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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Steamsmith"
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(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I love the bits about Alchemical Elements and Molecular Structure! Science! But different!<<

*wink* "It's science, Jim, but not as we know it."

That is, it can be studied rationally, experimented with, and replicated. It has laws and patterns which can be discovered and described. From what I've seen, I think they understand the four main elements pretty well, but they have only a partial grasp of aether so far. They know some common molecules, but nowhere near all of them yet and are still figuring out which is made of what and how many. So we're at the exciting part of their industrial and scientific revolution...

>>And yes, Maryam is certainly a character who demands one's attention. In the best way, of course.<<

... and there's a smart black gal applying a whetstone to the cutting edge of it. Won't this be fun?

I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 05:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>And she's relentlessly Competent. I'm willing to overlook a lot in a protagonist who's just solidly Competent, and when one comes along who's otherwise cool on top of that, well, I'm sold.<<

Aye, she is that -- infuriatingly Competent, even, in the opinion of many other folks in that culture. She's living proof that some of their dearly held beliefs about human nature are bollocks. When you're living in an industrial revolution with a newish faith that science is Good And Right, black sheep and white crows can be tremendously discomfiting. Small minds can rip a muscle trying to accommodate such things, and that's painful. She is so skilled and so useful, they can't afford to ignore her. She doesn't try to demand acclaim or reach outside her skills, just insists that people give credit where credit is due and won't accept anything less.

>>And yeah, "Science" really stays the same. It's just being used here to study a Universe different from ours.<<

*nod* I'll have to do some poking around, but I suspect that the philosophical principles of science apply, while the nature of scientific information in that setting differs from our own.

This process of scientific method works.

Exploring the similarities and differences could be fun. Some of the fundamental differences influence how things in this setting work in ways alien to our own, like the interactions between personality and technology. That loops around to affect the culture and characters.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Pretty much, yes. Some of the most interesting experiments aren't done with the expectation of a particular result, but just to see what will happen. It's all about trying to figure out how the world works.

Now in this series, I'm thinking it would be fun to see what happens if some of the characters are a little more serious about their science than people were (sadly, still are...) in this world. That is, if you can provide evidence proving that some dearly-held belief is wrong, some of them will (however grudgingly) abandon it and attempt to find a new hypothesis. This steampunk version of London is not as grungy and smoky as the historic version or most steampunk versions. It's a little brighter, and somewhere in there is a clue machine.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.<

All true, your poem has put her into focus for me, now I see her as a kind of trickster, the one who is a coltural hero (the inventor or discoverer) and who uses humour to throw the status quo off-balance or to make people see under a different perspective.
Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>All true, your poem has put her into focus for me, now I see her as a kind of trickster, the one who is a coltural hero (the inventor or discoverer) and who uses humour to throw the status quo off-balance or to make people see under a different perspective.<<

Ooohhh!!! She corresponds to Papa Legba! He loves to wander through worlds and stories, changing guises along the way. NOW a whole bunch of things make ever so much more sense: the body language, the way she dresses, the genderbending, the sense of humor, the elegant blend of magic and science. It all fits together quite neatly.

Yeah, you really don't want to leave your precious cultural apple cart parked in the road when Maryam is in a hurry. There will be ... applesauce.

I love characters who challenge preconceptions and upset assumptions. It's easy to look at her and think you know something, but you'd be wrong more often than right.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Ooohhh!!! She corresponds to Papa Legba!<<

Oh,my, guardian of doors, trickster, master of disguise...yes, yes yes!!!
I wonder whether her African ancestry is Fon.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Hmm ... I don't know. I may need to do some digging. Fon is a possibility. So are Yoruba and Igbo.

I've been thinking about Maryam's appearance and background. I see her as tall and slim, with small curves. She has a long straight nose in an oval face, more handsome than beautiful; there is just enough 'pretty' about her that she can appear feminine if she chooses to play it up. Otherwise it's easy for people to glance at the clothes and skills and assume she is a man. She's basically got British build but African coloring and hair.

So that got me thinking about her background and how she came about, because she's just such an odd combination for that setting and yet she still manages to make a place for herself there. Once upon a time, there was a minor lord who married a wonderful woman, but sadly they never had any children and the lady died after a lingering illness. The gentleman went home and very quietly, very thoroughly fell apart in private. His black maid -- quite lovely in a short round way -- provided some physical comfort in the process of scooping up the pieces and putting him back together.

Well, once was enough, and Maryam was born. Since her father had no other children, he treated her more as a son than a daughter, and enthusiastically encouraged her to develop her skills. (He takes a very dim view of men who father children and then shirk responsibility, which does not endear him to his peers.) So her 'imprint' of British society is that of a gentleman, and what ability she has to function as a lady came about later and secondhand. From her mother she gained an appreciation of the service class and some tidbits of African background, but it didn't stick as much.

I am retrospectively amused by another turnabout: there's a cliche of a white person moving into any ethnic group and outdoing them at their own game, whereas here we have a black woman making a better British gentlemen than most of the blokes in her guild.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I like her backstory,I'd love to know more about her parents.
You know, in a way her background reminds me of another remarkable coloured person, General Dumas, (but I like Maryam's dad better than his).

Now that I think of it, many of my favorite characters cross-dress for 'functional' purposes, I've always had a soft spot for Oscar François de Jarjayes and my favourite roleplaying character is a Rohir, a member of the King's Eored who is passing herself off as a man for obvious reasons (and that's just a couple of them).
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> I like her backstory, I'd love to know more about her parents.<<

I'm gradually feeling things out. We can have fun writing them up.

