How edgy is too edgy for Christian fiction?

Writing partner, Beth Steury asked a series of interesting questions earlier this week:

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits?

I posted my answer in the comments. For me, looking at specific examples especially extremes, helps me to narrow in on where to draw the line. Here are 5 books I consider edgy for Christian fiction.

Example 1: Demon by Tosca Lee

What begins as a mystery soon spirals into chaotic obsession as Clay struggles to piece together Lucian’s dark tale of love, ambition, and grace – only to discover that the demon’s story has become his own.  And then only one thing matters, learning how the story ends.

Demons

Example 2: The Resurrection by Mike Duran

What if one woman received the power to raise the dead… and woke something else?

Miracles, the occult

Example 3: The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

AtonementChild1

“The Atonement Child explores the emotional and spiritual aspects of abortion through the fictional story of a young woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy. Author Francine Rivers drew on her own abortion experience and the stories of women she met at post-abortion support groups and crisis pregnancy centers while researching her subject.” ~FrancineRivers.com

Rape and abortion

Example 4: Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

AViS

For this book, it’s not the premise that’s edgy, it’s the mashup of genres (and possibly the cover). Should combining certain elements in fiction be off limits?

Vampires + Amish 

5. Swimming Through Stars by Rajdeep Paulus

swimming through clouds

Domestic violence, child abuse

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I’ve read and completely enjoyed these books. I recommend each one of them. They are edgy, but they don’t cross the line for me. They might for some.

Beth asked another question. She wrote, “While the premise is interesting, the question ‘But why write a story about THIS?’ keeps spinning through my brain…”

I have no idea what book Beth was writing about, although she said it was speculative. [Really, what piece of fiction isn’t speculative? But I digress…] What I do know is that without books like the ones above, the world would be a darker place because each of them offers hope. Perhaps that’s the key? The subject isn’t as important as the message. We’re here to encourage, to build up, to shine light in dark places.

Sometimes to do that, you have to go into the dark. It can be ugly and scary there.

A caveat: Another thing I realized while putting together this list, is that there were books that I didn’t enjoy because they crossed a line for me. I didn’t include them here. Was it that they were too edgy? Did they offend my sensibilities?

On some level they did. One was a vampire book that had too much gore for what I considered a Christian character. [And I’m not talking about Ben Wolf’s Blood for Blood. That’s a great book and certainly worth reading.] Another was a book that portrayed the devil as an idiot. It’s not that I’m pro-Satan, but I have this thing about fiction that portarys angels and demons different than the Bible represents them.

SO TELL US: What crosses the line for you? What Christian books have you put down because they went to far? (You don’t have to name names, just give a generic description.) I’d also like to hear about Christian fiction that you thought was edgy but great. 

How far is too far?

And no, this time I’m not talking about boundaries for expressing physical affection or promoting saving sex for marriage. Plenty of discussion about that on my “Waiting Matters… Because YOU Matter” blog.christian-fiction-2

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits? And I’m mostly questioning subject matter rather than the inclusion or exclusion of profanity.

Now I want to be perfectly upfront. The tagline I’ve adopted for my fiction writing career is:

Realistic Contemporary YA Fiction — The Unflinching Realities

And I already mentioned my blog that very candidly addresses abstinence and renewed abstinence so it’s safe to say I don’t shy away from tough subjects or touchy issues. My philosophy about such things can be summed up like this –

The world never misses an opportunity to discuss issues of a “mature subject matter” and neither should Christians. Sin and its consequences are a reality. So are difficult decisions. Jesus’ power and presence are the answer to both.

So you may be wondering what’s up with the “how far is too far?” question. Actually, I’m wondering the same thing myself. You see I normally engage in conversations promoting more grit, more edge, more reality in Christian fiction. But I suddenly find myself asking “When is enough enough?”

file000739253401I’m reviewing a manuscript for an acquaintance who’s wondering if his story “goes too far”, whether the premise will be offensive to Christians. While the premise is interesting, the question “But why write a story about THIS?” keeps spinning through my brain, like a coyote circling a cluster of Conestoga wagons bedded down for the night. Does this go too far?

