Fantasy, Spiritual, or Visionary Fiction

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.

Peggy Payne speaking

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 held by many around the world.

All three of these stories fall within the range of spiritual, which is to say: real to those who believe in such things.

 So is this new novel a total break in subject matter for me because one of the major characters is invisible? I don’t think so. I think it’s a fictional treatment of yet another religious/spiritual tradition. There are many people who believe in communion with spirits existing in another realm, on an astral plane.

I’m now arguing — as I did at the book club meeting— that what I’m working on is a story based in a spiritual tradition, if not an organized religion.

I’m not going to call those people’s beliefs totally implausible by labeling them superstition or fantasy. They’re not; they’re based on spiritual experience.

So in this new novel in progress, I write, as always, from the stance of: it could happen and some people say it has and does. As a reader and a writer, I want books on the shelf labeled: Visionary, or It May Already Be True.

What else is already on that Visionary Fiction shelf? Some of the work of Robertson Davies, Susan Howatch, Megan Chance, Mark Helprin, Donna Tartt, Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Jeffrey Eugenides, and many of the contributors to this site.


Peggy Payne is the author of Sister India, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year;  Revelation, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; and Cobalt Blue, winner of a 2014 IPPY for Visionary Fiction. All her novels focus on the intersection of sex and spirituality.  She has also published in More Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Coastal Living, Family Circle, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, etc., and most major American newspapers. A NC native, she has also been a TV reporter and travel writer. A New York Times Notable Novelist*Winner of a 2014 IPPY/Visionary Fiction. 

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21 Responses to Fantasy, Spiritual, or Visionary Fiction

  1. Ellen Moss says:

    Good for Peggy Payne. Yes, what we write about are spiritual experiences.


  2. Hi Peggy, Thanks for the introduction to your books. The definitely sound like Visionary Fiction to me. Some fantasy I consider in that category as well, even some of the faery tales.

    P.S., I was born in NC. Nice to know visionary things are still happening there.


  3. Ellen Moss says:

    I did! In Quantum Venus at the Magic Theatre which is number 1, 485, 000 on KIndle. Nobody is reading it though the few people who already have enjoyed it.
    I worked on it for 20 years on and off. I illustrated it.

    Won't somebody please read it and rate it. I'm dying for some feedback.


  4. Visionary fiction–I'll use that. I think I had coined spiritual adventure for mine, but was never sure what to call it. Thanks for your argument.


  5. Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks for your interest in my books, Theresa. And NC does contain many worlds!


  6. Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks, Ellen! And I wish you well with your novel.


  7. Hi Peggy. This post succinctly expresses what I hear repeatedly from fellow visionary fiction writers. Our work is not fantasy just because it falls into the range of the spiritual. What we write about – the other worldly, the extra-sensory, the extraordinary – can happen and does happen. You nail it on the head when you say, "As a reader and a writer, I want books on the shelf labeled: Visionary, or It May Already Be True." I'm currently reading Michael Murphy's "The Future of the Body," in which he presents some compelling evidence of "the human capacity for metanormal perception, cognition, movement, vitality, and spiritual development." Yes, visionary fiction takes the metanormal that Murphy writes about to the next level. That's why we call it fiction. Though some of it, as you say, "may already be true." And by the way, I'd like to add Jodi Picoult's "Keeping Faith" and "Leaving Time" to the Visionary shelf. There are many top notch mainstream writers delving into the spiritual and the extraordinary.


    • Peggy Payne says:

      Thanks for these added titles, Margaret. And I recently picked up the Murphy book on a whim at a used bookstore — hadn't heard of it before. Now I see I need to get right to it.


  8. Thanks, Peggy, for raising some excellent points on the reality of psychic/spiritual experience. To it I'd like to add the opinion of many working in this field: psychic/spiritual experiences are considered "less real" because they cannot, by their nature, be observed with instruments designed to measure the material world. Anyone who has meditated, had an NDE or out-of-body experience, or just made ecstatic love knows how real such experiences can be.

    I recently attended a lecture given by the International Assn. for Near Death Studies in which Luis Minero discussed his book, Demystifying the out-of-body Experience (link: I mention it not to promote a particular approach but to point up that recognized researchers are now investigating and validating psychic/spiritual phenomena using the three-step principles (although not the instrumentation) of the scientific method: hypothesis, experimentation, validation/falsification. And what is being discovered is stunning. I see VF as mapping the exploration of inner/alternate space in the 21st century just as science fiction forecast the exploration of outer space in the early 20th.


  9. Peggy Payne says:

    Very exciting, Victor! I'm off to check out now.


  10. You make many interesting and refining points for the genre of VF, Peggy…it could, has, and does happen says it all!
    Vic, I'd be interested in the stunning discoveries of psychic/spiritual phenomena validated by the scientific method…as Peggy said, I too will be checking into the site.


  11. Peggy Payne says:

    Thanks, Jodine. And when I got to, Vic, I realized I'd been in the neighborhood before, had bookmarked the International Academy of Consciousness. I either didn't know or had forgotten that there was a book.


    • Peggy, Jodine–
      Am just about through the first read of the book and then plan to schedule some experiments with the methodology. It sounds sane, scientific and spiritual all in one. The worldview it presents is fully aligned with that of VF. Proof is in the experience, of course, but the hypothesis sounds promising.


  12. Dr Bob Dick says:

    P, Good piece -I'd not run across the term Visionary Fiction before, so I've learned something.
    This view seems a natural extension/description of your novels. It's great to learn/realize interesting stuff while teaching our usual stuff. Full disclosure – I'm P's husband. b


  13. Pingback: Fantasy, Visionary or Spiritual Fiction? - Peggy Payne

  14. As the article shows, even though an author's work may be visionary, they may not be marketing it as such. That makes it hard to find them, but it's also a matter of necessity.

    I have to call my YA Diamond Peak series fantasy because young people understand what that is, and because it looks like fantasy on the surface. It is, however, visionary fiction through and through – an analogy for the path to enlightenment, no less. But since my publisher wants to sell it, they call it fantasy. My latest book, Prunella Smith: Worlds Within Worlds, I call an adult metaphysical thriller, but it is also visionary fiction with a story thread about a Tibetan Yogi and a very inspiring ending. I could hardly call it a 'visionary thriller' though, could I? It doesn't quite fit together conceptually. Mind you, perhaps it would make people sit up and take notice. Perhaps when more readers are looking for visionary fiction, more publishers will be willing to use that label.


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