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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Steampunk Hands Around the World – by Thadeus Tinker

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Under the guiding hand of “Airship Ambassador” Kevin D Steil a group of steampunks from around the world have been talking about a global initiative to get steampunks to forge new links and friendships. This has long been a dream of mine too. I am very fortunate, I have managed to physically travel to many countries in the past and have always been delighted to visit new places and make new friends. More recently I have enjoyed attending steampunk events in several countries. I also have steampunk friends across the globe – some of whom I have yet to meet physically but due to the miracles of modern technology feel I can share ideas and dreams with.

The “Mission Statement” for hands around the world is posted here along with a link to Kevin’s introduction to the project.

“Mission Statement: Steampunk Hands Around the World is a month long event in February 2014 showing and sharing that steampunk, and the community, is global. As such, all steampunks everywhere are connected. There are new friendships to be found in every conversation and event. “Hands” is presented in multiple formats from blogs to videos to live events. Each person participating is responsible for organizing their own content and format, but the central theme is that of global connection and friendship.”

https://airshipambassador.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/steampunk-hands-welcome/

 

For me steampunk draws upon a wealth of imagery, ideas and creations, both real and imaginary. It is not a modern literary phenomenon but an ad hoc cultural movement which involves both the real and the fantastical. I have long been fascinated by the work of Jules Verne. Whilst he is certainly a product of his time and modern ideas on race and gender would no doubt be alien to him, he was an incredible visionary and a master storyteller.

One of Verne’s most popular stories is Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, or to anglophones, Around the World in Eighty Days. In Verne’s story, english gentleman, Phileas Fogg, with his french valet Passepartout, set out to travel around the globe in less than 80 days in order to win a £20,000 wager. Now of course the book predates steampunk as we know it. Published in 1872 it is inspired by three great technological innovations ; the building and opening of transcontinental railways in North America and India and the opening of the Suez canal. It was a time when technology had suddenly made the whole world more accessible just as the internet does today. Indeed it is Foggs faith in technology that leads him to accept the wager. Perhaps a little sadly for steampunks he does not actually travel by balloon or airship – this was an addition made for film rather than in the original story.

Fogg’s journey was indeed an epic one for the period and although fiction it inspired several people to emulate him for real.

As we were talking about Steampunk Hands Around the World I began to wonder if we could draw parallels with Verne’s intrepid travellers; Fogg and Passepartout?

Fogg began by travelling to the south coast of England in order to cross the Channel to France. The United Kingdom has a well established and growing steampunk community helped in part by the event I help organise “Weekend at the Asylum”. Now in its sixth year it attracts steampunks from around the world with around 2000 descending on the Roman city of Lincoln to enjoy talks, games, music, literature, drama, comedy, shopping and above all socialising. Steampunks are indeed fundamentally social creatures. Crossing the Channel to France Fogg entrains to head south to take a boat across the Mediterranean.

The obvious starting point for steampunk in France is the superb “Steampunk France” site which is under the guiding hand of Arthur Morgan. http://www.frenchsteampunk.com/

Fogg boarded a steamer to travel to Egypt in order to navigate the Suez Canal. What about steampunk and Egypt? Of course the political situation in Egypt has been very volatile over the last few years. As ever though steampunk harks back to the past and the 19th century saw an explosion in interest in Ancient Egypt promoted in part by the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone leading to the ability to translate the huge amount of heiroglyphic writings around the country and indeed in musea around the world. Evocative photographs of explorers and archaeologists have been an inspiration for many steampunk outfits. Often the people in the photographs are wearing pith helmets (sola topi) and these have become very popular indeed with steampunks.

The pith helmet was incredibly popular with Europeans travelling in hot climes during the 19th century. A practical and stylish piece of headwear that I had the pleasure to see being made (and worn widely) when I worked in Vietnam a few years ago. For many people though the pith helmet is a symbol of colonialism and racism. It is not uncommon for someone to see a steampunk wearing a pith helmet and to assume that the wearer holds racist values. We should not overlook the impact of our dress and how this may cause concern or upset.