>> You know, in a way her background reminds me of another remarkable coloured person, General Dumas, (but I like Maryam's dad better than his).<<

I'm pleased that she has two likable yet plausible parents, who are both still living at the time of the first poem. Her father actually did offer to marry her mother, that being his idea of the decent thing to do after getting a woman pregnant; she politely turned him down, preferring to keep their previously established relationship. And that works for them as a family, for sufficiently flexible definitions of "family."

I've been jotting down notes regarding his opinions about how a gentleman should behave. There are all sorts of fascinating hints about religion and science and society and personal responsibility. Some of the old chivalric code of honor is in there, refracted and refined.

>>Now that I think of it, many of my favorite characters cross-dress for 'functional' purposes, I've always had a soft spot for Oscar François de Jarjayes and my favourite roleplaying character is a Rohir, a member of the King's Eored who is passing herself off as a man for obvious reasons (and that's just a couple of them).<<

Yes, I love that sort of thing. I'm also historian enough to know that it happened early and, if not often, repeatedly enough to leave a diversity of tracks. Maryam would probably have had a much easier time if she had abandoned her family, changed her identity, and passed herself off as a man. But that's not her style.

I've been contemplating her sense of self. I wondered whether she was innately trans, in the sense of feeling that she had been born in the wrong body; or if she was simply possessed of traits and skills that her society considers mannish and therefore she dresses the part because that is the social role she has taken on. I'm leaning toward the latter. I suspect that Maryam is simply fluid in ways that few people are, finding her way through life like water pouring through stones. I rather like that about her. She is not easily definable. There are ways in which her culture has vividly imprinted on her ... and yet ways in which it cannot touch her.

And of course, most Trickster figures cross-dress and blur other social lines. There is power in it, which is why it's often discouraged.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>I'm gradually feeling things out. We can have fun writing them up.<<

Yes! :) it would be wonderful to have a 'shared folder' for world-building and brain-storming. I wonder wheter it could work as a setting for 'mixed media': poetry and prose for instance, I have a few scenes in mind that might coalesce in something more, but the main elements of the setting should be firm for that to work (anything I might write will go by you before being made public, of course).


<<I'm pleased that she has two likable yet plausible parents, who are both still living at the time of the first poem. Her father actually did offer to marry her mother, that being his idea of the decent thing to do after getting a woman pregnant; she politely turned him down, preferring to keep their previously established relationship. And that works for them as a family, for sufficiently flexible definitions of "family." I've been jotting down notes regarding his opinions about how a gentleman should behave. There are all sorts of fascinating hints about religion and science and society and personal responsibility. Some of the old chivalric code of honor is in there, refracted and refined.<< This sounds more and more interesting. :) <<I've been contemplating her sense of self. I wondered whether she was innately trans, in the sense of feeling that she had been born in the wrong body; or if she was simply possessed of traits and skills that her society considers mannish and therefore she dresses the part because that is the social role she has taken on. I'm leaning toward the latter.<< Yes that's how I 'sense' her too. Whatever gets the job done... It's interesting to compare the characters that came out from my involvement in your Poetry Fishbowls. The Origami Mage seems the most at ease in her culture and her role, she nudges and flows, tries to leave things better than she had found them but doesn't 'fight' openly. Fiorenza (on whose birth I had no hand but I feel I've 'adopted' since) is very down-to-earth, she goes her own way when she needs it but she knows the boundaries and seem to know very well how much she can push them before reaching the limits for her village. Maryam might not be smarter than either of the others but she is also cultured, and a big-city woman with a specific set of abilities that are much valued. She knows it, moreover she is on the treshold, half in, half out and knows how to use her different perspective. The variations fascinate me, it's a great journey to see them all develop and grow. Thank you for creating two of them and taking the third one in. :)
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Sorry, I tried to format the comment decently but LJ runs everything together...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> it would be wonderful to have a 'shared folder' for world-building and brain-storming. <<

Yeah, if we could find a way to make that work conveniently. There are file-sharing options online but I tend to make them all crash. :P We could just pass stuff back and forth. I so need to collate some background material files for this project, as soon as it stops, um, fizzing wildly in my brain and foaming all over everywhere.

>>I wonder wheter it could work as a setting for 'mixed media': poetry and prose for instance, I have a few scenes in mind that might coalesce in something more, but the main elements of the setting should be firm for that to work (anything I might write will go by you before being made public, of course).<<

That would be cool. It's such a big setting, both in terms of global scope and social import. Some stories (whether prose or poetry) are really going to depend on precise scientific details or unique historical twists. Others may be more general or more personal. I am trying to figure out some of the major characteristics of the setting.

>>Yes that's how I 'sense' her too. Whatever gets the job done... <<

*nod* Maryam is pragmatic without being provincial.

>> It's interesting to compare the characters that came out from my involvement in your Poetry Fishbowls. <<

Oh yes, I love doing this! It has come up in various posts, dealing with gender or ethnicity or what-all else. I always have to laugh when someone says that a writer's characters are all just like the writer. Mine aren't even like each other.

>> The Origami Mage seems the most at ease in her culture and her role, she nudges and flows, tries to leave things better than she had found them but doesn't 'fight' openly. <<

Yes. She is a good fit for her culture. So are Shahana and Ari, for all their world is on the rocks right now.
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