Most authors experience a bit of soul searching as they are writing, but this chapter has caused a good bit of angst for me. It harkens back to my early childhood, where teachers wondered if I was retarded or something, because I had trouble writing cursive (not very readably) and had to be helped one summer to bring my reading up to standard. Then when I scored 10th grade on a 5th and 6th grade science achievement test, they wondered what kind of alien child they had been given to teach.
When I snuck under the door into a full-time gifted class in middle school, there was a different dynamic. No matter what kind of weird-ass person you are, there is a certain comradery, a certain realization that the outside world really doesn’t like us very much, and so we need to stick together for mutual protection.
And we did, with it saving my butt on more than one occasion. There was a certain amount of competition, encouraged by the teachers, so that we wouldn’t be totally lazy. But it was different than the normal world, encouraging more of a “do your best and let the cards fall where they may” rather than a sabotage of your competitor. It built a cooperative competition, which honestly, buried me in college where the name of the game was to come up with the winning trick that allowed you to dominate all others, keeping that trick secret.
The spirit of those years of my life flows through me while I write this chapter. It’s really a stereotype extraction, since all human interaction is not so altruistic. But Tova reflects some of the difficulty a gifted person has with the neurotypical part of the population. Some neurotypicals view us like a weapons system or a piece of unique industrial hardware for exploitation, while that exploitation is profitable. You can see some of that coming through in the various parties that try to dominate Tova’s life and exploit her, not necessarily for her benefit.
As far as this chapter goes, it’s already 22,000 words and I’m not done. The chapter itself is almost a novella, yet it can’t stand alone out of the context of the novel. I’ve written some other similar chapters, and they have really turbocharged the main novel because when you are done reading the chapter, you really feel, really care about the character, and the events in the main novel are no longer, “oh well.”
In terms of design of the book itself, having a book this long, with numerous illustrations, is going to force some changes to the design. As it exists now, the novel cannot be bound. It is just too thick. Reducing the font size will not be enough. I will likely have to change this to a real, coffee-table book format, which makes sense when you consider a lot of photography books are done in that format. It will be a full experience book. Perhaps something like 10” x 13” with a discovered ancient book feel to it.
I’ve included an excerpt below which gives quite a different feeling from some of my previous writing. This is an early snapshot, so it doesn’t have all the embellishments that truly make it Literary Fiction style. In the excerpt, Tyr is Tova’s father, Tova starts out eight years old and then the timeline jumps to when she is ten years old, Jacob Connelly was a military advisor that became her teacher, and Phil, who was with Tova when she was born then pressganged into being a doctor in the Air Force. The general is the head of the Air Force Office of Space and Extraterrestrial Research. Tova went to Africa to watch a cure for a genetic disease be administered to a tribe, a cure that she and her mom had invented, but she was confronted with a hostile militia. The excerpt starts with Tyr viewing a top-secret video of the confrontation as he was not there. When Tova refers to “she”, Tova is referring to something akin to a second personality, the resurrected spirit of the Sun God, Lifegiver, though others simply think Tova has a split personality. They believe Tova is so smart that her intelligence cannot reconcile with the empathetic ten-year-old girl that she is. There is a cold-blooded aspect to this “alternative personality.”
One thing that drives the character of all my writing is the combination of the enhanced visual processing of my mind mixed with dyslexia. It is not an uncommon combination, but it does produce a unique set of problems. I think in pictures. I process data pictorially. Writing to me is a very conscious act, akin to writing music. There is a certain “song” to the written word, songs I explore to produce “music” of ever stronger intensity. Like a song, certain words, we call them, Philosophy and Poetry, can leave a lasting impression.
But like a movie, the story first exists as a sequence of pictures or clips. These clips in the movie industry, viewed after each day of shooting are called “dailies.” Dailies give the director (and the actors sometimes) ideas about the direction the movie is headed, how the story initially looks. The script and the looks govern the next round of shooting, trying to reduce waste and make a “good take” happen the first time. Later, editing can assemble these takes into a sequence, then the special effects and postproduction work comes in and hammers it into a stimulating and professionally smoothed experience.
