Why the Edgy End of the Spectrum Feels Like Home

When I began writing fiction, I wrote.  Words came into my head, and I typed them on the screen. Even as I began to learn how little I knew about novel-writing, my concerns were limited to grammar and craft. Big-picture issues such as genre or marketing weren’t on my radar.

Eventually, the time comes when most writers need to categorize their book, if not their writing style. After all, it’s hard to target your niche (and consequently sell books) if no one, including you, knows what it is you write.Edgy

After much reading and grasping at plausible labels, I’ve come to call the edgy end of the Christian romance spectrum my literary home. (While my faith perspective is mainly Catholic Christian, I say “Christian” since it is a recognizable literary market.)

The edgy end of “clean” is a perfect fit for me because:

  • I prefer realism in writing to over-stylized fairy tales, stories of modern-day nobility, sanitized novels about Amish life, or overly-simplistic, white-washed fiction.
  • Romantic love, including its spine-tingling highs and heartbreaking lows, is a beautiful, God-given thing. After all, God is love, and writing romance is a defensible pursuit. (See my Romance Writer Manifesto, a guest post for Erin McCole Cupp’s blog.)
  • Human sexuality is important stuff—critical to family life, child-rearing, and societal stability. It should be spoken and written about with honesty and clarity.
  • Temptation is real. So is virtue.
  • We’re not souls trapped in bodies or animals with feelings. We are both body and soul. (No Gnosticism here, thank you. Nor any room for Jansenism. (If you think old heresies are dead and gone, see this post by Christopher West.))

As a Catholic writer, “edgy” feels natural. My heritage is decidedly not Puritan or Quaker. We’ve got smells and bells, sacraments. Look at the Cistine Chapel – we like bodies. No one’s throwing off the mortal coil, and we’re not afraid to talk about same-sex attraction, the nitty gritty of natural family planning, or masturbation.

All of this is not to say the genre is for everyone. No genre—no book—is for everyone. Even a non-pornographic novel may trouble particular persons. For some, edgy could be a source of temptation. Readers must possess enough self-awareness to recognize their limitations. (My blog post: Beneath the Cover of Your Kindle, How Hot Is Too Hot?)

Like Goldilocks selecting her “just right” porridge from the middle, I think edgy Christian romance is just right – midway between the equally troublesome traps of pornography and prudery.

The downside to life in the middle is being hit from both sides. (I’ve read stories of several authors’ frustration with being simultaneously too Christian and not Christian enough. And romance and sexuality are a lightning bolt for such criticism.) That’s okay. I’m pretty sure I can stand to grow in humility.

For someone whose outward appearance or behavior has surely never, ever been referred to as “edgy,” making my home on the edgy end of the spectrum sounds like fun.

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10 thoughts on “Why the Edgy End of the Spectrum Feels Like Home

  1. I’ve been reading a diverse cross-cut of ‘romance’ to see where the boundaries lay both inside and outside Christian fiction. I’m amazed how little marriage fiction exists across the board. I also find it interesting that so much of mainstream fiction relationships are about self-empowerment and getting what you want. They always leave me wondering how long that relationship is really going to last once they have children, face a financial crisis, or simply after the honeymoon novelty wears off. I would love to see more fiction that shows the highs and lows of marriage relationships and how self-less and God-centered they require us to be in order for true passion to thrive. Keep writing, Carolyn.

    • That’s an astute observation, Jessica. I agree that there’s a dearth of married love stories. I’m guessing because it’s a little tougher to write since the highs and lows are sometimes smothered by the mundane. I want to say the big conflicts are already resolved in marriage, but anyone that’s been married knows there is plenty of conflict left and lots of highs and lows.

      I haven’t read much romance out the Christian section lately, but what you’re saying rings true. So much about modern life if about self-empowerment and personal fulfillment – which is often incompatible with a successful marriage and family life.

  2. I finally figured out that I’m a Southern Fiction writer. It took me awhile to get there. It’s still strange to me to label my writing and put myself in a box, so to speak! Glad you found your niche.

  3. Pingback: Beneath the Cover of Your Kindle, How Hot Is Too Hot? | Carolyn Astfalk

  4. Pingback: Romance Writer Manifesto: A Guest Post from Carolyn Astfalk | Erin McCole Cupp

  5. “Temptation is real. So is virtue.”

    I love that! So true.

    “Readers must possess enough self-awareness to recognize their limitations.”

    That’s something I always try to keep in mind when I’m reading –I’ve heard the cons of Christian romance can be unrealistic attitudes or expectations in regards to real life romantic relationships. Having never been in that situation, in the back of my mind, I wonder if that’s true. Being aware of it as a reader (like that a great guy might not be a physically gorgeous Adonis), I hope is enough …

  6. I try to remind myself that no book is for everyone. We each bring our own experiences, strengths and weaknesses to a novel when we read – part of what makes it such a rich, unique experience.

    I personally don’t go for the Adonis-type hero generally speaking, but I do allow for the exaggeration of the characters’ physical appeal in the early stages of a relationship when it’s all new and exciting. Especially if the character is good but flawed in some way so he/she has a nice story arc.

    Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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