~George and Toby~ as illustrated in Song of George?Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man

~ Spiritual Fiction ~
It’s not just for Christians
It’s also not necessarily New Age

I like to walk into bookstores and check out what they have in the way of spiritual fiction, or spiritually inspired fiction. I write fiction like that so I like to see what’s happening in the industry… in that aspect of the industry. First I usually walk around myself for a bit, then daunted by lack of direction, I look for someone to ask.
“Do you have a Spiritual Fiction section?”
“Yes, it’s in the last aisle on your right in Religion”
“Do you have a Spiritual Fiction section?”
“You mean New Age?”
“I guess.”

The last aisle on the right in Religion is almost always in the Christian section, which is usually about eighty percent of the Religion section. There’s a thriving market for Christian fiction, and the fiction is well marked as such. They have their rapidly expanding nook, separate, but connected to all the other Christian books. It’s not what I’m looking for, but don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with, nor am I writing this as any kind of statement against Christian Literature.

The New Age section is also booming and so is the fiction therein. It’s a challenge though, picking out the fiction from the lot, since they’re all mixed in with the non-fiction. There may well be some things I’m interested in here, but it’s a lot to wade through if one doesn’t have something specific in mind.

The above scenario applies mostly to the large modern mainstream bookstores, but I think it also manifests to a great degree in the majority of small mom and pop or neighborhood bookstores. It’s just not as far to walk to be disappointed in these stores.

So… what, exactly, do I mean by disappointed?

Well… let me use an analogy. The Republican Party in the United States is not endowed with some special qualifications or authority to represent Christianity, though there is an ongoing source of propaganda perpetuated within that Party to convince everyone that they do. But thoughtful people, regardless of their political persuasions, know that there are millions of sincere, devoted Christians among the Democrats and the lesser-known Parties.

In the same way, Christian writers and publishers do not have some special authority to represent spiritual fiction, much less spirituality itself, though there is an ongoing source of propaganda perpetuated within the world of Christian writing and publishing to convince everyone that they do. More thoughtful Christians as well as others are not convinced.

I’m disappointed that the Christian spiritual fiction is so segregated from other non-Christian, but equally sincere and important spiritual fiction. Of course the book marketing institutions have every right to implement that segregation if they so choose.

~George moonlighting with the beholder~ as illustrated in Song of George/Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man

I have essentially the same problem with New Age spiritual fiction, which seems to contain everything from Journey to Ixtlan to Wicked. People can and do write about all kinds of spiritually inspired subjects that are inspired by the old, the ancient, not something new; not New Age. I’m one of them. There! I said it. This article is all about me. But not really. New Age is not at all exclusively about the new anyway. It’s just a catch all for things that don’t fit easily into other places. However there is an ongoing source of propaganda… Just kidding. I’m not going to go there again.

The thing is that personally (remember I said personally) I don’t believe there can be anything new about spirituality. It’s old. It’s been around forever. I don’t believe the Creator, God, whatever name you wish to use didn’t give us bona fide spirituality all along. I know there are many people who have been unwittingly pigeonholed as being, “New Age” who would agree. Truth has gone by many names. It’s been presented in many ways. But the idea of a hodgepodge mixing of spiritual paths – take what you need and leave the rest – doesn’t appeal to me. I hope you remembered the personally part.

Ultimately the whole idea of having to label literature with a genre like Spiritual Fiction is distasteful to me. It seems to me that spirituality used to be the backdrop of almost all literature. Societies the world over were embedded in their religions and their particular visions of spirituality. People’s belief systems were the very color of, the very fabric of their lives. How could you write about people without writing about their spirituality, their morality, their spiritual integrity?

What would I like to see?

Since genres are the game now, I can’t fight City Hall on everything, I’d like to see a genre of Spiritual Fiction emerge. A genuine genre of Spiritual Fiction that would include novels by writers of many different cultures and belief systems, set in the backdrop of those belief systems, including Christian and the elusive New Age. Of course, in a physical bookstore, such books would naturally be organized into categories within the Spiritual Fiction section. Internet type bookstores are already beginning to recognize that such a genre is in fact emerging, but it is yet to be well defined.

I am just one of many writers, already working within the genre, hoping to see more light at the end of the tunnel, if you will excuse the irresistible pun. A well-defined genre will assist the customer in separating the spiritually inspired novels from all the rest of the fare. After all, hundreds of thousands of new books are being published each year. Large numbers of them are fiction. A comparatively small, but yet significant number of authors are spiritually inspired and are writing about their spirituality through the medium of fiction. And to this point, there is still no clear genre for spiritually inspired fiction.

~Of Saints in the Stairwell~ as illustrated in Song of George/Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man

So I’ll say it again. “Do you have a Spiritual Fiction section?”

Illustrations by Christine Sherwood