The following interview is ever expanding. Should you ask Gail a question she has already answered, she will pull from this page. If you ask her a new question she will answer it and then add it to this page. There is a lot of information below and it’s cumbersome and difficult to organize, for which she apologizes.
Gail Carriger & Piper J. Drake also have a podcast all about traveling writers. Check it out because they aim to help with all your travel quandaries.
- The books in general with Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column at SF in SF. And another on research and world building.
- The supernatural with Dan of the Out of the Coffin podcast.
- Writing in 2009 with Adam of the Writing Habits podcast. (My first podcast interview ever.)
- Audio interview with Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls.
Never Ending Interview Categories
Categorizing Gail’s World
How would you describe the Parasolverse?
Imagine Jane Austen dabbling in science and steam technology. Then imagine P.G. Wodehouse suddenly dropped werewolves into the Drones Club. The Parasolverse books would be the resulting progeny.
Can you give us a synopsis of the Parasol Protectorate series?
The Parasol Protectorate books feature Alexia Tarabotti, a soulless, autocratic Victorian harridan, and her increasingly eccentric group of friends. Alexia is prone to charging about London, then across England, and eventually through Europe on her quest to foil various evil plots. She is assisted, and sometimes hindered, in her endeavors by a band of scruffy werewolf soldiers, a cadre of gay vampires, a cross–dressing female inventor, and a very silly best friend with a predilection for atrocious hats.
How about the young adult Finishing School series?
The Finishing School series is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, only 25 years earlier, and feature a finishing academy located in a giant caterpillar-like dirigible floating over Dartmoor in which young ladies are taught to . . . finish . . . everything . . . and everyone . . . as needed. There is steampunk etiquette! There is well-dressed espionage! There is Victorian fake food. There is a mechanical sausage dog named Bumbersnoot.
And the Custard Protocol series?
The Custard Protocol books feature a marauding team of outrageous miscreants in a high tech dirigible charging about fixing things, loudly and mainly with tea. This series explores the wider ramifications of a steampunk British Empire, not just how technology has altered but how vampires and werewolves have evolved differently in various parts of the world.
What genre are these peculiar books?
They are usually considered science fiction / fantasy although some stores put them into romance and a few have stuck them in horror. I consider my books a mix of steampunk and urban fantasy. I like Carrie Vaughn’s term “urbane fantasy” which nicely incorporates both.
Why the fascination with the octopus?
Octopodes are smart, cute, crafty, squishy and, when all is said and done, tasty. Can you think of a superior creature?
What’s the most positive comment a reader has said about your writing?
Readers have been amazingly kind, I hardly know where to start. Fan mail from librarians always touches me deeply. I had one email from about a young lady in Bangkok who read one of my books during an uprising, and it helped her escape the horror. Such an amazing compliment.
If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your books?
They’ve got dirigibles, gay vampires, mechanical sausage dogs, and madly wielded parasols. What more could you want?
Your series feature both werewolves and vampires, what makes your stuff different than all the other supernatural novels?
There’s no magic. None at all. Instead, Victorian scientists are struggling to understand vampires, werewolves, and ghosts using the scientific standards of the day. This results in steampunk gadgets and crazy theories centered on the existence of the soul. In addition, the books are very lighthearted in their approach to the supernatural, possibly even silly (e.g. newly minted vampires suffer from fang–lisp).
What would you like potential readers to know about you and your books?
Neither of us are meant to be taken seriously.
If you could describe your series in one word, what would that word be?
Canoodle! Because it’s the best word EVAH, followed closely by kerfuffle. Oo, can I choose two words? Canoodling kerfuffle!
What were you trying to accomplish with these books?
I wanted to cheer people up and give them a fun read. Maybe keep one or two readers up all night. No real agenda. I also would love to be at least one person’s favorite author.
Fill in the blank’s here: If you like __, you should read my books because __.
Tea, there’s so much tea in these books it’s practically a main character.
What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Characters, charm, and frivolity.
Will those who don’t get British humor understand the jokes and references?
They are quite British. I spent childhood summers in Devon and attended graduate school in Nottingham, but I’m embarrassingly American. My publisher is pretty strict about making sure all terms and words are Americanized. I think a passing familiarity with Regency romances or BBC costume dramas is more than sufficient to understand the humor. Like Monty Python, I believe my books are filled with the kind of comedy that crosses cultural boundaries: farce, sarcasm, and indiscriminate irreverence.
Are you really done with the Parasol Protectorate series?
Yes. The Parasol Protectorate includes five books total: 1. Soulless, 2. Changeless, 3. Blameless, 4.Heartless, and 5. Timeless. Alexia and Conall’s story ends there. I do love the world, so I’m exploring c.20 years after the Parasol Protectorate series, traveling to different parts of the world with the Custard Protocol, and c.20 years before, with my YA Finishing School series (beware the Picklemen), and there are various novellas scattered about as well. Some day I hope to write more about Alexia’s father.
How did you know it was time to end the Parasol Protectorate series?
I like to end things, it’s very satisfying. Alexia’s arc settled happily at five books, so I stopped. She was tired of me, I suspect. Some characters from her series show up in the Finishing School or the Custard Protocol but they will not be main characters.
Throw away temptation lines for the books?
Soulless: Her manners are excellent, her soul is non–existent, and she wants your treacle tart.
Changeless: Werewolves in kilts.
Blameless: Beware the bad guys, they have pesto.
Heartless: The octopus rampages at midnight.
Timeless: Not for the faint of hat.
Etiquette & Espionage: When cheese pies fly.
Curtsies & Conspiracies: Beware the picklemen.
Waistcoats & Weaponry: You do know trains are on tracks, right?
Manners & Mutiny: It’ll all end in Brussels sprouts.
Poison or Protect: How many husbands does it take?
Romancing the Inventor: How deadly is your duster?
Romancing the Werewolf: Possible baby sacrifice, or just squash?
How to Marry a Werewolf: Guilty of an indiscretion? Time to marry a werewolf.
What’s your favorite thing about these books?
That I get to put comedy, urban fantasy, and steampunk all into one world. It’s the attack of the sub-genres.
I’ve seen your books described as many things, but to me, there’s a large dollop of mystery in each one.
I was raised watching BBC mysteries, so I suppose they leak in. I think of my stories as character driven dramas with lots comedy. I suspect chronic mystery readers can figure out ‘who done it’ easily. I don’t consider the mystery the goal. For me the goal is seeing my main character figure things out, and how much trouble she gets into as she does so.
Bumbersnoot and your other technological devices are so imaginative, why are you drawn to these mechanics?
I enjoy the whimsy of technology that wasn’t. I’ve always been interested in technological transition and innovation in the past.
What inspires this kind of writing?
“Oh my goodness, is that an electrosplit goopslimer port? I do believe it is. And is that a Thurshbotham pip-monger swizzle sprocket? Oh, two swizzle sprockets!’ Vieve was practically squeaking in excitement.
~ from Curtsies & Conspiracies
Ah, you picked up on an inner SF fan moment of mine. I love Star Trek: The Next Generation and I remember seeing an interview where the actors complained about having to memorize and spout technobabble. This kind of writing is my ode to technobabble, only I intend mine to sound quintessentially Victorian.
What is the best question asked by a reader regarding the Finishing School Series?
At a school visit I had a student – 6th grader! – ask me why I preferred 3rd person POV. I was so impressed. I find first person too limiting for side characters and romance, which are some of my favorite things to write so that’s why I usually use closed third. Some of my books have 2 POV characters for plot and location reasons.Soulless was 3rd omniscient, which drives some readers nuts, but it is a classic Victorian style and I had a lot of fun with it.
The World of the Parasol Protectorate, Finishing School, & Custard Protocol
What’s the name of your universe?
I’ve officially started calling it the Parasolverse.
How did you come up with the idea?
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 of 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 simply by being itself.
So where did you go from there?
After deciding on a setting, 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 procreation 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.
You have some interesting theories about the Victorian society.
I’ve long been troubled by certain quirks of history that seem never adequately explained. The most confusing of these is how one tiny island with abysmal taste in food, excellent taste in beverages, and a penchant for poofy dresses suddenly managed to take over most of the known world. How did one tiny island manage to conquer an empire upon which the sun never set? I decided that the only possible answer was that England openly accepted supernatural creatures, and put them to good use, while other countries continued persecution. This led me to postulate that King Henry’s breach with the Church was over open acceptance of vampires and werewolves into society (the divorce thing was just a front). This gave Great Britain a leg up dealing with messy little situations like winning major foreign battles or establishing an efficient bureaucracy or convincing the world cricket is a good idea. Suddenly, everything made sense: cravats cover bite marks, the British regimental system is clearly based on werewolf pack dynamics, and pale complexions are in vogue because everyone wants to look like the trend–setting vampires.
What was something you knew had to be the same as our past?
I wanted certain key historical events to stay in place. Most major wars and battles are still there, but the reasons behind them are different. I don’t write so much alt–history as re–explained history. I wanted to take the same tactic with the most ridiculous aspects of Victorian fashion as well. High cravats? Hide the bite marks. Confining bustle–skirts and heeled boots? Keeps your prey from moving too fast.
We noticed that the ‘acceptance’ of the supernatural reminded us of the fact that Victorian society were among the first to promote the abolition of slavery – was that something you were conscious of when writing these books?
Yes. It seems part of the British character to ignore or quietly condone things rather than make a fuss. Very different from us Americans. By the time the tide of acceptance has shifted it simply becomes law, without too much objection. I like that. It also simply Victorian to take a stance the equivalent of, “Ah yes, vampires, jolly good chaps, excellent fashion sense, always polite, terribly charming at cards, we simply won’t mention that little neck biting habit.”
What about the good old US of A?
I envision the States still embroiled in that Old West dichotomy of puritanical thought versus adventurous liberty, only with vampires and werewolves taking sides. My first American main character finally appeared, Faith in How to Marry a Werwolf.
If supernaturals lose their artistic gifts when they cease to be human, why would so many artist, for whom their art is their life, be willing to give it up?
That’s the philosophical paradox inherent in my world. What would you give up for immortality? If I, for example, could live forever would I sacrifice my ability to tell stories? How might that question be tested if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness? What if I had to make this choice for someone I loved? There are many quandaries to explore. Writers call this: fertile ground. Mabel Dair, for example, makes no bones about the fact that she want’s patronage, but not immortality. Madame Lefoux is repelled by the very idea. Someone like Channing, who was a sculptor but also a soldier, preferred a military lifestyle and never really wanted to be an artist. I remember hearing a story about this amazing artist who did these beautiful tiny clay animals. But she was bi-polar. When she went on her meds, she stopped creating. When she was off them, she could not function in society but she could make beautiful things. What a horrifying choice to have to make. What a wonderful choice to force upon my characters.
