Interview with Gail Carriger
Literatopia: Hi Gail, thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. Would you tell us a bit about yourself first? Who are you and what kind of books do you write?
Gail Carriger: I was born in small town California to a British ex–pat gardener with a tea habit and a woodworking Dane who sidelined as a philosophical scribbler. I spent my summers in Devonshire, and matured with a burning need to investigate the past and escape to other small towns all around the world. Hence archaeology. I ended up back in California with too many advanced degrees, a tea habit inherited from my mother, a scribbling habit inherited from my father, and a dreadful penchant for gadding off to foreign countries in hot pursuit of fascinating ancient artifacts—dragging both habits ruthlessly in my wake. I write steampunk alternate history urban fantasy comedies of manners, a mash up that makes sense given my background.
Literatopia: Your very first novel Soulless was published in June 2011 in the German speaking countries. It’s a very funny story about Miss Alexia who falls in love with the stately alpha Lord Maccon and has to face many dangers together with him. Will you tell us a bit more about the story?
Gail Carriger: Alexia is a spinster coping with a vast number of embarrassing problems: she has Italian heritage (and looks it), she reads too much, she has no soul, she has accidentally killed a vampire, and she now has a large werewolf bothering her as a result. She tends to cope with these problems by either bashing them over the head with a parasol, or talking at them, with equally disastrous results. Oh, and her best friend is prone to wearing very silly hats.
Literatopia: Alternative history meets paranormal elements and a lot of humor. What gave you the idea to create this kind of mix and what about the Victorian Age struck you as especially weird?
Gail Carriger: The simple fact is: this was what I wanted to read. I like steampunk but it tends to be a little too dark and riddled with technobabble for me. I enjoy urban fantasy but am not wild about a modern setting. So I thought I might just combine the two, and then shake it up with a jot more romance and a whole lot of comedy. Then I started thinking about what kind of world could accommodate all these different elements. I’m familiar with the Victorian era and I find it a rich source of amusement in and of itself. Those ridiculous fashions and that obsession with etiquette seem the perfect time period to drop in vampires (dictating such things) and werewolves (chaffing against them) not to mention steam technology. It seemed to me that what comedy I couldn’t supply with plot and character, an alternate Victorian London could provide just by being itself.
Literatopia: Alexia doesn’t have a soul, werewolf Lord Maccon has an excess of soul. What inspired you to explain the paranormal in this fashion? Will there be other kinds of excess of soul or other characters featuring it in the further course of the series?
Gail Carriger: I started idly toying with the idea of how a person would become undead. After all, if vampires and werewolves are bouncing about, what’s to keep them from turning everyone? There must be biological procreative controls in place. Taking into account what I knew of Victorian scientific theory, I hypothesized that an excess soul found in only a few people might account for bite–survival rates. This led me to investigate the measuring of the soul – which an American scientist actually tried to do in the late 1800s. This, in turn, lead to the idea that if some people had too much soul there should be others who had too little, or none at all. And these people could act as nullifiers to supernatural abilities. Thus Alexia was born. In my universe the soul is explaiend scientifically and I know how that science works, it's one of the arcs of the series, however, for Alexia to figure this out. As the series progresses readers will meet one other kind of excess soul. In the next series, the Parasol Protectorate Abroad they will get to meet many.
Literatopia: The next two volumes of your work published in German in 2011 were Changeless and Blameless. Can you tell us a bit more about these stories? How many books total will there be to the series?
Gail Carriger: In Changeless, Lord Maccon suddenly vanishes, and as Alexia investigates his unceremonious exit (in Scotland of all places), she upends werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. Blameless sees our fair heroine with her horrible family fighting off homicidal mechanical ladybugs as she becomes the scandal of the London season.
The Parasol Protectorate includes five books: 1. Soulless, 2. Changeless, 3. Blameless, 4. Heartless, and 5. Timeless (which will be released in the U.S. March 2012). Alexia and Conall’s story will end there. I do love the world, though, and I have two new series i that explore both the time before the events of Soulless and those after (see my answer to the last question!). Some day I would like to write a book about Alexia’s father, mostly because it is becoming increasingly necessary to know his back–story. And, of course, there are always short stories.
Literatopia: The covers on the German editions are kept in brown, orange and gold. Do you like the way they turned out or would you have liked to see them done in a different way? If you had the chance to design a new cover for the first German volume what would it look like?
Gail Carriger: I love the tones and colors of the German covers, very steampunk. I think they are quite striking and certainly pop. I would have preferred Alexia be wearing more time period appropriate clothing, she would be quite overcome by the scandalous nature of her own attire. If I had a chance to redesign I would probably do everything the same except the hair and clothing. However, German fans can look forward to a fun little cookie in this regard. One of the side characters does wear one of the German cover outfits, much to Alexia's shock, in the final book, Timeless.
Literatopia: You say you sort of stumbled into being an author. How did that come about? Where you actually intending to never really show your work to anybody and just write for yourself? And where did that “coincidence” all start?
