Edgy? Clean? Writing Across Genre Divides

Y'all, y'all, y'all. I cannot tell you how excited I am to interview the fabulous Laurel Garver today! She's a longtime bloggy friend, incredibly talented, and she's in the middle of a blog tour (or ramble, as she likes to call it) to celebrate the release of her book Never Gone. (Not to be confused with the 2005 Backstreet Boys album)

When we were discussing what topic to cover, I jumped all over this one. Every writer I know whose faith is central in their life struggles with this issue at one time or another. I've known CBA writers who are frustrated because their work was deemed too secular, and general market writers who are frustrated because they have to sneak in any faith issues. Today, Laurel agreed to talk about her personal journey finding a balance. And I'm going to stop talking because she says it so much better than I can:

What is your novel Never Gone about?
A grieving teen believes her dead father has come back as a ghost to help her reconcile with her estranged mother.
That’s my most brief synopsis. My favorite synopsis is the trailer (Karen's note: mine, too):
How did this story lead you to cross genre boundaries?
This is a grief story that happens to involve a ghost. So there's a supernatural element, even though my overall approach is like most YA contemporary issue books, including a romantic subplot. As I wrote, I found it impossible not to address the spiritual questions that always come up when a person is grieving — about the nature of life and of a higher power. I also don’t shy away from the authentic emotional rawness of feeling bereft and furious about the loss. The trouble is, secular publishers want the ghosts and grit without God, while religious publishers want God without the grit and ghosts.

What has your experience been with genre divides?
Mash-ups have become the new trend in YA literature, according to this article in Publisher’s Weekly. Increasingly readers (and publishers) are interested in books that cross former genre divides, especially if it involves some fantastical element.
But there are some divides publishers will not yet cross. The secular vs. Christian market divide remains a huge one. The more I’ve researched, the more I see sides becoming polarized. It’s rare to see people of faith portrayed positively in secular books, or if they are, the spiritual content is downplayed. You might have a single mention of a character attending church, but little evidence that faith informs how they think or live the other six days of the week. On the other side, Christian publishers’ already-strict content guidelines are becoming even more rigid, as evidenced in this article from a Christianity Today blog.

How did the issue impact your publishing path?
I realized that a wide no-man’s land has opened in the publishing landscape — where works by authors like Charles Williams, Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy, Susan Howatch, and others used to be welcome. Their stories don’t shy away from the darker aspects of life, and because of that, the faith expressed is more profound because of its willingness to get dirty.
Today, this gap is largely being filled by small presses and self-published authors. Coming to grips with that reality was something of a grieving process for me. I concluded that walking away from both sides — essentially refusing to take sides — seemed for me the best way to be faithful to the kinds of stories I’m called to tell.

You call Never Gone’s genre “YA edgy inspirational.” What does that mean?
It means Christian in outlook, but with mature, challenging situations. “Edgy” here is not what mainstream publishers mean by the term — they’re generally talking content and language that would earn an R rating if it were a film. My story is “edgy” compared to other books in the Christian book market. It breaks a lot of their rules. My main character Danielle is Anglican, not nondenominational. Several chapters are set in an English pub, the hub of village life. The teen characters don’t imbibe alcohol, but the adults do.

Does that mean Never Gone is actually clean YA?
It depends on what you mean by “clean.” If you mean no foul language, graphic violence, drug use, underage drinking, or sex, then yes. By those standards, it’s cleaner than most mainstream contemporary YA, including Sarah Dessen’s books or even Sara Zarr’s.
But if by “clean,” you mean “Could I give it to a precocious eleven-year-old?” then I’d have to say maybe not (depends on the kid, and how protective the parents). The story is intended for ages 14 and up because it deals with difficult emotions, as well as tough situations in Danielle’s family. Dani also does some risky, foolish things and deals with predatory men. At its heart, the story encourages kids to understand their parents as complete people, with complex pasts that shape who they are now—an idea not quite developmentally appropriate for elementary-aged kids.

Laurel Garver is a magazine editor, professor’s wife and mom to an energetic fourth grader. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who, playing word games, singing, and mentoring teens at her church.
Add Never Gone on Goodreads. Read a sample chapter.
It is available as an ebook and a paperback at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace.


It's my favorite time of the year.

That's right. Baker's Dozen Agent Auction time

The actual auction may not be until December, but it's never too early to practice my twitter-chanting (& taunting) skills. And I'm not trying to put down any of the other fine agents on the line-up, but...just remember...Victoria Marini...she may be small, but she's feisty!