By Christen Civiletto Morris
Great fiction has sometimes changed the way the world thinks. Readers may have identified so closely with a character’s plight that inaction at the end of the story was not an option. Or, an author’s vivid portrayal of filthy housing conditions, chain gangs, or slavery sparked a movement that fostered social change. Books like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle come to mind. (Sinclair’s novel about the unhealthy conditions in the meatpacking industry was initially rejected by publishers because it was “too shocking!”)
And I’ve read many, many books that have enlarged my world. I’m sure you have, too.
It’s amazing to me that God has gifted us with the ability to write fiction that moves people. Some of our stories are meant to entertain or lift the reader’s spirits. Others are meant to comfort, teach, or inspire. Some stories challenge the reader to think differently about a subject. As writers who are also Christians, we have the creative ability to influence the way the world thinks about the things that God cares about. He cares about the poor. He cares about the afflicted. The fatherless. The oppressed. The widows. He cares about His Creation.
He cares about you and me.
At times, Jesus used His creativity to expose social injustice. When He said “…but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” it had nothing to do with being a doormat. It had everything to do with placing the person being struck on equal footing with the person doing the striking. When Jesus tells the listener to walk a second mile when impressed by a Roman soldier to walk the first mile, that suggestion, too, was a creative way of challenging oppression, since walking the second mile was against military law. His creativity in response to a social wrong shouldn’t surprise me. He’s the author of creativity and instills those same desires in our heart.
I thought a lot about creativity and social injustice while writing Green City Savior. The story challenges the reader to think differently about corruption and environmental defilement. I didn’t want the novel to be dismissed as an issue-driven book, but I wanted to use creativity to address what I perceived as a social wrong.
A lot of relatively young people in my hometown of Niagara Falls, New York, including me, were dealing with cancer or other serious diseases. I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the age of 31. I didn’t have any risk factors. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t go to tanning booths (and growing up in Niagara Falls didn’t expose me to too much sun either!) It dawned on me that I shouldn’t know that many people with debilitating illnesses. My gut told me that something wasn’t right.
So I began to research our area’s environmental history. I learned some astonishing things and began to write about them. But at some point, I saw that the book would have more impact as a work of fiction. I began to really think about the impact of wrong choices on families: The fear of becoming more sick. The devastation of losing someone. The loss of a home, or a sense of security. The guilt over not moving away soon enough. Writing fiction became a creative way to expose a social injustice that had gotten a hold of my mind and heart.
Sometimes no amount of statistical analysis or litigation can accomplish what a good story could show.
You and I may be focused on different things. For me, as a Christian and a writer, I want to help shape the way the world thinks about Christians and the environment. I want for non-Christians to see the things that Christians are for, rather than simply against. And I want to be at the forefront of protecting the things God loves, even if it means doing so through a good story.
What has God laid on your heart to write?
Christen Civiletto Morris is an author, adjunct law school professor, and attorney. Christen experienced a wake-up call after wondering why she and so many other residents in her hometown of Niagara Falls, New York, were dealing with cancer or other terrible diseases. She began to research the area’s environmental history, and her findings led to the writing of Green City Savior-her faith-based, environmentally themed suspense novel set in Niagara Falls. Ultimately, Christen’s research resulted in the recent filing of a series of toxic injury lawsuits stemming from the historic Love Canal disaster.Christen previously authored Full Disclosure: The New Lawyer’s Must-Read Career Guide (ALM 2001), a practical mentoring guide for first through fourth year lawyers. She co-authored The Practice of Law School: Getting In and Making The Most of Your Legal Education (ALM 2003). Her articles have appeared in national print and online publications, including The National Law Journal, NYLawyer.com, and law.com. She resides in Western New York with her husband and four children.You can visit Christen at Christenciviletto.com