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 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.”
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.