The Puzzle of Visionary Fiction

By Margaret Duarte

Harold_Bennett_9222_Nathanael_BennettThe genre of visionary fiction leaves many people puzzled, even the experts.

Take Hal Zina Bennett, author of more than thirty books, including: Write from the Heart, Writing Spiritual Books, Follow Your Bliss, and Spirit Circle, his own contribution to visionary fiction.

When I asked Hal to define visionary fiction, he said, “I think I have some understanding of spiritual non-fiction, and have written one moderately successful ‘visionary fiction’ novel, but sometimes I’m not sure I really ‘get’ visionary fiction at all. I find powerful spiritual work in books that don’t at all announce themselves that way, for example, in mysteries such as Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, about the murder of a priest in a remote Canadian monastery. Most mainstream publishers I know are prejudiced against reading anything that calls itself visionary fiction, just certain it’s going to be ‘religious’ and that the author is going to sermonize. Most editors won’t even get to the first page. Whenever I present a new project to an agent or an author, I avoid such labels. My advice to writers of spiritual fiction is just call it fiction. Ten years ago, it looked like the category “spiritual fiction” was gaining traction and was going to be adopted by the publishing industry, thanks mainly to the efforts of Hampton Roads Publishing, but I would not claim that today.”

Okay, I understand that Hal Zina Bennett is primarily an author of spiritual non-fiction, but I won’t let him off the hook that easily. In 2002, he wrote an excellent article about visionary fiction, titled “Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth” (Spiritual Writing; From Inspiration to Publication). His definition of the genre so closely matched my own writing that I believed my novels had finally found a home.

Unfortunately, the only traditional publisher to consider visionary fiction a viable book category was, and apparently still is, Hampton Roads Publishing (with its own visionary fiction program).

The Kiss of Death?

Calling one’s work “visionary fiction” is considered by some as the “kiss of death.”

Hal Zina Bennett touches on a basic truth about all spiritual writing. We know it in our gut, but it’s hard to put into words.

It’s almost as if visionary fiction is as elusive as the subjects it encompasses. It tries to capture the un-capturable, share the un-sharable, and show the un-showable.

Can one blame agents and publishers for being wary?

 Hal Zina Bennett cautions:

 “What happens in most visionary fiction that I’ve read over the years is that it gets burdened down by the author’s desire to get readers to believe what he or she believes. Characters disappear in the author’s message, which is another way of saying that they are two-dimensional, thinly disguised vehicles that simply recite the author’s beliefs. An engaging story is simply lacking and the writing never quite brings readers into that place of wonder, fear, discovery, which might transcend simple belief systems. We try to reproduce our own spiritual experiences on the page rather than giving readers what they need to have that experience for themselves.

“Some readers claim to have transcendent experiences with Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist, which I confess leaves me only mildly entertained, spiritually untouched and almost, at times, embarrassed for the author’s clumsiness. It’s really an allegory, not a novel, of course, and I like allegory, have even ghostwritten a couple successful ones for other authors. But keep this in mind: Coelho is what many publishers see with the label ‘visionary fiction.’ Am I being too commercial here? Remember, books are by their nature mass media. Partly what that means is that they are expensive to produce. When you submit a book to a mainstream publisher, you are asking them, in effect, to loan you at least $35,000, just to cover their office and printing costs. Ok. I’m being too commercial. But wait. My point is that we writers need to be very clear about what our chosen medium requires, not just from our own hearts and minds (and wrist tendons) but from other people whose involvement we require …agents, editors, publishers, ad agencies, reviewers (hopefully), warehouse workers, truck drivers, book store workers (God bless them!), readers.

William P. Young’s The Shack, while rather hackneyed, had a compelling spiritual story, and even those theological dialogues with God had a surprising irony that kept me interested. The protagonist was more anti-hero than hero, who I identified with through his grief, his pettiness and the often purposefully naïve questions he asked God and His cohorts. Okay, so God got a little preachy at times! He’s forgiven.

The Shack is a very flawed book, I admit, with a formula borrowed from pulp fiction; however, it was successful in holding readers’ interest (at least this reader and 1.5 million others), getting some readers to at least stick a toe into the Mystery. Young made enough readers willing to suspend their disbelief long enough to momentarily experience a presence greater than themselves.