It’s gritty and edgy to be sure. But maybe it’s the “reality” part I’m struggling with as the story is clearly speculative fiction, taking place in a “what if?” world that sprouts from a ghastly, if interesting, premise. Do we really need a story about this? Even as I ponder my own reaction to the story, a chill creeps over me as the real-life events of the past several months play through my mind.

A year ago did we have any real clue the dark path our country and our world would be headed down? Did we have any grasp of the hatred and persecution that would be directed toward Christians and traditional values? Maybe what concerns me about this story is that its other-worldly reality isn’t as far of a stretch as I’d like to think, especially considering recent events.

I’ll admit “But why?” is a question I find myself asking a lot—and not just about fiction storylines. I have a curious naturfare in general. But I really want to know the “But why?” behind this story. I’m trying to decide if I need/want to know the answer WHILE I’m reading or wait until I finish.

Now, back to my original questions: “How far is too far?” and “When is enough enough?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

When I DO Like Fantasy

The first thing that comes to my mind upon hearing “fantasy fiction” is a medieval setting. Knights and dragons, sorcerers and quests. Unreadable names for every castle, dell, and hero. How annoying. I like to use basic phonics and sound out unfamiliar names. But with all those Welsh spellings? Forget it!

I realize there is far more to fantasy fiction than settings based on the Middle Ages in western civilization. Maybe Tolkien started the entire sub-genre with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have finally realized that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t the only authors to use fantasy as a vehicle to present Christian truth.

Take Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007). An American author, he found his niche in the 1960’s writing children’s fantasy. In 1969, he won the Newbery Award for The High King. Having spent his army years during World War Two in Wales, he gained first-hand experience in medieval geography. Yeah, there are a lot of Welsh names in his books. I wish I had known about his pronunciation guide, a separate book published in 1999.

Since I didn’t like fantasy, I never read much of it, so I only recently discovered his five part series, The Chronicles of Prydain. I had scanned The High King, the final book in the series, and was impressed with the deep philosophies analyzing good and evil which he wrote in such a way that children can understand.

Chronicles of Prydain

Until I have read them all, I don’t want to comment further on whether this could be considered Christian fiction, but I don’t mind if you spoil it for me and make your own comments.

Ideas introduced in the first novel, The Book of Three, figure prominently at the end of The High King, so I expect to have the total satisfaction of seeing the story come full circle, every loose end neatly tied to another.

I have read voraciously from kindergarten on, but the older I get, the more I realize how many books I’ve missed out on. While I’ll never live long enough to read all that I would desire, I want my tablet to be filled with so many books to read that the number of titles could rival Santa’s Naughty and Nice List!

What other inspirational fantasy fiction would you recommend to me? Especially in children’s literature?

It’s Complicated

its complicated
Life is complicated. If you’re like any of the people whose posts I’ve seen on FB lately, or if you’ve lived into your teen years, you’ll already know this. But finding a good book to read doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, Laura L. Smith has tools for us to make reading her books simple!
First, you can get her book along with 6 other great YA books for the bargain price of $0.99 in the Turning Point YA boxed set.
I’m hosting a Summer Book Club where we’re reading and discussing each of the seven books on my blog. This week is It’s Complicated. I’ve already read it, and I can’t wait to discuss it. I’d love for you to join us! (And Beth Steury – if you haven’t read this one, you absolutely should. It deals with abstinence and renewed abstinence!)
Second, she has a Bible-based discussion guide for the first four chapters of the book and she’s offering it to you for FREE! Wouldn’t it be great to read the book and discuss with your teen or youth group? Love this idea, and I plan to check it out!
“To claim your free copy, fill out the contact form below.” Whoops! The form isn’t working. To claim your free copy, please leave a comment in the post below saying you would like one. Sorry!
Third, another one of her books is currently available for FREE! Skinny: She was starving to fit in… I love that this author tackles issue-driven teen fiction. Her writing is great and I have great hopes for this series. I already have the book. Snag it while it’s free by clicking on the cover.
Skinny