Which figures from history can you imagine as supernaturals?
I can’t answer specifically, because there would be spoilers. I can say that I have divided history into dominance of one species over the others. Ancient Rome belongs to the vampires, Ancient Greece to the humans, and Ancient Egypt to the werewolves, for example. Obviously, key players in (and therefore enemies of) these empires are going to have significant supernatural agendas. The actual historical figures I turn supernatural in my series do tend to be less well known, or only known in their country of origin. This ties back to my archaeology background, I select historical characters that I love and were powerful in their day but have lost ground in current educational teachings. I also use historical figures whose deaths are shrouded in mystery, unknown, or debated by historians. Of course, there are many I can imagine as supernatural, but who never come up in the books. Someday I may compile a list.
How did the steampunk element fit in?
It seems to me that, if supernatural creatures were running around Victorian London, scientists of the day would be trying to understand them, dissect them, fight them, and avoid them. I didn’t want magic in my world, but 19th century science is almost as unlikely. This, in turn, would lead to new and strange advancements in science and medicine. In my world, simply put, urban fantasy tropes have steampunk consequences.
Have you kept the setting historical and added in the supernatural creatures?
I try to stay as accurate to Victorian England as possible. Changes leak in as either alternate explanations for reality, or alternate inventions to deal with the non–reality I’ve injected. There are still hansoms roaming London but dirigibles, for example, have risen to prominence as an alternate mode of long distance transport because vampires and werewolves cannot use them. Alternative guns have evolved utilizing silver and wood bullets. And, of course, the supernatural creatures themselves take a keen interest in promoting new technology and have the funds to do so. My steampunk is the result of the supernatural intrusion into the Victorian world. I think the path to world consistency for me was in letting my Victorians behave like Victorians, and react to my supernatural elements as they probably would have, by coming up with wild theories and gadgets.
What made you settle on vampires, werewolves, and ghosts as your supernatural creatures?
For one thing, they fit so well in with the premise of the science of the soul. For another, they are all monsters with strong Victorian literature ties. I’ve read a lot of Gothic lit over the years. Those three monsters in particular strike me as quintessentially Victorian. So I decided to twist it around and explore a world where such supernatural creatures were accepted as part of society – what, then, becomes the monster?
How do you deal with the vampire canon? What “rules” did you decide to break or bend?
I went back to the roots of the western vampire mythology. My vampires are a parody of the original Gothic monsters while at the same time poking fun at the modern metamorphose. I try not to read too many modern vampire books, I don’t want to be influenced.
How did you come up with the idea of a vampire hive, with queens and drones?
I knew werewolf culture would be based on wolf pack dynamics and I wanted a similar animal organization structure for my vampires. I also wanted something that was predatory and opposite that of wolves: female dominant instead of male, and so forth. Given those strictures, bat colonies (the obvious option) wouldn’t work, nor would most birds. Wasp hive structures have always fascinated me so that seemed a natural choice.
Which group would you be most wary about causing offense to – the vampires or the werewolves?
With immediate effect – the werewolves. In the long term – definitely the vampires.
Once other nations begin to see what a powerful weapon the supernatural is for Britain, what is keeping them from following suit?
You are supposing that nations can think logically on such matters, which history has shown us is almost impossible. Humans, particularly in large numbers, are never logical.
In your universe, it’s deemed impolite for a vampire to attack you and drink your blood without a proper introduction. What happens when they attack you rudely?
Well, normally they simply don’t. (I shouldn’t talk about such things in polite society but there are perfectly adequate blood-whores available down Dockside if said vampire doesn’t have his own drones.) Vampires are very civilized, you see? In fact, much of the societal etiquette of the London ton is a result of Vampire influence. When the vampire attacks Alexia at the beginning of the series, she is shocked because it means there is something seriously wrong with him – he must be unwell or perhaps mad. Of course, then she accidentally kills him. Big. Fat. Oops.
How does Queen Victoria feel about vampires and werewolves in London?
Queen Victoria has a Shadow Council of supernatural creatures which meets twice a week. She relies on a vampire adviser for assistance with espionage operations and political intrigue, and a werewolf adviser for guidance in the arena of military tactics. She uses ghosts as spies. In turn, the supernatural set is well aware that England is one of the few places in the world where they can exist openly. Therefore, they are heavily invested in keeping the British Empire strong, healthy, and ever expanding.
Parasols were such a ubiquitous item for a fashionable young lady in the Victorian age and they do make a most excellent weapon, especially if you are inclined to bashing people atop the head. How could I resist? Also “parasol” is such a delicious word.
Have you considered writing any prequels about the history of the vampires and werewolves and how they became accepted in Great Britain?
I’d love to write a bit about Alexia’s father, but to go as far back as the beginning of supernatural acceptance, I doubt it. That would be during the time of the Tudors, not a period of history that greatly interests me, and more clockpunk than steampunk. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind.
How much are you influenced by actual Victorian literature?
I borrow a lot from traditional Gothic literature tropes. Soulless was loosely basted on a Gothic romance model. Changeless is more of a Gothic mystery. Blameless uses a lot of Victorian boy’s adventure. Heartlessborrows a bit from Sherlock Holmes and the cozies. Timeless is intended to be travel journal-esque. The Finishing School books owe a lot to Tom’s Midnight Garden, the Borrowers, and A Little Princess.
What are you most proud of about your books? And is there a serious underlying theme that you hope readers will pick up on?
I’m most proud that these books combine so many different sub-genres without really offending most readers. I’d rather they were not taken seriously. I’m hoping they bring people joy. I like to think my books are more like a nice cup of tea than a three-course meal. That said, I suspect, whether I like it or not, there are underlying themes. Tolerance and loyalty, for example, are key in all my writing. Also, I tend to write pragmatic women who are capable in their own right but accomplish things with the help of others. I’m not one for the “solitary tough guy against the universe” plot. Alexia, Sophronia, and Rue are all strong, but a good deal of their strength comes, as each series progresses, from a growing band of friends, particularly other women.
Mad scientists are the villains in Soulless and the Finishing School series, which invokes Dürrenmatt’s play “The Physicists“, questioning ethics in science.
In this aspect I was parodying Gothics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which represented a switch from fear of religious monsters (for example, moral corruption like that in The Monk) to the demonization of science and the creatures it could produce. However, if you look at some of my other books you’ll realize that I myself am not entirely supportive of this demonization. It is not the science itself that is at fault, but a lack of ethical grounding. My real fear, and the thing my characters are always battling in society, is obsession. What’s bad about my evil scientists is not their science, but obsession with that science, allowing them to take it too far. InChangeless, for example, I vilify obsession with immortality. In Blameless, I tackle religious obsession. InCurtsies & Conspiracies it’s obsession with stopping the bad guys.
What are your views on regulations on science and scientists? Do you see such dangers (both in the form of mad scientists and overly strict regulations) in today’s science?
In today’s society I genuinely believe to become a scientist you should also have a proper grounding in epistemology and ethics. Our greatest flaw as scientists is not in our scientific knowledge, but in our understanding of human behavior and its historical relationship to science. Just to be fair, I believe politicians and businessmen should have the same training.
If you lived in your world, what do you think you’d like most about it?
The fashion, without a doubt. I take any excuse to dress up. It’s one of the reasons I feel so lucky to write in the steampunk genre, there’s an a aesthetic component to all steampunk conventions and I get to bring out my favorite costumes.
In Which Gail Answers a Whole Mess of Worldbuilding Questions that are very specific and SPOILER ALERT for the Parasol Protectorate series!
CHARACTERS IN GENERAL
Outrageous supporting characters abound in your books (Ivy Hisselpenny, Lord Dingleproops). Which one(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
Well, I love writing Madame Lefoux because I really want her to be likable but even I don’t trust he,r which makes her a delightful challenge. Vieve is fun because she is a child, before her heart has been broken by the world, wise but innocent. Dimity is mostly outrageous and silly, but has a strong backbone of intelligence and wit. The twins are so grumpy with one another yet loyal and loving to Rue. It’s too hard to pick only one!
Who is your favorite character in the books and why?
I adore Lord Akeldama because he is so deliciously fun – all that mad italic–wielding action. I’m under the impression you need only read him to understand why.
Which was the hardest to write and why?
Madame Lefoux. Felix. Miss Sekhmet. Preshea. I think because their motives are often in question.
If you could meet any characters in your book, who would it be and why?
Either Professor Lyall, because he has hidden depths and wears a waistcoat of plenty, or Soap, because he’s so very adorable, or Percy because he is so smart.
If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
Good gracious no! Victorian London, even with the supernatural mucking about, is no place for an independently minded female with a mad passion for exotic foodstuffs. That said, if I could actually be Lord Akeldama I might be tempted. I’d enjoy leading such an outrageous life.
You’ve said your life is filled with colorful people, and they crept into your stories. What else has inspired your characters?
I love the ridiculous, in life, in literature, in television. Like most authors, I find myself borrowing from any or all of these places when building characters. I don’t like to be too stereotypical, if you continue to read my books you will find I have built up some archetypes initially that I take great glee in tearing apart in subsequent books. I do find myself, now, stopping in the middle of a book or a movie I’m enjoying, stepping back and thinking: “I really love/hate this character, why? What qualities annoy/amuse me? What’s the trick?” It can get a bit aggravating, because it’s hard to simply immerse myself and be entertained these days.
If you were to attend a party along with all your characters, which one would you hope to be seated next to at dinner?
Lord Akeldama on one side, Lady Linette on the other, and Quesnel across the way! Even if they talked nothing but frivolities, they would highly entertaining frivolities.
Is there anyone in particular whose presence would be so horrifying to prompt you to (discreetly, of course!) switch their place card with another if you found it next to your seat?
Hmm, I don’t think so. I tend to find most of my characters intriguing in some manner or another. I’m not sure I could tolerate an entire dinner next to Countess Nadasdy or the Duke, but even they can be charming – if in a pleasant mood.
How do you pick the names of your characters?
On a very few occasion the character will choose his/her own name, but most of the time my names are cookies, that is: a reward for the careful reader. The name either tells readers something about the character, where he came from, her real identity, his true purpose, or relate to someone historical (Tarabotti), or are some kind of hint or foreshadow (Akeldama). I love names so I play with them whenever possible.
Of all the characters you’ve created, which one would you like to see more people cosplay?
Ivy Hisselpenny without a doubt. Also after this next book comes out, I’m hoping to see more of both Anitra & Tasherit. I also really love crossplay, I’m always excited to see that with my characters.
ALL ABOUT MAIN CHARACTERS
Tell us a bit about Alexia Tarabotti.
Alexia is a spinster coping with a vast number of embarrassing problems: she has Italian heritage (and looks it), she reads too much, and she has no soul. When she accidentally kills a vampire she has to tame a large werewolf 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. (Alexia Character Study Board)
Alexia has no soul – what does she find most inconvenient about these unusual circumstances?
