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.
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.