However steampunk is not about trying to recreate the past slavishly. It is fantasy. We use it as a source material for inspiration and modification rather than a blueprint to be strictly adhered to. The vast majority of steampunks are no more interested in returning to a real colonial past than they are devoted to stripping women of the vote, restoring slavery and putting children into workhouses. It is in steampunk’s interest to ensure that we acknowledge how our inspiration can be (mis)interpreted and to ensure that our conduct does not reinforce the stereotypes that such colonial symbolism may engender. To us a pith helmet simply looks good and is practical. It is a great item to mod being easy to work with and a great base for gadgets etc to be mounted on. It is iconic in that it immediately says 19th century yet is affordable and readily available. We buy and wear them for this reason, not because we want to proclaim our imperialist tendencies.

The symbolic nature of it (and indeed other items) can however lead it to be seen in other ways. We must remain sensitive to this. By being friendly, open, honest and polite we can reclaim the pith helmet for the 21st century rather than it simply being a leftover of the 19th. Open projects such as “Hands” may help with this.

Our adventurers travelled on to India in order to cross the subcontinent by train only to learn that the rail network had not yet been completed. India is a huge and varied country, home to more than one billion souls. Not surprisingly it has been the inspiration for many steampunk projects. At the very first Weekend at the Asylum we were delighted to promote the UK based band “Sunday Driver”. The anglo-indian fusion sound has made them one of the leading steampunk bands in the UK. Check them out at http://www.sundaydriver.co.uk/ Indeed their unique take on steampunk was part of the inspiration behind our annual “Empire Ball”.

This strives not to promote “Empire” or imperialism but to celebrate some of the richness and diversity that is the legacy of the old British Empire and has since become integral in modern British society. To see a ballroom full of splendidly attired steampunks dancing to the “Concubine Waltz” is truly magical. India is also the foundation of my good friend Yomi Ayeni’s incredibly innovative multi media steampunk storytelling project Clockwork Watch. http://www.clockworkwatch.com/ It is common now to see Indian influences in the aesthetics of steampunks around the world. Long may this continue.

Of course Verne (through Fogg) was critical of some aspects of Indian culture particularly suttee and the caste system. Choosing to wear a dhoti, salwar kameez, or saree does not make a steampunk automatically an advocate for widows casting themselves onto the pyres of their husbands any more than the pith helmet advocates colonial wars. The cross cultural nature of steampunk and the magpie like mentality of steampunks means that most events see Indian inspired outfits and aesthetics. Of course we need to be sensitive to perceptions and sensibilities but we can always do what steampunks do with panache – take inspiration from the past and make it part of a bright contemporary scene.

Crossing India our adventurers made their way to Hong Kong and thence to Shanghai. China is often synonymous with mass produced, cheap consumer goods. To this is often tagged an inate racism of “it’s made in China so it must be garbage.” China (and India for that matter) have long been two of the greatest marketplaces in the World. Indeed the roots of colonialism were as much in the search for markets for European goods as they were for the hunger for foreign products. Where you have markets you have industry to serve those markets. The situation is no different today. Technology means we now have a global economy rather than simply regional or national economies. The internet, electronic banking and modern post and courier networks mean it is possible to order an item from China directly for delivery to Belgium, Canada or Argentina within a few days.

Of course steampunk is a community of makers and crafters. At its best steampunk art can be jaw droppingly beautiful. At its worst we have “stick a cog on it and call it steampunk”. Today many of these “cogs” are produced in factories in China and have become ubiquitous on the stalls of vendors across the globe. Sometimes the lack of skill, imagination and innovation of these vendors has played up to the stereotype of “imported garbage”. The commercial reality of people chasing the elusive “brass dollar, pound and euro” by tagging items as “steampunk” just to make a sale has not helped. Personally I would like to see more of China’s real nineteenth century history and aesthetics being used as inspiration for steampunk just as it enjoyed a vogue in the 19th century. Some are pioneering this drive. It could be a great fashion in steampunk. We also need to step away from the racist assumption that China equals cheap and nasty. What we really need to do is what steampunks have been doing for years – see potential components rather than finished goods. If there is a failing then, it is in our imagination and skills not in the initial components nor the factories that produced them.