Well, she will turn supernatural creatures mortal when she touches them, which can be terribly embarrassing, not to say fatal, for said creatures. It also means that on several occasions certain baser elements of society are actively trying to kill her, without proper introduction – so rude. One side effect of her soulless state is that Alexia is very practical in her approach to such trifling inconveniences as death threats. She tends to cope with most problems (including said werewolf partner) by either bashing them over the head with her parasol, or talking at them, with equally disastrous results.
Are there any other implications of not having a soul in Soulless, aside from its scientific effects?
The biggest side effect of being soulless is pragmatism. This makes Alexia both typical and wildly atypical for a female of the Victorian era. The atypical aspects come from the fact that, being soulless, she simply sees the world differently. She also has absolutely no creative skill and very little imagination. However, because of her pragmatism she recognizes these flaws in herself and tends to surround herself with friends, intentionally or subconsciously, who compensate for her own inabilities. Alexia is not one of those heroines who charges forth, one woman against the machine. She seeks out advice, travels in company, and gets things done by committee, that’s also a side effect of her lack of soul.
I appreciated how Alexia was able to have a certain amount of freedom because of her mother having given up hope of her landing a husband with her long nose and Italian heritage. Was this your first choice for this device?
Alexia is Italian because of her name. That is to say, when I was coming up with the character I found that name and everything simply followed after. I’ve had a love affair with Italy since I excavated there, so it was a natural choice for me. As to the nose and the skin, I knew she had to be atypical in appearance (and attitude and thought) so I could have her a spinster. Also, I don’t like to write beautiful main characters, they’re boring.
Tell us about Sophronia.
Sophronia is a smart observer of society, she’s interested in how people think and why they do what they do. She likes to surround herself with drama but not engage it directly, like the quiet center of a storm. As a result she becomes all too good at espionage and manipulation, possibly to the detriment of relationships. This might explain why people are constantly throwing food at her.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Sophronia?
I remember my own high school experience much more clearly than I thought I would. It’s surprisingly easy to regress 20 years. Either that or I never quite grew up.
Why write Prudence and what inspired her?
Prudence is basically the college years, off on her own, away from her family. She is figuring out herself, how to lead, all the while building a new family of her own choosing and exploring new worlds and ideas. I actually always had her in mind, from the very beginning of Soulless I knew I wanted to write a metanatural.
What are their personal pet peeves when it comes to ill–mannered behavior?
Introductions are very important to Alexia, as are good table manners, well–behaved children, and respect for the social order. Sophronia is more malleable, but she mistrusts anyone who is too forthright.
Do you ever find yourself frustrated by a can–do heroine?
Never. This is my favorite kind of character to write – practical to a fault, capable in a crisis, frustrating to the other characters around her, and all too often getting herself into impossible situations out of sheer nerve. It can be a little annoying trying to write myself out of the corner they have gotten the plot into, but they are so rich in friends, they have help in times of dire need.
Why this time period for such feisty heroines?
Every protagonist needs something to struggle against, and an entire societal framework is a good start. Alexia acts quite the proper English gentlewoman and isn’t inclined to buck the system, yet by her very nature she is driven to unconsciously subvert it. Sophronia, younger and middle class, is more able to sit outside society, and see its flaws and dark underbelly. She is trained to become a spy partly because of this ability. The more she learns the more she mistrusts, so that she can subvert society, knowingly. And Rue? Ah well, she’s another story entirely. She fits too easily into her corner of the aristocracy and feels constricted as a result.
Are you anything like your main characters, personality–wise?
I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I might incriminate myself.
Do you think your main characters would change their states if given the chance?
No. I think, aside from a few difficulties society has imposed upon them with respect to appearance and income, all my main characters are happy with themselves, their strange abilities, and the functional overtones that have resulted with respect to character and place in society. For me, strength comes from confident self worth, the same is true in my characters.
How do you decide on your protagonist’s names?
Alexia’s and Sophronia’s first names just came to me. They seemed right. Rue’s name is a point of contention in the Parasol Protectorate series and a great title for her first book, Prudence, since she is, in no way, prudent. Alexia’s last name, Tarabotti, is actually an ode to the deliciously named early renaissance proto–feminist Archangelica Tarabotti.
Tell us about Lord Maccon, alpha werewolf.
Lord Maccon is large and bumbling and used to getting his own way. He’s only recently been integrated into London society and is still experiencing difficulty adapting, no one is quite sure if this is because he’s a werewolf or because he’s Scottish. I’ve described him in the past as the kind of man who would probably rip out your throat, if he could just remember what that other thing was he wanted to do first. He hates to wear cravats and sings very bad opera in the bathtub. His feelings toward Alexia are generally rather overwrought, dominated mainly by aggravation. (Lord Maccon Character Study Board)
You have lots werewolf love interests in your books, as opposed to the popular vampire, why?
In all honesty, I don’t find vampires that sexy. I like the idea of a hero who’s kind of scruffy and buffoonish and a little lost in his beast–nature, rather one who is all sleek and urbane. Also, the ability to change shape has always appealed to me. I find the rough and tumble of a pack mentality easier to write, probably because it’s closer to my own relationships.
Several imagined cast lists have popped up for a film of the Parasol Protectorate. Who would you choose?
In short, Alexia = Gina Bellman, Lord Maccon = Sean Bean, Professor Lyall = Kevin McKidd, Lord Akeldama = Paul Bettany, Madame Lefoux = Audrey Tautou. For more on the subject you can see me Cast the Movie of Soulless. Facebook group discussion on the subject. Others casting. Alexia put to the vote.
Are there any other characters from other author’s novel, who will appear in your books?
No. I shamelessly incorporate actual historical people, or in some cases their relations, but I don’t borrow fictional ones.
What would Lord Akeldama think of Twitter or Facebook?
Lord Akeldama would prefer Tumblr. The name alone. But he might spout Oscar Wilde style witticisms on Twitter. In fact he does occasionally, under my feed. He also hijacks my blog to use as an advice column. What can I say? He’s hard to control.
Soap is black, how was it writing a character of color in the Victorian Era?
Soap is Sophronia’s touchstone to the worst parts of the Victorian class system. He is also, by nature, her moral compass and her comfort. I wanted to write a character who was far more complex than his skin color and working class state, and who could rise above how both aspects attract, repel, and intrigue Sophronia. Soap is simply himself, Soap. You’ll have to decide, as readers, whether you think I succeeded in writing someone more that just a character of color or not.
But I love Felix too. Why?
Felix is everything I wanted to love when I was in high school ~ attractive, cheeky, darkly troubled, wealthy, slightly evil, loving, and prone to wearing eye make up. He’s darn near perfect, which is what makes him so dangerous to Sophronia.
What is steampunk?
Steampunk is a re–imagining of either the past or the future where steam technology never died, electricity never dominated, and a Victorian aesthetic overshadows all. Think hot air balloons flying to the moon.
What’s with all the dirigibles?
I think dirigibles (and other types of airships) are particularly appealing to writers of steampunk because they show the reader the alternate nature of the author’s world. They represent the slow majestic dignity, and slight ridiculousness, of an alternate past that never was.
What was it that drew you to steampunk?
My Mum is a tea–swilling ex–pat. 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, several months in London, and years of graduate school in Nottingham. It was this, plus I adore the Victorian era (particularly the clothes). I used to make hoopskirts out of my hula–hoops as a child. I also love the maker’s side of steampunk – technology you can see working, rather than little iPods with all their functionality secreted away.
What is it about steampunk lit that particularly excites you?
The Victorian Gothic literature movement saw the birth of science fiction. The current steampunk literary movement is a weird kind of full circle, taking sci–fi back to its roots, and I love that.
What are the pitfalls of getting published in this genre?
There is a lot of England–centric steampunk out there. I believe people are interested in seeing steampunk throughout the Empire, as well as some that deals with the more disenfranchised elements of British society.
Why did you choose a Victorian era setting and how is your steampunk unique?
I’m comfortable writing within the Victorian Era due to a voracious love of Victorian literature, too many BBC costume dramas, and ten years participating in the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. My steampunk world is unique because it doesn’t depict a dystopian future–past but instead a cheerful lighthearted one.
Can you clarify for me which aspects of your books are considered steampunk?
My world is steampunk: an alternate 1800s England with new and different mechanicals, evil scientists, and attack automatons. The integrity of the alternative world is held together by the simple fact that I play by my own Victorian science rules, no magic. I suppose some might call my books steampunk–light. Would that be fluffy–cloud–punk?
Where do you see steampunk going?
Steampunk is unique in that it isn’t entirely literary – it has ties to the green movement, the maker community, historical reenactment societies, and the fashion world. Should it crest in popularity within all of these different areas at the same time, steampunk might well rise to the forefront of world counterculture. But I don’t think that is likely to occur. Right now, I believe it has immense escapist appeal. With real life in chaos, steampunk offers up an alternative lifestyle of sedate civilized behavior. Do I see that lasting? Probably not, but then no one attributed urban fantasy with much staying power either, so I continue to hope.
If you could pick one mainstream author to jump ship and write steampunk, who would it be and why?
I’d like a respected modern literary writer to tackle the genre with some class, pride, and dignity. How aboutMargaret Atwood? Here’s the stickler, I’d also like her to admit openly that it is steampunk, and that steampunk means genre fiction – no shame, no anti–genre marketing campaign.
Can you think of a non–steampunk book that could be rewritten and make a good steampunk book?
Lawrence of Arabia? Truthfully? I’d rather see original writers and debut authors take steampunk in new and different directions. How about traveling to India, China, or Africa? I melded my steampunk with urban fantasy, how about some steampunk crime fiction? The possibilities are endless – and so shiny and well dressed.
What exactly is steampunk fashion?
It’s essentially the visual equivalent of the lovechild of a BBC costume drama and Hot Topic. You can find more about it in my fashion blog, Retro Rack.
Your books feature a lot of steampunk technology, how much of that is based on existing technology, and how much of it is your own creation?
I’d say it’s about 50/50. I like to sneak in crazy Victorian gadgets that actually existed whenever I can, or modify them to suit my needs. Some of the technologies in my books are built out of flawed Victorian scientific theory that I made work. Some are more modern. There’s a cable transport in Blameless based off experimental US military research from the Korean War. The rest of the time I make things up.
I love your descriptions of steampunk invention ~ are you a tech-savvy person?
I’m a terrible neophyte and a very reluctant adopter of new technology. However, I am lucky enough to number many tech-savvy individuals in my life. Sometimes I will call up one of my techie or RPG friends with a plot problem that needs a steampunk solution. “I need the invention to do this, but to have these limitations, and this kind of size. Any ideas? Oh and it should be funny.”
