Thursday, February 5, 2015

THE SEA IS OURS roundtable: zm quynh #SteampunkHands

zm quynh I first met at WisCon, tapping away at her laptop during downtimes between panels. She was working on a larger project, she told me. This is her first ever short story sale, and I'm pleased to introduce you to her work. 

Give a one or two sentence summary of your story.

The "Chamber of Souls" is about a former ARVN (Army of the Republic of Việt Nam) soldier who is fleeing Việt Nam after the fall of Việt Nam into communism. 
After inadvertently entering a portal in the South China Sea (for the story that precedes this story - see my forthcoming Anthology story "South China Sea"), the soldiers and the 200 or so passengers of the small fishing boat, their escape vessel, find themselves in an alternate universe in which the country of Việt Nam has been completely erupted into small pieces.

Why did you choose this particular theme?

As a Vietnamese refugee who has now spent more time in American than in my mother country, I find myself haunted by a country I have only known as a distant desire - both my own and my peoples'. There is a part of me that always longs for the Việt Nam that should be mine - my Việt Nam - the Việt Nam I lost. The world I would have known if there was peace in our country instead of war - the possible advances of our people and our culture if we had not been torn asunder and scattered into fifty countries across the globe. 

Did you do a lot of research for this story? If you did, found anything interesting?

I am sad to say that I spent MORE time researching the story than writing it. Years possibly. I wrote the story in a one month period. I learned SO MUCH about myself, Việt Nam, the Việt Nam War, Vietnamese history especially on a global scale. There are so many interesting things that I learned but the plight of the boat people was the most tragic for me. Something interesting that I learned was that shortly after the Fall of Saigon, all the poets were imprisoned in reeducation camps. In Việt Nam being a poet was considered a form of political dissidence. In the late 80s, the Vietnamese government, seeing how their literature and artistic culture had been stifled, attempted to encourage culture through the Đổi Mới project where they allowed writers and poets to write freely. That did not last too long when many of the stories that were produced criticized the Vietnamese government. The government then censored said artists to the point of jailing some and exiling others. 

Tell us a bit about where you've set your story.

The "Chamber of Souls" is set in an alternative Việt Nam in which the country and the people were able to defeat the colonial powers that attempted to enslave their people such that there is little colonial influence outside of that which is naturally gained in trading. Thus the Chinese, Dutch, French and American influence that is seen throughout Vietnamese history is completely absent. Rather, a different country develops and evolves with customs, ideas, and culture than the current country as we know it. I was curious about what our country would have been like if colonial forces did not disrupt our evolution. This includes the dominant ethnic group's (the VIets) own subjugation of other ethnic minorities that previously lived in the area we now know as Việt Nam. It is a decidedly steampunk universe so I was also curious about what a steampunk Việt Nam would look like. The story and the alternate universe also views and treats the current mythology about the creation of the Vietnamese people as fact rather than fiction. My ancestral parents were a dragon and a fairy - don't cha know!!!  

What was the hardest part about writing this story?

I am from South Vietnam, Sài Gòn specifically. I fled the country with my family in 1975. We all supported the South Vietnamese government or alternatively, you can say we opposed the advance of communism into Việt Nam. This remains my political stance. My story and universe, by its very nature, has an anti-colonial platform. This is the same platform that underlies the Communist party in Việt Nam and their motivation for formation - to oust colonial influences - the French and then the Americans from Việt Nam. Since Việt Nam has become communist, the government has reinforced many Vietnamese myths and popularized them among the people as a tool for building up the image of the country's history. I really like many of these myths as they existed prior to the the country becoming communist and I use them as the basis for some of the mythology of this story, which is actually a small vignette from a larger work - a forthcoming novel (if the Goddess would just give me some dern time to write!!!). Other than sharing these two commonalities - which I can say may exist simple because I am Vietnamese - I do not know many ethnic peoples to adore or long for or support colonialism upon their people nor do I know ethnic folks that do not at least like one or some of their people's mythology - So, other than these two commonalities - I am critical of colonialism and I love Vietnamese mythology - I had to work very hard to ensure that the fact that I am South Vietnamese and that I support my parents' political beliefs come through in my work. I felt that the pressure of making sure this message was strong was stressful and it caused me to triple think every sentence I wrote. It is still a delicate issue among my people. One that I don't want to be misrepresented about or make misrepresentations of. We lost our country. We are still in mourning about this. We lost so many lives in the war - and many died so hauntingly, needlessly, cruelly...

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