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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Interview with author Margaret Killjoy

This week we have a very special guest, colleague, and friend, Margaret Killjoy, founder of SteamPunk Magazine, author of What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower and A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse .


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.

I told my friend Steven Archer, from Ego Likeness, that I was thinking about starting the magazine. “Do it right now,” he said. “Steampunk is about to be huge.”

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.

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 4, 2014 at 8:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Liz Spain, Part 3

Welcome back for the conclusion of our chat with Liz Spain, talking about her newest game, Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.


Airship Ambassador: After all these teasing questions, what is the actual game play?

Liz Spain: Each player takes the role of an expedition leader, each with different skills to approach the journey. After acquiring crew and various resources for their ship in Port City, the expedition sails out into unknown locations. To face down encounters with anything from engine failure to unspeakable horrors, the player must decide which crew are exhausted and which resources are spent on their ship. The expedition party that makes it to Atlantis and discovers its secrets wins the game. In depth details on gameplay and the rulebook can be found on the game’s website:


AA: For the aspiring game creator, what lessons did you and your team learn along the way?

LS: Beware hubris. Never be afraid to ask someone’s opinion, test your game as much as is feasible and seek the advice of those who have tread this path before.


AA: If you weren’t creating steampunk games, what else would you be doing now?

LS: I’d still be running my own small steampunk clothing company and working freelance as a costume designer and stylist. Just before I began the Incredible Expeditions project, I did costuming for a film project for the first time (previously, I’d only done work for stage and photography). It was a lot of fun and I’d eventually like to do more of that.


AA: What do you do to keep a balance between game creation, other work projects, and the rest of your life?

LS: I don’t. Game design and publication takes up most of my waking hours, though I make sure I dedicate some time to other things each week, like volunteering and outdoor activities. My garden has been woefully neglected for a while now.

engine failure - michael mowat

AA: Do you get to talk much with other creators to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

LS: Absolutely. The best thing about living in Seattle is being constantly surrounded by creative people of every stripe, and especially other game designers.


AA: How is the Pacific Northwest for this kind of work? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

LS: The Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, is a goldmine of geekery. A number of the largest companies in hobby gaming are located here. There’s a lot of other game designers to work with, an endless supply of people interested in play testing, and a lot of local game stores who are eager to support local game designers.


AA: Looking beyond steampunk and gaming, what other interests fill your time?

LS: The Seattle Humane Society has an amazing behavior program that I volunteer for, helping to teach dogs new behaviors so they can become better pets. I also train my own dog to do nose work, and we do demonstrations at educational events for kids.


In the winter I love to snowboard and in the spring and fall I hunt for culinary mushrooms like morels and chanterelles. My backyard is home to a small flock of chickens and a garden for herbs, fruits and vegetables. There’s something immensely satisfying about growing your own food, and I enjoy exploring new ways to cook, bake and preserve those ingredients.


AA: What other fandoms are you part of in some way? (as a fan or other participation)

LS: I got into costuming professionally starting as a cosplayer over a decade ago. I still keep tabs on the new anime and manga that come out. Though I haven’t competed in years, I also still like to yo-yo every once in a while.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

LS: As a creative person, the value of exploring the myths of other cultures cannot be underestimated. When stories are your medium, a broad palette comes from a wealth of influence. Also, I put a lot of value into aesthetic experience and challenge. Humans are tool-users and problem-solvers. A game that is pleasant to touch and makes you think is one that you’ll come back to again.


AA: Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite piece of jewelry, appetizer, and landmark?

LS: My automatic winding skeleton watch, bruschetta on garlic herb bread made with garden tomatoes, and The House on the Rock is a plethora of wonderful, random weirdness.


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

LS: The game officially launches at Gen Con in Indianapolis on August 14th. We’re planning to show North America’s largest tabletop gaming convention how fantastic steampunk can be. Our booth is designed to be the interior of the Chinese sky pirate’s ship from the game. You can follow the game launch and the bodgery of the airship elements of the booth on our facebook page:


Thanks, Liz! It was really great to have this time to catch up and hear about your game.

Thanks to all of the readers who followed along – keep up to date with the game and its progression, Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis.

Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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