In addition to steampunk there’s dieselpunk, atompunk, and a whole lot of other punks running around threatening to make people’s lives fabulous. Why are all these punks suddenly so appealing?
Part of the appeal, I think, has to do with our own sense of chaos and impending doom. This often causes people to look back and seek a time that was more ridged and controlled, full of polite manners and forms of address. Steampunk has the advantage of being connected to an aesthetic that incorporates the maker movement and even the green movement. I think that is a large part of its charm.
What are the ingredients for a good steampunk novel?
There is a delicate balance to steampunk. Writers must research the language of the day. However, getting too flowery and Victorian can make a story inaccessible to the modern reader. It is hard to make everyone happy. There are always going to be readers who want hard science–orientated steampunk and others who can’t wade through all that technobabble. I like to say I write steampunk–light – a gateway drug, if you will. I also feel you can’t go wrong with comedy, that’s always lacking, even in the broader genres of SF/F, romance, horror, and mystery (steampunk has been classified under any of the above).
Which Gothic novels have influenced your writing?
I like the early Gothics: Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk, and later, of course, Austen’s lovely parody in Northanger Abby. I can take or leave most of the romantics, although I’ll borrow their archetypes and mock them openly on a whim. Many of the Victorian classic Gothics annoy me, although I do love Jane Eyre and anything by Poe (particularly Fall of the House of Usher). I tend to prefer to read lighter fair from that time period. Later on, Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray is deliciously creepy, but in the end I would say I’m more influenced by his playbill humor. I suspect this is because I write spoofs and not actual Gothic literature. As for steampunk, I do borrow from Wells and Verne but not directly, more for atmosphere than anything else.
Which are the Gothic tropes you utilize in your own writing?
I only dabble in the terror/horror side of things, and usually interrupt it with macabre humor whenever possible. I like the mystery and supernatural elements, so they are always pretty strong. Readers will see the haunted house/Gothic architecture/castle thing pop up occasionally. Most of the action takes place at night, because of the conceits of my universe, but again I will break a description with comedy and because of my main character’s snarky take on life things never get too dark. I do borrow character archetypes, mostly to turn the into caricatures I can break down later: human eve, evil eve, and innocent eve all pop up and then get messed with. I don’t use a lot of Byronic heroes, so I guess you could say my men are more modern romance archetypes of alpha/beta. Although Lord Akeldama and Biffy together share the role of mocking Byron as he actually was in real life. I avoid both the arte of the supernatural (magic and the occult) and cencepts of angels/demons/devil. I feel the steampunk element replaces these tropes with science and pseudo–science, secret societies, and dastardly experiments.
Are there any Gothic novels you would recommend to your readers?
I always suggest the Cask of Amontillado, which I think of as Poe’s best and cleanest work.
Please speculate as to what your characters and their relative relationships would be like had they been born in another time.
The Victorian side of steampunk is vital to my characters and to my enjoyment of writing them. I experience gleeful joy when taking modern tropes, a strong urban fantasy heroine, barbaric alpha male, flamboyant San Francisco gay man, and making them play nice within an 1800’s British class system. Suddenly my strong heroine has to cut more with her tongue than a knife, is worried about showing her ankles, and constantly seeks both a useful role in society and friends who value her intelligence and wit. My alpha male struggles against the rules of polite society and proper dress. My flamboyant gay vampire borrows from Oscar Wilde and the Scarlet Pimpernel, manipulating the threads of society over centuries, his relationships bittersweet and complex. I love the tension a Victorian world gives a modern mind set. All my characters are struggling to balance their true natures against the pressures of society. This gives me a conflict of culture to play with and nothing is more exciting to me as a writer. It helps that the clothing back then was so much more fabulous!
Writing: The Craft
GAIL AS WRITER
What made you be a writer?
A healthy dose of insanity mixed with a reckless disregard for my own survival topped with ingrained escapist tendencies.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be an archaeologist, writing was rather more like breathing, just something I did. A year after Soulless released, I realized I might actually have a career as a writer. I still haven’t recovered from the shock.
Was being an author always a goal for you?
You betcha. Along with sleeping in Pompeii, owning a motorcycle, traveling to Egypt, and eating guinea pig. Four out of five ain’t bad.
How did you begin writing?
My Mum used to read to me in bed and if I didn’t like the end of the book I would explain to her very carefully that the author got it wrong and then inform her of the real ending.
What made you decide to write YA?
I’ve always wanted to write YA because it is my favorite genre to read – I find it a joy and so easy to gobble up. I like the almost breezy sensation of writing this age bracket. I believe it suits my style, as I tend to comfortably finish a story at right about 75k ~ which is YA length.
What differences did you find in writing young adult as compared to adult?
I worked to create a more youthful and accessible voice and characters who would grow and change with the books. Sophronia has a different world view than Alexia. She’s private and introverted and must become more self actualized along the way by making new friends and discoveries. Her focus is on her immediate environment, less political, more personal.
Who helped you on your writing path?
I’m surrounded by support from all manner of loved ones, but I depend most on five beta readers. Everything I write goes by them first and has done so for almost two decades.
What was the first novel that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?
I believe I wrote a cerebral and undoubtedly allegorical novel about calico cats and flying carpets. It took me a couple of days and was, my mother claims, a masterpiece of modern literature. I was eight.
Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it’s something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
I suspect writing is more of a curse for those around me. I get distracted and spacey at the beginning of a project, frustrated in the middle, briefly euphoric at the end, and grumpy when I’m not writing at all. I imagine it’s like living with someone who has a six–month rotation of some bizarre pregnancy – all the time, over and over again.
Certain authors are renowned for writing at uncivilized times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
Oh, I’m nothing if not civilized. I conduct business in the mornings and then write from 2 to 7 pm every weekday – with breaks for tea. My policy is simply to hurl the nearest movable object at anyone who disturbed me. They eventually learn, even the cat.
When and where do you write?
I usually write the first draft at home or in my office, at my desk, in the afternoons. If I’m really struggling, a change of location helps, so I frequent a local coffee shop. I must hide away and do my second draft in an empty office, because I read the whole thing out loud. I usually red pen a hard–copy of the third draft on an airplane, things arrange it so I’m always traveling at that point in the writing process. I used to go over the copy edits with my best friend on the couch in her living room with much companion hilarity, these days I’m usually too rushed. You can also see my blog post on the subject of my desk and bribery system.
Could you describe your average day and writing practices?
I’m up at about 8:00 AM (I never used to be a morning person but something strange happened when I turned 30), make tea, eat breakfast, clean room, answer email, and check social media. Then some kind of exercize. Food. Other modes of procrastination like blogging. I start writing at about 2 and go until 6 or 7, which nicely covers teatime. Then it’s dinner, writing related business (conventions, contract reviews, longer email responses, interviews, guest blogs), and bed. Wash and repeat. Which reminds me, there is a shower in there, I promise.
Is there something that is a must have for you to be able to write?
Tea, wrist braces, my laptop, the companion world–building notebook of relevance, often chocolate.
At what point did you realized that you had “made it” as a writer?
When I walked into a bookstore store and saw Soulless on a shelf for the first time, there was sputtering.
What is the most memorable moment you have had in your life as an author?
Shortly after the ARC of Soulless was released I wandered into my local indy, Borderlands, and a lovely lady I didn’t know actually squeaked and bounced over to tell me that she really liked my book. I didn’t know what to do or say.
Sometimes pieces of music influence scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your story?
Nope. I’m a dancer. If music is playing I want to dance, not write.
What are your least favorite parts to write?
The nookie and the humor. It’s true what they say; it is harder to make people laugh than cry. With the smooching, I keep embarrassing myself.
What are your most favorite parts to write?
Anything that involves dialogue between outrageous or esoteric characters.
Tips against writer’s block?
Read something non–fiction that relates in some way to your writing. Writing SF? Read the latest Scientific American. Traditional fantasy? How about a book on medieval cooking? The other thing to do is to put a note in the margin, skip the part that is giving you trouble, and just keep writing.
Gail discusses writers block further.
How do you discipline yourself to write?
I use shameless bribery: cup of tea if I finish the chapter, sushi every 25k, new shoes when I finish the first draft. I also punish myself. If I haven’t made my word count I can’t watch TV. Not even Project Runway.
What about the writing process most appeals to you?
The first pass editing when I get to utterly eviscerate my own writing, and the last pass editing after I’ve totally forgotten what I wrote and I get to realize it isn’t as bad as I thought.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I pay very close attention to my friends when they’re drunk, but usually inspiration comes to me when I’m contemplating the absurdity of the universe and at the most inconvenient time – like in the shower.
Do you prefer hand writing or typing?
I am a child of my generation ~ I can’t even think with pen and paper anymore. I don’t write linearly. I need to be able to jump around erratically in the text as the mood strikes. I do make notes, however. There are bits of paper, post–it–notes, and scratch pads stashed all over my house, car, and purse. Yes car, I am ashamed to admit I write when I drive. Shush, just between us, my dear.
Are you a plot-er or a pants-er?
I’m a militant outliner, to the point where sometimes I plan for events to occur on specific page numbers. A Victorian era setting can get bogged down by social convention, so I have to watch pacing. I also came to writing via YA, so I like plot to be neat, tidy, and clear. I keep notebooks with timelines, chapter outlines, gadget listings, outfit & place sketches, battle scenes, historical research notes, and general ideas and inspiration. These also include cast lists and character profiles (once a character is written). Characters are one of the few things that aren’t planned. Sometimes a character will surprise me by becoming more important, or introducing himself/herself unexpectedly. They usually know what’s going on better than I do, so I let them do it in defiance of my outline.
It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is?
I don’t know that I would put it quite that way. I do think that writing a good short story is the pinnacle of the writing art. The only thing harder is writing a good funny short story.
Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instruction to learn the craft?
Only if you count many years as an academic, which taught me to respect deadlines. And growing up around poets, which taught me that it was impossible to make a living writing.
If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is? Please explain your answer.
Writing is the booze of introverts. My explanation? Have you ever been to a hotel bar at a convention? I rest my case.
Cast off the shackles of humility and tell us why you’re fantastic.
Oh kaaay… I don’t take myself too seriously. I can speak in public. I’m a real live archaeologist. I know a lot about tea, and I can slice a loaf of bread perfectly straight.
Any advice for future authors?
1. Sit your arse in that chair and write.
2. When you’re done writing only then do you get to edit.
3. Give it to three highly critical people to attack with red pens.
4. Fix it and submit it.
5. Let it go, sit your arse back down and write something else as different from the first as possible.
6. Wash and repeat.
What traits about yourself and your writing have you noticed since Soulless was published?
As a writer: I’m good with comedy, struggle with sentimentality, and dislike writing nookie.