Gail Carriger: I always wanted to be an archaeologist, writing was rather more like breathing, just something I did. It was only with Soulless that I realized I might actually have a career as a writer. I still haven’t recovered from the shock.
Literatopia: Tidy or chaotic – which one of these applies to you and the way you work? And how does being either the tidy or chaotic type influence you in your personal process of writing?
Gail Carriger: Oh I’m nothing if not civilized and tidy. With a project due and no day job (mine’s intermittent these days) I write from 2 to 7 every weekday – with breaks for tea. The rest of the household, with the exception of the cat, is quite respectful. I have a closed–door policy. Which is to say: if the door to my office is closed my policy is to throw the nearest moveable object at anyone who disturbs me. They’ve learned. Even the cat.
Literatopia: Where and when do you usually write? Do you need a certain atmosphere or setting or do you completely shut out the world around you once you’ve started writing?
Gail Carriger: I usually write the first draft at home, at my desk, in the afternoons. If I’m really struggling, I find a change of location helps, so I frequent a local coffee shop. I must hide away and do my second draft in private, however, because I read the whole thing out loud. If I did that in public people would think I was bonkers. I usually red pen a hard–copy of the third draft on an airplane, things just arrange it so I’m always traveling at that point in the writing process. I go over the copy edits with my best friend and beta reader on the couch in her living room with many cups of tea and much companion hilarity.
Literatopia: What is it about Steampunk that fascinates you so much? Are there certain elements you especially admire? If so, which are they? Can you see yourself writing novels belonging to a totally different genre sometime in the future?
Gail Carriger: I was raised on British children’s books (Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Borrowers, The Water Babies, Wind in the Willows) and I spent many a youthful summer in Devon and two years of graduate school in the Midlands. It was this, plus the fashion aesthetic, that first drew me to steampunk – the beauty of 19th century clothing but with a less ridged everyday feel. I adore the Victorian era. I used to make hoopskirts out of my hula–hoops as a child. I also love the makers side of steampunk – technology you can see working, rather than little silver iPods with all their functionality secreted away.
I came to steampunk first as an aesthetic movement. I’m a longtime fan of vintage clothing and Goth style; steampunk drew me in as a cheerful melding of the two. I also love seeing recycled technology used as jewelry, and other examples of how creative the maker community has become over the past few years.
I'd love to write in many different genres. I adore fashion so I have a non-ficion fashion blog, Retro Rack, where I natter on about clothing and dressing vintage. I've contemplated writing a cook book for students. I have other fiction in me as well from epic alt-history fantasy to middle grade science fiction.
Literatopia: Jane Austen, BBC costume films and your tea-obsessed mother, who is originally from the UK, have all influenced your writing. Where, though, do you draw the humor from that permeates your books? Do people who know you often characterize you as funny? And another very important question: Which BBC production do you like best?
Gail Carriger: I have a post–it note affixed to the side of my computer that says: Gail, don’t lose The Funny! I’d much rather make people laugh than cry. I want my readers to end the book feeling happy – the real world is depressing enough without my help. I also noticed three troubling things prior to writing Soulless. 1. Of my short stories, the only ones to sell were comic. 2. Both steampunk and urban fantasy tend to be rather dark. 3. Most of my favorite authors were funny guys (PG Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde). I figured it was time to shake the genres up and write a book that had a bit of everything I liked best in it: strong female heroine, steampunk, urban fantasy, AND The Funny.
Most of the humor is ruthlessly stolen from real life and those around me. I have wonderful (and very tolerant) friends. I don't know that people would necessarily call me funny, perhaps witty or snarky if pressed. However, the people who manage to stay in any kind of a relationship with me don't take me seriously.
As to the BBC, I adored North & South. However the first Cranford was extraordinarily well done, so that has to be really high up there as well. As for longer running series, Lark Rise to Candleford is also lots of fun.
Literatopia: What do you do when you’re not writing or drinking tea? What are your hobbies? Do you yourself like to read and if so which authors do you like most?
Gail Carriger: I used to moonlight as an archaeologist. Periodically I would poodle off to the Peruvian Highlands where I was analyzing the pottery from a fascinating long–occupation site (Wari – Inca – Colonial). Sadly the project is now on hold, as are my archaeological endeavors. These days, when I’m not writing I find exercise very relaxing, so I do things like dancing, swimming, or hiking. I’m also a big vintage clothing shopper (see my Retro Rack blog) and podcast fanatic. Sometimes you can find me doing all of these together (well, not the swimming), this relaxes me and gives me an immense sense of accomplishment. I also like to modify, tailor, and sew my own steampunk outfits.
As far as books and authors I love, if I were stranded on a desert island and could only bring three books with me, I’d take The Forgotten Beast of Eld by Patricia McKillip, By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey, and Taming the Forest King by Claudia J. Edwards. All for exactly the same reason: I can read them over and over again and never get tired of them.
Literatopia: Your homepage features collected information about Steampunk and other assorted themes but it also features your blog. What are the things you like to share there and what experiences have you made by blogging? Is there one incidence or experience you’re not likely to ever forget?
