Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Alex Dally MacFarlane

Alex Dally MacFarlane is another of those rare souls among us with a .com URL and stuff and a prolific writer to boot. Her story is “Selin That Has Grown in The Desert.”

A two-sentence summary: 
Dursun, a teenaged girl in 19th century Central Asia, must soon be married—but she is starting to realise that she only wants to be with other girls.  

How did your characters come to be? 
Even without the lesbian parameters of the anthology guidelines, I would have wanted to write about women.  Their stories are too often ignored in favour of male endeavours.  The lesbian aspect immediately gave me more details: my character is a lesbian, and I quickly decided she would be young, grappling directly with the difficulties of being a lesbian in a time and a place where such a concept was not acknowledged.

Why this setting? 
My starting point for the story was actually my quite strong disinterest in most of the steampunk I've ever read.  In short, it's very male and Victorian, with a great deal of glorification placed on Victorian England (and a lot of terrible attempts to write in Victorian prose).  JoSelle asked me to write a story for the anthology, but I didn’t really want to write a steampunk story.
At the same time, I was reading a really beautiful manga, Otoyomegatari (A Bride's Story) by Kaoru Mori, set in 19th century Central Asia.  I loved the domesticity of the story, how it focused primarily on female relationships and day-to-day life.

These two combined, giving me the idea of a story set in a part of the world where steampunk was at best irrelevant, at worst an indicator of foreign imperialism.  And I wanted to focus primarily not on the technology, but on the people of Central Asia.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
As far as I can tell from my research, lesbianism was simply not a concept in 19th century Central Asia as it is in a number of present-day countries.  Women married men and bore children—and that was that.  Dursun does not want to fit into this norm, and the story is about how she deals with this problem.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece?
Research!  I've spent many hours in the British Library, reading about Turkmenistan past and present, and many more hours online, sourcing pictures and snippets of historical texts and travel stories and Turkmen-authored information—it is not an easy place or period to research in the English language, and I enjoyed the challenge (and still do). 

My greatest find so far has been Carole Blackwell’s Tradition and Society in Turkmenistan, which collects several hundred folksongs sung by Turkmen women and recorded throughout the 20th century, now translated into English.  It is a rare and wonderful resource—far too often, women's voices are simply not written down, and are gradually lost over time. 

A random ramble? 
I am now turning the story into a novel, which I am really excited about.  I even have an idea for a second book, narrated by someone else—also a young Turkmen woman, with a story of her own that connects to Dursun's.

Hey, hey, hey! Less than a week to Steam-Powered II's release! [HINTHINTHINT]

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