Physically: As a dancer I find it difficult to stay still for the amount of time needed.
As a public figure: Because I was a professor, I’m one of those few authors who can handle speaking before a crowd without flinching. But I was not prepared for contact with fans and their expectations of me as a person.
As a small business person: Time management and overcommitment is the single hardest skill to master. Oddball income times and amounts are not friendly to the modern fiscal system.
Emotionally: Learning to say no and put people off when I have a deadline has been a challenge. Not just fans but inquiries for short story anthologies, interviews, even book proposals. Chances I would have jumped at only a year or so ago now have to get filed away under the “wait until the next novel is finished” heading. But there always seems to be a next novel.
Why do you like editing so much?
I like cleaning and throwing things out in general, from the closet to the fridge. I’m a bit of a purger by nature. Editing feels like it’s the way to turn my book into the best cleanest version that it could be.
You’ve mentioned you deliberately set out to subvert Campbell’s hero’s myth with the Demeter Myth – can you elaborate?
Women in ancient myths often accomplish their quests through the building and maintaining of friendships and family groups. They use networks to complete tasks on their journey. I think it’s a cultural problem that we often view this behavior as weak. We are obsessed with the idea that in order to succeed a hero/heroine must be strong and independent and act alone. All of my heroine’s greatest strengths are in their friends and their relationships. I always try to ensure that my stories highlight this fact.
What will readers learn about you from reading your books?
I think every author puts something of herself into each character. The question is: which bits? There are some underlying themes like strong willed women, benefits of practicality, tolerance of alternative lifestyles, and achieving goals with the help of friends that become stronger and stronger as my books progress. These are things important to me and like it or not they sneak in.
How do you plot character growth in such a way that they can develop without alienating readers?
I think no matter how different a character is from the reality of a reader’s life, she or he has touchpoints of sympathy. Sure Primrose is an uptight Victorian woman trying to come to terms with her romantic interest in other women, but she wants things other people want: children, family, responsibility, and home. She struggles with passion and love and purpose in life. I think there is something in her everyone can relate to.
WRITING THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE BOOKS
What did you enjoy most about the process of writing the Parasol Protectorate?
Building the world and creating the characters. The actual writing of these things down can be a bit frustrating: nothing appears on paper as prettily as I hope, nor as badly as I expect.
How long does it take for you to finish writing a book?
Six to eight months. Half the time writing and researching, the other half editing. Gail’s post explaining why writing a book so darn time consuming.
How did you come up with the title Soulless? Was it the original title?
Soulless was always the title, because it is one of the defining features of our heroine – she has no soul. I wrote the book to stand alone, and it was only later I realized editors were interested in a series. So the hardest part, for me, was coming up with the series title. I had a number of options and ended up polling friends, which resulted in the Parasol Protectorate.
What are some of the things that inspire you when writing this series?
Victorian primary sources, long motorcycle rides (and any other activity where there is no possible chance I could write anything down, sigh), talking to friends, listening to other friends when they’re drunk, that kind of thing.
You mentioned in an interview that you were uncomfortable with writing the more “adult” scenes in your book. Do you think it’s possible to write romance these days without including descriptive love–making? How do you decide on how many such scenes to include?
I include them where I feel they happen naturally. However, I don’t feel that a romance has to be graphic. My nookie scenes tend to be rather genteel. That is, you may notice I never refer to any indelicate bits by name. I like the traditional literary idea of romance, i.e. focusing on the relationship. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional erotica, just that I like to know that’s what I’m getting into.
You make a point of having Alexia turn to her friends to help overcome obstacles when many other authors shy away from that idea. Why do you think so many heroines are portrayed as either having no friends, or keeping secrets from the few they have, or continually sabotaging their platonic and romantic relationships?
I believe that is because many heroines are what I would call “skinned.” That is, they might be biologically female but they are gendered masculine. They are following the classic hero’s journey: withdrawal, isolation, return, boone, debt, etc . . . just like any hero of ancient mythology. They aren’t really women at all, they are men with boobs. Why do I think that is the case? Why do women still earn 80% on the dollar for the same job performed by a man? Why are there so few women CEOs? Why aren’t 51% of governments (or the rulers of the world for that matter) women? Because we women have better things to do, I suppose. Honestly? Because writers, like culture, are trapped in a paradigm of unoriginality.
You called Blameless “an absolute nightmare” to write. Why?
After I finished Blameless I realized many of the events were happening to Alexia, rather than her taking charge in her usual indomitable way. It was out of character and it bothered me, my beta readers, and my editor. At the eleventh hour I decided I really needed to fix it. In the space of two weeks I had to rewrite about 1/3 of the book. It was worth it, and it has become much stronger as a result, but what a pain!
How did you make the tone of each book in the series different?
I spoofed different kinds of Victorian literature: early romantic fiction, Gothic horror, boy’s adventure stories,Holmes-style cozy mystery, and ladies’ travel journal.
WRITING: RESEARCH, COMEDY & VOICE
What type of research did you have to do while writing steampunk?
I had a fair bit of expertise in certain aspects of the Victorian era (fashion, food, manners, literature, theatre, upper class courting rituals, antiquities collecting) when I started but great gaps in other areas that I quickly realized needed to be filled. I spent a lot of time researching the gadgetry and technology of the day, travel and communications techniques, medical and hard science advances, not to mention other things like major wars and military strategies, configuration of army regiments, geographical lay out of Victorian London (shops and streets names), newspapers, and government policies. I also looked into vampire and werewolf lore at the time. That’s the thing, you never know what information you are going to need until you need it, and inevitably the internet doesn’t have it. Since I’m writing alt history I can always disregard the facts, but I like to get it right first, before I mess with it. Even if it doesn’t make it into the book, it will irritate me if unwritten background information is flawed. Here is a blog about the sources I use when researching the Victorian Era.
What was the most enjoyable research you have undertaken for a book?
Food, anything related to food makes me happy. I once cooked an entirely Victorian meal just to see if I could and what it would taste like.
How important is it to you to add some comical relief to your stories?
Comic relief is absolutely vital, 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.
Not everything in your novels is about gimmicks, gadgets, outrageous characters and witty dialogue. You write some pretty poignant moments of sadness and introspection. Why mix funny with sad and serious? How do you decide when is a good time to switch?
There would be no humor without some balance on the other side. I wouldn’t want my books to be all one note. A little bit of serious talk or a sad situation makes even the most absurd of characters more realistic. I don’t believe it’s a conscious decision on my part, when to switch into serious, although I usually do consciously pull back out of it into comedy again. These moments happen because that is the path of the story, sometimes I feel like I have nothing to do with it.
How do you make your writing funny?
Mostly I take ridiculous characters and put them into absurd situations. I don’t know about you, but the times I find myself laughing the most are when I’m chatting with my friends. So, I use them ruthlessly as inspiration. My other tactic is when something comes up in the plot I ask myself not “what would my character do next?” but “what is the most bizarre solution to this problem?” Sometimes this backfires on me in a “too Douglas Adams kind of way” in which case I have to switch tactics and ask myself “what would PG Wodehouse do?”.
How do you go about successfully putting humor into words?
There are intrinsically funny words, situations, and characters so throwing any one of those into a scene always works. I watch and read a lot of comedy, and I’m always alert to funny things around me. I’ve developed an inconvenient tendency of stepping back while reading, watching, or talking and thinking, “Now,why was that funny?” I don’t necessarily copy the occurrence, but I do file it away as technique. I have an addiction to bad puns and ludicrous analogies, so sometimes I go overboard.
Did you ever find yourself writing a bit of dialog and reading it back to yourself thinking “Wow. That’s just TOO over the top…”?
Have you read my books? Uh. No. That said, I did get the reign–in from my editor on a certain bit of dialogue in Changeless. I neatly avoided the issue through judicious application of laudanum. (To my character, mind you, not my editor.)
The language you use is different than the modern day, is it difficult to stay in that voice throughout the writing process?
Actually, very difficult. I have to “climb into the voice” which can involve a lot of BBC costume dramas and a ban on reality TV. I tend to only allow myself to read original material when I’m writing a first draft. That is, lots of Dickens, and ladies’ journals from the 1800s, Victorian medical texts, etc.
How do you stay disciplined?
I have various little rituals designed to make me write. I’m like a little child ~ I work best on bribery. When I make it through my writing word count for the week (10,000) I can have a cupcake or a couple macaroons on the weekend. When I finish a rough draft I get to go out for sushi. But when a book comes out . . . I can buy a new pair of shoes. Take a peek at my Parasol Protectorate shoe rewards here.
Writing: The Business
- Hilarity in Misspelling Part I
- Hilarity in Misspelling Part II
- Gail’s blog post about what she does when she’s not writing.
- Gail has a blog post all about why it takes so long to write a book.
SELLING THE FIRST BOOK
I am currently working on my very first novel. It is a [fill in the blank] work and I am on my first draft. I was wondering how you went about finding a publisher and editor.
Here are a few quick tips:
- There are no easy answers. You can’t repeat someone else’s path. Every author’s road to publication is different. You’re going to have to do the slog just like we all did, I’m afraid.
- It took me over ten years to get my first novel published.
- There is help on the internet, there are also scams.
- The first thing you must do is finish the book. Don’t approach anyone until it is complete. You need to prove you can finish it, very few writers get that far.
- Then edit the hell out of it and be brutal.
- Then give it to people to critique (friends, relations, teachers). People who will give honest feedback. The more red pen marks the better. Get used to criticism, revel in it, love it.
- After that, do whatever you can to learn about finding an agent and a publisher. Research using SFWA and other watchdogs, join RWA, go to writer’s workshops, haunt the writer’s tracks at SF/F conventions, read agent blogs, author websites.
- Remember: money flows to the author.
- Most of us published authors put the hard time in and did the research, spent hours working online, collected hundreds of rejections.
- Be stubborn.
- Good luck!
Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
I had a stunning debut at age eight with a brilliant saga of calico cat who goes adventuring on a flying carpet. Sometime after that, I hit high school with a vengeance, producing several acclaimed exposés on the nature of Roman battle tactics. Sadly, I hit a real low spot during my university years concentrating on rightly snubbed short lived treatises on gender dynamics in Ancient Greek plays. Yeah, Soulless would be my debut.
When and why did you decide to become a published author?
My best friend had a short story accepted when she was 15. I figured if she could do it, so could I. Two years later I sold a short to the same market. She now works in the publishing industry, so I’m still trailing behind.
How long did it take you to write your first published book?
It took me three months to write and three months to edit. I wanted to write a light–hearted romantic urban fantasy in a steampunk setting because that was the book I wanted to read, and no one else was writing it. I figured it would never sell because it was dabbling in far too many sub–genres. I was genuinely shocked when I got the call. And then … they wanted a series.
How long did it take you to get published?
