Edgy Christian Fiction Just Ain’t That Edgy Anymore ~ Tracy Krauss and I Simul-Post on Each Other’s Blogs

Tracy KraussWow, Tracy and I have been saying we’re going to have this discussion on this blog for quite a while. Somehow real life kept getting in the way, but I’m glad we’re finally getting to it. This might also be a good place to announce that the two of us are taking over the Edgy Christian Fiction site. We are just beginning to get out sea-legs there, so the site will be undergoing some visual changes in the near future, but its spirit will remain the same. http://edgychristianfictionlovers.ning.com/

 

Now let’s get on to the discussion…

 

NikePixNike: It seems the subject has come up naturally in our emails for quite a while now of how “edgy Christian fiction” doesn’t seem so scary to many Christian readers and writers anymore. Isn’t that right Tracy? We’ve noticed traditional publishers who, five or more years ago, had unbendable rules about certain taboos are now more relaxed in that area. Of course, Christian writers making a beeline to publish as indie authors has pushed the envelope. And to my mind, that’s the true definition of edgy…pushing the edge of the envelope into deeper, more complex and troubling issues.

 
Unless we live in isolation and in a totally Christian bubble, the culture and the times are influencing Christian writers. Many of us have experienced societal problems in our own families – things that as recently as in the 1990s and the early 2000s, most American Christians did not face. If our teenage and pre-teen children and grandchildren are not sexually active, they have classmates in public school who are. If they are not experimenting with drugs, they know kids in the neighborhood who are. They have intimate knowledge about sexuality in their teen years that many of us didn’t have until after our marriage. For these and other reasons, it is no longer possible for some Christian authors to write novels that do not have somewhat edgy themes or sub-themes. I am one of those authors. My historical novels, and my contemporary, HARMFUL INTENT, which just released, are sweet in the romance department with a few warm intimacy moments, but as they’re whodunits, they have gritty police procedural elements. They also encompass adult issues (such as child abuse, abortion, adultery, substance abuse) in a tasteful manner.

 

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Tracy: I totally agree with everything you’ve said, Nike. Society isn’t he same anymore and it is unrealistic to expect to reach the modern demographic – Christian or otherwise – if we are hamstrung by outdated rules and regulations. I am not saying that authors should purposely cross any lines simply for the sake of doing so. It’s not about compromising our faith or even lowering moral standards. The Bible is clear about what is acceptable behavior for Christians. However, because of societal pressure, more and more people – even Christians – find themselves in unsavory situations. These are stories that need to be told. People make mistakes. Growing spiritually is a journey and with today’s pressures people have an even harder time sticking to the straight and narrow.

 
For instance, my husband and I were talking the other day about how things have changed since our parents’ generation. My parents (at least to my knowledge) never had any experience with drug use. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, we both have plenty of experience and would be hard pressed to find anyone we know of that same generation who hasn’t. I remember seeing a scandal on TV during the nineties when a well known politician revealed that he had smoked pot as a university student. There were calls for his resignation. That kind of response would be laughed at today. Who didn’t smoke pot in university? (I know I did.) It’s not something I am particularly proud of, but it’s just a fact.

 
The same goes for sex. Kids are experimenting with sex at a younger and younger age. I teach secondary school, and again, I would be hard pressed to find a virgin past the tenth grade. I even know several girls who have experimented with same sex relationships because this has now become almost cool. It’s mainstream. None of their peers bat an eye. The response is, “How else am I supposed to know if it’s for me?” While this is an unfortunate lie of the devil, it is also the new reality. Even Christian kids and young adults are having trouble standing up to the pressure.

 

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Nike: You so nailed it. Whether it be through public school sex ed classes, or what passes for PG-13 movies, kids today know a great deal about sex. What they’re getting from media and their friends is often presented in an extremely crass manner. There’s nothing lovely about it. I’m hearing from my 16 year-old exactly what you mentioned about same sex experimentation among girls…that it’s thought to be cool. And let’s be honest. The boys are excited by it. And the school tells the girls it’s perfectly appropriate to experiment in that way.

 

 
An increasing number of Christian authors have been called to write novels in such a way so that Christians who are facing these difficult issues with their own children and grandchildren can find comfort, be uplifted, and not feel so alone. Often those in the pews are hiding these problems from their fellow church goers. Even though many of them are going through the same issues, they dare not share the burden because of shame. This is an area where Christian fiction can break new ground and minister to those in the body of Christ who are hurting.

