Today, The Traveler’s Steampunk Blog welcomes a very special guest for an interview, Kevin Steil, a.k.a The Airship Ambassador. His site is one of the most frequented in the scene and one of the first places to go if you want to be up to date with what is going on around the world. Kevin has also joined me for a video chat during the European Steampunk Convention and helped getting the word out. So, it is wit great pleasure I present this interview:
Hey Kevin, please tell me (or rather my readers) a little bit about yourself.
Hi Marcus, thanks for inviting me!
I’m the creator of the steampunk news and information website and blog, Airship Ambassador, and I’ve just launched my newest project, The Steampunk Museum. Fellow steampunks have also seen me as a guest and speaker at conventions. I’ve attended a number of conventions around the United States, and now it is time to branch out and attend other conventions around the world.
Where can we find you on the web?
The website for Airship Ambassador is at
And the blog can be accessed from the website or directly at
And The Steampunk Museum is at
What got you into steampunk in the first place?
The very first thing, before there was a recognizable, named genre or grouping of literature, was watching Disney’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with James Mason as Captain Nemo. I fell in love with the Nautilus and that aesthetic. It was the first vehicle I ever wanted (followed soon thereafter by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and eventually the Tardis). I have Disney’s large model from 7 or 8 years ago in my home office now, where I can see it all the time. It used to be in the living room but I didn’t see it as much there.
Getting into the more recent community, though, started after I attended a convention in early 2010 and felt like I had something to say, something to add to the conversations. That’s how the blog started, and four months later, the website started up. I’ve been doing interviews and sharing the steampunk news and information ever since.
Do you have any other projects online from the time before you became the Airship Ambassador?
Not any more. I had built a large website to help me study for some landscaping classes but that’s been down for a few years now. It had several hundred pages, one for each plant in the curriculum, with all the pertinent descriptive characteristics to identify it in the wild. I shared it with classmates to help them study, and then with the following classes for several years.
What does steampunk mean to you?
I am one of those steampunks who likes to have a definition of steampunk, and it works for me as a guideline to ensure the Airship Ambassador website relates relevant content to the readers, but what ‘steampunk’ means to me is a different question.
For me, steampunk is more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just the stories, the artwork, and the amazing outfits. It’s the people and the connections I’ve made with people. It’s the community and general attitudes and actions. It’s the friendliness and helpfulness of fellow fans, the amazing and endless creativity, and seemingly, the general desire to be better as a person, a society, and a world. The people I’ve met all around the world seem to want to make a difference, and they don’t just talk about it, they go out and do something. It might be simple small actions in their daily life, or it might be something big and loud affecting hundreds or thousands of people.
You run one of the most popular sites in the scene, contribute to publications on- and offline and you have now also started The Steampunk Museum. How do you manage that?
Basically, like so much in life, it is a lot of work and consistent effort. A LOT of work. But that also comes from being passionate about something we enjoy doing and then prioritizing the things which need to be done. Creating something doesn’t just happen by itself. Desire to make something isn’t enough, there needs to be practice, and trial and error. Some people are able to focus on one or two things they really enjoy and do that to create something amazing, but that accomplishment rarely comes overnight.
For me, my interests are extremely varied and diverse, and for a long time, I thought it was a detriment, that I couldn’t focus on one thing that I was interested in to do. Now, however, it is a valuable asset as I’m able to pull together all kinds of disparate skills and make something happen.
As for how I manage to make it all happen on a daily basis, it comes back to consistent effort and attention. I’m constantly reading and researching. I try to stay in touch with the people I know – the artists and authors, convention organizers and bloggers, business owners and people who follow Airship Ambassador in its many forms.
It’s also a balancing act. Life isn’t about just one thing and I’m sure I’d burn out if I only focused on doing one thing. I need to work to pay the bills, do all of the house and yard tasks, spend time with family and friends, and make time for my other interests, too. I need that variety for myself.
Still, I call Airship Ambassador my unpaid second job for all the hours I put into it every day. I often don’t go to bed until midnight each night, only to get up at 6am to start the next day. And now, there’s The Steampunk Museum. It will be my unpaid third job, LOL.
Something I’d like to share with the very young steampunks, and remind everyone else, too, is that the world is a blank canvas and we can be and do anything we set our minds to, but something only happens if you make it happen. A blog won’t write itself, a convention needs more than a good idea, and new friends don’t just show up on the doorstep ready to introduce themselves. In the end, if you want to make something happen, *YOU* have to make it happen and that means putting in the time and effort to learn how to do it and then actually do it.
Related to that, I wanted to comment on one of your podcasts about how contributors in the community choose to do something, or create something. (The podcast Kevin is referring to is The Non-Euclidean Æthercast Episode 9) Specifically about The Steampunk Museum and how I’m going about adding new pages. Whatever people might think, the real truth is much less interesting than any possible theory. You hit it all right on the head when you talked about there being a “fire hose of information”. There is so much going on within the global steampunk community that no one person who works a full time job and has other interests and obligations could possibly stay up on it all.
