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Poem: "The Steamsmith" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Steamsmith"
39 comments or Leave a comment
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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.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> We could just pass stuff back and forth. I so need to collate some background material files for this project,<<

That would be good, I already have a 'Maryam' folder on my PC (most empty now, but I think it will be bulging in no time).

>>as soon as it stops, um, fizzing wildly in my brain and foaming all over everywhere.<<

You too? :D , today I caught myself driving to the wrong place for a job appointment because my brain was in Maryam's London.

Do you have my email address?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!


>> 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. <<

I think that Fiorenza is almost a good fit for where she is. She just needs that little bit of wiggle room to accommodate being plunked into office at a very young age, and being smarter than most of the folks around her. She is clever and wise and well-versed in the kinds of information that she needs, with a very practical and down-to-earth approach.

You really have had a lot of influence in shaping Fiorenza, particularly the local color that makes her and her village come alive, and the complexities of the character that were only hinted in the first poem. Just adding Don Candido opened up a whole new dimension with interaction between two people who often rub each other the wrong way, but are still essentially on the same side.

>> 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. <<

I think Maryam really is a genius. She has not just a high speed of thought, but that way of thinking around corners that so few people have and generally leaves bystanders wondering what just happened. She also has enough of a knowledge base to maximize that potential. A key difference is that she is -- unlike the Origami Mage or Fiorenza -- a theoretician. She can figure out how and why things work, and use that to do whole new leaps of possibility. I suspect that she's not quite as wise or worldly either; while she isn't foolish or inconsiderate, there are things she'll miss just because she's moving through a complex world and only understands part of it. That's actually an interesting place for growth.

>> She knows it, moreover she is on the threshold, half in, half out and knows how to use her different perspective. <<

Yes, that's both an advantage and a disadvantage. She has more parallax but less acceptance, or at least, she has to fight for the acceptance. She has her preconceptions, as everyone does ... but if they suddenly part company with the observed evidence, she'll probably stop and shake her head and backtrack to see what's really going on.

>>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.<<

Sooth. I love the interaction. And I am just thrilled to pieces that you've introduced Maryam and me.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 4th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Yes that was the point that was in the back of my mind, she is a researcher as well as an engineer, Fiorenza has an empirical approach.
What Maryam isn't is street-wise, I feel her perception of what life is on the streets is theoretical, she *knows*it from her mother but knowing and experiencing are two very different things.

>>She can figure out how and why things work, and use that to do whole new leaps of possibility. I suspect that she's not quite as wise or worldly either; while she isn't foolish or inconsiderate, there are things she'll miss just because she's moving through a complex world and only understands part of it. That's actually an interesting place for growth.<<

Exactly, I'm really looking forward to her development and growth.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 5th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Yes that was the point that was in the back of my mind, she is a researcher as well as an engineer, Fiorenza has an empirical approach.<<

I get the impression that Fiorenza just doesn't care much about most abstracts. She's smart enough to do research, it simply doesn't interest her and she has enough intuition that it's rarely needed.

Ironically, I don't think Fiorenza and Maryam would like each other much. Their personalities are oriented in such opposite ways.

>>What Maryam isn't is street-wise, I feel her perception of what life is on the streets is theoretical, she *knows*it from her mother but knowing and experiencing are two very different things.<<

Yyyyeah, she has a British gentleman's awareness of what goes on in a back alley. Almost nil. That could be a useful weakness to exploit.

Her mother has a job as an upper-class maid, whose view of the underclass probably comes more from her own childhood rather than recent experience. So Maryam's knowledge of such things is secondhand at best and more often thirdhand. I'll probably know more about this when I pin down the state of slavery in Britain.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 5th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>Ironically, I don't think Fiorenza and Maryam would like each other much. Their personalities are oriented in such opposite ways.<<

Yes, likely each of them would find the other incomprehensible to booth, never mind that Maryam works with machines and Fiorenza grows things and raises animals.

>>Yyyyeah, she has a British gentleman's awareness of what goes on in a back alley. Almost nil. That could be a useful weakness to exploit.<<

°Nods° that could open quite a few possibilities, yes.

>>Her mother has a job as an upper-class maid, whose view of the underclass probably comes more from her own childhood rather than recent experience.<<

True, but in 'our' Victorian England maids were more or less free game, and more often than not if one found hersef pregnant she was thrown out.
Maryam's father is definitely not average, but her mother might have seen more than one friend working in a different house ending up on the street or in a workhouse.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 6th, 2011 08:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>True, but in 'our' Victorian England maids were more or less free game,<<

That depended on the noble(s) who ran the house. There were various schools of thought on this issue, and people argued about it, including but not limited to:
* those who believed in treating people decently regardless of class
* those who didn't care about lower classes, but would not sully their own pure flesh by having sex outside their class
* those who felt that nobility and/or wealth entitled them to do as they damn pleased

When I looked up materials on Victorian culture and what it means to be a gentleman, I found remnants of and references to that argument -- whether nobility depended more or character or on birth, and whether or not the nobles had (or practiced) any degree of responsibility to commoners. That's just as much an issue in Maryam's world as it was in ours, but some of the details vary because the context is different.

>> and more often than not if one found herself pregnant she was thrown out. <<

True, probably in both worlds.

>> Maryam's father is definitely not average,<<

Right. Plenty of his peers find his morality annoying. He's not entirely alone, though; he's just up toward the top end of self-expectations.

>> but her mother might have seen more than one friend working in a different house ending up on the street or in a workhouse.<<

Very likely, yes. She really does have a great job for someone of her skills; I can't blame her for wanting to keep it rather than venture into a different role she knew nothing about.

Also worth mentioning: If you mistreat the help, they become a lot less helpful. They might just be nervous and drop things. They might spit in the soup. They might steal things. They might quit without notice. If they're really upset and opportunity presents, they might take a bribe for information or access to your personal space or what-all else. They certainly aren't liable to stick up for you if you need it. Households with a lord who likes to futter the maids -- especially if they aren't wholly willing -- tend to have a high turnover and other hassles. No amount of wealth or prestige can alleviate those problems entirely, and that was quite well known and often talked about. It made for a lot of gossip because households varied, but most of them had at least one way of treating servants shabbily. Some of the antagonists will likely be this type of upperclass.

Conversely, a household that treats its servants well can attract the best skilled and most loyal ones, often even if the pay isn't as good as some other house offers. The service is usually competent and faithful, and the turnover considerably lower. It's a very subtle form of power to have, because most society personages just don't think of it -- but it's real and it can make a huge different at the right moment. Maryam got this one from both of her parents, different aspects of it, and it's very useful to her.

A service family may have members spread over a number of employers, and servants talk to each other, so they know who the bad and good employers are. You can tell a great deal about a man, based on whether and what his servants say about him.
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