 

Wind Over MarshdaleTracy: I love what you just said about Christian fiction being a vehicle to minister to the body of Christ. This is exactly what I feel called to do in my writing. I am a firm believer that fiction can be a powerful tool. I have been ministered to by various books I’ve read, as I’m sure you have, too. (Frank Peretti always comes to mind. I’m still his number one fan! Francine Rivers is another writer whose books have had a profound impact.) Most of the time I try not to compare myself to what others are doing, but once in awhile I feel inadequate – like my work is shallow or too romantic or not theological enough… or whatever. Then I get feedback from readers saying that they identified with a certain character or have gone through a similar circumstance and I know that God is using my words. Even if the impact is felt by only a few, it is still ministry. Not every church has thousands of members.

 
Whether I am the right person to minister to the teens we talked about earlier is still up for debate. In all honesty, I doubt it. So far my audience has been more along the lines of thirty – somethings to fifty-somethings and that’s okay with me. The point isn’t so much the target audience as the fact that society has changed – for everyone. There are people who need to know they are not alone in facing some of the issues that plague our current culture. These could be recent converts, backslidden Christians, or people disillusioned with playing ‘church’. I seem to come across more and more of the latter these days and that tells me something. People are searching but they are tired of the status quo.

 
One of the things I’ve tried to do over the years in my writing is avoid giving pat answers. (Other than the fact that Jesus is the answer. Period.) Working through the rest of life’s problems will be messy. Even ‘good Christian’ families have struggles that might surprise if shared openly. My husband and I used to pastor a church and believe me, our family is not perfect by any stretch. In essence this is what the whole ‘edgy’ debate is about. Accepting people where they are at, allowing them to see that they are not alone, and finally, pointing them toward the one who can support them along the journey.

Harmful Intent, Amazon Lg

 

Nike: I have a background in public relations. I worked mostly in the bridal industry, but also for a private college. The rule of thumb is that for every one letter or email received, there were ten other individuals who were impacted but did not write. I’ve gotten feedback that the characters in my novels, warts and all, feel like real people with real struggles. I also have a readership of mostly women from 30-something to 50-plus. But these are the very women who are often struggling with children and grandchildren facing these issues…in a day and age when parental authority is being pushed aside. And these women are struggling with marital issues, adultery, divorce.

 
Yes, most definitely, Jesus is the answer to all problems, but a lot of people can’t seem to wrap their minds around that. This is where a good story as a vehicle can help. I’ve been told by Christian nay sayers that the crime scenes in my whodunits are a tad too gritty. I can assure everyone that what I describe isn’t even close to the reality police detectives, CSI, and EMS personnel see at a real murder scene. I’ve also been told murder mysteries can’t minister. They’re simply entertainment, and often dark entertainment. It’s my firm belief that at the heart of all crime fiction (Christian suspense and the most worldly general fiction thrillers) is the struggle between good and evil. My novels are a bit of a warning, wrapped up in a good story with lots of humor. I also try to depict ordinary, decent people struggling against evil. Many non-Christians as well as backsliders were finally able to submit to the Lord after a total awakening to gross evil. They saw raw, gross evil, admitted Satan was real, and then were forced to admit a Holy God was real.

 

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Tracy: As a ‘fan’ of your work, I don’t think your crime scenes are too graphic by any means, Nike. I wonder if these critics have read Ted Dekker? He is rarely blatant about the gospel message, but the ‘good vs. evil’ theme definitely resonates and this does speak to people.

 

 
I think my own writing is edgy in terms of the moral failings that the characters have to work through. (Pornography, promiscuity, drugs and alcohol abuse…) I’ve also tackled potentially controversial topics like the occult, native spirituality, and intelligent design. I don’t try to wrap these issues up neatly since I don’t presume to have all the answers. Instead, my goal is to make people think; make them ask questions and potentially investigate the topic further. For instance, my first novel AND THE BEAT GOES ON is about a scientist who comes across evidence for creation and then has to grapple with his believes about the origins of the universe. I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers saying they like the way the book asks more questions than it answers. One lady wrote me a hand written letter because she didn’t have a computer, but expressed her appreciation for the way I addressed the issue of intelligent design without trying to ‘explain’ everything. Another woman of native ancestry commended the frankness with which I addressed smudging in WIND OVER MARHSDALE, while another said she identified so strongly with the character of Joleen in MY MOTHER THE MAN-EATER because of her own checkered past that she bought a copy for her sister-in-law, a non-Christian who also had a similar past.

 

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Nike: Life is not easy by any means. The technological age has brought many vices into our homes. With a click of the TV wand, or a click of the mouse we can be face-to-face with full frontal nudity…and if we don’t have parental guidelines locked into place, so can our children. Teens plan and engage in gang-bullying via the internet. Church goers may find their child or grandchild is the victim of this bullying, or is part of the gang out of fear if he/she isn’t she/he will be the next victim.

