Monday, March 28, 2011

An Interview with Author Gail Carriger

by Megan S.

I recently got a chance to chat with New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger about her series, The Parasol Protectorate.  The five book steampunk series centers around smart and opinionated Alexia Tarabotti in 19th century London.  Not only does Alexia have to contend with vampires, werewolves, and secret societies, she must do it all while deftly navigating through the strict social conventions of the Victorian age.  Carriger herself is extremely intelligent and funny, able to breathe life into off the cuff answers about rather dull sounding topics like class structure in 1860s and 70s England.  Carriger is also a highly-respected archaeologist and is brought in to digs all around the world to consult on pottery uncovered at the sites.

Note: Carriger was given the go-ahead to announce details of her four book young adult series, The Finishing School Series, last Friday, March 25 after this interview was conducted.  More information about the novels is available on her LiveJournal.  

Read the interview after the jump!

Gail speaking on a panel at the 2011 Nova Albion steampunk con.

Have the locations you visited for archaeology digs inspired any scenes or details in the books?  If so, will you give us an example?

Absolutely! 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 draw on a lot of my research as an archeologist for the Timeless in particular.
What types of sources do you turn to when researching aspects of the series?

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 1773-6) 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.

You've mentioned two planned series, one set prior to the Parasol Protectorate but in the same universe and a second one.  Will the second one also involve any of the characters we know?

That's the hope, once I am allowed to make the announcements readers may understand why I went with the idea of two series.

Lord Akeldama's my favorite character.  Is there a fun piece of his backstory you have not been able to work in to the series but don't mind sharing with us?

I'm afraid not. But he does run an advice column via my blog every couple of weeks or so. I will say that his name is a hint both as to his past and his origin.
The German cover for Blameless.

You have made a point of having Alexia turn to her friends to help overcome obstacles when so many other authors shy away from that idea. Other than that concept being the antithesis of what is associated with the hero archetype, why do you think so few heroines in current science fiction and fantasy are portrayed as either having no friends, keeping secrets from them, or continually sabotaging both their platonic and romantic relationships?

Gosh, what a cerebral question. I believe that is because most female heroines are what I would called "skinned." That is, they might be biologically women but they are gendered male. They are following the classic hero's journey, withdrawal, isolation, return, bone, 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.

Do you ever find inspiration in the wardrobes and gadgets made by steampunk fans?

Absolutely! I'm inspired by everything around me, from things I see at conventions, to critters I meet in my mother's garden. I think most writers are. Imagination requires a seed.

A manga version of Soulless is being produced.  Have you noticed any changes to the storylines or characters?  What are they?

Oh, it's so good! I just saw the first chapter, and I'm sure I'm not supposed to talk about it, but I love it. So far they haven't messed with the story line at all, except in some rearrangement of scenes, which I actually think is better than the original book. I'm not one of those authors who is precious about her work, I understand that switching medias often means cutting and editing, but so far they are being quite gentle with the plot.  As for the art, most of the characters look younger and cuter.  I love manga so I expected this, and I had some say over the artwork and artist.

Soulless, the first in the series.
You have just about finished writing the fifth and final book, Timeless.  What has been the most enjoyable aspect or outcome of writing the series?

I just typed "the end" earlier today, in fact, which means I am ill equip to answer this question. As is common with many authors, I'm mostly glad to be done. And, of course, after living immersed in these last two books for the past 7 months, I pretty much hate them both. It's my process. The most enjoyable outcome from the series, is my fans. It seems corny to say but I really do have fantastic fans. I was at a signing recently with another author and got a chance to observe his fans in action. Mine are so different: polite, bubbly, excited, silly-hatted, exuberant, and chatty. They are not like normal SF/F fans at all. I feel blessed.

You've done so many interviews over the last few years about the Parasol Protectorate series, has there ever been a question you wanted to be asked but haven't?  If so, what is it and what's the answer?

Where to you get your fabulous shoes? Why thank you for asking, and for the compliment. I have an addiction to various brands but myf avorite are Miz Mooz and Via Spiga, I hunt Haight Street for the former and Nordstrom's Rack for the later.
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  1. FABULOUS interview! I can't wait for the latest book in the series to come out. She is such a wit!

  2. Brilliant. Thanks. Can't wait for the next book. I'm so excited.
    Lynn :D