Interview with Margaret Killjoy, Part 4

Welcome back for Part 4 in our chat with Margaret Killjoy, founder of SteamPunk Magazine, author of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.


Airship Ambassador: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like, and how did Combustion Books form?

Margaret Killjoy: I think I’ve been self-publishing as long as I’ve been writing. In 9th grade I made a fan-zine of random reviews of punk bands with names like “Your Mom.” I didn’t know what a fan-zine, or a zine, were. We called it Cow Tongue Magazine. Thank god this was before the everything was on the internet. By 12th grade I was making poetry zines. Once again, I didn’t know the name “zine.” Once again, thank god this was before everything was on the internet.

I started publishing “real” zines when I first started the whole being-a-traveler thing. I started a zine publishing thing (wasn’t really a company, there wasn’t any money involved) in 2004 called Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. That’s about to turn 10, and now it publishes books and zines both. Strangers put out the first several issues of SteamPunk Magazine, actually.

Then I got together with other folks I knew from SteamPunk Magazine to start a collectively-run genre fiction publishing company. This one’s a real company, a damn LLC. It’s called Combustion Books and I’m proud as hell of it. We’re pretty DIY and small but we take our work seriously and put out good shit.


AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about creating and publishing a work?

MK: I like zines, and recommend zines, because with zines you can just make a ton of things and see what sticks. A crappy zine won’t get out there and probably won’t even resurface to embarrass you.

I really like the “just make shit” model, where, you know, you just make shit. Maybe it’s good and maybe it’s, er, shit. But you learn from it and you keep going. And I think focusing on monetizing it is the wrong first move. Focus on making awesome stuff that you want to exist in the world. And if no one pays you for it, well, get a job or eat out of dumpsters until someone does.

I’m working on the model for my own work called the “DGAF” model. Which of course means the “don’t give a fuck” model. To hell with deadlines, to hell with goal-oriented thinking, to hell with researching your audience, to hell with stressing out about your social media presence. Just do the shit you enjoy.


AA: Imagine what the world might be like if people worked on the interests they enjoy without having to worry or focus on other things. If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing now?

MK: More environmental activist photography. I worked with a campaign in Oregon to stop a Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline set to wreck the hell out of the forest and a ton of family-owned farms. I went to places that were affected and photographed them and let the environmentalist campaigns use them for their propaganda. That was great.

Or music. I’ve got 4 goth albums out, under the names Attack Attack Attack, Wingzar, and Nomadic War Machine. I’d only recommend the latter two.

Or more tintyping. Or more crafting.

I don’t know. I’m a master of none. I just like making things. Maybe I like writing the best though. It seems to be what I’m doing.


AA: In another interview, you talked about how you came to choose your current name. What was that process and what was the impact on you, before , during, and after?

MK: So I wasn’t born Margaret Killjoy. But when I was 19 and joined the forest defense community (treesitters and other such ne’er-do-wells) I took the name Magpie, because I like collecting shiny things. Well, usually rusty things. But my pockets and now van are usually full of various odds-and-ends.

I also wear women’s clothing as often as not, and I learned eventually that Magpie is sometimes short for Margaret. So some of my friends started calling me Margaret. And when I needed a pen name, I went for Margaret Killjoy, because I have a melancholy streak.

Obviously, this confuses people. There aren’t too many men named Margaret. One of my favorite moments was when I was getting a vendor pass at a convention. “Let’s see… Combustion Books. Margaret Killjoy and guest. You must be guest.”

“No, I’m Margaret.”

“Oh, sorry.”

The guy behind me in line looked at me and said “I bet that happens to Alice Cooper all the time too.”


But other times, the confusion isn’t so good. I know a number of folks who, tired of seeing male name after male name on the shelf, get excited to read one of my books, only to find out later that I’m not a woman. I sympathize with this disappointment. I’m excited to see people who promote women’s voices in fiction, and sorry to add to the confusion.

But I also hate the gender binary with a passion, and overall like keeping things confusing.