Soulless is the third book I seriously tried to sell. It took me ten years to give up on the last one, but this one got a nibble within two months. It then took two years to wend its way through the publishing process.
Did you sell Soulless right away, or did you get a lot of rejections?
I got a few agent rejections, but the first open slush I sent it to, the editor called me out of the blue. That was about two months after I mailed it. You could have knocked me down with a feather I was so surprised. Nothing moves that fast in the publishing industry, except copy–edit deadlines. I’d been trying for almost 10 years to get other projects published, so I’d sent it out expecting to get rejections. Frankly, I was rather shocked anyone wanted to buy it. I figured marketing would put the royal slap down on any book with no obvious category or demographic or shelf position. Luckily editors liked it enough anyway. I think the word most often used was “charming.”
What was your elevator pitch?
Soulless is Jane Austen does urban fantasy meets PG Wodehouse does steampunk. It features a soulless spinster confronting Queen Victoria’s grumpy werewolf investigator over the issue of lisping vampires.
How about your query letter?
My agent compares and contrast my query letter with the one she ended up using on publishing houses.
How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel?
Counting both agents and editors? My first book (which remains unsold and unsellable) collected at least fifty rejections over six years. As a result, I developed my “let it go, sit your arse back down, and write something else different” rule. During those six years I’d managed to sell a few short stories which made me realize editors only wanted comedy from me. So I wrote Soulless.
What were you doing the moment that you found out that Soulless had sold?
I was drinking a latte at a favorite local cafe. There might have been sputtering and a certain amount of foam loss.
Who did you tell first? How did you celebrate?
I called my mum. I celebrated by buying shoes and eating sushi – I’ve now done this for each successive sale. I’m collecting both stilettos and mercury poisoning – but what a way to go.
How did you go from writing the original idea to a publishing contract?
It took me two months to write a rough draft, another month to do some additional research and modifications, and then three to edit. I had five – yes five! – beta readers and an exhaustive editing process. After making beta–driven corrections, I sent the manuscript out. I didn’t tinker with it further. If allowed, I will go up to 22 drafts, so I just don’t let myself. Much to my shock, Soulless got scooped out of the slush pile in under two months. With possible contract to hand, I queried my first choice agent and she said yes. Contract negotiations commenced.
Was it difficult to go through the process of publishing your first novel?
Some aspects were challenging and some were frustrating but never the parts I expected. In the end, looking back, I was pretty lucky.
Did you learn anything about the process that you wish you’d known beforehand?
Lots of terms that I won’t bore you with here (like in house copy), a few behavior modifications, and one or two “better luck next times”. The one specific thing I feel compelled to pass on to budding authors is: the response when you get The Call, even if you have no agent, is: “Thank you so much for your interest, let me pass you along to my agent.” Nothing more.
What misconceptions did you have about the publishing industry when you started?
Not a lot, I eased into the industry slowly and I did my homework. I attended every panel and visited every website I could on how to get published in the SF/F genre and what it was like. I also hit most publishing problems I could in a rather convenient sideways manner through a stint in educational print in Australia. Fifteen years later, I still made some mistakes when the Call came, but fewer than most, I hope.
Getting published is a daunting task. What specific challenges did you face?
I was in the enviable position of first having to choose between two agents, and then having to choose between two houses. Outside of giving up on my PhD, these were the two hardest decisions of my life. But, believe me, I know I could have much worse problems.
How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
Sheer unadulterated stubbornness. I reviewed books professionally, so also knowing what kind of crap wasgetting published gave me hope.
Between the cover and the tag line (“A Novel of vampires, werewolves and parasols”) I had to haveSoulless. Did you pen the tag line?
You know, I think the tag line is all Orbit’s doing. I did, however, have a hand in the cover. Very few authors are so lucky.
How did these books get their wonderful covers?
Well, let me tell you all about it . . . (And, if you are interested in my opinion on cover art in the urban fantasy genre I have a blog about that too.)
AFTER THE FIRST BOOK
In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
The worst aspects of writing professionally are the long interminable waits between submission and publication, and the fact that payment comes in lump sums in an utterly unreliable and unpredictable manner.
What tricks and secrets do you have for keeping yourself engaged writing one book after another?
I believe consistency is important. One doesn’t have to do much, but playing in the fantasy universe of a series every day keeps the creative instincts honed, even if it’s only a blog post or giving a quiz to a character. For those budding authors who want to write a series to sell, I have one big tip: don’t. Write the first book, try and sell that, but don’t waste time on any other books in the series. Instead write the first book in an entirely different series, then try and sell that one.
Orbit posted a nifty video on the making of your Blameless book cover, if we promise not to tell – which is YOUR favorite cover?
I’m a terribly fickle mistress, I tend to love the one I’m with. That said, I adore Paris in the background ofBlameless and the gargoyle. Everything is better with a gargoyle, don’t you feel? I think my favorite purely on aesthetics is the second Omnibus with the sepia tones.
Do you have any writing tucked away that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
Who doesn’t? Luckily, I never finished any of the novels, bad habit of my youth, and I’ve recognized the pathetic nature of the poor short stories. They live happily together in a little file marked “Coffin.” And I may write paranormals, but I don’t do zombies.
Will we see these great characters on the big screen?
I’m not opposed to the idea, it would certainly be lots of fun. But you know how Hollywood can be.
What are your thoughts on the fan–fiction phenomenon?
I have a lot of thoughts, so many I did a blog post, you can check it out if you’d like.
THE GAIL CARRIGER BRAND
Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
Partly, but that’s mostly an excuse to have a second wardrobe full of the vintage dresses I always wanted but never had an excuse to wear.
You seem to have taken a vigorous approach to self–marketing.
Ah, yes, the result of over exposure to the podcasting community, I suspect. That, plus the fact that my publishing houses have been really supportive of my crazy schemes. It’s kind of the way I am ~ awful bouncy, enthusiastic, and outgoing for an author. I think they decided I was presentable because they often put me on book tours and in front of crowds, rare for an author these days.
What strategies have you been using?
I like new media and I enjoy internet socialization which shows. I don’t feel like it’s a task to meet new people online or in real life. That frees my publishing house up so be experimental. For Soulless Orbit had this amazingly awesome paper doll game made. One of my podcasting buddies, who’s a killer audio producer, did a full cast audio drama of the first chapter. I pulled my mom and some actor friends together and got Orbit’s permission to put the resulting audio up for free. Podcaster friends dropped it into their feeds. I also tend to think outside the genre norm, I’ve gotten permission to leave book business cards at my chiropractor’s office, at historical dance events, and in a corset–making booth. Why not? They all read too.
Does this explain your online success?
A lot of it has been propinquity ~ right place, right time, right people. A lot has been my friends: I’m peculiarly rich in that regard and shamelessly tapped into their skill sets for everything from website design to jewelry making to business card production to cover modeling. And a lot has been the good will of strangers – librarians, booksellers, and reviewers find me easily on the net, and I try to respond to questions or compliments promptly and politely. I’m not ashamed to ask people for help, and I put myself out there enough to hope people know they can come to me too and I’ll pay it forward. If I can make it as an author, I’m dragging as many of them with me as possible ~ loyalty is important to me. I still have more up my sleeve too: contests, book launch parties, signings, trade shows, that kind of thing. Books may be out, but that’s no reason to stop having fun..
For what age do you write?
To the best of my knowledge, my youngest reader is 8 and the oldest is 95. The language is Victorian in tone but modernized to be more comfortable than, for example, Dickens might be for a young reader. These make great gateway books for Austen. While Soulless did win an Alex Award it is not intentionally young adult. There is violence (generally comical) and nookie (not overly explicit) so if you are concerned please skim through the text first yourself. That’s one of the many reasons I wrote my Finishing School series, which is intended for a YA audience.
How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?
The two best things about writing in the internet age is the ability to met ones readers and provide insight into the world that does not fit in the books. I treat my website as a place for DVD extras, there are sketches of outfits, sources for research into the Victorian era and a whole window into the steampunk social movement.
Who are your fans and what feedback have you got from them?
I have been very lucky in my fans, they love to pimp my books and are so enthusiastic. I also have a number of bookseller and librarian fans who go to great lengths to make certain everyone knows about me. Mine are the kind of fans who dress up for book signings, bringing parasols and hats along. Online or in person, they always have great questions which, on more than one occasion, has caused me to make a note for future books. The books often make their way around families too, from wives to husbands, from daughters to mothers (or visa versa). And there seems to be developing a marvelous tradition of groups of young ladies taking my books out to high tea and then sending me pictures. I ask for feedback all the time in the form of comments or polls or via my newsletter.
When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?
The first time I visited the LA area (on tour for my second book, Changeless) I had a reading. I didn’t know until that moment that I had actual fans. But as I snuck through to the back of the bookstore, I saw a crowd sitting patiently waiting for me. Patiently, that is, except one small contingent of about a handful of ladies. They were being patient . . . in their way. It’s just that “their way” involved amazing hats and costumes, and putting their parasols open and up and bobbing them up and down, giggling madly. When I close my eyes and think about my readers, I always see that scene in my head. At some point that day someone said, “I love Gail’s readers, all the women are outrageous and all the men a polite.” I love that.
How much of a distraction do you find social media? How do you balance the chance to connect with fans with the need to meet deadlines?
A terribly big distraction. But they have also been very good to me. I try to be pretty self disciplined. When I have a draft due and a deadline I spend about two hours on social media every week day, no more. I do things like schedule my tweets ahead of time, or hold off on blogging to save time. If I’m really doing badly, I remove myself to a cafe that has no wifi. It’s a really hard thing to balance because I want to be accessible, but I also need to write the next book. Luckily, they are pretty understanding when I go dark. The hardest thing is the guilt, when someone takes the time to write to me I feel awful if I don’t write back immediately.
How important is being involved in the Fantasy/SciFi con circuit for an author who wishes to be published?
Vital both before publication and after. Let me try to explain. Before publication: being involved in the community of a genre (mystery, romance or SF/F) can give you a chance to avoid common pitfalls and debut mistakes. Conventions taught me everything from how to write a query letter to how to relate to agents and editors. They also gave an opportunity to observe author behavior and fan interaction on panels and at parties. In other words, I learned the type of author I wanted to be as a public figure, as well as a writer. After publication, conventions have had an added benefit – author friends. Writing is very isolating and it is invaluable to have other authors to talk to, both about the craft and about the business. Many of these friends are on the same career path as me, so we can compare rights sales, discuss our respective fan experiences, and generally help each other out.
What steps do you take to make sure your audio books are so engaging?
