Welcome back for part 2 of our interview with Ay-leen the Peacemaker (part 1 here), the creator and writer of steampunk blog, Beyond Victoriana, “…a blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework.”
Part 1 can be read here.
AA: You’ve been a speaker at some conventions recently; how did that come about and what were those topics?
AtP: Convention speaking came about when I initially got involved in the steampunk community. My friends who also were interested in steampunk (a group formerly called the Penny Dreadfuls, but now are running separately as the SS Icarus and The Wandering Legion) performed at various sci-fi, anime, and gaming cons as steampunk convention speakers. I’d help them out and we’d hold a series of panels about Steampunk 101, costumes & props, steampunk in the media, etc.
I still help them out at cons in this manner, but since starting Beyond Victoriana, I’ve gotten a chance to focus on my specific interests in steampunk. I’ve run two panels in the past with assistance from Jha: “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana” and “Envisioning a Better Steam Society: Steampunk & Social Issues.” Both premiered at Steampunk World’s Fair to great success. At the moment, I’m also traveling with my “Steam Around the World” panel; I’ve just presented it again at ConnectiCon this July in Hartford, and I’m hoping to work with Jha again soon at another con later this fall (not announcing it now ‘til the details get worked out, but cross your fingers!)
Airship Ambassador: Speaking of the Steampunk World’s Fair in May. What did you think of it and what were your favorite highlights?
Ay-leen the Peacemaker: This was the first all-steampunk convention I attended and I thought it was spectacular! There was just so much going all at once: performance, music, workshops, lectures, demonstrations, dancing, readings—whatever you wanted to go at a con times a hundred. The entire hotel ended up being taken over by steampunks, and I never felt like I belonged more anywhere at a convention than I did at SPWF. And not only was there an outburst of creativity at the fair, the people in general were more courteous and friendly than I had met up with at other types of cons. No unwashed, “con zombies” or “geekier-than thou” attendees there.
My favorite highlight really was the music. Usually, a convention has a band or two playing as an alternative to going to the masquerade; SPWFs had dozens of musicians playing multiple times throughout the weekend. That was a great idea; so if you missed out on one performance you could see a performer again later on. And it gave the performers great exposure too. I ended up seeing about four or five different bands, and I usually never go see music at a con.
I also had the opportunity to hang out with some really awesome people. It felt like every steampunk who I had met touring across New England, New York and New Jersey, hightailed it down to Jersey for the fair. I also got to meet Jha face-to-face, which was a moment full of squee. Jake von Slatt brought his bus in, and we ended up having some really fascinating discussions about cultural appropriation. And I also connected with the folks at Outland Armour. They had lost a good portion of their stuff during the Tennessee floods that happened earlier in May, so my steampunk friends took part in a fundraiser for them and the Red Cross. Plus, there were the amazing folks who attended my panels, who brought so much insight and who were such great listeners.
In a nutshell, I can’t wait until next year’s!
AA: Sounds like a great experience and now I’m really sorry I missed it! Between the blogs and conventions, what kind of feedback are you getting from people?
AtP: I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about Beyond Victoriana, which is great, and offers to contribute, which is even greater. ^-^
I also gotten feedback that conventions should give my panels more time—I always end up going over and having people continuing the conversation outside. Which is what the best sort of panels/discussions should be doing anyways.
AA: Here’s the Wish List question – if you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one item you’d leap at to blog about or do?
AtP: Well, let me mention that if I had the money, I’d give my blog a technological booster shot. It is actually fairly nice as it is, but I would love to have my own web server and upgrade my blogging platform to a more professional standard.
As for blogging, I would take the time to do more heavy cultural analysis work and media analysis of steampunk. I mean, I’m already doing it now, but that’s squeezed between all my other commitments. Sometimes I feel that affects the quality of my work.
I’m currently starting the grad school application process in part because I like analyzing patterns in society and art and would love to dedicate more time to that. Specifically, I’m looking into performance studies, a field where I’d be able to combine my love of subculture/fandom, theater, new media, community interaction, and identity politics all into one crazy artistic/academic dish of intellectual goodness.
AA: With your writing and editing experience, what advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to write their own blog?
AtP: Well, I already gave my four big blogging bits of advice before, so I’ll just say this: writing is like good wine—it gets better with time. Same applies to blogging.
AA: Aside from Beyond Victoriana and conventions, what other steampunk things are you involved with?
AtP: Oh, too many to name!
I have a lot of different sorts of steampunk friends, but I’m mostly involved with The Wandering Legion. But since they are based in the New England area, I have a whole other group of New York/NJ people who I know as well. My con touring around New England has become more of a “work-hobby,” though, while my NYC stuff is more “fun-hobby”. That, however, is slowly changing the more I get recognized for being in the steampunk scene. For example, at Book Expo America, I got stopped by a reader while wandering the floor – and I wasn’t even in character or in my steam gear. It was quite startling to be noticed “in my civvies!”
I also make various blogosphere contributions when I can; in the past, I had contributed to both Racialicious and Steampunk Magazine with articles about multicultural aspects of the subculture. I’ve also contributed to the online magazine All Things Steampunk and will have something for Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders. In addition, I have hard-copy publications; in the fall. I have an academic article coming out about steampunk fashion co-written with Jha, and also a couple of articles based off interviews I had with Jeff Vandermeer fir his latest Steampunk anthology and The Steampunk Bible. My current listing of steampunk writings can all be found on Beyond Victoriana under “Press & Publications.”
On the more artsy side, I’m currently working on a collaborative photoshoot project that will be unveiled later this year. Plus, I’ve modeled for artists doing steampunk projects (some of which have been displayed at the Steampunk Bizarre in Hartford).
AA: Looking beyond steampunk, what other interests fill your free time?
AtP: Hmmm, I’m a theater geek and have dabbled in performance, political theater, and playwriting. I’m a big sf/f reader and manga/anime fan too. And my sekrit interest? I’m actually a Russophile; Russian was one of my majors in college and I studied abroad in Moscow during college. My dream novel, actually, is to write about werewolves in the KGB. ^_^
AA: Wow, those are some wide-ranging interests. Do you find any overlap or influence of those interests with your steampunk writing and activities?
AtP: I think all of my interests have bled into how I approach steampunk, especially how it relates to my thoughts about performing identities. Even my interest in Russia, too, is reflective. Russia was viewed for a long time (and still is, by some political thinkers) as the great “Other” in geopolitics, as something that Western countries were Not. Even now, Russians still debate about how their country should interact with “the West” and doesn’t consider itself entirely Western or Eastern, but a cultural blend of the two.
AA:. It has been really great talking with you and getting to know you better. Thank you again for making the time for this interview. Are there any final words you would like to share with our readers?
AtP: Thanks for taking the time to interview me, dear Ambassador, and thanks to all you readers out there!
If anyone wants to drop me a line, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ^_^
Kevin Steil is the creator of the steampunk news and information resource website, Airship Ambassador, the annual month-long global blogathon, Steampunk Hands Around the World, and is the curator of the online Steampunk Museum. He has been a guest and speaker at a number of conventions, contributed to several books, and has consulted for national media programs and events. He can also officiate your wedding!