Words are powerful, even when packaged as fiction. How do I know? I’m an author who believes in fiction with a message. For me, it all started when I published my first book in 2011, murder mystery Truth Runs Deep, exploring the pain of exclusion based on religion, sexual orientation, and race. Even before I became a longtime diversity and inclusion advocate, this book was bubbling up in my mind. In fact, I first thought of the plot in the early ‘90s after a Catholic priest told me about threatening notes sent anonymously to the church.
I’m not the only one to use fiction as a channel for communicating the painful truth. My social media buddy and physician Steve Kassels’ legal thriller, Addiction on Trial: Tragedy in Downeast Maine, has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it is entertaining — the kind of book you’d take to the beach. On a more subtle level, however, the book has a deliberate purpose. It educates and informs readers about the opiate epidemic along the US east coast, in addition to highlighting the heated socio-political debate around what to do about it.
Just like Kassels’ book, my book makes for an entertaining beach read. But both of us hope that our underlying messages will penetrate, leaving the reader more mindful about the topics at hand. Perhaps even willing to help create change.
I remember watching the evening news with my husband, Tom, on the day that Tyler Clementi’s suicide was reported. Tyler Clementi was the eighteen-year-old Rutgers student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010 after his roommate videotaped him having a sexual liaison with another male student and then streamed it live via the internet. I sought to understand why he felt that he couldn’t go on living. Was he in the closet and fearful of coming out? Was he afraid of a lifetime of rejection and ridicule? The answer to all of my questions was probably yes.
That pain of feeling unlovable and outcast is exactly what my first book was about. My message was the importance of loving through the differences.
We all have different beliefs and biases based primarily on our life experiences. If we can learn to love, support and nurture each other through our differences — not in spite of — just imagine how empowered we could be as families, friends, communities and a global village. Loving through the differences implies acceptance and respect. Isn’t that really what each of us desires?
Dr. Kassels told me that everyone knows an addict. They just might not know which of their family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors it is. “I’ve treated college professors, elementary school teachers, nurses, IRS auditors, carpenters, and plumbers. Need I go on?” Kassels asked rhetorically. “Opioid addiction is truly an epidemic… penetrating into the heartland of America.”
Dr. Kassels knows. He’s practiced medicine for more than 35 years. He’s Board Certified in both Emergency Medicine and Addiction Medicine, and that means he sees the impact of addiction on the lives of others every day of his practicing life.
It’s said that literary fiction offers deliberate commentary on larger social and political issues. Even though my and Dr. Kassels’ books are murder mysteries, we both intentionally address societal issues. The question is, what will the reader choose to do with it?
Read my original post about Dr. Kassel’s book, Addiction on Trial.
Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.