Maybe she’s never heard it before. And it’s right there, spelled out in black and white in the middle of a fiction story. And it’s not preachy, it’s not in-your-face (I hope!). But it’s there. And it fits with the story and the characters and the journey.
Like it or not, nonfiction books just don’t do the same thing. And don’t get me wrong, I love nonfiction books. I can do some heavy-duty theology reading. But the average fifteen-year-old girl isn’t going to pick up a book by John Calvin when she’s looking for something interesting to read. That’s just not going to happen. But she might pick up this pretty (I know, I know, it’s going too far) book by another teenage girl and give it a read. And what she finds inside might change her life.
It’s a scary thing sometimes, being an author. Because every time you write something, you are putting your views out there. You’re talking about what you think is important in life. And you can never tell who’s going to read it. You may never actually know the extent of your influence in someone’s life, just through your words.
I’ve spoken to numerous people who have bought Interrupted as a gift to a child or niece or friend of theirs who lost a parent. Usually the customer will start off as a mildly interested “window-shopper” who will ask me a few questions about the book. But then, after a few minutes of talking and sharing the plot of Interrupted and the inspiration behind it, their eyes will start to well up with tears. And then they’ll clutch the book to their chest and shove money at me, saying, “You have no idea how much my niece Sarah needs to read this. My sister passed away from a brain tumor last spring and Sarah has been struggling so much.” Or, “There’s a man at our church who is recovering from cancer and I would like to buy this for his daughter. She needs this book.”
Obviously, the first thing that comes to my mind is: No, she needs Christ. But then I remember: Christ is in this book. Hopefully no one, after reading about Allie and her story would walk away from Interrupted unsure about the goodness of God. And so while a girl who lost a mother to cancer may be apprehensive about reading a deep theological book on pain and suffering, she might be willing to read this. And God might use it to teach her something about Himself.
Never underestimate the power of your words. Great Christian literature has the potential to change lives and turn people toward the truth of the Gospel. It may seem like nothing but random scribblings to you (I know it does to me most of the time), but one day God may use it to do great things in the life of someone else.