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