So a while back, I joined a group for lovers of “edgy Christian fiction.” But I was disappointed. You see, unless you were a nun, a schoolmarm, or Mrs. Grundy … the group really wasn’t very edgy.
That’s when it hit me: The term “edgy” means different things for different people.
Take last month’s “conversation” regarding author Eric Wilson’s challenge to readers and writers of Christian fiction. My post at Novel Journey garnered not a few comments, one of which was from literary agent Chip MacGregor. For the record, I enjoy Chip’s blog and appreciate his candor. Nevertheless, I was underwhelmed by his comments regarding that post and replied:
“…as one who reads both CBA and general market books, I just haven’t found these ‘edgy’ CBA books people keep talking about. (And if someone cites Francine Rivers again in this regard, I’m gonna kick my dog.) You say, ‘The fact is, the market calls for both edgy AND safe books. CBA provides both.’ I dunno. These books might be ‘edgy’ in relation to CBA standards, but as someone who works in the construction field and reads pretty widely, they really aren’t. “
“Francine – edgy? Ha! I love Francine, but she’s not what I’d consider edgy. A selection: Read Lisa Samson, Charles Martin, Gina Holmes, Claudia Mair Burney, Stephen James, Mary DeMuth, Mark Bertrand’s “Back on Murder.” That should get you started.”
Uh, well… I have read some of those authors, and know others who’ve read the rest. The consensus? NOT EDGY. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not meant to suggest that those novelists aren’t excellent writers. They are! But if those authors are representative of the best in “edgy” Christian fiction, then my contention stands. When Christians talk about “edgy” fiction, they mean two different things.
Which is why my “edgy” is your “obscene.”
To be “edgy,” there must be an “edge,” a “boundary,” a “demarcation.” In that sense, the term “edgy Christian fiction” reaffirms our “boundaries.” But in order to really be “edgy,” a Christian novel must push — even cross — those boundaries. Problem is, they don’t.
The Christian books that deal with “edgy” topics — rape, incest, adultery, addiction, lust, etc. — do so behind a scrim of safety. In other words, you can write a book about rape. You just can’t be explicit. You can write a book about a foul-mouthed racist. You just can’t actually show him being a foul-mouthed racist. You can write a book about a conflicted porn star. Just spare us the specifics.
We are taught as writers to SHOW not TELL. But if you’re a Christian author, that doesn’t always apply. You see, SHOWING certain things can get you into trouble. We don’t need to know what specific female body part your antagonist is staring at. We don’t need to hear the epithets being hurled at the black boy. We don’t need to see the drunken father actually touching his daughter in the tool shed. Apparently, TELLING has its advantages. In this way, “Edgy” Christian fiction has come to mean writing ABOUT difficult subjects, without actually going into detail.
That’s the “new edgy.”
Hey, everyone has to draw a line somewhere. Some people just draw the line at different places. The Christian publishing industry happens to draw the line more conservatively than my tastes. Heck, a lot of people do.
But as someone who spent 11 years in the ministry, I think our PG worldview is flat outta touch. For instance, once I counseled a man who had committed bestiality. How does one approach a situation like that? Or do we just never talk about it? Another man was addicted to masturbation, to the point where he bloodied himself. Then there was a woman who performed weird sexual rituals for her husband. She was a new Christian and he threatened to shoot her if she stopped. Along the way, there were drug addicts, self-mutilators, incest victims, and serial adulterers. And the list goes on. The funny thing is, the average church-goer had no idea. And would rather keep it that way.
Which is probably why the “new edgy” just seems so… tame.
To my wife, a steak with any trace of pink in it is “raw.” To me, the bloodier the better. Likewise, to some readers of Christian fiction, any trace of language or sex is “edgy.” But to me, if it’s not “raw,” it’s over-cooked.
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So do you think some Christian fiction is genuinely “edgy”? Do you agree that the term is relative? Do you think Christian fiction can get any “edgier” and still remain “Christian”? And do you think it’s possible to remain true to a story without sometimes showing explicit elements?