“In nearly every book I read, fiction or non-fiction, I delight when I’m taken beyond intellectual understanding by the author, where I reach some part of myself that I didn’t even suspect was there. That’s asking a lot, I supposed. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve accomplished it in my own books.

“If the focus is to be ideas/beliefs,” Hal says, “then the best medium isn’t fiction but non-fiction or narrative non-fiction, even memoir if you can tell your story well.”

This may well be true. But when a writer tells a well-crafted story including spiritual truths, without getting heavy-handed with his or her own ideas and beliefs, quality visionary fiction becomes a reality, a reality I see happening at Visionary Fiction Alliance.

TUNE IN FOR PART TWO, IN WHICH BENNETT COMPARES VF TO A HINDU ROPE TRICK.


Hal’s highly acclaimed work includes countless articles and more than 30 successful books, including three works of fiction:Backland Graces: Four NovellasSpirit Circle and White Mountain Blues.

In addition to being a prolific author, Hal has helped over 200 authors develop their own work, several of them bestsellers. Look on the acknowledgment pages of your favorite books and you just might find him prominently mentioned there. His seminars on writing and spirituality are legendary.

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About Margaret Duarte

Although warned by agents and publishers that labeling her work Visionary Fiction was the “kiss of death,” Margaret Duarte refused to concede. “In a world riddled with fear, misunderstanding, and lost hope,” she says, “I believe there are people prepared to transcend the boundaries of their five senses and open to new thoughts and ideas. The audience is ready for fiction that heals, empowers, and bridges differences.” Margaret joined forces with other visionary fiction writers to create the Visionary Fiction Alliance, a website dedicated to bringing visionary fiction into the mainstream and providing visionary fiction writers with a place to call home. In December 2015, Margaret launched BETWEEN WILL AND SURRENDER, book one of her "Enter the Between" visionary fiction series. Through her novels, which synthesize heart and mind, science and spirituality, Margaret encourages readers to activate their gifts, retire their excuses, and stand in their own authority. Margaret is a former middle school teacher and lives on a California dairy farm with her family and a herd of "happy cows," a constant reminder that the greenest pastures are closest to home.
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51 Responses to The Puzzle of Visionary Fiction

  1. Pingback: Hal Zina Bennett and the Puzzle of Visionary FictionMargaret Duarte

  2. Admin - Eleni says:

    I agree with Hal here on the importance of plot. I recently put down a book that read more like a self-help manual than novel, yet readers gave it a good review. Personally, I think it limits readership. With a strong plot and great characterization, the message will be conveyed but within the context of the story. Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 and Star Wars are prime examples of VF storytelling. Most people who appreciate them aren't even aware they're VF. But beneath the surface, there's a mystical and philosophical depth to them that resonates with the fans. From books, The Stand is my favorite. I don't think Stephen King would even call it VF, but it fits the definition to a tee. In the end, it's about writing an engaging story. Nevertheless, I'd like to see VF evolve into a genre that's well-respected within the literary community. As an author, I'll continue to embrace it as my genre of choice.

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    • "I’d like to see VF evolve into a genre that’s well-respected within the literary community." That is our goal and what Hal Zina Bennett will discuss in Part II of this series. The books I've read by the writers at VFA not only have "strong plots and great characterization," but also have mystical and philosophical depth," which is what sets them apart. I'll make it a point to read The Stand. If it fits the definition of VF, it deserves to be mentioned here.

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  3. PJ Swanwick says:

    Margaret, thank you so much for writing this article; it's full of insights regarding issues that I've been struggling with for years. There are indie authors who have had substantial success on Amazon (both Kindle and hard copy) such as Rod Pennington, who writes the Fourth Awakening series (see Fiction for A New Age for review and author interview). More overtly spiritual as well as being a thriller, his series has been the #1 Kindle Bestseller in “New Age Mysticism” in the US for 4 straight years and 2 years in the UK. It's a very niche-oriented category, but he's made it work for him financially.

    Other authors like Gay Hendricks' series The First Rule of Ten (Buddhist detective series, reviewed on my site) have broken into the mainstream market and are doing very well, and it's much more overtly spiritual. I think the market is really opening up for spiritual/metaphysical/visionary fiction. The public interested in this kind of fiction is broadening by the day, I believe. I think it's just a matter of time before the really good spiritual indie authors get picked up by mainstream houses.