Because I am a visually processing person, my workflow resembles increasingly that of a movie. That produces its own set of problems and advantages. To see the problems, just sit down in front of a movie and try to write down the story you see. On the surface, it will sound rather yucky. There are channels of information in the movie you are not capturing.
Much of the ideas I use either come from Philosophy I have learned, human problems I have studied about in history, or from the movie/television streams I have watched. To get the additional channels of information into the writing, I have found that I almost exclusively must rely on the methods of writing Literary Fiction, combined with illustrations that I have produced. Someone once told me that a book must be a “total experience” not simply a flat read. I have really taken that to heart.
The process of producing the book starts in a similar way to producing the movie: if I am going to produce a pivotal, strong character, I first need all the prosthetics, costume, and makeup in place to try out the character, to find a look that I can reference in my writing. In the case of this Tova chapter, I had to produce an illustration of teen Tova that had all the physical features that were important to her and then give that picture a “presence.” Tova is an unusual mix of endearing person with a subliminal terror that you can’t quite put your finger on. The terror stems from how Tova looks at people. She loves nice people, likes to connect with their mind, but she also connects with their biology. She feels that the very structure of their physical form has generated thoughts that have a certain structural pattern. If she considers changing a person’s mind, she is not just thinking of having a discussion. She is also thinking of changing the person’s body. It’s the sort of thought that makes a person’s meat quiver upon their bones, no matter how much they like Tova.
Once I have the “costumed Tova,” the next step is to lay down the shots or the initial writing of the scene. In Literary Fiction, this writing contains as much of the person’s personality as you can project in the conversation combined with basic body language. This becomes your “daily.” It is useful to push through and get the daily done and then sit back and play back the daily, in my case, read the text aloud with emotion. In the writer’s mind, the writer is perhaps enjoying the banter, mainly because the other channels of information are in the writer’s mind. Those channels will have to be added, but right now, the goal is to see how the remaining scenes will be shot or how in subsequent writing, more of the other channels of information can be laid down. The daily also tells you when you might have to adapt your “shooting” or subsequent writing to get more continuity. At this point, perhaps you can see those secret scenes connecting the scenes you planned to write but implicit in your mind and required for the reader to fully understand and buy into the story. Then you can adjust your “shooting” or writing and see if you are able to get more into the next daily.
After the chapter is done, the next stage in the Literary Fiction writing is the equivalent of special effects. What are the important things that the characters are thinking while they are talking? How do the things the character has experienced in their past tie into each exchange, each verbalized thought?
The final, postproduction stage is putting in the sounds, smells, and sights that are not directly a result of superficial body language or expression. Those seemingly irrelevant things are apart of any live experience, and you want this to be a “live experience” that deeply impacts the reader, leaving an emotional experience that they can’t get rid of. That “deep to the bone” emotional feeling is one of the major features of Literary Fiction.
For the book I am producing, there is a net postproduction that happens for the book. Because I am using a true publishing method to produce the book, not only do I add illustrations, but special internal inks and varnishes combined with backgrounds upon the text to give the book a truly special feel. That treatment requires a significant effort all by itself. The hardware is up to the task, since the hardware I possess could do the special effects for an indie film. The question for me is whether I can drive the hardware to excellence.
I have included a “daily” from the “Who is Tova?” chapter below. In this scene, Tova is eight-years-old, Tyr is her father, and Sashashivalia is her mother.