AA: That is such a great story and I think it will give people plenty to think about. Not just how they feel about all of that, but also how they might adopt some or all of it into their own lives. You are quite the nomad, driving coast to coast. What is it that keeps you moving and feeling fulfilled with life on the road?

MK: Depends on when you catch me! Some days I’ll just say “inertia.” Most people can’t imagine up and leaving, as much as they’d like to. Too many roots. I can’t imagine up and staying. Too much of my life is built around staying in motion. I’ve been nomadic my entire adult life, with only one two-year stop in the middle.

But most of the time, I keep traveling because I love it. Right now included. I’d like to slow down more—sometimes I go a year without being in one place longer than two weeks—but I’m content. It’s new experiences that keep me motivated to create. I often get it into my head that I need to stay still to focus on my writing or something, but then when I rent a room somewhere I just find myself just staring at the internet or something.

I’ve managed to put down strange decentralized roots over the years. There are cities and places I always return to. I still get to watch my relationships develop. I still feel like I’m growing older with my peers. But I’m rarely stuck in ruts, because the way out of every rut is parked on the street outside. (Or is just my thumb, though I haven’t hitchhiked in a few years.)


AA: Thinking about that perspective, it’s rather a Star Trek and Doctor Who motif – head out and see what’s there, as opposed to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, where everyone would come to you instead. Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

MK: I’d like to do more of this, actually. This has been a downside of traveling. I do it some online, but it’s not as meaningful. The few writer’s salons I’ve participated in have been glorious.


We’ll stop here as the end of part 4 of 5 in chatting with Margaret Killjoy

Join us for the conclusion where he talks about fandoms, interests, and influences.

Until then, catch up on the issues of SteamPunk Magazine, and get your copy of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .


Published in: on August 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Margaret Killjoy, Part 3

Welcome back for Part 3 in our chat with Margaret Killjoy, founder of SteamPunk Magazine, author of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.


Airship Ambassador: You’ve previously talked about your personal goals related to those anarchist principles. Have they changed or been refined over time?

Margaret Killjoy: Well I’m still an anarchist. I believe in anarchism like a scientist believes in evolution: it’s not faith, it’s the logical summation of my experience and available knowledge. If someone proves me wrong, if someone convinces me that law, the state, and/or capitalism are what’s best, then I suppose I’ll convert. But I believe in evolution and I believe in anarchism.

It’s worth mentioning that when I talk about anarchism I’m talking about the political theory that suggests humanity would be better off organized along the lines of mutual aid rather than capitalism and with horizontal decision-making structures instead of hierarchical ones. Anarchists spend their time trying to understand and dismantle every system of oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia.

As a quick attempt to explain something, when I say I hate capitalism I’m saying I hate how some people make money off of capital goods instead of actually doing work. So how people make money with money, or make money based on other people working.

And to a geek audience, I’ll just shout out Alan Moore, Ursula Le Guin, and Michael Moorcock as some anarchists of note.


AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to Clocktower which you’ve heard about?

MK: Doing the readings is one of the best things about Clock Tower. I do readings where I make the audience come to consensus about what to do next. Voting is too fast and easy… I want people to argue and discuss and then all realize I won’t move forward with the book unless they all roughly agree on what to do.

And some of my favorite fan responses also mimic my reading style: I found out that a group of my friends read the book to one another, in the same way I do readings, to get themselves through the death of another friend.

I also wrote the book more-or-less for adults (there’s very, very little sex, but there’s a fair amount of drug use), but some of the biggest fans of the book were 11 and 12. And that meant a lot to me, because I like to think I’ve created a portal to this fascinating world, the same as the books I read as a kid.


AA: Your newest book is out now – A Country of Ghosts. What can you tell us about it?

MK: It’s an anarchist utopia. Set in a nineteenth-century analogue world, it follows a journalist from a colonial power into the mountains and the country of Hron, a country the protagonist’s country was invading. He winds up falling in with the enemy and shown their world. The book explores themes of how a mutual aid society can exist (there have been some in history, for the record) and how they can defend themselves non-authoritarianly. But writing a utopia without more plot and themes besides those things would be boring to write and boring to read, so it’s a book about the horrors and glories of war, about social responsibility.


