If you want to send a message, the best way is with a great story.
A while ago, I proposed the radical notion that novels and movies saved the world from nuclear obliteration.
“Almost seventy years ago the first atomic bomb tests were conducted in New Mexico and, to the surprise of all, there still hasn’t been a nuclear war! What saved us from a nuclear holocaust? Was it our wise leaders? Was it our basic instinct to survive? Did angels intervene?”
If none of these saved us, what did?
ENTERTAINMENT! MOVIES! BOOKS! Our leaders were more afraid of public humiliation than they were of death. None wanted to be the next Jack D. Ripper, the idiotic general who wants to destroy the earth in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
The Challenge for Environmentalists
This is the challenge now facing environmentalists. How do we get the message across to both our leaders and the public without boring them? All I have to do is say “let’s talk about Climate Change” or “you know, man-made toxins are linked to cancer” and I can see my listener’s eyes go blank. But toxins are real, and the more I learn about the poisoning of our waters, the polluting of our air, and the changing of our climate, the more I see the need for works of fiction – books and movies – to help us digest the complex science and provide specific ideas on how to fix the problems.
Fiction Writers to the Rescue
Both Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and John Grisham’s Gray Mountain use shocking ecological events as catalysts for their characters’ growth. Margaret Attwood’s MaddAddam series is one of the most thrilling, funny, and provocative trilogies ever, and it centers on an environmentally-driven catastrophe.
In my new novel, KINGSLEY, I write about the link between pollutants and disease. To do this, I studied the research on environmental toxins and disease done at the Skinner Laboratory at Washington State University. The truth was scarier than I had imagined.
. . . If gestating females are exposed to environmental toxicants at the time of fetal gonadal sex determination, a number of adult onset diseases develop. … .. What your pregnant great grandmother was exposed to may cause disease in you with no subsequent exposure. This has been termed epigenetic transgenerational inheritance. …. In addition to effects on reproduction, numerous other adult onset disease sates are observed including cancer, prostate disease, kidney disease, obesity, immune abnormalities and behavior effects.
Run that by me again? The toxins my pregnant great grandmother was exposed to could cause me to get cancer? That’s horrible, but more to my point, is the average reader going to hop over to the WSU website for the latest on epigenetic transgenerational inheritance? Probably not.
That’s my job. My goal is to make environmental science accessible by hiding it in a compelling story. That’s what I’ve done in KINGSLEY.
KINGSLEY is a tale of survival in the midst of a global health crisis. When fourteen year old Kingsley Smith contracts an environmentally-driven pandemic, his hard-as-nails mother will lie, cheat, and worse to save him. KINGSLEY is filled with drama, action, humor, and even a touch of romance. It has to be! If it’s not entertaining, no one will read it. And if no one reads it, no one will learn about the connection between what we do to the environment and how it affects the health of our children and grandchildren.