Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the first of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.
“We tried mightily to get the retailing powers to start a visionary fiction shelf. We came close with Walden, but the suits at B&N, alas, took the position of ‘no one is coming into the store asking for visionary fiction’,” said editor Bob Friedman of the situation as he saw it at Hampton Roads Publishing some years ago. And those who frequent this and similar websites cannot have missed that the brain storming, hand-wringing and campaigning over a proper name for our genre—what we ought to call ourselves—still continues.
Bob’s comment nails the dilemma: How can readers ask for our kind of book if they don’t know what we call it? It’s not that they don’t read in the genre (best-sellers Richard Bach, James Redfield, Hermann Hesse, Paulo Coelho, Anne Rice, and Richard Matheson are a few authors that Freidman cites as VFers). While I must presume, to write this article fairly, that the name selection process is still open, I couldn’t start writing it without adopting some sort of a moniker for it. (And, yes, my title betrays a prejudice for “visionary fiction.” To satisfy sticklers for unbiased elections, I’ll keep “visionary fiction” in lower case when not part of the title.) My need to explain myself at such length in this paragraph shows, intentionally, how complex it is to discuss a subject without a discrete name. Sadly, for we live on words, this is the situation with our genre.
For the record and to set my cred, I am a Johnny-come-lately to the novel writing profession, having spent most of my 60+ years as a generalist (see the bio on my website if you want to know more about me). Horizontal range of experience, as contrasted to the specialist’s depth, enables me to quickly recognize an area of confusion and then suggest clarification and action that brings about initial coherence.
I didn’t go looking for this mess, but I saw I stepped into a big one during my first agent interview. Brashly dismissive of traditional marketing requirements, I was actually proud that my first novel defied categorization. The agent’s opening question: “What’s your genre?” I hesitated, cleared my throat, and prepared to explain. The pitch came and went: Strike One!
Here I had blended elements of traditional history, alternative history, orthodox religion, New Age spirituality, the paranormal (dreams, extrasensory perception), and the metaphysical (reincarnation), spicing the concoction with mystery and suspense techniques—something for everyone—and here I was being told I wouldn’t get near any readers without a genre badge. My flapping wings summarily clipped, I began the search for a label worthy of my opus. This being the early 2000’s, I stumbled across Michael Gurian’s now inactive website, visionaryfiction.org, with this statement, “‘Visionary fiction’ is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” Hmm, I thought, that works. He then prefaced a long list of recommended ingredients with: “In visionary fiction, the following sorts of things not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e., without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” As I read his list, I got excited: my novel, The Anathemas, had enough of his suggested elements to be a veritable visionary fiction fruitcake: mystical experiences, visions, clusters of eerie coincidence, past life realization, to name a few.
Elated to have found the perfect label, I plastered “Visionary Fiction” all over my query letters and summaries. That would do the trick—NOT. Turns out it only made it easier for prospective agents to pick the appropriate rejection slip: “We’re sorry, but we do not represent works in your genre. In our experience it has proven not to sell well.” A swing this time, but a miss. Strike Two.
But not out yet. In the ensuing decade, technology came to the rescue, and I paid an inexpensive print-on-demand publisher to produce and distribute the hard copy of the novel and later plodded through Amazon’s cryptic instructions to post a Kindle version. Self-marketing, once anathema to the creative (and often cash-impaired) writer, became tolerable through a website, chat groups and other virtually free forms of social media. I bit the bullet and devoted some of my scarce writing time to ad copy and on-line conversations. Wonder of wonders, I discovered other writers out there who wrote and other readers who read “visionary fiction,” albeit under various names: metaphysical, spiritual, New Age, alternative, even defaulting to literary, paranormal and fantasy in cases.
Then earlier this year (2013) I happened across an intrepid gang of authors, mostly women I noticed, who had formed the Visionary Fiction Alliance with objectives I could align with:
- Increase awareness of the genre
- Help readers to discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction
- Mentor new writers who wish to explore this genre
- Provide resources for writers of Visionary Fiction
- Be a place where readers can find Visionary Fiction books and engage in discussion with the authors
It wasn’t a home run, but my third swing got me on base with a cast capable of pushing some runs across batting behind me. They had already christened themselves the Visionary Fiction Alliance. Visionary Fiction was emblazoned on their team jerseys and even painted on their water bucket. I got me one of those shirts and put it on.
But…but…but—I can hear it starting again. Maybe, we should call ourselves New Age, or Metaphysical or Spiritual or Gnostic (a favorite of mine) or Alternative or some compound thereof. To which I respond in the words of PJ Swanwick: “Does the name even matter as much as getting readers to identify with it…the really, really big issue is ‘How do we make it go viral?’ Let’s just pick one and stick to it.”
Case closed? Case closed. Let’s paint VISIONARY FICTION in bold red letters on our genre buckets and be done with it. Don’t worry, the fun (argument) is not over. But that’s for part two of this article: “What Goes in the Bucket?” At least, while we’re thrashing around in there, we’ll have a name for what we’re talking about.
But now, jump in, grab a brush, and splash your signature on the Visionary Fiction bucket by replying in the Comments section below. Then, let’s get on with it. As most of us already know: We have work to do!
A lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations. THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution, is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.
Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket
Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes in the Bucket?
Visionary Fiction Part Three: Practical Action Plan