AA: You have several other books out, too, of varying types and topics. Would you share what they are and how they came about?

MK: I’m actually not 100% sure what to count as my first book. The first thing I wrote that is now a book is A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse, which started as a zine. And it’s more of a mad science approach to the apocalypse than specifically steampunk—but, I would argue, I wrote it back when steampunk was less codified. That zine was first released as a book in Italian. So my first book is one I can’t even read. We later released it as a paperback here in the states in english too.

Sometimes I don’t know which books to count as “my books” and which ones not to. Sometimes I think I have two books out: What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Country of Ghosts. But I’ve also got two non-fiction books I’ve edited (or co-edited) for AK Press. The first of these is Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction. Once again, I started it as a zine series, but AK Press picked it up and soon I was working on it as a book. It explores, in interview format, the relationship between writing fiction and striving for social change. I love that book.



The other one is We Are Many, which is an anthology of Occupy texts and strategic analysis from folks within the Occupy movement, of which I was part. I love that book too, because making it was as collaborative and messy as Occupy itself. And it’s probably the political book I’ve put out with the greatest reach—a friend of mine told me the other day he saw it for sale in the Barnes & Nobles in the Mall of America.

And then I’ve got photo books I put out, under the series name Being the Explorations. I’m up to #6 and really ought to get around to finishing #7.


AA: What kinds of attention and opportunity have all of your work and writing generated?

MK: It’s all really scattershot. I do a lot of different things for different audiences. My anarchist friends don’t know what to make of the steampunk stuff. My steampunk friends don’t know what to make of the anarchist stuff. It kind of works for me, though, to keep everything somewhat separate. I love when the worlds overlap, mind you. But I kind of appreciate that by not specializing, I’m able to stay reasonably low-key.

I’ve got scene fame, I guess. I meet people and it’s kind of normal for them to know who I am, if they participate in the same worlds that I do. Which is mostly just annoying, because it means they’ve formed an opinion about me, one way or the other, that’s based on the corpses of art I’ve discarded. (I uh, am obsessed with process and consider finished work to be little neat tombstones that mark where the living process once thrived.)

But opportunities do come up as a result, that’s true. Getting to tour is one of the big ones for me. I’m nomadic, I don’t have a home base, so touring is a great way to keep traveling.


We’ll stop here as the end of part 3 of 5 in chatting with Margaret Killjoy

Join us for part 4 where he talks about writing and traveling.

Until then, catch up on the issues of SteamPunk Magazine, and get your copy of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .


Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Margaret Killjoy, Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 in our chat with Margaret Killjoy, founder of SteamPunk Magazine, author of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .

Read Part One here.


Airship Ambassador: You had mentioned that you are often asked, “Is there a path where the reader doesn’t die (In What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower)?” What was your answer to that?

Margaret Killjoy: Oh, sure. It’s just, you know, the plot of the book is that you get sucked up into a revolution. And you don’t even speak French, gnomish, or goblin. So you’re going to die a lot. Sometimes people think that when I kill them off in that book, that I’m making a value judgment about their decisions. And usually I’m not. Usually it’s just like… look, you grabbed a lightrifle without any training and charged into a mess of gnomes. What did you expect?

But playing with death in an interactive novel is pretty interesting to me, anyway. I feel like I can say something as an author with that, something I can’t sum up as easily in a few sentences as I can by saying “try reading my book.”


AA: What are the various possible storylines which a reader can follow? What were the various messages you conveyed in them?

MK: Well, there are (if I remember correctly) about 15 major plot paths, each with forks and such within them. But the basic ideas are: you can help the goblins through guile, diplomacy, open war (trained or untrained), information-gathering, et cetera.

One message that’s contained in the whole of the book is to drop your expectations about who is and isn’t a monster. Readers come at it with the preconceived notion that the goblins are the antagonists and the gnomes are the heroes. The goblins aren’t exactly perfectly noble all the time—some of them are downright nasty—but the gnomes are the colonizing force that has enslaved the goblins. So there’s that kind of blatant anti-colonial theme right there.