 
Christians who are facing these issues no longer want to feel like pariahs within their churches. They don’t want to have to pretend any longer they’ve got the perfect Christian family. Many backsliders left because they did feel like outcasts. I hope my novels can reach them. I hope my stories can reach seekers who have more questions than they have answers about God, the meaning of life, and what it’s all about.

 

 

Purchase Links:
WIND OVER MARSHDALE: Amazon http://amzn.to/1j1ceE8
HARMFUL INTENT: Amazon http://amzn.to/SsPthK

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About NikeChillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She writes literature that reads like pulp fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad, and her good guys smarter and better. She is the founder and chair of the Grace Awards, a member of ACFW. She has judged numerous literary awards including the Grace Awards, Carol Awards, Inspy Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Awards. View all posts by NikeChillemi

25 responses to “Edgy Christian Fiction Just Ain’t That Edgy Anymore ~ Tracy Krauss and I Simul-Post on Each Other’s Blogs

  • Carole Brown

    Good job, gals. I agree whole-heartedly!

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    • NikeChillemi

      Carole, There is so much going on within the body of Christ, let alone what Christians are buffeted with outside. There is a Christian readership that would like to see this reflected in fiction. They would like to see more of the struggle they are having show up in Christian fiction. This is not in any way to put down the traditional, gentler Christian novel. Christians are a varied group and our reading tastes reflect this.

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  • Abbey

    I really appreciate your conversation on good Christian literature as a clean book that is “good” is not always easy to come by. But, having grown up in a home with a mom who wanted to raise me with good moral standards and who was very interested in my teenage life, I can imagine that many moms are very grateful for your efforts as well. Even if your books arent always reaching a younger audience. This is an article that goes into detail just how much christian mothers are grateful for efforts such as yours, as they are trying to raise their children. Even when it seems that moral standars are faultering in the world, God’s standards do not change. And as Christians we should strive to keep our standards alligned with His.
    http://www.reallifeanswers.org/everyday-faith/how-can-i-protect-my-children/

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  • Tracy Krauss

    I enjoyed our little ‘tete-a-tete’ Nike. (As always) I just managed to post the article on my own blog – http://www.tracykraussexpressionexpress.com/2014/05/edgy-christian-fiction-just-aint-that.html

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  • Deborah K. Anderson

    You both nailed it. And for the reasons you mentioned, I’ll soon be indie publishing a YA novel. It deals with spiritual warfare, thoughts of suicide, drug addiction, and bullying. And I’ve seen all of it, up close and personal, just as much inside the church as outside the church doors.

    I was just talking to someone about this the other day. It seems that a lot of Christians feel that writing about these topics will make them look bad, or that it will make others think that Christians sin.

    Well, you know what? They do. And I think that shoving this under the rug has contributed to the problem. Although we always strive to do our best, things still happen. That’s why we need the Blood of Christ. Without him, none of us would stand a chance.

    So we shouldn’t be afraid to be transparent. There was only one perfect man, and his name is Jesus. That’s why he gave his life for all of us. He knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

    Great post.

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    • NikeChillemi

      Yes, Deb, it’s going on inside the church. And if we have our kids and grandkids in public schools (it’s happening in Christian schools to but to a lesser extent), if we don’t address it…if it’s too messy for us…then we leave our children to face this and fight it alone. Telling them to abstain from sex and drug doesn’t cut it any more. The battle is raging.

      And as you point out, if we weren’t sinners, we wouldn’t need a Savior.

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  • Joe Prentis

    Someone on a Christian forum once asked the question, ‘What is Christian fiction?’ The answer I gave was this: Christian fiction can involve any event, crime, or life situation. The difference is in the attitude of the author. Are we discussing dishonesty, rape, or murder with lip-smacking glee, or are we showing situations that are true to life but with an upbeat resolution.

    My suspense novels are filled with violence, but they are closely aligned with old-fashioned God-fearing morals. The good guys win in the end, but often after paying a price. I think this is true to life as I have experienced it.

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  • D. J. Blackmore

    Reblogged this on D. J Blackmore and commented:
    Thought provoking. I agree wholeheartedly when you say that although Christian standards remain the same, the fact is, the world is changing. The old adage, ‘we are not of the world, but in the world’, is something to remember as we consider our stance, but also reach out to those in need. Thanks for the post.

