ABOUT GAIL CARRIGER:
New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London. She writes the Parasol Protectorate series.
Though we're a couple of weeks early for National Steampunk Day (June 14, in recognition of H.G. Wells' birthday), I thought readers may need some time to prepare. So, I've invited Gail Carriger, New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series (SOULLESS, CHANGELESS, BLAMELESS, HEARTLESS and TIMELESS) for an interview.
For the new initiates to the steampunk genre, here's a brief definition via Gail's website (she's got a ton of great info there, so be sure to visit): "There are two main kinds of steampunk. The first, which shall be called here, traditional steampunk, envisions a future as the Victorians imagined it. The writings of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are good examples. The second, industrial steampunk, sees a far future world that harkens back to Victorian culture, for example a bustle dress made of kevlar." Gail's books add another layer, the paranormal. It's been described as what would happen if Jane Austen dabbled in science, to mystery fans, it may be more apt to say this would be the result if you took the Amelia Peabody series, added steam technology and made Radcliffe Emerson a werewolf—there's even a plethora of vicious parasols.
How did you discover steampunk?
I came to steampunk first as an aesthetic movement. I’m a longtime fan of vintage clothing and Goth style; steampunk drew me in as a cheerful melding of the two. I also love seeing recycled technology used as jewelry, and other examples of how creative the maker community has become over the past few years.
I've seen your books described as comedy and urban fantasy as well, but to me, there's a large dollop of mystery in each one—always something for Alexia to figure out or prevent. Are you a mystery fan?
I actually don't read mysteries. That was always my parents' thing. Because of that, I was raised watching BBC mysteries all the time, so I suppose they leak in. I'm not very subtle about it. Most of the time my stories are simply character driven dramas with lots comedy, and real mystery readers can figure out who done it quickly and easily. I don't consider the mystery the point. For me the point is following how my main character figures things out, and how much trouble she gets into as she does so.
Your background is in archaeology, where Victorian England doesn't really play a large part. In the books, you give supernaturals their origins in ancient cultures, why didn't you decide to explore that instead rather than a (more) modern time period? Is it the hats?
Actually you'd be surprised. Archeology as a discipline has its roots in the Victorian era. It’s made me very concerned with details, and very conscious of how material objects reflect culture and can be used to bring a setting and a time period to life. A career as an archaeologist and academic has also given me good research skills, a serious respect for deadlines, a fascination of historical cultures, and, most importantly, the ability to subsist entirely on instant soup. It has also made me obsessed with objects. Readers may notice that what people wear and own is almost as important as what they do and say in my books.
As for the Victorian setting, the simple fact is: this was what I wanted to read. I like steampunk but it tends to be a little too dark and riddled with technobabble for me. I enjoy urban fantasy but am not wild about a modern setting. So I thought I might just combine the two, and then shake it up with a jot more romance and a whole lot of comedy. Then I started thinking about what kind of world could accommodate all these different elements. I’m familiar with the Victorian era and I find it a rich source of amusement in and of itself. Those ridiculous fashions and that obsession with etiquette seem the perfect time period to drop in vampires (dictating such things) and werewolves (chaffing against them) not to mention steam technology. It seemed to me that what comedy I couldn’t supply with plot and character, an alternate Victorian London could provide just by being itself.
For such highly enjoyable books full of mad scientists, gadgets and ghouls, they seem to take a lot of historical research and come with weighty parallels. Part of your premise is that England was the only place to openly accept these paranormal groups into society—inspired in part by Victorian society being among the first to condone slavery, and in part by the need to explain certain (rather ridiculous) fashion conventions of the time. You also deal with the growing feminist/suffrage movement at that time (Alexia's name is even an homage to a Renaissance feminist). Can you talk a little about your researching process, and also how you choose what history to include, or to change and how these overarching social issues creep in so subtly?