From Hong Kong Verne’s tale moves on to Japan. When Verne wrote his book Japan was pushing to “modernise” and “westernise”. France had a military mission to China that was involved in this process and the Boshin War – a civil war in Japan which took place just two years before Verne’s story was published. Indeed the story of a French officer Jules Brunet in this war may have been part of the inspiration behind the box office smash “The Last Samurai”. Japan has it’s own strong steampunk scene although crossovers with the rest of the world are still mainly limited to cosplay and anime/manga. The cognoscenti have long used Japanese educational kits (gakken) for some of their builds etc. The theremin and plastic cup recorder being particularly popular. It would be great to see more Japanese influences upon steampunk – both historical and aesthetically. Steampunk “Hands” and similar initiatives may help with this.

Fogg and Passepartout along with Aouda from India then take ship for the United States. The US has a very well developed steampunk scene that even the most cursory of searches online will reveal. Indeed there are many US contributors to “Hands”. One point of note is that Verne’s story features an attack by Sioux fighters upon a train that the adventurers are travelling on. The late 1860s saw conflict in Wyoming that came to be known as “Red Clouds War”. This was just five years after more than 300 Santee Sioux were condemned to death by the American authorities for their part in the Dakota War of 1862. Even though the sentences of 284 were commuted the hanging of 38 as authorised by Abraham Lincoln make this the greatest mass execution in American History. This sort of news would no doubt have made titillating copy in the salons of Europe. Once again however it is important to comment that steampunk is not about the difficulties of the past. Respect and sensitivity are essential to temper inspiration and celebration. “First nations” inspiration in steampunk is growing and is yet another source for our creative scene.

The story ends with the adventurers travelling on to Ireland and back to England to win the wager. An epic journey around the world and an insight into a Frenchman’s view of the world of his day. I hope that using “Around the World in Eighty Days” is a fitting inspiration for an article for “Steampunk Hands Around the World”. I began with the mission statement of “Hands”. The sentiments behind it are far from new. Such sentiment led to the creation of a real historical organisation that could be seen as a forerunner to “Steampunk Hands Around the World”:

I am so weary of the bitterness of this war. Why can’t we have a Society of Friendship?”

“These important words, spoken by a Mrs Mary Davis whilst travelling in South Africa during the Boer War, instigated a letter, which led to a group of like-minded women meeting at No. 10 Downing Street to discuss the proposal. The women were keen to form an independent, nonpolitical organisation that promoted a closer union between different parts of the then British Empire that fostered hospitality, understanding and good fellowship.”

This led to the formation of the “Victoria League”. From whose website the quote above was taken. You can learn more about their history there: http://www.victorialeague.co.uk/history. They are still going more than a century after their formation!

We can but hope that Steampunk can be a 21st century vehicle for friendship, hospitality and understanding around the globe since a shared interest can even transcend the need for a shared language.

A group of us share a vision for a Steampunk World Movement. The creation of an event which moves around the planet each year to bring steampunks together face to face to share ideas, imagination and creativity but above all friendship. Plans are well underway for an inaugural event for 2015 and we are looking for partners willing to take this dream on and make it a reality in years to come. Whether through Steampunk Hands Around the World or Steampunk World let us hope that the promotion of a “Society of Friendship” can be to the benefit of us all.

Thadeus Tinker

February 2014

steampunk_hands_Stefan Holzhauer

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 9:17 pm  Comments (3)  
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Supporting Steampunk

As another year wanes to a close, we often cannot help but to look back in review before stepping into the next adventure coming our way. With Teslacon and its review still fresh in mind, there are two ideas which stand out to describe what has been and what is coming up – the effect of steampunk, and supporting steampunk.

First, the effect of steampunk. Our community, our fandom, is all about people. We are a giant global family, complete with charismatic cousins and the crazy aunts and uncles. It’s a wild ride sometimes, there’s drama waiting around the corner, the occasional duels at dawn followed, usually, by drinks at the tavern, but in the end, we are all in this together to create an amazing, wonderful, fun experience where we smile and laugh and sing and dance.

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For Teslacon, my friend and fellow Fan Guest of Honor, steampunk author Karina Cooper, and I were on the same flight, and it’s so rewarding when something like a convention, and the travel to get there, is a shared experience. Events in our lives are generally more fun when shared, and is a great way to learn more about others, and connect. Conventions can be like family reunions, too. It’s not just getting to see current friends in person again and catch up, it’s a way to meet new people and make strong connections with others.