    But what genre label do we use to hasten adoption? I think Visionary has a slightly different connotation than spiritual or metaphysical, with a slight bent toward sci fi/fantasy based on what's been submitted to me for review. But there are no clear guidelines yet other than what groups like this are proposing, and the scattered nature of suggested genre categories is so wide ranging (New Age Mysticism? That sounds like the kiss of death, but Rod has made it work). Scattershot labels just weaken our overall "brand" and availability to our readers.

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    • Hello PJ. Your question about what genre label to use to hasten the adoption of spiritual/metaphysical/visionary fiction is a good one – one we're trying to answer here at VFA. That's why I asked Hal Zina Bennett for his input. He started asking this question in 2002 and still hasn't come up with a satisfying answer. The process is a slow one, but as you said, the public's interest in this kind of fiction is broading by the day. Really good spiritual indie authors are lighting some fires.

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  4. I liked Hal's comment – "In nearly every book I read, fiction or non-fiction, I delight when I’m taken beyond intellectual understanding by the author, where I reach some part of myself that I didn’t even suspect was there." As VF authors I think we aspire to this.

    Our VFA's organic definition says VF does not proselytize or preach. I have read VF novels that do that, using thinly veiled characters to espouse the author's beliefs. Yes, it is a turn off, and gives VF, if not a bad name, at least a totally misunderstood one. The bottom line for me is an issue of quality writing – authors perfecting their craft. This eliminates many of the issues of storytelling unique to the VF author.

    It concerns me that VF has some negative connotations. Hence my passion for being a part of a movement like the VFA to clarify and delineate this unique genre.

    I agree with Eleni that VF offers a unique mystical, philosophical, and yes, spiritual depth. I think many of today's readers hunger for this – to be touched "in some part of themselves they didn't even know was there."

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    • Hi Jodine. I picked out the same passage in Hal's comments as my favorite. I'm reading his book, Spirit Circle, now and am impressed with his story-telling ability. I'm also learning about Native American spirituality, which I find fascinating. Spirit Circle is a great example of visionary fiction in that it gives something more – something that may be different for each reader.

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  5. It's been very interesting to read the posts here in response to Margaret's post. I want to add a little more history, to fill in some gaps about VF as a "category." Right after writing Spirit Circle (a novel), I started working on a non-fiction book (Spirit Animals & The Wheel of Life) for Hampton Roads. Because HR was having some success with VF at the time, their sales manager started talking to the main buyer for one of the major chain bookstores, probably Barnes & Noble, about urging the powers that be to add an "official" category named for VF. By doing so, spiritual fiction would have its own "shelf" in the bookstores, and readers would know where to go to find such books. At the time, VF was getting put in other categories, everything from Romance to SF and Non-Fiction and New Age, which actually did have its own shelf for a while…and still does in some bookstores. Without an official category, a book can easily get orphaned. Science fiction fans know exactly where to find the books that interest them. Mystery readers know where to find their books, etc. Not so with VF. Anyway, bottom line is that there was huge resistance on the part of the major buyers to give VF an official category. One of the most influential buyers admitted that she just didn't read VF herself and didn't see why it deserved a special category. So, the problem, as I see it, still is that VF doesn't have its own category. Go online to that any mainstream online bookstore and you'll see that this is so. Where do you go to browse for VF? You start with the category "Religion/Spiritual," and go from there, but the search can be long and frustrating. Having its own category not only helps VF readers find the books are seeking but actually legitimizes the idea of VF in the eyes of reviewers, the buyers in bookstores, readers and, yes, authors. Maybe blogs and sites like this one will help to bring about not only spiritual changes but the nuts and bolts of the book business itself.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Thanks Hal, for your insightful—and sobering words. Amazon and Barnes and Noble both now have VF in their online listings. Although, like you said, you have to know it's there to find it! And it's only used for their print books. I had to use metaphysical for my Kindle version. There are also some contests that have it listed as a category, so we're not entirely left in the dark.