I’m still writing on the chapter “Who is Tova” and I’ve written about 9,895 words so far. Usually, writing new material consists of three passes. In the first pass, you get as many details as you can down, quirks of speech, behaviors, and strong emotional events. During the second pass, you ask, “What are the characters thinking while this stuff is going on?” and you write down their thoughts. The third pass is where you bring out the people’s emotions. This can be done with body language, how they speak, and by describing the atmospherics of the environment they are in. Right now, I am in the first pass on this chapter. I am fighting the internal confidence battle of thinking people won’t want to read all this stuff versus trying to get a fully satisfying emotional picture of not only where Tova came from but who she is as a person, her emotional rhythm, if you will. At the various stages of her life, you want to see her dominate personality traits present and their development as she develops.
There is a lot to tell about Tova, since I have had a chance to develop and experiment with her character in four other books I have written. The challenge will be to make the reader feel her as a person, something that pulls at their heart but also causes an internal conflict in the reader because the endearing girl is also a butcher in the name of science.
In the following excerpt, Tova is eight years old and she is interacting first with her mother and then her father. Where this is going is that soon, she is going to demonstrate skills that are beyond even a human prodigy. Those skills, combined with the power within her, make her terrifying, especially as she learns a little about her powers. Since those powers are just a part of her—she is not a human plus powers, but a creature whose powers are as natural to her as moving a finger—that means that other people could grow very frightened of her since she or her parents are not frightened by her powers at all. They are just normal.
Who is Tova? That is the title to the chapter I am inserting into Stefan’s Owl from Oblivion. Tova is a very important character in the book and prime motivator for Stefan. I realized that although I had little blurbs defining various part of her character, I never made her truly real as you can for a character in a Literary Fiction novel. You couldn’t “feel her” in your heart and I really want all my characters to pull at your heart strings. It’s also a problem in that this book really is about a group of boys of various ages, and I realized that while I had defined the boys characterization pretty well, I had totally neglected the independent female characters, i.e., the females that aren’t just the mother of the moment but have a role all to their own. When I went back and defined the female character, Jenny, by telling her backstory, it strengthened all the characters, because if the female character isn’t significant, has something to contribute all her own to the boy’s development, then why have the boys interact with them so much. So now it’s time to write the backstory for Tova so that she feels like a living and breathing person. But who is Tova? If I don’t deeply know, then I can’t write about her as if she is a real person. Honestly, I know all the plot points about Tova, and I know more about the course of her life than I am likely to be able to write. But beyond the facts of her life, I have to know who she truly is, how would I feel if I were talking to her. Because my mind is very visual, the best way for me to examine a character is to draw them or in this case to illustrate them. You have to make so may decisions about them from the expression you decide to pose them with to the texture of their skin, the way the iris in their eyes have formed, that by the time I am finished illustrating the character, I know them pretty well.
The thing about Tova is that at birth, she is not exactly human. She has a human dad or so people think. Yet those alien genetics mixing with human genetics are not likely to mix well. Tova is a mix of human, Saeshell, and Sun God. Throw that in a blender and see if it doesn’t stink. So, her appearance will have some traces of alien (much more than a trace inside her body) and her appearance might be a bit odd for a 15-year-old girl. There’s enough human there that people don’t run in terror when they see her. And since almost all of humanity in this world doesn’t know aliens are on Earth, she must be acceptable as a human with some “differences”, possibly birth defects. She does have strange skin colorations and hair colorations. Well maybe she likes to pretend to be some science fiction character. Genius girls like her are pretty strange, have kinks in their personality (or so people think). The other outwardly noticeable feature is that her irises have a bit of orange in an odd place which is not normal for any human. Likewise, her eyes are missing eyelashes. Must be a birth defect. Everyone needs eyelashes, right? (Unless you live exclusively in spaceships or artificial environments, in which case, evolution might have taken them a way.) Besides being unnaturally smart, even for a human prodigy in biological sciences like she is, there is that intense stare… can you feel it. She may be smiling at you, but mentally, she already has you on the dissection table. Can you feel the knife?
I have included the chapter start page to give you an idea (and me too) of what the chapter will look like while I am writing it.
