Editor’s note: One of our Visionary Fiction Alliance founding members, Margaret Duarte, wrote a review of Rea Martin Nolan’s latest book, Mystic Tea. You can read the review here. We were so pleased with how Rea represented Visionary Fiction that we asked her to share her perspective on what is important in writing Visionary Fiction, and how she goes about writing it. Here is Rea’s insightful response.
Visionary fiction is a delicate matter requiring a mastery of creative and technical balance. Unlike Fantasy, which generally takes place entirely in realms of the authors invention, Visionary Fiction is best told in the firmament of human physical and emotional experience. For me, at least, the goal is not to write exclusively for mystics, but for readers in the process of awakening. This requires an accessible entry point with opening scenes steeped in familiar culture, grounded in temporal human experience.
Since Visionary Fiction bears witness and insight into expanded awareness, the question then is how to balance the story structure. I have been writing what is now known as Visionary Fiction for twenty years. In my short stories, first two novels, and the third novel, The Anesthesia Gamewhich will debut this year, I maintain a similar ratio of concrete to mystical of about 2:1. Of course (being visionary) I didn’t craft this ratio consciously. However, looking back, I see what I’ve done time and again. This ratio has been so successful for me because it grounds the reader firmly in the third dimension before introducing any significant mystical or esoteric scenes. By the time the story launches into the mystical, the reader … Continue reading
Many people are familiar with Dion Fortune as a spiritual teacher in the Western Metaphysical Tradition, the founder of Fraternity of the Inner Light (later re-named the Society of the Inner Light). She was born Violet Mary Firth in Wales in December of 1890.
Dion Fortune showed psychic abilities as a child, and later reported a life in Atlantis as a priestess. She became interested in the occult when studying with a Freudian lay analyst. She pursued both esoteric and psychiatric study in her life, joining the Golden Dawn when she moved to London, then beginning her own group at the foot of Glastonbury Tor in 1924. Before leaving the Golden Dawn, Fortune studied psychiatry with Dr. Moriarty (it looks like Arthur Conan Doyle may have known him, too). She wrote many nonfiction titles on magic and occultism; many have become standard references in the serious study of esotericism. She wrote under the pseudonym Dion Fortune, most likely taken from her family moto Deo Non Fortuna, ‘God not luck’. She is buried in Glastonbury, England.
Two of Fortune’s novels focus on tantric ritual or sacred sexuality, The Sea Priestess (1935) and Moon Magic (1956). Some claim that Fortune included spiritual principles in her novels that were too secret to be published in her nonfiction, and perhaps it was this sexual content that the time period could not handle being discussed more openly.
However, the head of her branch of the Golden Dawn, Moina Mathers, objected strenuously to Fortune’s writing at first, fearing she was sharing secrets not meant for the general public. In her fiction, it seems Fortune wanted to … Continue reading
You can view Part One of this intriguing exploration by guest author Stephen Weinstock here.
In Part One, I outlined the parallels between Arabic fiction’s uphill battle for acceptance in the first centuries of Islam. I believe the criticism and slow acceptance of Visionary Fiction goes back to the same kind of interdiction against fiction that occurred at the start of Islam. To state a truth that is spiritual, religious, or transcendent in non-fiction is relatively acceptable, but when you attempt to express that truth using fictional characters, imaginative worlds, and intricate story lines, you risk cheapening or corrupting the statement. I worry about this impurity in my series 1001: The Reincarnation Chronicles, because I use humor, the banality of suburban life, and the characters’ foibles to make past life experiences more palatable. But does lightening the message water it down?
Inversely, infusing an accepted genre like science fiction, fantasy, or romance with a strong spiritual statement has been frowned upon for corrupting the intrinsic experience of those forms. Yet this was key to greater acceptance of both Arabic and Visionary fiction. The fantastical or ribald elements of the stories in Kalila wa Dimna or the maqamat derived from the popular culture of street storytellers. The Thousand and One Nights also had its origins in popular bedtime or ‘Night tales’ from ancient India and Persia, and it came out of the oral transmission of the marketplace as much as the literary manuscripts of the court. On top of this popular culture foundation, the court added an Islamic layer, where Scheherazade tells her stories to redeem the King’s monstrous behavior, to use stories as ethical and religious examples. Still, to this day, some Arabic scholars repudiate the Nights as literature because of its popular … Continue reading
In researching Book Three of my series 1001: The Reincarnation Chronicles, I read a great deal about the history of Arabic Literature. I am no Arabic scholar, but I had to learn about medieval Persian and Arabic culture. My characters, in their past lives in 10th century Baghdad, collaborate on a special version of The Thousand and One Nights, which is multi-cultural, subversive, and highly symbolic. I became enthralled by the development of fiction in the early Islamic world, and how difficult it was for a story collection like the Nights to gain acceptance.
When I learned about the gradual acceptance of Visionary Fiction in literary culture, I thought there were some interesting parallels with Arabic fiction. The phrase uphill battle comes to mind. But also, Visionary and Arabic Fiction each have strong ties to spirituality and religion, which both promote and hinder their acceptance. But let’s travel back in time to see more detailed parallels.
