Interview with Margaret Killjoy, Part 5

Welcome back for the conclusion 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.

Read Part Four here.


Airship Ambassador: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?

Margaret Killjoy: Well, I think I write better than I used to. I’m afraid sometimes I’m getting too stilted, but mostly I’m proud that I’m better able to express myself. I kind of understand how I could write from now until I go senile and never stop improving. Writing is so rewarding because it’s so goddammed hard.

I sort of assume I’m less die-hard activisty than I used to be, but I don’t know. I don’t have perspective enough on that. In my mind, I’ve never been very preachy. Who knows if that’s true. Maybe I still am.


AA: LOL, I’m sure someone is bound to let you know one way or the other. Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests and topics fill your time?

MK: Prisoner support. A friend of mine was imprisoned last year for not testifying before a grand jury investigation into anarchists in New York City. He served more than half a year in jail without being charged with or accused of a crime.

The government has, for a decade now, kept environmentalists at the top of their watch lists, despite tons of documented violent rightwing terrorism and hate crimes in this country that doesn’t see anywhere near the same kind of attention that left-wing and environmentalist sabotage and even civil disobedience sees.

I’m not a front-line activist. I go to demonstrations but I don’t put myself in harm’s way with the regularity of a lot of very, very brave folks. So I’m interested in publicly supporting those who do. Like Jeremy Hammond, the hacker who exposed Stratfor’s extensive spying on activists for corporate clients. He’s serving 10 years.

Outside of geek culture and anarchy, I like being in nature and fantasizing about throwing my computer into the ocean.


AA: What other fandoms are you part of in some way?

MK: I got into geek culture through steampunk, and I gotta admit the rest doesn’t really always hold up. I love how steampunks actually make their own characters, create their own personas. Good stuff.

Cosplay is neat though. I’m sort of obsessed with Game of Thrones and armor, and I have a chainmail shirt I wear around town sometimes in case someone might otherwise have confused me for being cool.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

MK: I haven’t touched epic fantasy yet—I don’t have the commitment for it! But the themes that are explored in glorious war epics and stuff like that absolutely trickle down into my works. I love Lord of the Rings—and can go on a rant about it being kinda fucked up racially et cetera, but I love it anyway—because I love the idea of diverse groups banding together.

The ride of the rohirrim. When the riders of gondor crest the hill and ride off to their presumed deaths into an endless horde of fascists—er, I mean, orcs—I am right there with them. It’s not about winning, it’s about fighting every goddam nazi—er, I mean orc—in this world even if you know you’re going to die.

I dream of writing something that powerful.


AA: I really hope you find the time, energy, and commitment to writing that! Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?

MK: It’s funny, one of my favorite anarchist writers (who, fittingly enough, writes anonymously) is about a decade older than myself. I talk with them about how we live our lives. And this writer can’t imagine living to be old, even still, maybe because all our role models died with nooses around their necks.

But that’s not for me. Yes, a lot of my role models got killed for believing what they believe, but I’m not trying to go out like that. If the state starts rounding up anarchists–which has happened before even in the US—then I guess I’ll go down like some of my heroes. But I’d rather live that quiet life where you keep fighting and never get famous.

So that said, I’ve got George Engel tattooed on my arm. George Engel (not to be confused with Friedrich Engels!) was an anarchist toy shop owner in Chicago, an immigrant from Germany. He was hanged in 1887 specifically because he was an anarchist. Because he helped out with the German anarchist paper in Chicago. His death—and the deaths of the rest of the Haymarket Martyrs—is why the eight-hour workday exists. Because power concedes nothing without a demand.


Right now a fascist group, the Golden Dawn, is coming to power in Greece. My heroes are in the streets fighting them. Physically. Because the Golden Dawn is staging anti-immigrant attacks, and some of those immigrants as well as greek anti-fascists are fighting back. The Golden Dawn is openly attacking gay people in the street. The police don’t care because tons of cops, including a majority of the motorcycle cops, which is its own strange gang, are members of the Golden Dawn. But some people are fighting back. Institutions can empower fascism, but only individual anti-fascists can stop it.

Oh, maybe you meant writers. Ursula Le Guin, Cory Doctorow, and China Miéville off the top of my head. All of whom know how to wield a book as a weapon against oppression while never straying from the goal of telling lies that tell the truth (that being fiction) and telling a compelling and complex story.


AA: Oh, I meant any one and any thing. Not just writers. I learned so much in follow up research just from that one answer. Thank you! Quick random questions – what is your favorite scenic driving location, time of year, and tea?

MK: The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon maybe. It’ll be different if you ask again tomorrow.

Used to be winter but I’m going to go with summer and lose my goth cred.

Rooibos or peppermint. Always herbal, because proper tea is theft. (Yes, that’s the worst, most cliche anarchist joke of them all). Actually always herbal because I don’t drink caffeine.


AA: Ahh, vanilla rooibos is one of my favorites – makes a great tea-spresso! Any final thoughts to share with our readers

MK: Go make things that you care about.


Magpie, thank you so very much for joining us for this interview. There’s never enough time at conventions and other events to just sit and chat, so I greatly appreciate your time. This has also been very engaging and educational, and I hope that our readers follow up with their own reading and research, too.

Until you wonderful readers catch up with Margaret Killjoy in person, please do read the multiple issues of SteamPunk Magazine, and get your copies of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse from Combustion Books.


Published in: on August 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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