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      • Eleni, you're absolutely right about online searches for VF. I stand corrected and updated, as it were. Thank you. I just went into the BISG (Book Industry Study Group) website; they're the "official book industry category police" who set categories. Their categorization is as follows: "FICTION / Metaphysical see Visionary & Metaphysical." That means, according to BISG, that if you're browsing specifically for VF, you have to first go to the "Visionary & Metaphysical" category, and there you will find VF. That's a step in the right direction, an improvement over what I was describing from what was happening ten years ago. As you point out, the way it works with Amazon is that you can just use "visionary fiction" as a search phrase (different from "category") and at least some VF will pop up–along with Star Trek, religious novels, some thrillers, paranormal titles (Vampires) and some other stuff. Oddly there was even a book in there about high speed hovercraft boats. Who knew? They don't, after all, want to miss a possible sale, nor do we authors, for that matter. That same search phrase also works for Kindle, by the way. It's still a little tricky, as you point out. Where will you go to find VF in the brick and mortar stores? The owner of our local independent bookstore, which is an excellent store, by the way, told me they "don't have much call for spiritual fiction." (They don't even carry my books and I'm a friend of the owner's…reminding me that every author must learn to forgive. Smile.) The internet has made this issue of finding books much less of a problem than it was even ten years ago, and I'm happy to see this. Maybe the next step is to figure out a way that when we're browsing for a book online we don't have to sort through a huge variety of books that aren't really what we're looking for. Anyway, this discussion is a reminder to me of how important the Visionary Fiction Alliance is for increasing awareness of this category and the growing readership it represents.

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        • Admin - Eleni says:

          Hal: It’s heartening to know the genre is now mentioned by the industry. Much better than not at all! As a reader, I become frustrated looking for books for the reasons you stated. And this also includes other genres like science fiction. I’ll sometimes spend an hour searching for a book I want to read, and quite frankly, I don’t have the time for that. I have to write! As an author, I feel the pain because I know readers who would appreciate my book might never find it.

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    • It looks like we at VFA have our work cut out for us. Thanks so much, Hal, for your help in inching us along. As you say in Part II of THE PUZZLE OF VISIONARY FICTION, new technologies such as ebooks may make it possible for us to prove to the mainstream that we have something of value to offer. I purchased SPIRIT ANIMALS AND THE WHEEL OF LIFE many years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact, I used it as research for the first novel in my series. Yes, way back in 2002, your lone voice gave me the courage to call my writing what it is.

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  6. I really relate to that 'kiss of death' phenomenon that Hal spoke of with the category we call VF . I am so passionate about bringing this genre to public awareness. Even when the genre is listed in a store or online – as Eleni says – you do have to know to look for it in the first place!

    My latest novels were published under the genre of mature Young Adult by my small press publisher. Yes, they fit the category, but the theme ad genre was truly VF. But it is not currently a good selling point. Sigh.

    We have quite a task ahead of us. With the calibre of VFA members and VF author, readers and friends, I have faith that we can make a difference in letting this genre find its rightful and much needed place in modern day literature.

    I am certainly going to check out your books, Hal. It has been a pleasure, a relief, a joy, to read the novels of the VFA authors I have come to know through the VFAlliance.

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  7. Tui Allen says:

    My visionary fiction is also an animal story. Reading this thread makes me wonder of I'd be better to market it as that. But why not both?

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Tui: You can definitely file under two categories for Kindle and two for the print version. I also recently discovered Libertarian Sci-fi, which totally resonates with the surface story of my book. I’m currently working on a blog piece about the connection between spiritualism and objectivism.

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    • Hi Tui. I just purchased RIPPLE for my Kindle and can't wait to start reading. As far as marketing your book as an animal story, I think you would be doing it a disservice. From what I know about your book so far, it is much, much more than an animal story. It captures a beautiful mystery that goes beyond appearance and limitation. I just finished Hal's SPIRIT CIRCLE, which reminded me of why visionary fiction speaks to me. I didn't want it to end. I know I am not alone in yearning for this kind of story. It's our job as visionary writers to bring vf into the mainstream.

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  8. Victor Smith says:

    Thought-provoking article and comment thread. Thanks to Margaret for putting it together and to Hal for sharing his insights, including his additional comments on current industry practices (I recently noticed that Amazon classified my printed book differently than the Kindle version).