Before the advent of Islam, the Arabs and Bedouins had a rich literary tradition, weighted toward poetry, recitation, and storytelling in the desert night. One way to think about Muhammad’s receiving and delivery of the Qur’an is in continuity with this tradition of oral transmission through recitation. Only later were The Prophet’s words written down. Of course The Qur’an was visionary: sacred and divine Truth.
The early Islamic community outlawed fiction for many reasons. First, fiction was considered lies, in stark contrast to the truth of the Qur’an. Second, there were reports of Muhammad’s wise utterances, known as hadiths, by his followers. But there were many who would sermonize or pontificate without authenticity, and these utterances were considered fictional lies. Third, to legitimize spoken or written words as being authentically derived from The Prophet, and thus from Allah, every speaker and … Continue reading
Editor’s Note: We are happy to offer popular and respected Visionary Fiction author Peggy Payne’s latest thoughts on Visionary Fiction and the novels she writes.
Last night, as guest speaker at a book club in Holly Springs, North Carolina, I talked my way to a new understanding of what kind of novel I’m in the midst of writing.
My two-thirds-written story is one that many readers would consider a fantasy, because a couple of the characters are spirits from what is known as the astral plane.
However, I’ve never thought of myself as a fantasy writer. I like to write and read realistic plausible fiction about the supernatural: spiritual/religious experience as the leading example. My three published novels, all on spiritual matters, likely fall into this category that I am learning to call Visionary Fiction.
My first, Revelation, is about a liberal intellectual minister who began hearing God talking out loud in English, though he had never believed in that sort of thing. This story is not fantasy. It’s spiritual experience. It could happen. It does happen.
Sister India is about an American innkeeper in a Hindu holy city, with scenes that, as in my other novels, focus on the intersection of sex and spirituality. There are moments that are other-worldly, extra-sensory, but not impossible.
Most recently Cobalt Blue is about a woman who has a spontaneous and disruptive spiritual experience, the rising of life force energy in her that some religions call kundalini. The story also involves a respectful treatment of voodoo. This book travels in the realm of belief — beliefs … Continue reading
Visionary fiction is a category of fiction that brings a strong vision of the world, points a way forward through tough times. When fiction is billed as visionary it seems to elicit excitement or groans. Bestsellers or flops. And this is usually because it is so easy for visionary fiction to stray into preachiness and soapboxing. But most fiction that catches on to become a hit actually is visionary in some way, such as the way dystopic YA lit helps people explore a destroyed world, fulfilling an important function in our troubled society. I would go so far as to say that all good fiction is visionary.
Vision of a Fictional World
My fiction is shelved as speculative supernatural or high-concept fantasy, and has been compared to fantasy sci-fi authors Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury. But it has a distinctly spiritual flavor because of its cosmological speculative elements about how the world might be knit together—portals between worlds, visions of what kinds of fantastic beings might be out there, that kind of thing. Even though I never aim to tell people what to think with my fiction, I did realize after a lot of reading and writing that I don’t like stories that don’t have some kind of depth to them, emotionally, spiritually, even intellectually. I now believe that the vision of a fictional world, or of its author, is one of the most important components in a great novel, though it often works best when it is behind the scenes, woven into the story where you can’t see the threads.
How can writers impart vision to their fiction? I think you do it by following your heart. Whatever is deep inside you, whatever is really important to … Continue reading
I suspect many of you, like me, struggle to define visionary fiction, not to mention how it differs from magical realism.
In today’s post, The Visionary Perspective, and next week’s post, Revealing the Magical, I will make an attempt to distinguish between the two genres—how they differ and where they may overlap.
An Accurate Place to Land
For me, an integration of visionary metaphysical and magical realism seems to be the most accurate place to land—a combination of the embrace of esoteric wisdom emphasizing the human transformative capacity and the hidden mystery of the magical elements breaking through into ordinary “real” life.
This type of fiction, according to Italian writer, Massimo Bontempelli, attempts to change the collective consciousness by “opening new mythical and magical perspectives on reality”.
The Unseen Within the Visible
Guest Post by author Leonide Martin
Authors of Visionary Fiction encounter a special challenge when their stories take place in historical settings. Each historic period shapes its cultures through a combination of forces, from evolution to technology and climate. Within cultures, the unique chronicle of events, resources, worldview, and spirituality become defining forces. When cultures interact, these forces are even more complex. Those of us who engage with historical fiction are usually driven by a passion for the culture and time period, and we want to keep our stories authentic. We often have characters who are actual historic persons, and must learn what we can about their personalities, goals, and actions. Inferring their underlying motives and passions may be difficult, depending on how much written information is available.
How does an author enter the world of ancient cultures? We can use imagination to recreate how life might have been in historic Greece, Egypt or Britain drawing from research and literature. While documents are essential, often there are information gaps. Authors face missing links about events or cultural practices, especially personal facts about historical people and the others who surrounded them. It can be a real challenge to gather information about an historical person’s emotions and intentions. We can draw inferences from documentation in historical sources about what they did – but is that enough to craft a story and flesh out a personality?
To me, historical documents and records, and the inferences authors can draw from them, are not sufficient. This is where the visionary process comes in. We can use our psychic abilities to envision and enter distant worlds and unfamiliar societies. Some call this time traveling, or undertaking a shamanic journey. In the author’s inner experience, she or he actually visits a far-away time and place.