This week we have a cross over of author showcase and musician showcase with Margaret Killjoy. MARGARET KILLJOY is an author and anarchist with
a long history of itinerancy who currently calls Appalachia home. When she’s not writing, she can be found organizing to end hierarchy, crafting, or complaining about being old despite not being old at all. She is the author of several novels as well as singer for Feminazgûl and Nomadic War Machine.
Q I saw you had started off you early adult life on the road, what effect do you think that had in shaping the person you are now?
It’s honestly hard to overstate how much it’s influenced me, in ways both good and bad. I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t spent about 15 years wandering. Let me think… it put me in touch with all kinds of people, living all kinds of ways, which has helped me enormously both in my fiction and in my daily life. That part also taught me a bit of optimism about humanity, since through hitchhiking and activism, you connect with the sorts of people who are either willing to help out strangers or are willing to risk it all to help the world. It showed me some of the worst parts of people too, but usually in the context of like… okay, this man I’m sleeping near under this bridge, he’s having a mental health crisis. He can (usually) be reasoned with.
It taught me both self-reliance and interdependence in very nice ways. People have each other’s backs at protests (well, not right-wing protests, but for reasonable issues). But sometimes also your van spins out in the snow on a mountain pass and there’s no one around and you’ve got to deal with it yourself. It really teaches you that we’ve got to rely on ourselves, and each other, more than detached and alienated institutions. When you can’t solve problems with money, you get creative. At the same time, it taught me some humility around privilege: I was wandering because I wanted to, not because I had to. I maintained ties with both my family and an activist community. Most people aren’t so lucky.
On the other hand, there was a period (a fairly short period, for me) where I dealt with food scarcity, and you don’t really forget that either. It doesn’t help my relationship to food, in that I often feel like I need to eat all the food that’s available. It did set me up to be a bit of a prepper though.
I wouldn’t go back and change almost anything. I’m glad I’ve got more stability now, though, I admit. I get a lot more done when I’m not worried about where I’ll park my van to sleep.
Q Are there any projects , like say that Danielle Cain series, that you would like to a sequel to?
Oh geez, I’d like to do sequels for most of my stuff. Especially Danielle Cain, and I’ve got some ideas about how I’m going to do that. But I’d love to write a big long prequel to A Country of Ghosts (more than it needs a sequel, it needs a prequel). But Danielle Cain, I’d love to explore with book after book.
Q How important is it to you to combine your creative projects with your worldview, do you think songs and stories are a good way to convince people about the points you are trying to make?
So… my creative output is entirely interwoven with my worldview (I’m an anarchist, a feminist, an anticapitalist, plenty of other descriptors). But the older I get, the less I’m consciously making things in order to convince people, and the more I’m just… expressing what I believe. Or presenting things as clearly as I can. My books and songs aren’t arguments for one way of being or another (most of the time), so much as they’re just the stories and songs that come out of the position I’m in, if that makes sense. Like for example, my book The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (the first book in the Danielle Cain series), I’ve heard from a lot of readers who were over the moon about the queer, trans, and demisexual representation in that book. But I didn’t set out to write “paranormal investigators but they’re gay.” I just set out to write “paranormal investigators, but they’re my friends.” A good chunk of my friends are anarchists, punks, and/or queer. So that’s who’s in the book.
My music is even more this way. Different mediums lend themselves to expressing different things (that’s why I struggle to stick to just one medium… that and a constant desire for newness and change). Music is a way to put listeners and musicians into different headspaces, so that they approach things differently. Music is ritual, fairly literally. Some genres, like punk and hiphop, lend themselves more to rituals with direct confrontations and statements about the world. I play metal and I play dark dance music, which is less likely to be useful for that. I want to create introspection, or melancholy joy (which is something I don’t know how to describe better than that).
Q For other writers and musicians how do you produce so much creatively? You seem to be constantly putting out new things between Feminazgûl, Live Like the World is Dying and various novels.
I get this question a lot and my answer seems to change all the time. I guess it’s a confluence of things. Self-depreciatingly, I would say that I spent so long traveling that I became convinced I was forever the outsider in any given community (or maybe I took up traveling because I felt that way already). Creative output seemed like a good way to contribute to a community and be accepted. “I make things so that people will love me” is something that I felt more when I was younger. That’s no longer the case—my self-esteem and sense of self-worth is more stable these days. I make things because I’m drawn to. I like making things. My favorite method of socializing is talking about things we can do and then doing them. My romantic partners pretty much have to either hearing me work out plots and themes with them, or it doesn’t work. (I’m equally excited to talk to them about their own projects and dreams, mind you! It’s less about me, and more about just enjoying creativity). But the biggest thing, more than anything else, is that I learned a work ethic as a teenager focused around finishing projects instead of polishing them forever. To let go of the fear of putting things out in the world.
