Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket

By Victor E. Smith

 This series first appeared on the no longer available Fiction for a New Age website in 2013 and is republished here in its original form. The author has included some of this material in other later posts on this site; and, indeed, several of them have already developed into reality. But a look back as nostalgia or review seems in order. So here goes:

Following is the first of a three-part article that addresses the primary stated purposes of the Visionary Fiction Alliance:

  1. Increase awareness of the genre;
  2. Help readers to discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.

Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket

Paint Bucket “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 Cuelho, 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!

I was Writing Visionary Fiction

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.

And I Wasn’t the Only One

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 hardcopy 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.

How do we make it go viral?

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:

  1. Increase awareness of the genre
  2. Help readers to discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction
  3. Mentor new writers who wish to explore this genre
  4. Provide resources for writers of Visionary Fiction
  5. 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 batting behind me capable of pushing some runs across .  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 immortal words of PJ Stanwick: “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.”

Paint Bucket 2Case 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!

 

Next: Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes in the Bucket?

 

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About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
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27 Responses to Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket

  1. ellemoss10 says:

    Hi Victor E. Smith and hey, Vic!

    Lovely energy and mind-power in that post. I'll be following closely.

    Thanks,

    Ellen L. Moss
    Author: Quantum Venus & the Magic Theatre (on Kindle, # 1 million, 600 thousand for my Visionary Fiction aka Gnostic aka hot new genre on the way….

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  2. Peggy Payne says:

    I often see writers' proposals that make a big pitch that their book is like no other — and that's at least Strike One if not three-in-one.

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  3. Hi Victor, Thanks for reposting this. Looks like we've made some progress!

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  4. Vic, We all have our VF stories of how we stumbled upon the genre, and I do enjoy hearing about yours! I am so glad we are on this VF team together. I proudly look at my name, beside all the others, on that visionary fiction bucket!

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  5. reanolanmartin says:

    Hi Victor, I think I already commented on this somewhere (FB?) — but can't find it. Anyway, thanks for another great post. In order for visionary fiction to gain a broader audience, it needs to separate itself from titles like New Age (IMHO) for which the mainstream publishers, agents and readers carry a hefty bias. We're headed in the right direction here, for sure.

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  6. thoffmanak says:

    Hi Victor — one thing all the VFA writers could do is when they review a VF book, put the words visionary fiction in the title of the review. Rinse and repeat. Use "visionary fiction" in the title and in the review. "A fine example of visionary fiction", etc. It's a tried and true way to attain brand recognition. Just get the name out there in any way possible as often as possible. Also, when VFA authors write a book — use the words visionary fiction in the blurb.

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  7. Here I go, splashing my signature on the VF bucket. Has it already been two years since that "intrepid gang of authors" formed the VFA? I'm proud to be part of the team and batting behind you, Vic, though, so far, I haven't hit any home runs. I am, however, a great walker, which manages to bring batters in nonetheless. Anyway, having found a name and a home base for my fiction feels like a home run to me. I agree with Tom Hoffman above: "Just get the name out there in any way possible as often as possible." Yes, we still "have work to do."

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    • libredux says:

      Vic, great to hear your story, and glad you are part of the gang. 🙂 I loved the "visionary" label the very first time I heard it, because it fitted what I'd been trying to find so perfectly.

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  8. We're best off dropping the "visionary" part. It just causes agents, publishers and readers to scratch their heads, or put them off entirely. Much as I like the idea of a "visionary fiction" category, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot if we say we're writing anything but fiction. "Visionary" scares people off. Richard Bach was once asked what he wrote. He answered "stories." When Vic mentioned Bob Friedman at Hampton Roads, I recalled a conversation I had with him years ago and him saying how HR almost went belly up trying to make their "visionary fiction" dept work. I think now they just call the same books "fiction."

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  9. drstephenw says:

    Can't believe VFA's only been out there two years. A lot of progress in that time. Vic, a nice storification of this crazy genre process we're going through. Will repost on FB.

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  10. Many bookstores have a visionary fiction shelf but the industry in general sees the word "visionary" and runs the other way. So why burden ourselves with calling our writing anything but fiction?

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    • Good to see you comment here, Hal, although your comment had me a bit confused.

      As the author who wrote, and this quote from Wikipedia : “Visionary fiction often deals with the stuff that happens at the edge between inner and outer, glimpsing those moments when the ‘thin veil,’ the boundary between inner and outer worlds, dissolves or is at least briefly drawn away. Every moment of our lives there’s some of that interchange between inner and outer, of course. Our ‘visionary fiction’ focuses on that phenomenon itself. Stories written in this genre draw our attention to how our visions inform us and impact our lives….The ‘vision’ part of visionary fiction is the vehicle that carries us to the filmy veil separating our ability to know from what we can’t know,” I am surprised that you would choose "fiction" over "visionary fiction."