    Lots of worthy threads above that could and should be taken up (I dream of a collaborative collection of all the good ideas over the years on the subject of VF, but that for later). Here, looking at the persistent puzzlement around the VF genre, I pose the same question about which I posted recently on PJ Stanwick's site (Fiction for a New Age): In looking to identify our genre, is the impetus and effort descriptive or marketing-driven (coining a brand name)? I believe a lot of the confusion comes from mixing or equating the two different intents, resulting in some clumsy combinations or inappropriate adaptations of established terms (e.g. New Age).

    IMHO, the label is more for convenience in classification, a marketing tool, than for inscribing content, which authors with any range find slopping indiscriminately across genre lines. For marketing, the label’s meaning matters less than its recognition. “Xerox” is unrelated to “making copies,” but marketing made them synonymous. Science fiction was more fantasy than science at the genre’s inception, and still it's a rare SF buff who reads SF to improve his scientific knowledge. The genre name can't be a complete genre description, although it must be promoted so it eventually leads browsing readers to books that fit the correct description.

    My gut sense–and much of the above and elsewhere seems to corroborate it–is that we should settle on a label ["Visionary Fiction" will do as it already has some traction], and promote it through repetition in all the places that count, meanwhile building a big enough tent to include all otherwise homeless quality authors whose works contain visionary elements. Of all genres, the "visionary" one is bound to evolve and morph into creative constructions quite unlike what is in vogue today–so leave let's leave plenty of latitude in the description but all come together on the label.

    Make sense?

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    • PJ Swanwick says:

      Your comments are cogent and insightful, Victor, but I keep coming back to the reader: What do they search for? What terms do they associate with our genre?

      A question that came up recently from a reader who is generally familiar with the various metaphysical categories is, "How is Visionary different from Speculative?" Of course, we as writers can spout off the subtleties between the various genres and subgenres, but how is a reader to know?

      I wish I had an answer to the the puzzle. Unfortunately, the more I research, the more questions I have.

      I think one of our biggest challenges is that we have few ways to reach readers and poll them on what terms they actually use for searching and browsing. Know Your Audience is a huge tenet of writing–do we?

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      • Hi PJ. In response to your question about what readers search for in association with our genre, a quote by Einstein comes to mind. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." I know this doesn't answer your question, but it points to an answer. It also points to a difference between visionary and speculative fiction. Visionary has a more spiritual feel. Instead of polling readers, we, as Victor said, should settle on a label and promote it through repetition in all the places that count.

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    • Hi Victor. In response to your statement: "The genre name can’t be a complete genre description, although it must be promoted so it eventually leads browsing readers to books that fit the correct description," I wish you could all read Hal's decription of visionary fiction in the article he wrote in 2002, titled “Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth” (Spiritual Writing; From Inspiration to Publication). His definition of the genre is the best I've ever read and is inclusive enough to include many books that fit the spiritual/metaphysical/visionary category and remain "orphaned" because they lack a home. As to your comment: "I dream of a collaborative collection of all the good ideas over the years on the subject of VF," that's why VFA and PJ's Fiction For a New age were created. Together, we can make a difference.

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      • Victor Smith says:

        For anyone interested, was able to locate Hal's article cited above by googling the title. It comes on http://books.google.com as an excerpt from Spiritual Writing: From Inspiration to Publication, Easyread Edition By Deborah Levine Herman. Perhaps Hal can tell us if there is another version somewhere that be can linked to. Good Stuff.