In addition to events, we connect with each other online, in social media, forums, and blogs. Internet searches bring a world of creativity right to us, to inspire and motivate us. New friends are just an email, a tweet, or a comment, away.

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In addition to our typical politeness and general willingness to share information and talk, and talk and talk, we are there to really help each other. Not just with a loose button or bit of emergency repair sewing, or even the how-to instructions about something, we are there for each other as people. Sometimes, our smallest actions make the biggest differences to others and we should never forget that. At a convention and just in the community, a simple hello, a compliment on someone’s outfit, can mean a great deal to someone.

During this last year, I heard several stories from fellow steampunks, and shared my own, about how being part of the community affected, and even changed, lives. One person commented on how getting involved helped he and his daughter reconnect through a common interest; people in their teens and twenties shared how steampunk helped them learn more about themselves and others, and find a happier place and path in the world. Steampunk brought some people together, and even kept relationships together.

My own story starts with the death of my partner by suicide. His alcoholism killed him in the end, and the overwhelming grief I felt at his loss remains the most traumatic event of my life. The future we had planned together was suddenly, instantly, gone. Everything changed in that moment, and the world I knew ended. Whatever one might think about losing a partner or spouse is only the palest shadow of what it really feels like.

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While it seems like I was on autopilot most of the time that first year, going to work and taking care of my dogs, the rest of my life just stopped. Greif swamped every other aspect of my life and sucked the energy out of everything. Watching my life was like watching TV, caught up in the story at any given moment but still disconnected from it. Food had no taste, behavior was only routine, and the world seemed to have no substance. A year’s worth of memories are just static, like the old analog tv and radio stations with no signal.

After that first year, I slowly re-engaged with my various interests. There was a bit more reading, a few more movies, a bit more landscaping, and certainly more dinners out with friends. It was about that time when my periodic internet searches for steampunk started turning up more results. There were more crafts, more DIY. There were amazing creations by Jake Von Slatt and the late Richard Nagy. There were some stories, and then music. And finally, there was a local convention, Steamcon.

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It was practically in my backyard and I couldn’t not go. It was a great experience on so many levels and was the next step of my involvement in the burgeoning community. Soon after that, I started this blog, interviewing people, going to more conventions, and generally getting back out in the world in a meaningful way.

So, thank you, all of you who make up our community – everyone I’ve met out and about, those who have emailed, and those I haven’t met yet. Each of you have an impact on someone every day, whether you ever know it or not, so please keep being the wonderful steampunk that you are. You matter, and you matter to me.

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Which leads us to the second idea, supporting steampunk. As Eric Larson reminded the attendees of Teslacon this year, steampunk is our fandom, our community. We make it ourselves. It continues because we continue, because we support the idea of steampunk in some, many, most, or all of its expressions. Steampunk as a whole endures because of our interest and our actions. Without us, there would be no steampunk, no community.

If we want our community to not just continue as is, but to grow and thrive, then we need to continue our support in all the ways we can, according to our interest and abilities.

When we ‘like’, comment on and pass along a blog, we support that writer and let them know we want more. When we buy that book, cd or art print, we do the same for authors (and their publishers!), musicians and artists. When we buy anything, we support a vendor and their livelihood, and in so doing, make it possible for them to do more for us, too.

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When we attend conventions and events, there we really shine in our support, especially for and to each other. People outside the community see that, too, and for some, it will draw them in to join us.

Our community is made better and stronger by each other, and for each other.

With each action, we support each other, we support the community, and we support the idea of steampunk, and even what it means to be a steampunk.

Eric encouraged and challenged us to bring two people, just two, to any steampunk event anywhere in the whole world in February and June. It’s a show of support, and quite a bit of enthusiastic sharing, for something we already enjoy so much.

I encourage you to support steampunk – the people, the community, and the idea – all year long. Make some noise, build some buzz! Try to do something each day; it doesn’t have to be big and extravagant, just something to show your interest and support. Let people know that you appreciate what they do, and also share what you are interested in. One small action each day by each of us will create a huge positive impact to our community and beyond.

Repeating myself, please continue to be the great and wonderful steampunk that you are. Your actions and support have an impact on someone else every day.

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Published in: on December 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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