When Gail Carriger Was An Archaeologist (Occasional FAQ)

One of the things that often comes up on Facebook Lives and in person events is my past as an archaeologist. So here, for your edification Gentle Reader, is me answering some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.

What’s the 411 on Gail Carriger prior to becoming the author we all know now?

I was born in small town California to a British expat gardener with a tea habit and a woodworking Dane who sidelined as a philosophical scribbler. I spent summers in a small town in Devonshire with my grandparents, 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.

What jobs did you have on your way to being a writer?

Let me see, the order would go something like: library page, nursery plant waterer, nanny, PA, telecommunications specialist, software QA, book reviewer, museum docent, bartender, teacher, archaeologist, university lecturer, adjunct faculty, and now author.

What is your university degree in?

I have a BA in Archaeology (with minors in Anthropology, Classics, Theology, Geology, and Philosophy), a MS in Archaeological Materials with a focus on inorganics, and a MA in Anthropology with a focus on ceramic artifact analysis. I got a book contract and left academia 2 years before completing my PhD. Oddly enough, I have few regrets.

Can you tell me a bit about your archeology work?

While I have some field experience, I’ve spent most of my time in the laboratory sticking artifacts into very expensive instruments that go “beep” (XRD, SEM with EDX attachment, and finally an ISP-MS acid prep). I’ve worked on artifacts from Egypt, Italy, Greece, Britain, Italy, North America, South America, and the Islamic Empire (North West Syria). The last excavation I was connected to was in Peru, and I did work at a field lab there. You can find out more about my archaeological interests on my Archaeology Pinterest board.

Chokepukio, Peru, my last archaeology site

How has your background in archaeology influenced your writing?

It’s made me very concerned with details, and very conscious of how material objects reflect culture and can be used to bring setting and characters to life. Readers may notice that what people wear and own is almost as important as what they do and say in my books. A career as an archaeologist and academic has also given me good research skills, a respect for deadlines, a fascination with historical cultures, and, most importantly, the ability to subsist entirely on instant soup.

How does your background in archaeology influenced your steampunk?

Archaeology has its provenance in the Victorian era, so I’ve studied the time period in an effort to understand my own discipline. This has helped me grasp the mindset of the scientists of the day. Archeology has also led me to approach the entire genre differently. Steampunk is, by its very nature, alternative history, but we archaeologists work by interpreting existing facts. I went with the premise that all the strange and absurd facts of real history could be explained away as the meddling of vampires and werewolves. This included the weirdest historical event of all: the expansion of the British Empire.

Self holding a sml Aribalo pot from Chokepukio

Have the locations you visited for digs inspired any scenes or details in the books?

The Etruscan excavation site the Templars take Alexia and Madame Lefoux to visit for a tomb picnic in Blameless is based on the first site I ever excavated in Northern Italy. Similarly, the descriptions of Florence are from my own memory. I drew on a lot of my research from when I was connected to an Egyptian museum for Timeless and Imprudence and The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t. My Peruvian site shows up in Competence. My Syrian site hasn’t appeared in my books… yet.


{Gail’s monthly read along for March 2017 was Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith.}

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Romancing the Inventor

Romancing the Inventor: A Supernatural Society Novella

A steampunk lesbian romance featuring a maid bent on seducing a brilliant cross-dressing scientist who’s too brokenhearted to notice. Or is she?


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1900 cgmfindings- Art Nouveau Advertising Parasol „Fiumaner Reisstärke“ 1900 Austria

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Gail Carriger’s cat, Lilliput the Bean, versus a very beat-up paper bag, and a slightly smaller less beat-up paper bag. An ode in two parts, featuring co-star Zanie rattling mouse. (Her favorite toy.)

Your Tisane of Smart . . .

Clothes as Historical Sources: What Bloomers Reveal About the Women Who Wore Them

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  

Authors Fear Accusations of Cultural Appropriation

Book News:

Sidheag wins!

Quote of the Day:

“I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman. For me, writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.”

~ Mark Haddon

Questions about Gail’s steampunk world? There’s a wiki for that!
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