For a decade, I was doing all the same stuff I do now, only no one gave a shit. I would table anarchist bookfairs with burned CDs of whatever goth music I was trying to make, and fiction zines that may or may not have been any good. Some of that stuff was great, some of it was trash. When you’re learning a craft, it’s not that all your work sucks, it’s that it isn’t consistently good. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started producing work that is consistently good enough. Imagine creative output quality as a sine wave, going up and down. I still have my peaks and valleys, but the overall trend has gone upwards, so a greater percent (not 100%) of what I make is above the threshold of “good enough.”
So my advice is… iterate rather than revise. Make the thing, take a look at it, fix the problems with it, then release it. Or if you’re still learning, do two rounds of revisions. But that’s it. Any problems with the work, fix them by making the next thing better, rather than polishing the same piece over and over again. Because you learn by doing, and by failing, and by succeeding. You can’t fail or succeed until you release the work.
Q You produce music, write novels, and even do podcasts on survival preparedness, is there any medium that you haven’t done you would like to.
I once wrote a script and tried to direct an indie film. It was a failure, probably the most expensive and dramatic failure I’ve had as an artist. I wanna succeed at that one day. But maybe I won’t direct, maybe I’ll work with someone instead, and just write a script and then be nosy about all the other parts of production.
Q If a person wanted to start exploring anarchism and the fight against hierarchy, where is a good place to begin? Any authors or groups you would suggest?
First of all, welcome! I will say, one of the weaker parts of the current anarchist practice is in onboarding new people, so there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve. I hope we’re able to fix that—there’ve been many times and places in history when there were public places you could show up to and say “this sounds great, how do I get started?” but that is rare currently.
From a reading point of view, some contemporary authors who have amazing analysis are Peter Gelderloos, Cindy Milstein, David Graeber, and the collective CrimethInc. If you want to read historical people, I recommend Malatesta, Kropotkin, and Goldman. The books that seem to have brought on the most people that I know about are Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, David Graeber’s Direct Action, and maybe Ursula la Guin’s The Dispossessed (which is a novel).
As for how to start practicing… I would say the three ways in I’ve seen most people use are either subculture (usually a musical subculture, especially but not exclusively punk), protest movements, or mutual aid work. Subculture tends to only really appeal to younger folks, or people attracted to a certain aesthetic. Protest movements are a wonderful way to get your feet wet, but they can be hard to make connections with people—most of the people who are sort of “recruiting” at these are generally trying to sign you up for something unsavory, like an authoritarian communist group that offers easy answers, or feds who want to convince you to break a bunch of laws. If you go to protests, look for the people whose tactics you appreciate (peaceful or disruptive), be wary of anyone selling you anything (ideology or newspapers), and never let a stranger convince you to do crimes.
mutual aid groups and other volunteer projects, those are wonderful. If there’s an infoshop (an anarchist bookstore / community center) in your town, that is a good place to start. There are prisoner letter writing nights, mutual aid distribution groups, food not bombs, harm reduction groups, and all kinds of projects that might be looking for new people. Expect people to be a bit cagey—activists aren’t naturally any better at talking to strangers than anyone else, and many of them are wary because the state is always looking to repress their movements.
Of course, if you’ve already got a friend group, and you all get into it together, then you’re in a really good position. Dream up what things you would like to change about the world—or your town, or your lives—and map out the ways to do that.
Q} if people want more info about you or your projects where should they go?
Well, I’ve got a website birdsbeforethestorm.net that has most of my stuff. I have a mailing list I send out updates to you can sign up for there. I’m on twitter talking shit like everyone else @magpiekilljoy and instagram posting pictures of my dog @margaretkilljoy.
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
Ideally, holed up with a bunch of friends at my rural, defensible home in West Virginia. But just as likely, I’ll be out on tour and suddenly convince the audience at some talk to arm up and defend the infoshop.
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom
All fandom is cool, but I like the ones where people make up their own characters, whether it’s larps or steampunk conventions or anything like that. I just really appreciate when people make their own shit.
Okay that said one time someone cosplayed as Uliksi, the demon deer from The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, and it made my month. So… fandom of me? I’d be lying if I didn’t say I think fanart and cosplay of my stuff makes me happy.
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
The song of the rails… when you’re out deep in the forest but within a few miles of a train track, and the rails start humming an ethereal song that carries across the hills.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
People have a hard time believing me when I tell them I don’t drink coffee or fuck with any other stimulants.