      There are still two more parts to go to this series, so I hope you will hear me out before coming to a final conclusion. Just a thought: would science fiction do better being labelled just "fiction"? Or Romance? Or Westerns? Would be curious to know the logic behind your suggestion. You are a VF pioneer, after all. Thanks much.

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      • Yes, it seems like a contradiction. Point is, a publisher or agent, or reader, for that matter, will read the book if it's just called "fiction." If "visionary" prevents the book from getting into the hands of publishers or readers, it isn't doing you much good. I think it's great to talk about visionary fiction as such but if it's a disastrous marketing problem, then I think you gotta take that into consideration. Meanwhile, we keep up the good fight of writing VF and getting VF recognized as an official category. Just don't tell the publisher or agent that your books are anything but "fiction." It isn't lying! Readers discover the rest. Even agents who think they don't like (and can't sell) visionary fiction nevertheless like Richard Bach, etc. Schizoid perhaps but the solution is actually relatively simple after all. Sort of like the example when Heinz put "New and Improved" on their ketchup label; it practically destroyed the company. Flavor was the same. Texture was the same. Color was the same. Content same. Only those three words (and probably some extra chemicals) were different.

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    • Sorry, Hal, but the article you wrote for SPIRITUAL WRITING/FROM BOOK TO PUBLICATION back in 2002, titled "Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth," did such a good job of hooking me that I haven't been able to shake loose in all these years. I don't expect to be a best seller, which gives me the freedom to call my writing what I believe it is — fiction that "…takes us deep into the realm of mystery beyond the boundaries of our five senses," where we "discover truths that exist outside time and outside the finite boundaries of our singular lives." I could go on with more of the fitting things you said about VF back in 2002, but I think you get the picture. Last I checked, VFA had 60 members and our Visionary Fiction Alliance Facebook group has 121 members. All of those writers are relieved to have finally found a home. Times are changing (if slowly) and I believe the time has come for fiction that "heals, empowers, and bridges differences." I do agree on one point you made, which is that we could just call our work fiction or stories, but since when do agents allow us to get away with that? Unless we call it mainstream or commercial fiction. Many best selling authors are including the paranormal in their work lately. I just finished A SUDDEN LIGHT by Garth Stein (author of THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN), which has heavy doses of the paranormal (delightfully so), but I did notice that, other than the phrases "lyrical magic" and "family struggling with ghosts," very little is mentioned about the visionary aspect of the work in the book's description. Sigh.

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  11. This to Hal's "Yes, it seems like a contradiction…"
    Great response, Hal. Made me chuckle. Sense some lively discussion brewing here. Controversy is good for the ratings. For the time being, will continue to beat the drum–uh, the bucket. Next installment coming in April 🙂

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  12. Admin - Eleni says:

    I see VF as an umbrella genre that encompasses many other genres, such as sci-fi. If there were a VF section in the bookstore, it would be challenging to organize as you would have SF, thriller, chick lit, mystery, and a host of other genres, all placed in one section. Can the visionary aspect be what drives the story, regardless of genre? And if that's the case, no wonder it is an uphill battle to make VF legitimate.

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  13. The vision is always the center. Don't let what you name it get in the way.

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  14. Pingback: Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes into the Bucket? | Visionary Fiction Alliance

  15. Pingback: Visionary Fiction Part Three: Action Plan | Visionary Fiction Alliance

  16. Z Newell says:

    Well, gentlepeople….let me just say that I have been struggling with how to categorize my new book, and I am JUMPING OUT OF MY SKIN TO DISCOVER THIS WONDERFUL TERMINOLOGY! I am ALL IN! My great fear in simply labelling my book 'Fiction' is that it will be completely lost in the multitude of fictiondesigned to 'entertain'.

    This, my first novel about to be published, wrote itself from inspiration within, and is far more than entertainment….so kudos to all of you who have begun to pave the way for this genre!

    BRINK: Don't Go Back to Sleep will be out in a week or so and is an 'allegory', essentially taking the wisdom of the ages via Michael Singer's The Untethered Soul…and placing it into a character who is tormented by his ongoing thought processes. My entire goal is to share his teachings by way of story. From my perspective, I would rather a dozen readers find it on a Visionary Fiction shelf, than one hundred who may not appreciate the vision within.

    I am EXCITED to discover all of you and to find a place to call HOME!

    ~Z Newell

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