For The Steampunk Museum, I started creating a list of everyone I had met in person, know through Facebook, Twitter and Google +, and even people I had just come across in my readings, and then all of their works. That initial list is 1300 items and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to document. Even with 1300 items, where does one start?
The boring truth is that I started with people I talk with on a regular basis, then onto the semi-regular contacts. Of course, it’s so easy to be distracted, and frequently I’ll have an unexpected conversation with someone, and then immediately drag them into being an “Exhibit” at the Museum. While I’m trying to keep a balance in adding artists, authors, musicians, etc, there really is no set plan about what is next to research and write up. Although I will add that sometimes it comes down to who replies to my initial contact. One weekend, I emailed ten people about being part of the project, and it was two weeks before I heard from any of them. I thought I was having email issues, but the reality was that people are busy with their own projects, no matter how interested they might be in the Museum.
If I could read and write faster, and had many more volunteers to help do that work, everything would go much faster .
Steampunk in Europe is not at all political, yet, every now and then you hear news from out of the USA concerning political issues within the scene. How political do you think the steampunk scene in the US is?
Some people use steampunk to express political messages, and I think it can be effective to show people in the community how things can be different and better by using familiar steampunk examples. It can be a way for some people to reach out to others to make a point, educate, and create awareness.
How much of steampunk spills over into your usual life? Does it for example affect your 9-5 wardrobe?
While I often talk about steampunk to people during the course of a usual day, it’s about books I’ve read, music I’ve heard, or the next convention I’m attending. My daily wardrobe in general is not very steampunk. I try to look nice for work in a dress shirt and jeans (I’m not a corporate suit person by any stretch of the imagination) and around the house, I’m usually in t-shirt and jeans. My steampunk attire really isn’t conducive to splitting firewood, doing landscaping work in the yard, or other bits of home improvement.
But, as soon as there is an occasion to dress up, I’m there with something from the steampunk collection. I attended a local fashion show this summer, partly because a friend’s son was in it but also because one of the designers had some steampunk inspired outfits, and that was a fun opportunity for me to use one of my outfits outside of a convention.
Other than that, though, there is steampunk art on the walls, steampunk books on the shelves, and steampunk music on the cd/mp3 players. No steampunk cooking (although I follow Aaron Egan, http://cookingsteampunk.blogspot.com/) and no steampunk gardening … yet. And not much steampunk computing, although I crave (along with many other steampunks) anything from Jake von Slatt and Datamancer (Richard Nagy).
Steampunk Cookery? I see another feature coming. I have not even heard of this blog before, oh my! Thank you for bringing the site to my attention. On with the interview:
Are you actively involved in the planning/running of any conventions?
I play a small role with Steamcon, here in Washington State, but generally my involvement with most conventions is attending and speaking at them. Putting on a convention is a huge and daunting amount of work and people who do that deserve all kinds of credit and admiration. And they should be cut some slack for the obvious insanity which drives them to, thankfully, put on such events for the benefit of us all.
One thought I had recently about conventions, is that if all of the followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the website got together, we’d have quite the major convention all on our own. Knowing all of you are out there supporting what I do is quite flattering, and I thank all of you for that.
Is there anything you would like to see more in the steampunk scene?
The global scene is filled with such creativity, passion, and expression, that I want to get out and see it all. I want to go out and meet all the groups and people around the world. Budget gets in the way of that, like it does for everyone, but that’s what I’d want more of for myself – seeing everyone around the world. Until I can get there physically, it is nice that people send me links, photos and information about what is happening in their local area.
Anything on your chest I did not ask for? Feel free to add whatever you want!
Just a few brief thoughts to share in parting.
Be good to each other – we are all here to have a good time, and we as a community are a wide diverse mix of personalities, experiences, and desires. The community is generally known for being helpful to each other, and that is one of our best assets.
Support the community as you can – read, share, comment, and participate. When you can, support the authors, artists, crafters, makers, and merchants. If we don’t support them, they won’t be able to keep contributing to the community as they do. If we don’t support the many small businesses in the community, they won’t last and we will have fewer choices.
Be the person you are in your heart – life is really too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled. We should be happy in our lives, taking care not to infringe on other people’s happiness, and we should strive to be the best person we can be. Make the most of today, and make the best choices you can, because sometimes, tomorrow doesn’t come.
Steampunk won’t change the world, but we as steampunks can. We can make a difference in people’s lives. We, each of us, just needs to get out there and *do* something. Go out and be awesome!
Thank you, everyone, for your ongoing support and feedback for myself, Airship Ambassador, and The Steampunk Museum.
Thanks again for taking the time and the in depth answers.