Gail Carriger: I use blogging as means of remembering things that have happened on this crazy Parasol Protectorate ride. I tell stories, like the first time I ever saw my book on the shelf, or, what the road to publication was like after I sold my first book. I post photos of conventions I've been too, as well as links to interviews I've done, reviews of my books, and fan art. I make announcements there about the future of the series and keep track of my progress writing new books – keeps me honest. I also do DVD extra type things like character inspiration boards; manga art sketches; a "Dear Lord Akeldama" advice column; and interesting victorian facts I've uncovered while researching. I run contests to win signed editions of the books and other swag. I find it restful, a break from the fiction wiring, but if I have a tough deadline or a trip the blogging may fade for a few weeks.
My favorite thing is how many wonderful fans I have met via blogging. Not to mention some of the wonderful guest blogs I have from fellow authors and fans, who do things like mock scientific pretensions set in my victorian universe, book trailers and fake movie posters.
Literatopia: Do your fans have a chance to meet you in person sometime this year?
Gail Carriger: Absolutely. I try to get out and about for some event or another at least once a month. I keep a list of upcoming appearences on my my website’s events page. In 2012 I already have various conventions planned, including San Diego Comic Con. With the U.S. publication Timeless, I will be doing some bookstore events State-Side, roughly the first few weeks of March 2012. Lastly, and I’m very excited about this, I plan to visit Europe in the spring — most likely mid-April until mid-May — to bounce about in support of the release of the first three books in the series: Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless. Many details to come; check my website or blog for updates.
Literatopia: Rumor has it that you’re obsessed with tiny hats. What kind of hats, exactly, would these be and how many of them do you have? Do you use them for decoration only or do you actually wear them during the day?
Gail Carriger: I just love them. I have one for every steampunk outfit I own and few others as well. I like to decorate them myself, and I even have blanks to make them from scratch. I'd say I have about ten at the moment. I wear them at steampunk conventions, and some of my vintage ones for appearances and other events. I have been known to insist that my friends wear a tiny hat in order to have tea with me, but only when I am feeling very silly indeed.
Literatopia: You’ve reportedly traveled all over Europe eating nothing but cookies. We’re curious to hear your undiplomatic assessment: Which country – and which cookies – impressed you most during your stay?
Gail Carriger: Honestly, the best pastry I ever ate was at the Frankfurt train station back in 2000. Which I didn't expect. This is part of the reason I am going back . . . more pastry to be eaten. Italy runs a close second, and they certainly had the best coffee. That said, I haven't spent much time in France.
Literatopia: Concerning tea – is there a certain variety you’ve always wanted to recommend to a broader public? If so which one would it be and how much tea per day can a lady like you drink? Is there room for other kinds of drinks in your life or are you a very loyal person in this respect?
Gail Carriger:: Oh dear, this is quite a serious matter. I’m afraid I have never been one to condone the consumption of Earl Grey – nasty perfumey bit of business. I’m a Twinings English Breakfast gold label drinker myself. Which I have to track down and import from England specially. It’s better than the American Twinings because it can be brewed strong enough for a mouse to run across, without getting bitter. It should be drunk with a healthy dollop of whole milk. The milk adds just the correct amount of sweetness. Good tea, like good espresso, should not need a sweetener. If it is so bitter it requires sugar it is either over–brewed, under–milked, or bad quality tea. Either that or you have ruined your palate with something utterly plebeian like – shudder – soda.
I drink two mugs of tea a day, and a pot with proper teacups on the weekends. Twice a week, I sacrifice the afternoon cuppa for a really good latte, but I am very particular about how a latte is made. I don't drink tea when I am out unless it's at a proper tea house, no one in the US cafe industry can make a good cuppa. I have a running love affaire with fresh juice. My favoirite in existance being pasionfruit, which I drink by the pint when I am in Peru. I also love smoothies and good lemonade. I don't drink soda. I'd rather get my bad calories by eating sugar, not drinking it.
Literatopia: And speaking of loyalty – what can your readers expect from you in the near future? Do you have specific plans? Will you perhaps be creating a new mix of genres or will you stick to the Victorian times?
Gail Carriger: The Parasol Protectorate series will conclude with Timeless, but I’ve embarked on two new series that I’m thrilled about. The first is young-adult, the Finishing School series, which takes place about twenty years before the events of Soulless and follows the trials, tribulations, and trifles of Sophronia and her band of soot-covered compatriots as they try to survive a finishing school where they must learn to finish . . . everything and everyone.
The first book in the series, Etiquette & Espionage, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in the fall of 2012. Orbit US will publish my next adult series, The Parasol Protectorate Abroad. The series is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2013 with book one, Prudence, to be followed by Imprudence (naturally). They take place 25 years or so after the Alexia series.
Literatopia: Thank you so much for this extensive interview, Gail.
Dieses Interview wurde von Angelika Mandryk für Literatopia geführt und von Lucia Schwarz übersetzt. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.