I was raised on audio books, without a TV, so I think of my stories as being told around a fireplace late at night. When I’m writing a new book I always like to do one revision where I read the whole book, out loud, to an empty room. I find it helps me catch errors, but also smooths the voice and cadence of my own style and use of words. For my indie projects, where I have complete control of the narrator, I’m really careful about who I pick and I hire a really fastidious producer to make certain the audio quality is really high. I’m a bit of a nerb about it, actually.
What advice do you have for other writers who want to create audio versions of their stories?
Unfortunately this is one part of the process where most of us authors really have to spend a lot of money to get a quality product. Unless you yourself are a voice actor/podcaster with years of experience and a quality studio, I advise (strongly) against narrating the book yourself. Audio is a different medium, and I believe a professional narrator should be involved to make your writing shine, not to mention a producer.
Age when you decided to be a writer: I never wanted to be a writer. I just wrote. That’s like asking when did I decide breathing was a good idea.
Age when you “wrote” you first story: Probably right around the time I started stringing sentences together.
Age when you got your hands on a typewriter: 3. My Dad had this wonderful old 1950’s monstrosity he would let me bash at. I blame it for this mad passion I have for keyboards that make the appropriate clicking noise.
Age when you wrote your first novel: 15
Novels written between age 4 and age 34: Completed? 4 Incomplete? 20 or so.
Age when you first submitted a short story to a magazine: 15
Thickness of file of rejection slips prior to first story sale: Oh, not very thick, it was perhaps my 10th submission.
Age when you sold your first short story: I got my first sale pretty young, around 17, I think. I got $10 and 2 contributor’s copies – ahoooohah.
Age when you first came close to selling a novel: 28 was my first kid’s book sale, but that was work for hire so I don’t think it counts. 29 was my first positive response from a publisher.
Age when you killed your first market: 25 I think? Sword & Sorceress was the one. It’s revived but not really.
Age when you were first told you had no talent (by an editor): No one in the business has been that nasty… to my face. Though the trolls are not so reticent. I do still have, burned into my memory, the image of my two favorite teachers taking me aside in high school to say I would never amount to anything if I didn’t learn to spell. Still hurts. And I still can’t spell.
Age you were first told you had no talent (by a reader): 34
Age when you first sold a poem: What is this “poem” of which you speak?
Age when you wrote a sellable novel: 30
Age when that novel was published: 33
Age when the second sellable novel finally sold: Same as the first: 32. My original deal was for 2 books.
Age when a work was first shortlisted for a Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy or Stoker award: 33 and it’s the Campbell.
Age when the second sellable novel came out: 33
Age when the third sellable novel came out: 34
Age when you first won a Hugo award: Given the frivolous nature of my writing this is highly unlikely.
Age when you finally shut down the day–job and became a full–time novelist: 32, and boy is it cool.
Age when the money coming in matched/exceeded my previous employment: 32 (I used to be a graduate student archaeologist!)
Number of titles in print: If you include foreign editions, I’ve lost count.
Number of titles fallen out of print: 0. Bet I never get to say that again.
Gail as Reader
If you could ask any author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
Oh that’s an easy one, Aeschylus. I’d ask him to tell me all about his lost plays. He is thought to have written some 90 plays of which only 6 survive. One of the greatest tragedies of the burning of the Library of Alexandria.
Any author influence you as a child?
Many, many authors have influenced me, but I was raised by an expat on British YA (that’s all the YA there was, back then) like The Water Babies, Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers, The Railway Children, and so forth. I wonder sometimes if my mum knew what she was doing, and that it would all end in a Parasol Protectorate.
Who’s your favourite fictional heroine?
I love Tamora Pierce’s Kel (Protector of the Small series) and Alanna (Song of the Lioness series) both tough young women making their way in a man’s world. So far as adult books go, I think Mara from the Empire Trilogy (by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts) is brilliant because her ability lies in political manipulation and intelligence rather than physical prowess.
When you were a teen, which fictional school would you most like to have been a pupil at?
The Herald Collegium in Haven from Mercedes Lackey Valdemar books.
What do you think of the onslaught of vampire and werewolf fiction that is attacking the bookshelves?
I am not sure how to explain the Paranormal Bubble, as people in the SF world call it. Many have claimed that it should have popped by now. Essentially, it’s the rise of a new kind of Gothic novel. One is tempted to ask, culturally, what the similarities are between modern day American and England during the 1800s that brought about this shared taste in literature?
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Dum spiro spero which means “While I breathe, I hope” (paraphrased from Theocritus and Cicero). I also like Terry Pratchett’s FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC the motto of The Ankh-Morpork City Watch. I have a weakness for Latin… and pseudo Latin.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
P.G. Wodehouse, Jane Austen, and Gerald Durrell. Because I think that would be hilarious conversation.
What are your opinions on vampires who sparkle?
Must we delve into this milieu? Well, if you insist. Let me simply say, I’m with the irrepressible Tee Morris in the matter of sparkly vampires. Girl, they’re fabulous!
What author most influenced you as a writer or in general?
Tamora Pierce. When I was 8 the first book in her Song of the Lioness series came out. Up until that point I’d never read a fantasy book where the central character was a chick who kicked ass. Then, when I was 14, it changed my life again. It was the means by which I became friends with the ladies who still beta my stories to this day.
Which works or authors do you think readers of the Parasol Protectorate will also enjoy?
Depends on which aspect of the series the reader likes the best. For the humor I’d say P.G. Wodehouse orJasper Fforde. For the paranormal – Patricia Briggs. For the steampunk – Philip Pullman or M.K. Hobson. For alt-Victoriana Sorcery & Cecelia. All of whom, I might add, did it a million times better than I ever could.
You’re about to be stranded on a desert island and you are only allowed to take 3 books with you: which do you take and why?
The Forgotten Beasts 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.
With all of the traveling that you do, is there any one book that you always make sure to bring with you, no matter where you go?
No, but I always carry a notepad and pen or the digital equivolent. I learned that lesson the hard way.
If you could choose 5 fictional characters from books to eat lunch with, who would they be, and why?
Well, this is me, so I’d like to make a motion to upgrade from lunch to high tea. But then I am in a quandary. Many of my favorite characters, while great in a fight, might be a little challenging over a civilized meal (likeTamora Pierce’s Alanna or Tanya Huff’s Staff Sergeant Kerr) so I’m going to choose more civilized characters. P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster (with Jeeves hovering in the background, of course), Mara from Feist and Wurt’s Servant of the Empire series, Terry Prachett’s Death, Douglas Adam’s Ford Prefect, andJasper Fforde’s Thursday Next. That ought to be quite the merry little gathering. If I could have some of my own characters I’d chuck Lord Akeldama into the mix and have Floote organize it all.
Is literature in a position to change the world?
No, I think that is the responsibility of plate tectonics. And perhaps a comet or two.
What does literature mean to you?
Escape, amusement, catharsis. Generally in that order.
Gail Outside of Fiction
What’s the 411 on Gail Carriger?
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 my summers in small town 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.
Gail Carriger seems to more of an alter ego than a pseudonym, would you like to share with us how that came to be?
You know, my friends do find it a bit creepy sometimes because I refer to her as separate from myself. As in, “Gail has her own wardrobe but we share shoes.” To which one of them will say, “You do realize you are the same person, right?” Often, these days, I wonder if she is more real than I am. She is certainly very demanding.
What similarities do you and Gail Carriger share?
Well, to give my friends credence, we really are the same person, so . . . all of them. It’s only that some qualities and quirks she has in moderation and I have in spades and the others are vice versa.
What direction do you see Gail Carriger’s career taking?
I really enjoy self publishing novellas, so that will continue. Also, I miss short stories. There are other worlds out there beyond the Parasolverse waiting to be explored. Then again perhaps I should retire and take up shoe shopping. I’m on a one woman quest to improve the fashion sense of genre readers. It’s an uphill battle that could take the rest of my life.
Are there any plans for you to write using any other aliases?
Well I write sexy stuff as G. L. Carriger, and I’d like to so non-fiction at some point. But it’s likely to all stay under “Carriger” at the very least. Easier to manage that way. Can you imagine me with another alter-ego? I’d have to buy yet another wardrobe. Ooo, now wait a moment…
GAIL THE ARCHAEOLOGIST & WORLD TRAVELER
Amazing interview that intimately ties Gail’s work with her archaeological background in ways she didn’t even realize.
You can find out more about Gail’s archaeological interests on her Archaeology Pinterest board.
If you still have one, what’s your day job?
I used to moonlight as an archaeologist. No really, that’s the truth. Periodically, I would poodle off to the Peruvian Highlands where I was analyzing the pottery from a fascinating long–occupation site (Wari – Inca – Colonial).
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, and now author.
What is your university degree in?
I have a BA in Archaeology (with minors in Anthropology, Classics, Theology, Geology, and Philosophy), an MS in Archaeological Materials with a focus on inorganics, and an MA in Anthropology with a focus on ceramic artifact analysis. I got the book contract and left academia before finishing 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. The last excavation I was connected to was in Peru, and I did work at a field lab.
How has your background in archeology 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.
Have the locations you visited for archeology 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.
If you had one chance to travel back in time, where and when would you visit?
What a dastardly question to ask an archaeologist. In covenant with my discipline, I’d have to pick a place and time about which very little is known, say distant prehistory (e.g. the peopling of North America), or possibly a little understood civilization (e.g. the Etruscans). If it was more of a vacation jaunt, I’d be torn between Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Because I’m female, I’d probably end up with Ancient Egypt, during the reign of Akhenaton.
What do you miss most about Europe?
I enjoyed how aware Europeans always seemed to be about the rest of the world. And then there was the food. And the fashion. Oh, and the shoes!
What sort of tea should I seek out to mature my hopelessly American palate?
Oh dear, this is quite a serious matter, indeed. I’m afraid I have never been one to condone the consumption of Earl Grey – nasty perfumey bit of business. I’m an English Breakfast drinker myself. It should be brewed strong enough so you cannot see the bottom of the cup and 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. How I make a perfect pot.
Please describe your perfect cup of tea.
Twinings English Breakfast Gold Label lose leaf in a warmed stoneware teapot. Boiled well water steeped 5 minutes under the cozy. Whole milk, preferably from England or New Zealand, first in the bottom of a bone china cup. Add the tea. How I make it.
I have to confess the only tea I drink is of the Lipton ice tea mix variety. So how does one educated their tea drinking palette? Any state-side brands you can stand?
Eeek! Lipton? If I’m forced, I’ll drink regular red label Twinings, and once in a while try something new from a boutique mix, but not often. As to developing a palate, I believe, as with coffee or caviar, that you need to hunt out the best of the best in order to really know what good tea is, otherwise you will never learn to like it. To me the best tea is a high end English breakfast with absolutely no brisknes to it (brisk = as you get with Stash, ugh) that can be brewed strong but never bitter, that is perfectly sweet with just a dollop of whole milk (always always always whole). If you find yourself drinking a milky tea and wanting sugar this is a sign of not very good tea (as it is with coffee).
