This week, we have an interview with Jaymee Goh, known as Jha, the creator and writer of steampunk blog, Silver Goggles. Jha is one of the bloggers I first came across after starting this blog, and it has been a real pleasure getting to know her.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Jha, thank you for doing this interview with me and sharing your thoughts amidst your busy schedule. Starting right at the beginning, how do you describe steampunk?
Jha: Hiya! Hm, big question. I tend to focus on steampunk in its literary and aesthetic forms. Steampunk as a literary genre is a combination of science fiction written during the Victorian era by the likes of Verne and Wells and a spin-off of cyberpunk in the 80’s by the likes of Gibson, Sterling, Moorcock and Jeter. Steampunk as an aesthetic is retro-futuristic, drawing inspiration from fashions of eras somewhat long-past, adapted with materials of today.
AA: When I was writing the Getting Out of London post and doing my research for it, your interview with James Ng was among the first I read, which then lead me to your own blog and reading everything you had posted there. How did you get started with Silver Goggles?
JHA: Oh, a long story. Silver Goggles began as a pet project after writing for Tor.com‘s Steampunk Month, when I realized that I really wanted to explore marginalized narratives in steampunk, fiction and subculture. I’d already been writing occasionally about steampunk on my main blog, Intersectionality Dreaming, and like Mike Perschon of Steampunk Scholar, I wanted a placeholder for materials I would eventually use for my master thesis.
AA: Talking about that exploration, what is the focus of your blog?
JHA: From the About page of my blog: “The purpose of Silver Goggles is to deconstruct narratives in steampunk, with a particular focus on the issues of colonialism, imperialism and politics, as they appear within steampunk literature and/or roleplay, in order to de-center the traditional Eurocentric focus.”
AA: I find each of your posts creative, informative and even inspiring. How do you prepare for a blog post? Where do the ideas come from?
JHA: Nawh, thank you! Various ways, really. If it’s a review, I think about what I want to say about a book, and think about the racialized narratives within it (if there are none, I will comment on that too). Other types of posts are usually reactions to something else I’ve read, written, or seen in the last few days.
AA: After reading each new post in your blog, I always learn something new, either about the things I don’t know – and want to – or about myself and the things I could incorporate into who I am as a person. What would you like people to know, learn, question, or otherwise take away from your blog postings?
JHA: Short answer: Oppression is bad, mmkay.
Long answer: History, society, and thus fiction and the stories we tell are varied. There are many narratives in a single timeline, and it is important to seek as many of them out as possible, because it is enriching on several levels to know the stories of various peoples all over the spectrum of humanity. It is never just a story. It is never just a dress. The meanings imbued in these speak to us and for us; they tell us about ourselves.
AA: What kind of previous experiences prepared you for blogging?
JHA: I’ve always been a writer. Years ago, I was a forum moderator. Coming to university, I found I had many opinions. I also do a lot of reading in the social justice sphere, which is where I learned to deal with detractors and trolls.
AA: As a writer, then, what qualities have served you well and what might help a person be successful as a blogger?
JHA: Academia has helped me immensely, especially my degree in English, which had me writing a lot of focused essays, and response papers. But people’s experiences vary. I don’t really know what makes a person successful as a blogger, because bloggers define success in various ways. For me, it’s just having an opinion, and the willingness to put that opinion out there.
AA: In writing an ongoing blog, what challenges have you had to deal with?
JHA: So far, I’ve not had many challenges to my blog. I’ve had to dole out the cluebat, but that’s what the Reading List is for now. Writing blogposts should be a challenge, but I take it easy on my blog and post when I can, rather than on schedule, to keep things relatively stress-free.
AA: On the flipside, what are the rewards of your writing, what do you look forward to?
JHA: I like fanmail! Various people from all over the world have contacted me about my work. Famous people like me. I get the impetus to go out and meet people at places I otherwise would have shrugged and sighed about not going to. I get asked for my opinion. It’s exciting.
AA: Do you get to talk with other bloggers or authors to trade ideas?
JHA: Oh yes. I chat with Ay-Leen of Beyond Victoriana fairly often. On occasion, I email Mike Perschon of Steampunk Scholar and Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaires for their invaluable opinions. Sometimes, James Ng will spring a picture on me and since we both grew up in Asia and are living in Canada, we discuss our observations on the differences between the two places. I’m also in contact with Allegra Hawksmoor of Steampunk Magazine. I love these people and name-drop unashamedly, because I don’t think they get recognized for the incredible work they do nearly often enough. One day, I will dare to just ping Jeff Vandermeer out of the blue for his opinion on stuff, because he is quite awesome like that.