Today was sort of a strange day. I’m always in a weird mood anyway and with all the stuff going on in Afghanistan, that just topped off my existential distress list. I listened to the sixties music channel to smooth me out and it turns out that probably wasn’t an accident. A lot of that music played during late stage/end of the Vietnam war. That was also a weird time and a very memorable time, since during that time I attended for three years a middle school that had a dedicated gifted program, not a pull out for a few hours a week, but an actually full time program. And to be honest, the kid formed during that time, wrapped in layers of transparent adult, is who actually writes this book. In this excerpt, you can see the spirit of war, the acquisition of weapons, the mystery and paranoia of new things, and the manipulation of the children.
In a good gifted program, as a gifted child, you cannot be unaware of the manipulation being perpetrated upon you. Yet you go along with it because outside of your scholastic realm you can see a cruel and ignorant world, and these people are simply trying to work your mind around and give you the skills to survive out there. If you are gifted, you probably know what I mean, since most don’t go through such a program and everyday as an adult, are still fighting that mental war you did as a child. Not that the program solved all problems or even the majority of them, but you at least came out with a magic carpet under your feet called self-confidence. You will notice the kids in this excerpt are still trying to find a ride on that carpet. Stefan, in some ways, intends to give them that ride.
In the excerpt, the children are watching a dream generated by Stefan in which they, themselves, are the characters. When the text becomes black on a light blue background, that’s when the children have popped their minds out of the dream long enough to discuss what they are seeing. Cyan colored text on a black background is telepathy, which sort of operates like a special radio transmission that all nearby telepathic heads can pick up. In this part of the book, Ty is eight years old, Tyco is a very mature twelve years old, Elof is sixteen years old, and Tova is fifteen. This dream is being projected into their minds by seven-year-old Stefan. Maybe, as you read this excerpt, you can find some familiar feelings that you experienced during that time. If you can, you are probably talking to that inner child.
This excerpt, from the chapter in “Stefan’s Owl from Oblivion” entitled “The Dead Womb of Capitalism,” is a dream that seven-year-old Stefan is projecting into the minds of sixteen-year-old Elof, fifteen-year-old Tova, twelve-year-old Tyco, eight-year-old Ty, and Professor Kettil, professor of evolutionary neurosciences at Cambridge University. Stefan is projecting a dream that relates Elof’s childhood, with this scene in the dream being about Elof when he was seven years old. Stefan has ripped the information for the dream from Elof’s mind and is showing it to everyone there, including the unseen Syon who helps Stefan with dream projection. The black text on blue shading are the spectators of the dream discussion among themselves what they are seeing.
This was a tough piece to write. For one thing, Elof was severely abused as a child. It is tough to make a reader sympathize with a genius child living in fabulous wealth. The presumption would be that a child in such wealth could not have it that bad. Part of this is to lay the groundwork and backstory for understanding Elof’s deep cynicism in the book and how badly Stefan is hurting Elof by trying to steal Tova away from him. Tova is more than Elof’s girlfriend. She is his chief officer of a tenuous sanity.
The other aspect is that Elof is Tibetan-American, and his father evidently has a deep, racial hatred for Asian-Americans. This sets up a very intricate emotional dynamic, with the father hating his own son but because of his extreme transactional nature, valuing his genius. At points along the way, you can almost see him slipping, subconsciously providing things for Elof that could almost be interpreted as love.
This deeply complex, emotional interaction is the bread and butter for Literary Fiction.
This excerpt packs a lot of complexity, more than might be immediately apparent. Though Stefan is seven years old, his ability to read out anyone’s life from their mind by simply being near them combined with his prodigious capability, makes for some interesting problems. For one thing, though he is a child with the emotional needs of a child such as security, he also can experience the adult emotional experiences he has imbibed. His father, who interpreted the world for him, has died, causing a psychotic break and his mother, who he feels is emotionally cold, can no longer be avoided as she is his primary care giver now. He aspires to love the unreachable fourteen year old Tova, but his attempt at a romantic relationship almost feels like he is going through the motions based on the experiences imbibed. It’s difficult to tell his real motivations, whether he might actually be looking for a replacement mother that cares or as stated elsewhere, perhaps he wishes to experience parental love by somehow becoming a parent himself and becoming the loving parent he wishes he had. Add to this that Stefan is schizophrenic and can also draw people into his mind to experience his dreams as reality, and some interesting, twisting complexity is revealed.