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE COPY

Finally, if you’re the kind of person that loves Pinterest and enjoys checking out pictures of characters as the author envisions them, here are links to the Pinterest boards for It’s Complicated.
Kat 
NOW YOU: Thoughts on book clubs, issue-driven fiction, and life complications in general. Go!

We the People

God Bless The United States of America.

God Bless The United States of America.

 

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” The U.S. Constitution

On July 4th we the citizens of The United States of America are celebrating our countries 239th anniversary. As countries go, we aren’t by any stretch of the imagination the oldest governed country in the world. There are actual populated cities on this earth that are far older. But for what we may lack in age and maturity, we certainly make-up with in brashness, can-do spirit, and audacity. Is that good? I don’t know, any perspective less than a hundred years old I immediately consider suspect at best.

Regardless of my nation’s sometimes bloody, sometimes noble, sometimes idiotic, sometimes unfair, and sometime brilliant past or present, I do love my home and nation – warts and all. Our US flag stands for a great deal, some bad, but so much more that is good.

Consider how many people from around the world would move to the US at the drop of a hat. Think of all our Latin American neighbors sneaking in against or laws and policies because they would rather live here than their own nations. I work at a University and meet many students from other nations who would rather stay here than go back to their own nations as their academic careers draw to a close. Many struggle to stay, some are not so successful.

No matter what people may think of the United States of America, it is for me the most wonderful place to live in the world. If you were born in a different place and take offense at my statement, I truly hope you love your home as much as I love mine. My wish for you is that you will work hard to make your nation a great and a wonderful place to live.  As for me, I will endeavor to help my home maintain our national identity as “one nation under God, indivisible with justice for all.”

Is our country perfect? What does perfect mean anyway? Is their room for improvement, absolutely.  But if we don’t learn to work together and face our difficulties with civility and respect, the alternative will always be bleak.

 

Name one thing you love about your home in the United States and one thing you would change for the better.

 

Less Than Perfect

My seven-year-old and I love Monster High. And one of it’s big themes is flaunting your “freaky flaws”. Of course, they’re all monsters, so it’s having things like green skin, snake hair, scales, fur, or fangs. In real life, I like my characters to be less-than-perfect too.

Right now, I’m a bit tired of dystopian fiction and wasn’t quite ready to pick up a new series. However, when I read a review of Rachelle Dekker’s The Choosing, I picked it because one of the main characters stutters. Now that I’m into the book there appears to be a psychological reason for this, and I’m dying to find out what it is. Please oh please don’t let this be a McGuffin. Because we all know I hate those creatures!

I am not a big reader of contemporary fiction/romance, but I decided to try Melissa Tagg’s From the Start based on the sample chapters. The heroine meets the hero while she’s in her pajamas and has traded her contacts for glasses. If I were a single woman, that would be my worst nightmare. That the heroine is nearsighted and not portrayed as a nerd like most characters who wear glasses won me over. I finished the book and want to read the entire series, because I’m now in love with the family and locale.

Two more books endeared me because of their main characters’ not-so-freaky “flaws”. I am going through the NPR 100 Best Young Adult Books list and selected Anna and the French Kiss. Oo-la-la. The heroine rocks a gap-toothed grin, and the hero has been equally untouched by an orthodontist. He’s also really short completely wrecking the YA boy hero archetype. The sequel, Lola and the Boy Next Door features another nearsighted heroine and a way-too-tall genius hero. NOTE: For those who read The Scriblerians for recommendations let me warn you that Anna and Lola are not Christian titles and contain a certain amount of objectionable content.

