One of my favorite quotes comes from British author C.S. Lewis, who wrote that “the world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”
Aaron Daniel Behr is one of those rare Christian authors who did just that with his first nonfiction book The Husband. Real, raw and brutally honest, The Husband is an unflinching look at one man’s struggle with suicide and mental illness. Aaron dared to explore the depths of depravity while still clinging to hope in the end.
I strove to accomplish the same thing with my debut novel, The Black Lens, a dark literary thriller that exposes the underbelly of sex trafficking in rural America. While my book is fiction, I also wanted to write a hard book about the real world — just like Aaron. In fact, one of the most common questions I get from readers is why I decided to write about such a dark topic.
It’s a great question, and one I’ve reflected on ever since Boyle & Dalton released my debut novel in 2016. So, here are my three main reasons for writing The Black Lens, which won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards:
1. Raise trafficking awareness
I have always wanted to use my story to raise awareness about sex trafficking. While this topic has received more press in the last few years, some people still don’t think trafficking happens much in the United States. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received reports of at least 14,588 sex trafficking cases since 2007. It’s a harsh fact, but that’s why raising awareness is so key. And it’s why I decided to conduct more than three years of research on this issue. I personally interviewed more than a dozen survivors, social workers and police officers right here in Ohio.
That research paid off. During the past two years, several readers have told me they wanted to become more involved in fighting trafficking as a result of reading my debut novel.
But the best feedback came from one recent reviewer on Amazon. She said reading The Black Lens opened her eyes to this underground world and actually helped her prevent a potential trafficking situation:
“Since reading this, I have become more aware of the issues and the prevalence of human sex trafficking and have recently witnessed an (incident) at Disneyland Shopping District of someone preying on a young teen sitting alone waiting for her parents to finish shopping. I stepped in and made sure she was not alone and not targeted by the man asking her inappropriate questions and inviting her to help him with his bags to his car.”
The reviewer continues:
“I enjoyed the story line and the characters but what I appreciated the most was the movement to bring the sinister world of sex trafficking into our awareness so that more can be done to protect our youth and change our own story line as a culture (that) does not allow the opportunity for these crimes to become a reality for future at risk youth.”
As an author, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
2. Take sin seriously
And yet if you spend any time reading the Old Testament, you discover that it’s filled with descriptions of evil. You’ve got rape, incest — even torture. None of these authors glorified those crimes or described them in graphic detail, but they also didn’t shy away from them either. Why? Because they were trying to contrast the depth of man’s evil with the depth of God’s grace.
One of my favorite Christian authors is Flannery O’Connor, who became famous for her dark, brutal and violent short stories. She once wrote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” That’s great advice for every Christian writer. We need to contrast both good and evil if we want to have any chance at engaging the world with our words — especially with such dark topics like sex trafficking or suicide and mental illness.
We need more authors like Aaron.
3. Engage the arts
The Catholic Church sponsored some of the most famous artists of all times, such as Michelangelo. But for decades, Christians have retreated from the arts. I don’t know all the reasons, but Swiss author Francis Schaeffer once wrote: “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. C.S. Lewis wrote that, “Art … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Literature is a form of art, so it too has no inherent survival value. But literature can give value to survival in unique and powerful ways. Think of the impact behind books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird. Those stories affected so many people’s views of race and slavery in ways that no other medium could.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Esther, because it reads like a work of modern fiction. You’ve got a strong female heroine, romantic suspense and even a murder plot. But most interestingly, the book doesn’t mention God once. Yet for those who have eyes to see, every sentence in the story points to God and gives value to the idea of surviving suffering.
That was the same goal for The Black Lens and The Husband. One is fiction, and the other is autobiographical, but both stories were written for those who have eyes to see.
Learn more about The Husband at http://aarondanielbehr.com.