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Provided by Monster Ivy Publishing
Mary Gray, left, and Cammie Larsen are publishing "edgy but clean" YA books with their new publishing company, Monster Ivy Publishing.

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of Latter-day Saint authors from Texas is publishing young adult books with a twist. Their books tell stories that are "edgy but clean" while also teaching Christian values.

If that sounds like a hard sell, that’s because it is — Monster Ivy Publishing’s co-founders Mary Gray and Cammie Larsen can tell you from firsthand experience. Before launching their business, Gray had a hard time convincing mainstream and Christian publishers to take on her books.

"I pitched a book to an LDS publisher, and they were wonderful," Gray recounted. "But they point-blank said, 'We will not publish books with zombies.'"

Stories of possessions, ghosts and demons? Those were also off the table. And dark subject matter — such as abuse — was something else that didn’t fit neatly among the typically lighthearted books that conservative publishers were selling. On the flipside, New York agents and editors weren’t excited about the subtle Christian undertones of Gray’s writing.

Provided by Monster Ivy Publishing
"Willow Marsh" by Jo Cassidy is one of Monster Ivy Publishing's latest novels to hit shelves.

"There’s a big belief system out there that we (shouldn’t) talk about God or Christianity in our writing," Gray said. "A lot of agents and editors say they will not represent these types of books."

Larsen added, "(Mary) was having trouble landing that big sweet publishing gig because the traditional big publishers wanted her to put things in the book that we didn’t agree with."

But they believe a demand for edgy fiction with Christian values exists. So they put their theory to the test and took matters into their own hands. Gray and Larsen founded Monster Ivy Publishing in 2017, allowing them — and other writers in the same boat — to tell darker stories without compromising their values.

"If you look at things like VidAngel, there’s a big market out there (from) people who want these … more intense stories without the guilt," Gray said. "We think there’s a genre out there that we can tap into."

At the heart of Monster Ivy is the idea that difficult topics should be confronted through a faith-promoting mindset. It’s a far cry from stories that revel in darker elements just for the sake of being dark. Gray and Larsen hope their business will be an "emissary of light," highlighting hope amidst dark realities while nurturing faith.

"There are problems out there that people are facing, so let’s deal with them in a healthy way," Larsen said. "The rest of the stories you’re getting from the rest of the world, they’re not facing them in a healthy way."

Provided by Monster Ivy Publishing
Mary Gray, left, and Cammie Larsen are publishing "edgy but clean" YA books with their new publishing company, Monster Ivy Publishing.

Readers can expect to find monsters, demons and zombies in many of Monster Ivy’s books, but they can also be assured that the stories won’t venture past inappropriate lines. Gray and Larsen admit that there may be some violence in the books they publish, but it’s not gratuitous — don’t expect buckets of blood and gore from Monster Ivy (Larsen said even Stephen King is too much for her at times). They also try to be mindful of swearing. And there’s no overly sexual content either. Kissing? Yes. But graphically intimate scenes? Not so much.

"Our teenagers are kissing … You still get all the feels, but they’re also doing their best to make good choices," Gray said.

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Since its launch, Monster Ivy has published six novels with several more on the way in the coming months and year. Among their titles is Gray’s book, "Our Sweet Guillotine," a love story set in Revolutionary France where a young executioner falls in love with the vengeful daughter of a woman he killed. Another, "Willow Marsh" by Utah author Jo Cassidy, tells the story of a girl who tries to make contact with her dead mother and brother, but accidentally opens a gateway that allows unwanted guests to pass through.

Monster Ivy still has a long road ahead, but Gray and Larsen are encouraged by the reception they’ve seen so far. In the future, they plan to add more fantasy and science fiction pieces to their catalog and they’re hoping to acquire stories with male protagonists. They’re even looking into audiobooks.

"It’s fun," Larsen said. "I think it’s just going to continue to grow and expand."