This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Gerald R Stanek. A visionary fiction author who has been writing for over 40 years. We talk about how his wife’s near-death experience sparked an interest that launched several of his novels, what visionary fiction is, and plotting out stories CSI style.
CJ: Good afternoon, Gerald. Thank you so much for sitting with me today. Your background is pretty interesting. Can you fill us in on it?
Gerald: Well, I’ve been writing visionary fiction for over 40 years, but didn’t realize there was such a genre for the first twenty. I’ve always been interested in the mystical, transcendental experience, so you could say I’m a mystic wannabe. When I was in high school, one of my science teachers gave us a handout of “questions science can’t answer”. Things like “Why do we dream, is there a soul, what happens when you die, what is consciousness?”. At that point, I thought, ‘why be a scientist, then?’ Because those have always been the most interesting questions to me.
CJ: So that moment really paved the way for your future?
Gerald: I suppose it did. I’ve spent my life exploring, through my writing, what the answers to those questions might be. My new novel, Rosa Mundi, follows a main character who has had a near-death experience. She is a hospice aide to a dying self-help guru, who sends her and others on a quest to find a portal to a new world.
CJ: How did you get inspiration for that story?
Gerald: I’ve spent a lot of time researching not only near-death experience but the attitudes of various spiritual traditions toward the afterlife. I suppose the interest in that started when I met my wife, visionary artist Joyce Huntington, who had a near-death experience as a child.
CJ: So all of your stories have some aspect of the mystical in them?
Gerald: Yes. When one has a transcendental experience, such as a near-death experience, it fundamentally alters your sense of reality going forward. Before such an event, people see ‘things’, the material stuff that surrounds us and that our senses are evolved to notice, as reality. But after a transcendental experience, whether a near-death or an out-of-body experience from intense meditation, people recognize that the material things are not as real as what is normally considered immaterial — dreams, thoughts, love, energy. Your sense of what is ephemeral is reversed. You realize that all material things pass away, but consciousness itself persists.
CJ: I know that only happens to a certain percentage of the population and I assume your books are well received among them. Have you gotten any feedback from what we would consider “normal” readers? Not that someone who has had that experience isn’t normal, but they’re definitely not the majority.
Gerald: Well, that’s one goal of visionary fiction, to share these experiences with those who have not encountered them directly. The visionary fiction genre includes just about any storyline where the expansion of consciousness drives the plot, and the hero or heroine reaches new levels of awareness. But to answer your question, I haven’t marketed previous books to the level my publisher is now addressing this one, so I haven’t had a lot of feedback from readers as yet.
CJ: Have you traditionally published all of your books or was there a mix?
Gerald: My previous novels, Skirting the Gorge, The Road to Shambhala, and The Eighth House, were all self-published. I have not had the interest or skills to get them out into the public eye. But I feel so strongly that Rosa Mundi is worth the extra effort involved in marketing, that I am reaching out.
CJ: Aside from marketing, what types of differences have you experienced between the two types of publishing, and which do you prefer?
Gerald: Well it is certainly a pleasure to have the publisher, Vizia, worry about all the formatting, ebook creation, etc. Finding a publisher was a long drawn out process, and it seems to get harder all the time to find anyone in the industry to even read a query, but having someone to help you through the nitty-gritty of getting a book into print is very beneficial.
CJ: Do you feel, even though you’ve written in the genre for so many years, that it’s still difficult to find interest in publishers?
Gerald: Well, as you say, only a certain percentage of the population is inclined toward, or frankly has even heard of, visionary fiction. It’s a relatively new genre that some catalog systems don’t even recognize. But when you’re writing it, and you know that the expansion of consciousness, both of the individual and of humanity as a whole, is where your interest as a writer lies, you recognize that it is the genre that best describes your work. There aren’t many publishers actively seeking visionary fiction.
CJ: That must make it even more difficult to get your work out there when you’re wanting to traditionally publish.
Gerald: I think not more so than other genres because there are a few of us writing it. The pool of writers looking to be picked up by a publisher is enormous. But that should keep no one from their vocation if writing is a vocation. If you write only to be published or make money, it will show in the finished product. You have to be passionate about your subject.
CJ: I absolutely agree. Now, you’ve already said that your wife’s near-death experience was the inspiration for a book, so I’m sure she is very supportive of what you do. What about the rest of your family and friends? Do they understand what it is you write?
Gerald: They are very supportive, but don’t love the genre. It’s difficult for any artist to deal with the reactions of family. After all, as Steinbeck said, “The writer must believe what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” But your family is never going to get along with that, they’ve known you since forever, probably since before you were writing, or painting, or whatever art you’re practicing. It’s hard for them to take you as seriously as you need to take yourself if you’re going to stay motivated.
CJ: It’s definitely hard to hold on to that illusion when your family and closest friends aren’t supportive of what you do. Which one of your books is your favorite?
Gerald: It’s usually the last one I finished, at least for a while, so Rosa Mundi. I do feel this is my best work to this point.
CJ: What is it about this book you feel is the best? Would you consider it the storyline or the writing?
Gerald: Both. I spent much longer working out the plot on this one. My previous novels were more ‘write 40 pages and see what happens’. It’s difficult to write a compelling book without a detailed outline to go by. And your writing improves with every page you write—every sentence, really.
CJ: Which one was the most difficult for you to write?
Gerald: The Eighth House was my first novel. I had written one novella previously, and I thought it wouldn’t be more difficult, but adding another 50,000 words and dozen more characters did prove to be a bit more than I was ready for. It took almost 10 years to finish.
CJ: How did you manage something that large? When I think about expanding any of my own stories past the novella stage, I just keep imagining my room covered in corkboards with those yarn strings crisscrossing and connecting little pieces of paper!
Gerald: Hah! CSI style diagramming. Well, that’s why I advise as complete an outline as you can manage before you write. It’s boring, but you have to face all the major issues right upfront and solve them before you have half a book done and have to revise it. Not that all plot issues can ever be solved; there’s always a better way, and chances are you won’t realize it until it’s been sent to the printer. I spent about 8 months outlining Rosa Mundi before I had written more than a few paragraphs of the narrative.
CJ: I’m allergic to outlines. I literally take a prompt from one of my books and sit down and write until the story is out of me – whether that be hours or weeks. Then I type it into the computer and do the first round of edits before sending it to my beta readers. Thankfully, it’s worked so far for me. Though, I have a couple of larger stories that I’m hesitating finishing because I know I need to have that CSI board to even keep track of the characters. It’s exhausting just to think about it!
Gerald: Writing from a prompt or the seed of an idea is the most rewarding emotionally, I think. You can really feel it coming out of you. But it has its limits, and I think you’re realizing that now. It works great for a short story, but a novel needs multiple storylines, interweaving characters, and it’s just difficult to keep it all straight. I began The Eighth House before the personal computing revolution and had to stop about halfway through because I suddenly realized I couldn’t keep track of all the changes I needed to make. I had to save up and buy a computer to finish it. The real question is, how did Dickens or Austen do it?
CJ: That is definitely a good question! Let’s wrap up with how you deem success as an author.
Gerald: Maybe it’s just out of necessity for my sanity, but I have to deem my writing successful if it affects just one reader. If I can reach one person, get them to see the world differently, give them a few hours of reading pleasure, it’s a success. I long ago gave up on the notion that it would make me rich or even provide an income. It has to be a vocation.
CJ: Thank you so much for sitting with me today!
Gerald: Thank you for taking the time to interview me, I really appreciate it!