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    • NikeChillemi

      DJ, Many of our readers (women 25 – 65 is the demographic) are the ones in need. They have children who are facing the ugliness of this world. They are forced into jobs to keep food on the table where they are faced with the ugliness of the world. We can’t come into church on Sunday, smile like Sally SuperChristian and make like everything is all right.

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  • D. J. Blackmore

    ‘We are not of the world, we are in the world’ perhaps says clearly that our Christian stance shouldn’t change, but that reaching out to others is also part of our calling. Of what value can our writing be if it addresses nothing but gentle escapism? I appreciated your post.
    D. J. Blackmore

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  • Barbara Hartzler

    I love that you’re tackling this topic of edgy Christian fiction. I didn’t even realize there was an Edgy Christian Fiction site, gotta look into that.

    As I gear up to put my first YA novel out with a small press, this fear grips me. What if I offend Christians? I’m not so worried about offending non-Christians because my angel book is tame compared to secular comparables. But the questions I raise about angels, and their counterparts, coupled w/a made up Bible conspiracy that the heroine fights will surely hit someone in the wrong spot.

    How do you handle the backlash when it, inevitably, comes your way?

    Like

    • NikeChillemi

      Barbara, I’ve never had a backlash from readers. I’ve always been upfront that my novels, although they’re sweet romances have characters who are not Barbie and Ken dolls. My main characters do have working parts in the nether region…and still my stories remain sweet…with some warmth. I also have really bad bad guys, gritty crime scenes. I think if you say what your novel is about in interviews, you won’t get a backlash.

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    • Tracy Krauss

      I had to jump in here as well, Barbara. The best recourse is NO recourse. Apologies and defensive explanations aren’t professional in my view. Just accept the fact that not everyone is going to love what you’ve written. Hopefully there will be others who will. If you include a short disclaimer (ex: “This is a book of fiction” etc…) then there is really nothing else to say.

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      • NikeChillemi

        Barbara, Tracy, I think our cover and blurb should convey to a great extent what type of book it is. A very sweet romance might have a cover with pastels and butterflies. A murder mystery has a certain type of cover. You can look at it and know it’s a whodunit. If the novel deals with warfare between angelic and demonic forces, the cover should convert that or the blurb should. I read a comment in a Goodreads group from a young woman who had stopped reading such a book. She wasn’t putting down the book. She said, she knew about what is beyond the veil. She said it was too real for her and because of her temperment, she had to stay away from it. We all know what we can and should be reading.

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      • Barbara Hartzler

        Thanks Nike and Tracy! I never thought that just being up front and making sure I had a disclaimer would be all I’d need. It actually make so much sense in its simplicity.

        I’ve heard advice that you should respond to all your readers’ emails, but I have to agree with you Tracy, apologies and defensiveness aren’t professional. That seems especially true with more anonymous reviews like those on Amazon or Goodreads.

        I just tend to receive love it or hate it reviews on contests, which is totally different than a published book. Because like you put it, Nike, there’s the cover & back cover blurb to give readers a choice to read my books or not.

        I really enjoyed this discussion, and the simple solutions you’ve both offered. Thanks for responding to me! 🙂

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      • NikeChillemi

        Barbara, You have to be sure that you don’t over do the disclaimer. If you over do it, you’ll frighten away readers who would otherwise buy your book. I put a line at the end of my blurb on HARMFUL INTENT [Sweet, askance romance, warm intimacy, sophisticated themes presented tastefully.] So far, every novel I’ve written has had a sweet romance. But these characters do have some feelings they have to deal with, so I mention the warmth. And I’ve got sub-themes of infidelity, childhood abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc.

        Contest judges are not readers. I don’t know what it is when a person starts judging. The power goes to their heads. Luckily we haven’t had that problem yet at the Grace Awards. All of the judges are pretty sensitive to the feelings of the authors.

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      • Barbara Hartzler

        Again, keeping it simple. Great tip, I like it! I think I’ll have to check into the Grace Awards, it’s all in the title right?

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      • NikeChillemi

        Barbara, Go to the Grace Awards group on FB. We team tweet there, but it’s very relaxed. If you don’t tweet one week, or two, or three, nobody gets up in arms. Do what you can. You tweet for others and they tweet for you.

        We also do a Christmas Book Bash (blog tour). This year we’re thinking of doing something for YA and Spec Fic, since that’s what the younger generation is reading. Don’t know what we’re going to do yet.

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      • Barbara Hartzler

        Thanks Nike, I just joined. 🙂

        Like

  • Adam Collings

    Interesting discussion. Sounds like the more the world changes, the more ‘edgy Christian fiction’ is needed.

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