From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Alex Dally MacFarlane

A lobster’s tough exoskeleton allows it to have very soft and otherwise vulnerable insides. Do the gates of the city allow the city to have its soft and vulnerable off-season?

Certainly the gates and wall are required, physically, for the city to have its isolation and security in the off-season. It’s a shame the lobster comparison only works for when the gates are closed. They can’t escape it!

Sasha gets sick as soon as she diverges from the story of the city and eats some non-lobster meat. Her sickness then delays her departure and allows her to visit the city in the off-season. Does avoiding lobster, at some level, allow her to begin seeing past the lobster-story of the city?

The small narrative-defying act of eating non-lobster meals is not unique to her, or even the small number of visitors who see the off-season city. Undoubtedly the city has many visitors each year who don’t like lobster, who can’t afford it more than once or twice, who are vegetarian, etc. Some probably get sick. Shellfish are a tasty, tasty nuisance. With Sasha, by the time she eats the chicken kebab and subsequent meals, she’s already sensing that the lobster-city is not the entire truth and wants to tug free of it. The act is consequence, not cause. What interests me is the city’s people allowing the option to defy the narrative in this way, to do things in the city that aren’t lobster related (and not just because vegetarians and others with shellfish-free diets need to eat too).  Visitors don’t have to believe the lobster-tale.

The city considers the lobster story to be one big job that they all perform together. At some level, this is how most companies understand themselves as well. Indeed, all the performers at Disneyland go home after work to their own lives. Can the city be considered a stand-in for the stories we each perform in our work-lives?

Disneyland and other theme parks are probably the closest comparison, with the costumes and hammed-up performing, although I can’t deny the need to act a part in mundaner settings. I worked in McDonald’s for four years and never injured a customer. But I actually came at it from a different direction while writing: I visited Portland, Maine last year, where lobsters are big business and there’s a person in a lobster suit on the main street, and I had this idea of a fairytale city where everyone’s life revolved around lobsters. I expected to write a story in that setting, but realised it would be far more interesting to have that city be real, in our world, full of all this folklore—impossible, yet real—and have a visitor dig into it a little.

Kate says of the city after the gates are closed, “I wouldn’t want many visitors at this time of year, so maybe it’s best if they don’t know that we’re an interesting city when they’re gone.” Looking in a different direction from the previous question, I think we have all shielded parts of our personal lives from the people in our professional lives. Could the gates be considered, in some way, the steps we each take to maintain our own private lives in the midst of a world that tends to pull us deeper and deeper into the world of work?

Ah, gates again. These ones seem to demand a metaphorical interpretation. I’d say the whole construct of on-season and off-season is representative of the need to separate work and personal time. This needed exaggerating to match the fairytale level of lobster-work and to allow their seclusion in our real world of roads and curious strollers, hence the gates and a wall around the city.

It’s interesting that your protagonist ultimately keeps the secret of the city, considering that journalists (rightly or wrongly) are not generally thought of as secret-keepers. Why did she keep the secret when revealing it would normally be what a journalist is expected to do?

Well, Sasha probably couldn’t be a front page, hard-hitting journalist, but the travel section allows far more individuality—promotes it, as far as this reader can tell—and so Sasha didn’t need to reveal it. I’d love to read about this fantastic lobster-city alongside the details of cruise ships and Asian cities prevalent in the Australian newspapers I see at the moment. I’d also love to read the truth of it, and her “other hints and a small, non-descriptive paragraph about [her] days after the gates closed” would probably make me visit to uncover what she didn’t reveal, why she wrote the article that way. Which is her intent. Her journalistic quandary is representative of the wider questions some travelers mull over, without always reaching a simple answer. Right now I’m in Australia and longing to climb Uluru, the famous rock in the country’s centre, yet the indigenous people consider the route sacred and want tourists to stick to paths around the rock’s base. For me, that one’s quite clear-cut, although the longing remains. Other questions of ethics and consequence require more thought. Sasha likes the lobster-city even as she’s made uncomfortable by its artificiality, and I’m sure she and I aren’t the only ones to feel that way about a front put on for tourists. Tourists like to “get off the beaten track”, see the “real [country/region/city],” and some people are probably keen to welcome those with genuine curiosity about their lives; too many visitors, especially careless ones (which many are, even if not intentionally), can damage a culture or environment. And so on. Sasha makes a decision and, for years later, considers the other actions she could have taken. These issues don’t always have a simple solution for someone who has made the core decision to keep traveling. Yes, calling her Sasha—a form of my first name—was intentional.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your story?

The interface between real city and folklore was fun to write. But give me any excuse to construct folklore. . .

Bill Sullivan picWilliam Sullivan is a writer, computer programmer, and musician living in Austin, Texas. You can find his website at http://enkrates.com.