Tova also has some complexity of her own as she is also a genius trying to come to grips with what her femininity means in relation to that genius. She has tremendous empathy, yet it seems sometimes that science, especially life science, her major talent, requires the opposite. The reader is kept guessing whether her personality might be spit by such a divergence (which is what the professor believes) or if she does indeed, somehow, share part of her mind with the incongruous, ruthless life-form, the Sun God, Lifegiver. Or perhaps Lifegiver has somehow left a message in her mind, a very long message. As this point, Tova is very disturbed by her own problems and yet, she is being encouraged to accept the relationship Stefan is offering, at least temporarily, to allow Professor Kettil more latitude in treating Stefan’s mental disorders. It almost appears as if Professor Kettil is not as altruistic as he seems but has some agenda of his own.
I should point out that this emotional complexity is the very air that Literary Fiction breathes. You could not explore these kinds of relationships of the human condition in a traditional Genre Fiction novel setting. The story must have a kind of transcendence to bring the emotions and psyche of the characters into stark relief. The Genre Fiction reader would dismiss the novel as being overly complex whereas the Literary Fiction reader would relish in the twisted complexity of the relationships between the characters and between the minds and instincts of the characters versus reality.
This is an excerpt from “Stefan’s Owl from Oblivion.” As always, these are preliminary writings and not the final versions. Stefan meets Jenny, the disguised Federation Police Officer covertly on Earth, for the first time. This is a dream Stefan is projecting to show his friends his own history. The black lettering on blue background are the comments from the people watching the dream.
Our children are our genetic heritage plus the hope of positive mutations that will allow them to exceed their parents’ capabilities. They are a precious commodity, and we love and cherish them because of that. But what if children were not precious, but a cheap platform for genetic experimentation, cheap because not much has been invested in them, especially if production of them requires no physical duress and risk like a human mother experiences. What if they are an expedient method for speeding up evolution, a source of rapid mutation and rapid pruning. Yet, one thing we have already learned from our more primitive study of genetics and genetic engineering is that extra evolutionary processes are subject to any creation escaping and any such creation becoming something that renders death upon everyone. Such is the lot of the Saeshells, due to their mass genetic experimentation. Eight-year-old Ty is the one that got away.
Excerpt from "Stefan's Owl from Oblivion" about Ty
This excerpt is from one of the parts of "Stefan's Owl from Oblivion" that some people find difficult to read. With so much violence in the world and in the movies, it is difficult to write a terrible scene like this in a way that will touch someone’s heart, that will make them care. Literary Fiction seeks to touch a person in a very intimate way, to make a lasting change in their mind, hopefully one that makes the reader more empathetic.
Syon is a normal looking fourteen-year-old teen boy. He has a few differences that he has discovered, but he just believes that he is a genetically messed up human. It makes it even easier to accept the beatings from his adoptive father because, “What if his father is right? What if he really should be killed in some brutal way?" People may believe that an adoptive father would not be so brutal, but as explained elsewhere in the book, Syon was adopted merely to increase the father’s assistance money from the government… more money to feed his alcoholic addiction.
Paul7 is a nine-year-old boy from the planet Sophista, interested in preserving the telepathic children being found on Earth. And yes, as far as he is concerned, all other humans can burn. Stefan is a seven-year-old child that is such a powerful telepath that he can pull people into his mind into a shared dream. Some people believe that he may be creating new timelines. But there is the little matter than Stefan is also schizophrenic.