Gail Carriger Interviews Elizabeth Bear about Karen Memory

Today, Gentle Reader, we are talking to  Elizabeth Bear about her steampunk novel Karen Memory. Without further ado…

About you, the Author! Elizabeth Bear

Tea or coffee and how do you take it?
Yes! I like coffee in nearly all of its forms, except anything that might be adequately described by the word “Joe.” I own a French press, a Moka pot, a drip machine, and I’m eyeing a vacuum coffeemaker. And I have a well-known tea addiction, and a small teacup collection that I enjoy using photos of to decorate my blog.
I drink tea by the potful while working–and by tea, I mean, inclusively but inaccurately, plant material infused in hot water. Everything from yerba mate to sakura blossoms, with a strong showing by everyone’s favorite species of Camellia. My current favorite is Upton Tea’s genmaicha.

Describe your personal style for author appearances.
I’ve been trying to kick it up a notch lately, from “schlub” to somewhere between geek chic and corporate goth. (I had a strong if subtle corpgoth aesthetic when I had to dress for work, and I still have the clothes.)
I’d never pass for a hard butch, but I’m definitely more on the chapstick than the lipstick end of the gender performance spectrum!

If I were to observe the writer beast in its native environment, what surprising thing might I see? What does the environment look like?
People always remark on the plants. I have a little forest of begonias and citrus and orchids and a jade plant (var. “Smeagol”, for fantasy writer street cred) around my desks. (I have a standing and a seated desk. The standing one doubles as a book case, so it’s pretty space efficient.)
Begonias are great because they put up with almost as much abuse as philodendrons, and are prettier. (Apologies to any philodendron partisans in the audience.)
{Gail would like to point out that her mum would most certainly approve of this environment.}

If you drive, what do you drive?
I currently own a 1998 Honda Civic 4-door with several dents. I’m thinking of upgrading to something from the current millennium.
All it needs is a “Don’t laugh, it’s paid for,” bumper sticker.

No deviating: vanilla or chocolate ice cream on a plain or a sugar cone? (Gail will use this to determine your level of sanity.)
I love really good vanilla, but if it’s only so-so vanilla, I’ll take chocolate. Sugar cone.
{Gail pronounces sanity with levels of strct logic tempered by occasional bouts of wackiness.)

What’s most likely to make you laugh?
Clever appositions, verbal irony, cat memes, and Scott Lynch.

Since writers inevitably end up in the bar, what’s your poison?
Whisk(e)y. Preferably good bourbon or single-malt scotch, though I won’t say no to a rye Manhattan. I like the buttery brown sugar and vanilla flavors, and the smoke and peat as well.

Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. When coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, this led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, and the writing of speculative fiction. She is the Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus, and Campbell Award winning author of 26 novels and over a hundred short stories. Her dog lives in Massachusetts; her partner, writer Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. She spends a lot of time on planes.

About your book! Karen Memory

What should readers eat while consuming your novel?
Oh. Well. I imagine this book is likely to make people crave breakfast, as it seems that the protagonists are always staggering home bone-weary and starved just in time for somebody to slide a plate of French toast in front of them. I expect if this book does well, we may see a world uptick in streaky bacon sales.

What form does evil take within its pages?
Disaster capitalists!

Which one of your characters would you most want to kiss and why?
Miss Francina. Because I rather imagine she knows what she’s doing.

What’s your favorite period in history and does it influence your world building?
Oh, favorite. That’s hard. My favorite to live in is right now, with the painless dentistry and at least the illusion of equal protection under the law and all.
I happen to know a lot about Elizabethan England, and it’s a fascinating time period. It did reveal to me that police states are not a new idea, as that’s basically what the Tudor court ran. I’ve also done a pile of research on the Mongol empires, which were, by the standards of their day, radically progressive. (Still not exactly utopian, mind!) Probably between those two, you might find my influences balanced.

Which one of your characters would you most like to slap and why?
Spoiler! But I bet by the end of the book, you’ll want to slap him too, that slick son of a bitch.

Without spoilers, what’s the funnest (or funniest) part of the book?
There’s a steampunk sewing machine converted to a battle mech by a group of enterprising prostitutes. *rubs hands together*
Yeah, that’ll do.
{Gail LOVES this idea and wants to steal it.}

If your story smelled of something, what would that be?
French perfume and burning upholstery.

Karen Memory

Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, lives in Rapid City in the late 19th century—when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront.

Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Elizabeth Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper-type story of the old west with the light touch of Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

Want more?

Here’s Elizabeth Bear on “Strong Female Characters”


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

 sydneyflapper tumblr

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Planetary Chocolates via fuckyeahrandomstupidity tumblr

Your Tisane of Smart . . .
The Suffragette that knew Jujitsu

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
Women in Cover Art

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