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  9. In response to Victor's and PJ's comments, which really get toward the heart of the category problem. The problem really comes down to browsing for books in a category that doesn't exist as a highly visible publishing industry or even a BISG official category. A science fiction fan can go right to that category list at Amazon, for example, and click on science fiction. Not so with visionary fiction. In addition, most of us just go to whatever bookstore we go to and we're on our own as to where in the store the books we want are shelved. Also, if you're a book buyer for the store, where do you go in your distributors' catalogs to find spiritual or visionary fiction for a customer? My local bookstores have no special shelves for VF. They direct you to Fantasy Fiction, which usually isn't useful. If the bookstore clerk isn't a VF reader, chances are that they won't be able to help you. You might find VF just about anywhere in the store–even on non-fiction shelves and in the religious section. Knowing where other readers find the books is useful only to some extent but if the book industry doesn't clearly categorize it, it means the distributors, and bookstores (online and brick and mortar) don't either. The books end up as orphans looking for a shelf that gives them their own neighborhood where they can hang out with others like themselves and where readers can go to find them and take them home. I recently called my best local bookstore and asked where they shelved VF. Their answer: "Do you mean like fantasy fiction?" No, I said, "Visionary or spiritual fiction." Ans: "You could look under religious books or fiction. Do you know the title?" I asked if they could look up the category in their distributor catalogs: She did. There was no Spiritual or Visionary Fiction listed in their distributor's catalogs. So that's where we stand with all that. If you go into a "metaphysical bookstore" you have better luck finding a place to browse for you books. It all comes down to how do you make your book visible to potential readers? And where do we go as readers when we just want to browse and discover a new title? The kind of brainstorming we've been doing here is highly useful, I believe. The book industry really does pay attention to conversations like this so let's see how far we can take it. I'd just love to be able to go into a bookstore, ask for where they shelve spiritual or visionary fiction and get some answer other than "Hunh?!"

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    • Tui Allen says:

      Great thoughts Hal. I laughed at "Hunh?!"
      I do believe this must all be coming.

      There is a great upsurge in public interest in non-religious spirituality. It is not something that really lends itself to non-fiction as nicely as it does to fiction. People learn better by listening to stories than they do by reading a lot of facts. The authors of the bible knew this and told stories to get their points across.

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      • PJ Swanwick says:

        Tui, you are so right about people learning better by listening to stories, and about the growing interest in non-religious spirituality. I've seen several articles about how many people (40% of Americans, in a recent Time article) identify with the designation "Spiritual but not religious." I think that's our target audience–and it's a big one, if we can just figure out the best way to reach them.

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        • I've gotten hooked on exploring what's happening in the publishing "industry" itself around this categorization issue. I just checked the Hampton Roads Publishing website. They are probably the leader in spiritual fiction and have about 20 books of their own in that category. However, when I put "spiritual fiction," and then "visionary fiction," into the search window of their own website, it referred me not to their books or even to their own website but to some articles on the internet about spiritual fiction. They list their books as "general fiction." Yup. What does that tell us?

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  10. Tui Allen says:

    As PJ Swanwick has pointed out in his/her reply to Hal and me above, the large 40% of people who see themselves as spiritual but not religious are our target audience.
    What is one thing that has always annoyed a lot of people about the traditional religion's? Its exclusion of animals from spirituality. No sooner did I type that, than I began to think of Hindus and their vegetarianism and their sacred cows and now I'm wondering if I should restrict that to Christianity alone.

    But if we include animals into our spiritual world view, we can endear our work to millions. Many many people love animals and have such close relationships with them, if we can reflect that, treat animals as equals or better in our fiction, allow theme into our spiritual stories, then we are going to win the hearts of animal lovers worldwide.

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    • Tui Allen says:

      The most treasured response I ever received to my work, was one I received just yesterday. It came from a blind woman who had never seen or felt a dolphin . She had been blind since birth. Her only concept of dolphins came from handling a toy one. She told me, in the most glowing terms, that my story had brought them alive for her and she said, "it is so unique, because it blends an animal story with mysticism/spirituality, in a way I don't think i've ever seen before"
      If my book never makes me one more single cent, I now feel certain it was no waste of time writing it. A response like that means writing it was worth any sacrifice.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Tui:
      I concur with your comment about animals and spirituality, even to the degree that they can be higher evolved than humans. I also have written a book with animals that I'll be publishing next year, and it touches upon these themes. Perhaps that's why I resonated so strongly with your book.

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    • PJ Swanwick says:

      Tui – "her" (-;

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  11. Tui Allen says:

    You are a pioneer Eleni, as are perhaps many of us here in this discussion, heading in literary directions where few before us have dared to tread.

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  12. Margaret, I'm a little late, but thanks so much for this article which has prompted a rich discussion. I have to say Hal, I agree that there is something of a stigma surrounding VF. Perhaps there will always be a stigma in this particular era. We are after all in the age of science, materialism and skepticism. This is not mean to sound pessimistic – it just seems that way to me based on what I have seen of other authors' experiences when dealing with the traditional publishing houses..