Gail & Piper J. Drake also have a podcast all about traveling writers. Check it out because they aim to help with all your travel quandaries.
WHAT WOULD GAIL DO?
What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
Great British Bake Off, closely followed by Trader Joe’s Paneer Tikka Masala and Marie Claire magazine. Sometimes I can be found indulging in all three at once.
What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
I like to sew, dance, cook, read, and eat. All of these things sneak into my books: I’m always describing the way people move, what they are wearing, and what they consume. In Competence my characters form an on dirigible book group.
What can we find you doing to relax?
Shoe shopping, drinking tea, more shoe shopping, thinking about shoe shopping, drinking more tea – it’s a simple life. (Find more on my shopping habits on my fashion blog Retro Rack.)
What would happen to your writing if there was a shortage (gasp!) of tea or chocolate?
I could probably survive without the chocolate. I don’t know if I could function as a human being without tea, let alone write.
Has your sense of humor ever gotten you into trouble?
More times than I can possibly count. I always think I’m hilarious and I will open my big mouth at the most inopportune times. Booze, let me just say, does not help with this problem.
Is there a place, activity, or person that is your hiding spot?
Yes, any place where I can have a great cup of tea and be surrounded by a civilized little shade garden.
What’s one random tidbit about yourself?
I find endless comedic enjoyment in the ridiculous: the Westminster Dog Show, rubber animals, string cheese, squid, that kind of thing. Also, I’m a mean lean pinball player and I can ride, both horses and mortorcycles.
Can you tell us something about you we can’t see on your wikia?
All my inanimate objects have names (I think it’s rude to yell at them without calling them by name). Oh and I’m famous amongst my friends for a certain breakfast item called the “eggy cup.”
Would you rather be a vampire, a werewolf, or a ghost?
Werewolf, no question. I’ve always wanted to be able to change shape, even if I were forced to do it every month. Most of us ladies are quite accustomed to engaging in the emotional equivalent of a monthly shape change already, I suspect it wouldn’t be too difficult to adapt to werewolfdom.
How would you react if you were you attacked by a vampire without even a proper introduction?
Oh, I have no pride or gumption. I would run to the nearest public area yelling for the constabulary.
If you could spend one day in Victorian–era London, what would you do (and, more importantly, what would you wear)?
I should love to visit the Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition displays housed there. I’d wear the appropriate day dress, probably something in teal velvet with hundreds of tiny buttons and a very outrageous hat. Ivy has nothing on me with regards to taste in hats. (Find out more on the Crystal Palace on my 1850s History Pinterest board.)
What are some of your favorite films?
In no particular order: Dangerous Liaisons, Pride & Prejudice, Tipping the Velvet, North & South, Gosford Park, Room With A View, Maurice, Cold Comfort Farm, Grosse Pointe Blank, Latter Days, Ever After, Underworld. Find out more on my Recommended TV & Movies Pinterest board.
In an alternate future London, authorial newcomers P.G. Wodehouse and Bram Stoker stand outside the Globe Theatre, oiled and sharpened electro–fleenogabulars in hand, literary agents as their seconds, prepared to duel for the honor of continuing the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, fan–favorite heroine of recently deceased and world–renowned author Gail Carriger. A courier rides up to the would–be duelists and announces that she bears a twenty–seven–word message from the late Ms. Carriger, who foresaw the course events would take after her passing. What does the message say?
I regret to inform you, newcomer Elizabeth Gaskell has agreed to take on the burden of Alexia’s continued adventures. Put down the electro–fleenogabulars, for as I am certain you are both well aware, she could totally kick your collective arses.
~ Miss Carriger
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
“She would rather have drowned in tea.”
what it will actually say is
“She only wanted to taste it once.”
“She died still angry about Firefly and the Library of Alexandria.”
GAIL AND FASHION
Visit Retro Rack, Gail’s fashion blog for much much more.
If you lived in Victorian England, how would you spend your days? Is wearing a corset all that it’s cracked up to be?
I’ve been known to frequent the Dickens Fair so I have spent a day or two in corset, and, if it’s a good one (I like Dark Garden’s work), the only difference is that one can’t eat all that much. However, I suspect that the only way I could have lived happily in Victorian England is if I actually were Lord Akeldama.
Given that your biography states that you are “fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit,” would you please describe your favored method for combining the two?
How about a teeny tiny hat decorated with tropical fruit? Or wearing a teeny tiny hat and eating tropical fruit? Or cutting tropical fruit into the shape of teeny tiny hats!
If you owned a parasol, what would it look like?
I blush to admit it, my dear, but I own nine parasols already, my current favorite is a blue and white one. I’m trying to get professional help. (Let’s not talk about the shoes.)
Do you carry a parasol for defense?
Sadly, no, I’m an unparalleled wimp. There was once an entirely unsuccessful attempt at karate, wherein I kept fretting about actually having to hurt people and trying to convince the class to break for tea. Sometimes, however, I’ve been seen carrying a parasol for protection against the sun. I know, I know, crazy talk.
Besides a parasol, what other weapons should a proper young woman always have at hand?
I recommend a well–packed reticule – most efficacious. Never discount sensible well–heeled shoes either. I hesitate to mention such a thing it in polite company, but kicking is sometimes necessary. Of course, if one is lucky enough to have the appropriate connections, one might be able to procure something a little more daring – a lovely bracelet that emits numbing darts, or perhaps a lady’s timepiece that also contains a sleeping draught.
What’s an accessory that you’d hate to be without?
These days I am rarely without some kind of octopus jewelry. I’m amassing quite the collection, and I love it! Also I have taken to traveling with a little heating coil and my own personal tea cup, not sure if those count as accessories, but I do love me my cuppa. At conventions, I am always wearing a vintage style necklace pen.
Be honest. How often do you wear your Victorian and Steampunk clothes around the house, alone?
Dahling, who says I wear anything around the house when I’m alone?
Your website indicates a fondness for steampunk–related fashion and historical millinery. What can you tell us about creating the steampunk “look” and your own clothing?
Most of the time for public appearances I prefer rockabilly vintage dress. For everyday, I tend to twist normal wear in a steampunk direction ~ preferring steamy or industrial jewelry, knickerbockers and boots instead of jeans, Victorian influenced blouses and vests, and military–style leather jackets. At steampunk events I have a number of Victorian dresses and corsets, one of which is decorated with brass spoons. Why not?
Everybody wants to know more about bookshelf porn. You introduced me to the concept via your tweets, and I love it. Which way do your tastes tend to run?
It often surprises people but I’m a strict minimalist. I have an OCD side so I like my environment tidy: clean modern or slightly Asian inspired furniture, nothing steampunk or frilly Victorian about it. To that end, I once saw a photo of someone who had organized all the books behind their couch by color. I live for that moment. As things currently stand I have a mahogany bookshelf that came from my Scandinavian grandmother – very severe, on which reside all my favorite genre paperbacks and a stack of trade sized Young Adult books.
Best wardrobe score, ever – from a vintage shop or online buy?
I have a pair of patchwork boots a friend spotted at a thrift store during our high school years. She bought them for me for $20 because I couldn’t afford them. I still have the boots, they still fit beautifully, and always get compliments. They have pretty much outlasted everything else in my closet. I tend to get rid of stuff quickly if it no longer fits, or is worn, or is no longer to my taste. But the patchwork boots remain.
What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Puff pastry, anything custard or passion fruit related, German half-sweet Rieslings, shellac manicures, fresh fish consumption, bitter greens, poached eggs, massages, hot tubs, Italian leather shoes, vintage dresses, patterned tights, industrial inspired jewelry, whole milk, imported tea, expensive bed linen. In case you hadn’t guessed I like to eat, sleep, and dress up.
This is Gail’s beloved little cat, Lilliput. Want to learn more about her? Here’s the blog post where she introduces this cross-dressing wonder.
Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits and do they appear in your novels?
I had a previous cat, the Chubby Fucker, who, as I often informed her, was only kept around to be food after the zombie apocalypse. She is a brindled tabby, whose main purpose in life appears to be to sit, monorail–like, on the arm of the couch and occasionally bestir herself to murder a pair of innocent earbuds. She can, however, use the human toilet. She makes an appearance, as a calico, in the first book, and has a small but vital role in the third. (Don’t tell her, though, she’ll want royalties.)
Lilliput appears as a footnote in the Custard Protocol books. And yes, I’m being cheeky.
Both your cats use the human lavatory. Were you the one to teach them this neat trick?
The Chubby Fucker is a sweetheart – even if we only kept her around to make into stew after the zombie apocalypse. She came to us fully disciplined. Funnily enough, her trainer is the infamous Eytan Kollin of the Brothers K: co–author of The Unincorporated Man and follow up books. So I suppose you could say I had an unincorporated cat.
Lilliput was trained by me using a kit. She’s never made a mistake, but hasn’t yet fully completed her training. It takes a long time. But we are off litter which is all I really care about.
QUICK ROUND: GAIL 411
Name: Gail Carriger.
Place (Where were you born, where do you live now?): I was born in Northern California. I live there now, but in the interim I’ve bounced about most of the globe.
Hobbies: Drinking tea, dancing swing, vintage clothes, exotic food, adorable men, short women, and very high heels.
Occupation: Archaeologist and now author.
Family: Lots, including cats who have chosen me and humans whom I have chosen.
Favourite animal: Octopus.
Favourite flavour crisps (chips): Walkers roast chicken.
Favourite holiday destination: Italy, specifically Lake Como.
Favourite childhood memory: Sand ball wars on the beach (kind of like the California version snow ball, only during the summer).
Always treacle tart or do other puddings get a look in? Anything in the custard family.
Coffee or Tea? Tea forever!
Up or Down? Strange.
Virtual or Real? Improbable.
Right or Left? Right here on the Left Coast.
Day or Night? Evening.
Vampires or Werewolves? Werewolves.
Reading or Writing? These days, writing. But I miss reading.
What is your writing ambience? Modern and tea saturated.
Outline or no outline? Outline.
Book or eReader? Yes.
If you had an octopus, what would you name it? Wilberforce Percival Mummy the III.
What period in history would you most like to visit? Why? Etruscan, because so little is known about it.
Favorite big or small screen vampire? Spike.
Steampunk device you’d most like to see realized and prevalent in modern life? Aether activated kettle.
If you could have a multi-function parasol like Alexia’s, what would you choose as its primary weapon? Sunscreen.
Favorite little known online resource? The Victorian Web
Local independent bookstore? Borderlands is my local and they are really supportive of the geek community (they carry signed copies of my books for sale worldwide).
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? The ability to breathe under water.
Any self-defense tips for readers who may someday encounter a vampire, werewolf, and/or soulless? Always eat the pesto.