The irony of this post is that I too escaped orthodontic intervention (because I didn’t need it) and managed to make it to my mid-twenties before I needed glasses. Being a teen in the 1980s and then an engineering student, I graduated from college feeling a bit like a unicorn. Seriously what middle-class kid hasn’t suffered through braces, and engineers are known for being bespectacled nerds? Granted I fit into the second category although I almost always wear contact lenses in public, and I prefer being called a GEKE.

So what book did I just pick up from the library – Uglies?

Do less than perfect characters draw you in or do you prefer heroes and heroines to be idealized?

Calling all YA lovers – have I got a steal for you!

Turning Point: 7 Young Adult Inspirational Novels in One Set

Making it easy (and super cheap!) for you. All your summer reading is right here in this one set. Get seven full-length novels from some of your favorite authors. 7 full-length YA novels for $0.99 – that’s 14 cents each!

Books-in-the-set

By Darkness Hid, Jill Williamson Given the chance to train as a squire, kitchen servant Achan Cham hopes to pull himself out of his pitiful life and become a Kingsguard Knight. When Achan’s owner learns of his training, he forces Achan to spar with the Crown Prince–more of a death sentence than an honor. Meanwhile, strange voices in Achan’s head cause him to fear he’s going mad. While escorting the prince to a council presentation, their convoy is attacked. Achan is wounded and arrested, but escapes from prison–only to discover a secret about himself he never believed possible.

Whisper If You Have To, Staci Stallings Secrets. Alison Prescott has collected a boatload of them in her short lifetime. Moving to a new school in a new town was supposed to fix everything; however, when she meets a new set of friends, keeping those secrets might just ruin everything including her fledgling relationship with the school’s basketball star, Chad Dourozette. How far will Allison go to keep the secrets she can never tell anyone?

It’s Complicated, Laura L. Smith There’s a reason Facebook has the Status Update, It’s Complicated. Follow four college roommates, Claire, Palmer, Hannah, and Kat as they maneuver crushes, confusion, and the crisis when pushy boys go too far. Complicated as it is, these four friends will pull through, guided by the strength of their friendship and the power of God’s love.

Failstate, John W. Otte A fledgling teenage superhero competes on a reality TV show for a government vigilante license. When one of his competitors is murdered, Failstate sets out on a quest to avenge her death. But will his superpowered lunk of a big brother ruin everything?

The Wishing Pearl, Nicole O’Dell Sixteen-year-old Olivia Mansfield can’t wait to escape the confines of her home, which promises nothing but perpetual torment and abuse from her stepfather. When poor choices lead her to the brink of a complete breakdown, Olivia comes to a crossroads. Will she find the path to ultimate hope and healing that her heart longs for?

Mardan’s Mark, Kathrese McKee Abducted by pirates and taken behind enemy lines across the Great Gulf, Princess Srilani is determined to save her sisters and younger brother, the crown prince, from captivity. She convinces their caretaker, Aldan, and his brother slaves to share the perilous journey home. This ragtag group of unlikely heroes sets out on a quest — pursued by cutthroat pirates, merciless priests, and marauding soldiers — to return the heir to his kingdom before war breaks out. In this epic adventure fantasy, Srilani and Aldan risk everything to save a prince and a nation, discovering along the way that death is not their deepest fear.

Glass Girl, Laura Anderson Kurk After her older brother Wyatt is killed in a jealousy-fueled incident and her mother disappears, Meg Kavanagh decides surviving is easy—it’s living that takes guts. She believes she’s to blame for Wyatt’s death, but when Henry Whitmire steps in with a secret, will Meg forgive herself enough to accept the good things in life like the rush of first love and the power of mercy?

I’ve read 2, own 2 more, but I bought the set to get the other 3. It was too good a deal to pass up. 🙂

Available for pre-order on Amazon.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Which ones have you read?

Turning-Point-Box-Set-Small

How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.