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    • Hello Saleena. Yes, we are in an age of science, materialism and skepticism, but also one of radical change. I see visionary fiction writers as path finders, a difficult, but necessary vocation.

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      • Admin - Eleni says:

        While it's true that conventional wisdom holds on to a materialistic view, Science fiction and spirituality work well together. On Deep Space Nine, I enjoyed the debate between Kira and Dax on the nature of the lifeforms in the wormhole. Kira viewed them as prophets while Dax called them wormhole aliens. The contrasting viewpoints were debated throughout the entirety of the series. The Captain, who was the selected emissary, also went through periods of doubt as to their identity and evolved to see them as something more. The point is, it was on television and people appreciated it. Something about programs that have a spiritual angle hold on to their fans, long after the show or book is read. I constantly get updates and polls for the Star Trek series', and they're very active. It's obvious people crave this type of storytelling. Even Stargate took on a spiritual angle during the last few years, and that series spun off, as well.

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    • I don't think an anti-spiritual position is the problem with publishers and spiritual fiction. After 30 years in publishing and working closely with most of the major houses, I haven't really found that. What I have found is that publishers make decisions by the bottom line and spiritual fiction, with rare exceptions, hasn't proved to be a money maker for them. Remember, this is a very thin margin business. Books are pretty expensive to produce and 90 percent of the books published lose money. It's my belief that the key problem–as I've said–has to do with not having a clear, strong way to reach our specific readership. Yes, there is an official "sub-category" for spiritual and visionary fiction but a sub-category isn't visible enough. In fact, it's totally invisible in certain stores. Readers like to browse but there's no "pasture" to browse in. If we want to find our special browsing place, as it were, we've got to go hunting for the category the bookseller and author are using. We know there's is a readership out there. My book "Spirit Circle" has sold almost twice as many copies as most major publishers report for individual books in that category. At least three major publishers have told me that. How did 5,000 plus readers find that book? I don't know, frankly, thought some of this had to do with the fact that I have 30 some other books out there, and having other titles, especially in highly visible categories, helps to advertise whatever else you put out there. But it shouldn't be like that. You should not have to already The message I want to get across is how important it is to have a VISIBLE and ACCESSIBLE category to identify with. Maybe it's time to "Occupy BISG" and let them know what we need.

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      • Admin - Eleni says:

        Hal, I recently read an article in Writer’s Digest by indie author Hugh Howey, who recently had a breakthrough with his sci-fi novel, Wool. It took him several books before he scored with Wool, and he now has a hybrid publishing deal, print only as he didn’t want to lose his digital rights and go without a paycheck. People now read his other books because of his name. This demonstrates the importance of a brand. Sites like VFA can help authors build one.

        In the end, publishing companies are more concerned with making money, as you said. A back catalogue most definitely helps, which can explain your own success. Author, Dean Wesley Smith also states the importance of having a back catalogue. As only having one book published, no one knows who I am. I’m also noticing that indie authors have a bad reputation. Perhaps success stories like Hugh Howey will bring an end to that negative view.

        These challenges can be discouraging, but I’m not giving up. I now have four first drafts and working on two more. I have more concepts that I can flesh out that will keep me going until the very end! By this time next year, I’d like to have at least four books out. It’s pretty much a crap shoot, but I figure it only takes one book to get my name out there. The more high quality books I write, the better my chances at finding success.

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  13. Tui Allen says:

    Eleni said, "Science fiction and spirituality work well together." This is because it is only over a very recent few years, that even science has admitted that the universe not only has stars, but PLANETS! Planets in millions. Humanity suddenly became aware that it is beyond egotistical to think we are alone in the universe. Our fiction needs to reflect that reality. And since we have no way of knowing what the reality is like, all we have is imagination. ENTER the novelists!

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    • Funny that Tui and Eleni should mention that science fiction and spirituality work together. This morning, while thinking about a short definition for vf, I thought, "science and spirituality." Wish it were that easy.

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      • PJ Swanwick says:

        Must visionary fiction necessarily include science fiction? I've reviewed some wonderful books that have no science elements, such as Michael Gurian's "The Miracle," which I believe was one of the catalysts for VFA. If visionary fiction requires science fiction elements, how do we categorize insightful spiritual / metaphysical books that contain no science?

