Sunday, October 16, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable: S.L. Knapp

S.L. Knapp can be found cross-posting between LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and she brings us a really cool set of answers about her story that features Cuba, “Amphitrite”

A two-sentence summary: 
An engineer from newly-independent Cuba must recover her stolen submarine. While crossing the open ocean, she has just the plan to evade anyone who might try to claim her vessel.

How did your characters come to be? 
I knew I wanted a submariner and a mermaid and had the basic plot structure laid out, but they really came into existence as I wrote the story. Two paragraphs in and I knew the sort of woman Consuelo was. I mentioned Amphitrite, and I knew that at age twenty, Consuelo had met this rough-around-the-edges older woman who taught her what’s what. Twenty years later, she does the same thing for the naive but earnest Aurelie.

Why this setting?  
I don’t see much about Cuba in fiction and I wanted to put more out there (I’m also lazy and it required less research). I set the story a bit later than traditional steampunk, but the War of Independence was a fascinating time, especially for Cuban-American relations, and it’s fairly close to when my great-grandfather graduated from medical school and had female classmates. I figured a woman engineer would be historically believable. You know, if Cuba were building a fleet of super-subs.

 You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
In the confines of the story, being queer isn’t that big a deal. That’s not historically accurate in larger society, but a lot of women flew under the radar this way—Consuelo’s an inventor and engineer, she’s probably a spinster being single and over 40, and nothing more is said. Consuelo knows what’s up, and that’s all that matters. I just wanted to set a story where being a lesbian is normalized, even if it isn’t in society.

 What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
The submarines! I went a bit overboard with the Jules Verne-y fantastical elements but that’s the sort of universe I was hoping to evoke: a little more science-flavored magic than science itself. Can the machine work? Probably not. Do I care? No. It’s pretty in my head, just like the Nautilus. I mostly relied on my knowledge with sailboats to write it, and some reading up on historical submarines, which were mostly pedal or diesel-powered.

 A random ramble? 
My grandmother studied medicine during the Cuban revolution. She has stories about fights she’d have with the guard at a US hospital she worked at because “only doctors can park here” and seeing as she was a woman, she couldn’t possibly be a doctor. Whereas, in Cuba, her father’s class in medical school graduated three women (in the 1920s). According to my grandmother, a lot of women didn’t go into medicine, but there were really no institutional barriers to stop her from doing so if she wanted to like there were in the US. I found the disparity interesting, given how often I’m told that I come from a culture brimming with machismo and sexism by fellow Americans. I used to take it for granted that a given patriarchal society (especially in the West) behaves in similar ways to others—but the nuances that come up in the differences have been really interesting to me. So that colored my decision to set the story in Cuba, too, and how I wanted to frame some political relationships.

As an aside, gender norms re: occupations varies so much in different countries! In Malaysia, we're fairly evenly split in the IT field, so I was really surprised when I got to North America and found that there're so few women in IT. Mind-boggling. 

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