Airship Ambassador: Hi Margaret, thanks for taking time of the open road to join us for this interview.
Margaret Killjoy: Thanks for having me. Always been a fan of what you do.
AA: You have had a number of projects going on over the years, and a fair bit of editing experience. Let start with the first place I heard your name many years ago, SteamPunk Magazine. What was your intention when you started it?
MK: I first got the idea for SteamPunk Magazine back in I think it was 2005. I got into steampunk, as an aesthetic and a genre, back in 2004 when I read the essay “Colonizing the Past so We Can Dream the Future.” About a year later, I started writing steampunk fiction. Well, post-apocalyptic steam-powered fiction.
I’d been an incessant zinester for a couple years at that point, and had just gotten some magazine-layout chops while laying out a squatter magazine in Amsterdam with some friends. So I decided to start a steampunk magazine. And that didn’t exist back then. Steampunk culture didn’t exist back then. So I decided to just name it SteamPunk Magazine.
This didn’t make any sense to me, of course. Steampunk was just this thing a couple random anarchists from New York, plus science fiction writers from the 80s, were into. Or so I thought. And then I put out an issue of the magazine. And it exploded. Literally, it changed my life, turned me into a professional designer, editor, and publisher.
AA: One of the earliest mentions of SteamPunk Magazine I recall was when it was seized as ‘evidence’ in an arrest, and then in the Magazine’s own article about it. Who are some of the people we might know now who submitted items over the years?
MK: Hrmm, well, there’re lots of people we’ve dragged submissions out of over the years. The first issue had an interview with Michael Moorcock (whose Warlord of the Air series is the ultimate proto-steampunk, if you ask me, and probably the punkest steampunk to date). Alan Moore wasn’t long after that, and I’m proud to say I got an interview with Jeff & Ann VanderMeer before they became two of the most notable steampunk scholars and editors around.
I love the fiction we’ve gotten, too. I’m pretty proud to say that most of the best writers we’ve published (like Katie Casey, John Reppion, Dylan Fox, and Allegra Hawksmoor to name a few) we’ve dragged into working on the magazine in further capacities. It’s a DIY publication still, and it shows in the sort of weird extended-internet-family thing we’ve got going on with some of our authors and artists and editors and reviewers.
AA: Wow, those are some big names. I think it’s always interesting and fun to see what people were involved in, and with whom, before their work takes them to greater heights and notoriety/celebrity. What are some of your favorite submissions?
MK: I remember I was sitting on an Amtrak going through the slush pile years back when I started into “A Fabulous Junkyard” by David X Wiggin. Honestly, I almost felt like it was someone I knew pulling a joke. Because it was so goddam perfect for me. It represented what I hoped I’d attract to the magazine. It’s set in the near future when a group of steampunks at a college leave a weird almost-luddite lifestyle and fight against the system.
I also feel like we really, really lucked out to end up with Professor Offlogic doing so many of our DIY articles. Offlogic is the real deal, from my point of view. An electrician tinkerer more obsessed with all kinds of actual mad science than just how to paint things brass. (Though he does teach how to electro-brass-coat your pennies). He’s never become a bigshot in the steampunk world, he just (as I imagine him) lives his awesome quiet tinkerer life, trying to figure out how to make wind turbines out of trash that help him grow food off the grid.
AA: Those DIY articles are helpful to many people. Being more self-sufficient would be appealing to many steampunks. What is coming up next for the magazine and website?
MK: That’s a question better aimed at Katie Casey, the current editor! I stepped back once again… Katie is now the third lead editor and the second to be running the show from over in Europe.
Though if you asked her, she’d say “Well, once Margaret stops being a lazy bum and lays out issue #10, then the release of issue #10 is the future of the magazine.”
AA: LOL, well, then, get to work! Katie and I go way back to the start of Airship Ambassador – she was one of the first people to spread the news of this very blog site. I had the good fortune of hearing you give a live, and interactive, reading of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower at Aetherfest in 2012. SJ Chambers gave an insightful review in an interview with you in 2011. Please share with us a bit about how the story came to be, and your unique utilization of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of storytelling. (NOTE: Read a great history of CYOA.)
MK: Well, it’s important to note here that Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademarked term and my Adventure Of Your Own Choosing is legally distinct from that brand. They made that clear to me at some point. (I want to make jokes about it, but the woman from CYOA was rather polite about it all.)
I think I’ve probably always wanted to write an interactive novel, ever since I read them as a kid. And I’ve been a dungeon master on and off most of my life, so interactive storytelling comes somewhat natural to me.
I’m really proud of that book. It’s funny to realize my first novel is written in second person present-tense. Not exactly standard. But I tried my hardest to make it more than just a story you can walk through, I tried to show how your actions have consequences (but you might not have the agency in this world that you hope!) and that with your limited viewpoint you’ll never see the whole of what’s happening. So if you read the book multiple times and take different paths, the whole of the situation starts opening up and you can see the whole world.
The book is from the point of view of a drunken fop in 19th century France who wanders through the undercities as goblins are revolting against colonialist gnomes.
We’ll stop here as the end of part 1 of 5 in chatting with Margaret Killjoy.
The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.
Join us for part 2 where he talks more about writing and Adventure Of Your Own Choosing.