I had a fair bit of expertise in certain aspects of the 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 London in the 1870s (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. Most people won’t care to look up the details (or get it wrong by confusing my setting with Austen or mid–Victorian, I’m specifically 1873) but 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. http://gailcarriger.livejournal.com/166171.html
In writing in the steampunk genre, to me, the gadgetry would be the most difficult part to imagine and then realize on the page. What is the required level of believability for the devices you create? Do you begin with their purpose, or their design?
It's like research, I usually only research something if I need it for the story. Similarly, I only invent a gadget if I need it for the story. I've no time to spend on additional world-building. Often I will brainstorm a gadget with a friend just to talk it out aloud, and I sketch what they look like and the perimeters I need for the plot. I also 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 real. Some are more modern. There’s a cable transport in Blameless based off experimental US military research from the Korean War. But the rest of the time I just make things up, or go running to some of my techy or RPG friends with a plot problem that needs a steampunk solution.
With the popularity of teenage vampires and werewolves, how do you deal with the vampire canon? What "rules" did you decide to break or bend? Why?
I simply 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 didn't think about it very much, in fact I try not to read too many modern vampire books, I don't want to be influenced. I did take license with the social structure. I knew werewolf culture would be based on pack dynamics and I wanted a similar animal organization structure to base the vampires on. I also wanted something that was predatory and opposite that of wolves: female dominant instead of male, and so forth. Give those strictures, bat colonies (the obvious option) wouldn't work, nor would most birds. Bee/Wasp hive structures have always fascinated me so that seemed a natural choice.
TIMELESS is called the last in the Parasol Protectorate series, but you're said to be writing a new series, The Parasol Protectorate Abroad. How did you know it was time to end the series? Will readers get to see more of Alexia et al in the new series?
I'm the kind of reader who will not pick up a series until it is complete. I've been burned too many times before by a series (or author) dying early. It's kind of morbid but I wanted to have one completed series under my belt, just in case. I like to end things, it's very satisfying. It felt like Alexia's arc was going to settle happily down at five books, so I stopped her there. She and other characters from her series might show up in the Finishing School or the Parasol Protectorate Abroad but they will not be main characters.
Can you give us a little taste of ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, the first book in the Finishing School series, out February, 2013? Tell us also about any upcoming appearances.
I can't, but here's the leak description on Goodreads.
I have a few more upcoming events for 2012, here they are:
The World Steam Expo (Dearborn, MI) May 25-28.
Sunnyvale Public Library (665 W. Olive, Sunnyvale, CA 94086) June 23, 3 PM, brief talk with Q&A.
ComicCon (San Diego, CA) July 12-15.
DragonCon (Atlanta, GA) August 30-September 3.
Nimrod Conference for Readers & Writers 2012 (Tulsa, OK) October 26-27. I will be teaching a workshop on .
NCTE (Las Vegas, NV) Nov. 17-18.
QUESTION FOR GAIL? COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW? Ask here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of SOULLESS, the first in the Parasol Protectorate series!
QUICKIES WITH GAIL:
Writing ambience: Modern and tea saturated.
Outline or no: Outline.
Reading Now: THE PILLARS OF HERCULES by Dan Constantine.
Book or e-reader: Book, mass market, never hardback (too heavy for my old wrists).
If she had an octopus, she’d name it: Wilberforce Percival Mummy III.
Best steampunk book (other than her own) that would serve as a primer for initiates to the genre: THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.
Favorite protagonist (other than her own): Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS QUARTET.
Period in history she’d most like to visit: Etruscan, because so little is known about it.
Favorite big or small screen vampire: Spike.
Steampunk device/invention she’d most like to see realized and prevalent in modern life: Aether activate kettle.
If she could have a multi-function parasol like Alexia’s, her primary weapon would be: Sunscreen.
Self defense tip for readers who may someday encounter a vampire, werewolf and/or soulless: Always carry pesto.
If she could have one superpower: The ability to breathe underwater.
Favorite little-known online resource: The Victorian Web.
Local independent bookstore: Borderlands (San Francisco) is my local and they are really supportive of the Geek community (they carry signed copies of my books for sale worldwide) but I also love Powells, Murder by the Book and Mysterious Galaxy.
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