Last week marked the third anniversary of the small press that has released my last three books, The Crossover Alliance. In fact, my disaster thriller Beast was the first book released under its name. The motto of TCA is “A Different Kind of Fiction,” and their mission has been to put out Christian fiction that most publishers would consider too edgy, especially for the Christian market. TCA isn’t the first press to venture into these waters but it’s the first to go all in without leaning on side imprints for market stability or broader audience reach.
While I’d love to toot my publisher’s horn, I want to focus on this nebulous term “edgy Christian fiction” and what it means today compared to what it meant just a few years ago. When one hears the term “edgy,” it usually means “hip” or “cool” or “trendy.” People often correlate “edgy” with “cutting edge,” the latest, most fashionable thing in this or that industry.
But there is another meaning of “edgy,” one which applies more to creative people and their endeavors. When a book or movie or piece of art is labeled “edgy,” it means something that is on the edge of social acceptability, something far outside the mainstream so as to be on the edge of what people will digest. The word “edgy” is not a friendly word. After all, what has edges? Knives, scalpels, axes. The sharper the edge, the better the cutting tool. Something “edgy” divides and separates into those who dig it and those who don’t. It’s challenging and often uncomfortable, rewarding for some and repulsive to others.
Mainstream Christian fiction is usually the picture perfect example of a safe product. Yes, there are turbulent emotions and conflicts and struggles, but in terms of unsavory content, you’ll be hard pressed to find a “Gosh darn it!” This sort of writing characterizes the vast majority of Christian fiction and the publishers are very careful to maintain their sanitary image, lest their readers cry foul. This overemphasis on cleanliness makes it an easy target for mockery and derision by those of us on the edge. Sometimes the jabs are deserved, other times not. There is a wide spectrum of reasons why but the whole scenario can be likened to an unknown punk rock band grumbling about playing to empty bars while the sellout mainstream rock band that totally sucks plays to packed arenas. But hey, at least the punk rock band is staying true to themselves and playing from their heart, rather than what a boardroom of corporate suits tells them to play to get on the radio.
While edgy Christian fiction rarely appears on the bookshelves of the local Christian bookstore (though it is happening more and more), one can look at places like Realm Makers to see the popularity of stories that would be considered far too edgy for the Christian market just five or ten years ago. That’s not to say that the books at these events are bursting with swear words and nudity and sadistic gore, but they’re not windswept prairie romances either. So does this mean that “edgy” is losing its edge? I don’t think so. It means that more people are broadening their understanding of what Christian fiction can encompass.
There are many dangers, of course. Writers can include unsavory content for shock value. Readers can gravitate towards edgy books with a rebellious or sinful heart. Readers and writers can look down on “clean” books and chide them for being literary sissies. The drive toward edginess can overshadow the drive toward glorifying Christ. This is the most popular pitfall that many on the edge fall into. Any book by a Christian author, whether it is labeled as “Christian fiction” or not, should be judged by 1 Cor. 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (NASB). As Christian readers and writers, we are called not just to artistic excellence but most importantly to glorify God by what we read and write. Edgy for the sake of edginess is folly, especially if it leads readers’ imaginations into sin. But if God has impressed a story on our hearts that trudges through some mud into order to illuminate His truth, then we shouldn’t be scared of getting a little dirty.