AA: With the variety of postings, do you have any favorite blogs, topics, and people on Silver Goggles?
JHA: Everybody on my blogroll and everything I’ve written. I’m proudest of my essay on imperialism and kyriarchy in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I want to write more on macro-issues in steampunk.
AA: You’ve been a speaker at some conventions recently; how did that come about and what were those topics?
JHA: For Steampunk World’s Fair, Ay-Leen knew Whisper Merlot, and she’d already been bouncing around the idea of a panel for social issues in steampunk. This would logically be accompanied by a discussion of non-Eurocentric steampunk for us. I didn’t really expect to be a part of it, but since Ay-Leen and I had already worked on an essay together on this, it made sense. It’s my first con too; previously, I could never find the justification to go out to conventions just to hear people speak, see pretty costumes, and get up to con shenanigans.
WisCon, however, I blame the incredible Deepa D. for making me take advantage of the Carl Brandon Society‘s Con or Bust! fund, specifically for fen of colour. She also got me to sign up for panels. I’d been wanting to go to WisCon for the last few years, and since it was right around the corner from Steampunk World’s Fair, and I was jobless, I saw no real reason to not give it a try. I was on the Politics of Steampunk panel, as well as Strangers Writing Strange Lands, which was about the challenges of writing non-US/Canada settings for US/Canada markets.
AA: And yet another reason for me to regret not being able to make it to the Steampunk World’s Fair last May! What did you think of the convention and what were your favorite highlights?
JHA: It was ridiculously awesome. I did not get to do as much as I would have liked, because that weekend I was nursing a sore throat, leftover from a cold a few days prior. I have depression as well, so interacting in general is hard for me, but the sore throat really did me in. I did, however, get Professor Elemental’s autograph and I got to see his final show! It was hilarious. Meeting wonderful people is also always a blessing, despite my issues. Being able to hang out with Ay-Leen, Jake von Slatt, K. Tempest Bradford, and the wonderful folks from Weird Tales, was so extremely fantastic. I look forward to seeing them again in the future.
AA: It certainly does sound like you’ve met a lot of great people, and I heard that your panels at SPWF were jam-packed full of people for a standing room only attendance. There were also some good photos posted on Flickr. What kind of feedback are you getting from people about the blogs and convention panels?
JHA: Good ones, mostly. Particularly the Social Issues Roundtable, which was a hella lot more popular than RSVPs showed.
AA: Looking at your wish list, if you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one item you’d leap at to do?
JHA: So many things. But I think, most of all, I would travel around the world seeking out local retro-futuristic literary scenes. Learn a lot of languages, maybe, so I can read them in their beautiful, unadulterated forms. Not that there’s anything wrong with English, but the English-language hegemony needs to stop being so self-important.
AA: For the people reading your blog and thinking about writing one of their own, what advice or suggestions would you offer?
JHA: I can only share what I’ve learned from others – Set boundaries and rules, and stick by them. Your blog is your space; you don’t have to deal with freedom of speech shills from trolls who are only out to silence you. If you are talking from a specific context, tell your audience first, because otherwise someone is going to misconstrue something somewhere. If your topics are quite specific and require background reading, prepare a list of links for your audience to read at their leisure so you don’t have to keep answering questions.
AA: Aside from Silver Goggles, what other steampunk things are you involved with?
JHA: I write stories. Sometimes I write non-fiction.
AA: I just read your story, Between Islands, after I saw a link on Beyond Victoriana and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m already looking forward to further adventures with those characters. Looking beyond Silver Goggles, what are your interests outside of steampunk?
JHA: Thanks again! I don’t have a lot of interests outside steampunk per se; a lot of them factor into steampunk a great deal. I’m a huge fan of scifi/fantasy in general. I make a mean chocolate cake. Every November, I do NaNoWriMo. Like most normal people, I like movies and music. I’m heavily invested in anti-racism (obviously), feminism, and disability (particularly mental health), all of which become part of intersectionality.
AA: Do you find any overlap or influence of those other interests with your steampunk writing and blogging?
JHA: Always. That’s how I do what I do.
AA: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today. Are there any final words you would like to add?
JHA: Hi! /winslow
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!