And I explore the role of an outsider in anti-colonial struggle, using fantasy races as an analogy for real world cultures. I explore various peaceful and non-peaceful ideas of how to resist, and I explore themes of resisting with and without hope for victory.

But mostly, the protagonist is drunk and just kind of off on an adventure. The heavy themes are there but it’s meant to be a fun book.


AA: Wow, that’s a lot of different paths for people to take, which is rather how real life works, too. Every decisions we make alters our path somewhat and could change where we end up. How different was writing this type of story and format compared to a more straightforward linear story?

MK: I finished my first linear novel about a year ago now (A Country of Ghosts, also put out by Combustion Books) and boy, it’s a different monster all its own. With Clock Tower, I had to write out an outline in tree form, to keep my paths distinct. I played a lot with different ideas of how to do it, but the first time through I had written this awful convoluted mess and I had to delete pretty much 3/4 of my work and start again when I was almost done.


AA: Ouch, that hurts a bit to do all that work and then nearly have to start over. Just how complicated, and tangled, can, and did, storytelling get in this format?

MK: Yeah. So… paying attention to what you’ve introduced to the reader at what point get’s really complicated. Have you explained the gnomes? Does the reader know that goblins have black gums and cry blood? And I had to write all those details and descriptions differently every time, because I don’t want to bore the reader on their second or fifteenth read-through. So originally I wanted lots of cross-overs between paths, but in the end I decided I couldn’t do it. There are a few paths that split off and return though, which was a neat way to give characters information they could use in later choices.


AA: It does sound like a lot of work and planning, even before the first words of the story are really written. Would you do it again?

MK: Oh, absolutely. I look forward to it, in fact. Gotta get another linear novel out of the way first, but then I hope to return to the Adventures of Your Own Choosing.


AA: What other story lines were considered but which didn’t make it into the final book?

MK: Hrmm… not too many. My favorite ending has the character end up in Siberia, and there’s this whole other underground world you see briefly along the way. I wanted to explore that substantially more with other plots, but it didn’t end up happening… I had to resist the temptation to make one storyline substantially longer and more involved than the others. Because there’s not a “right” way to read the book.


AA: Ha! What I just heard was “sequel”! What kind of research went into creating the Clock Tower world?

MK: Oh, that’s the glory of fantasy. Very little. The character is an expatriate who doesn’t know anything about French culture. There are a couple things I think I caught for the first printing (and a few others I didn’t), about for example not calling the gendarmes “cops” and things like that, for historical accuracy. But I researched a bit about opium and absinthe and I remember one night needing to know the history of Fernet Stock, a Czech liquor I was pretty into for a while.

There are a few historical references here or there. Babbage is a side character, that’s an obvious one. But there’s also a character named Sergei that talks about the Russian revolutionist who mentored and named him. That’s a reference to Sergei Stepniak, a reasonably important Russian author who was a social democrat who once murdered the chief of the Tsar’s secret police in the streets with a dagger. (Social Democrats were made of different stuff back then, I think.)


AA: When I get my family and friends to read Clocktower, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

MK: Don’t try to singlehandedly save the world, especially while drunk? Or, less flippantly, try to understand why people make the decisions they make, and how different cultures reach the conclusions they reach for reasons. (Good reasons, bad reasons, either way.)


AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives make their way into their stories. How did this, notably anarchist principles among other things, play into Clocktower as well as your other work?

MK: So there’s the anti-colonial struggle thing, of course, but I also like how an interactive book offers the protagonist more choice. I’m not claiming that linear books are authoritarian—after all the reader can put them down–but an interactive book is definitely doing some interesting things with autonomy.

I tried every now and then to give the story a real “sandbox” feel where you can do different things, including some random probably-not-ethical things. (Like instruct a lion to eat some children). And I tried to incorporate those things not as heavy-handed moral lessons, but hopefully something that made the reader think “why did I kill that random old guy who was tending the hot air balloon?”


We’ll stop here as the end of part 2 of 5 in chatting with Margaret Killjoy

Join us for part 3 where he talks about goals and his other creative works.

Until then, catch up on the issues of SteamPunk Magazine, and get your copy of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .


Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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