        Since I'm doing my best to review and promote good visionary / spiritual / metaphysical / etc. books, this is an important question for me. What do you all think? I'd love to get everyone's opinions on this issue.

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  14. Admin - Eleni says:

    PJ, not all VF has to include SF, but it often does. I think a large part is because some of us who write in this genre have visions that lead us in this direction. That was the case with me. Many of the visions I've had are in Unison.

    I personally have a preference for sci-fi, but I do enjoy writing in other genres as well. My next book is paranormal, and I'm now writing one that's contemporary/romance-comedy. I think we've even defined that many genres can fit into VF, which is one of the reasons I love this genre.

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    • PJ Swanwick says:

      Thanks, Eleni. I'm glad to hear you're working on several new books – something to look forward to!

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      • Hi PJ. When I think of visionary fiction including science, I'm thinking fiction + science, not science fiction as in sci-fi (though that is included, too). I use the term "science" to include science of the mind, quantum physics, and realms beyond our five senses, including parapsychology, as studied at Stanford University, which closes the gap between conventional science and paranormal studies. Maybe that's one way of putting it – that vf closes the gap between conventional science and paranormal studies. I keep referring to Hal's article, "Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth," which is the best description of vf I've come across. It doesn't mention sci-fi, but emphasizes "pursuing the mysteries of life more deeply." It has so many quotable statements, I don't know where to begin. It's best read as a whole, but here it goes anyway. "The magic of this genre is the magic of human consciousness itself, our ability to see beneath the surface and create new visions of what our lives can be."

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        • PJ Swanwick says:

          Margaret, your clarification of science and spirituality was a helpful elaboration. Perhaps my perception is a bit skewed because so many of the books submitted to me fall into the science fiction category – I'd like to see more variety. I agree with your clarifications. Thank you.

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  15. Tui Allen says:

    Margaret, you've just triggered an idea for me. I write about dolphins.When you mentioned, "realms beyond our five senses" it gave me an instant insight to solve a problem I'm having with my current writing. The problem is that I know dolphins do not see colour with their eyes the way humans do. Yet to convey the oceans to my human readers it is difficult and quite sad, just for accuracy's sake, to leave out all reference to colour. I didn't bother about it in my first dolphin book because it was set so long ago that it is quite likely they did have colour sense like ours back then and nobody knew anyway.
    However, my current dolphins are contemporary. But I do know their hearing is at a level far beyond ours. I think I will allow my dolphins to use their advanced hearing to experience colour on many levels. Their hearing builds pictures in their brains the way our ultra-sound machines do but more efficiently. The dolphin ultra-sound pictures are in full colour and their colour perception extends below the surface of the picture many levels deep and does not depend on light. So I will need to describe it more completely than my own senses will enable. The imagination will now have to work overtime. 🙂

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  16. Hi Tui. Triggering ideas is one of our purposes here at VFA, and that's why it has been so wonderful that this post featuring Hal Zina Bennett has fueled so much discussion. I started reading your story on my Kindle – haven't gotten very far yet because of other commitments – and look forward to learning more about dolphins. I love it when I hear about author breakthroughs and am glad I had something to do with yours.

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  17. Tui Allen says:

    Thank-you Margaret. The wonderful thing is how now, we can have these stimulating inter-actions, which are so valuable to us all, from all around the world without leaving the comfort of home. It makes me dizzy to think of the vast expanses of wild oceans, deserts and stormy air that probably lies between you and I.
    But, as it's fiction we're discussing you will no doubt next inform me that you actually live across the road. 🙂

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  18. Admin - Eleni says:

    Hi Tui:

    Congratulations on your breakthrough. I LOVE your idea! Isn't it amazing how inspiration can strike you? I always tell myself that no matter how hard a plot turns out to be, there's always a way to resolve it, and once you find your answer, it takes the story to a whole new level.

    By the way, I friended you on FB. We've stared a VFA group page, and that will be a great way to bounce ideas around and inspire each other even more.

    For anyone else who wants to be included, my personal FB page is
    https://www.facebook.com/elenipapanou

    Feel free to friend me, and I'll invite you into the group.

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  19. Tui Allen says:

    Fantastic – thanks Eleni.

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