Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author 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. Escaping small town life, acquiring degrees in Higher Learning, she traveled historic European cities subsisting entirely on biscuits from her handbag. She resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London. Her novels include four Parasol Protectorate books. She is currently writing young adult books set in the same universe. Her debut, Soulless won the ALA’s Alex Award. And Timeless, the fifth and final Parasol Protectorate book comes out in March 2012. Find Gail online at and also on Facebook and Twitter as @gailcarriger.

SFFWRTCHT: Parasol Protectorate is the tale of a spinster who has no soul and thus can counter vampires and werewolfs. She lives in Victorian London. It’s quite funny and charming with a dose of romance, sex, horror, steampunk, scifi, fantasy, and more. Let’s start with steampunk. How do you define your novel? What genre is it?

Gail Carriger: I defined my books as comedies of manners steampunk urbane fantasy.

SFFWRTCHT: Ok so steampunk urban fantasy comedy of manners. Very good. Did that just develop or was that the goal?

GC: It happened organically. I like to say that the insertion of the supernatural into my Victorian science driven universe had steampunk consequences.

SFFWRTCHT: How much did you plan out the storyline of the series in advance and how much did you wing it?

GC: For the first two books I winged it, which ended up meaning I scattered a whole bunch of threads I then had to pick up. By the third book I was pretty certain where the series was going and that it would be five books long. Each individual book was planned with a detailed outline. I love outlines.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the biggest challenge to writing a series? Making the books standalone with backstory or something else?

GC: Being trapped by publication. Once a book is in print, you are locked into the world as you wrote it for that book and have to play by the rules set forth there, otherwise you are an unreliable narrator. That’s never happened to me before, in previous unpublished series I could go back and tinker with the first book while writing the third to make everything work neatly. This has had the direct result of making me very, very cautious about what world-building details I include in each book: only what is necessary or superfluous, or what an unreliable character says that could be wrong.

SFFWRTCHT: Is steampunk by necessity colonial? Is there any post-colonial steampunk being written?

GC: Anything after the combustion engine is generally called dieselpunk, but I don’t like being elitist. There is later, say 1900 and later, stuff out there, but it isn’t as common.

SFFWRTCHT: Steampunk Urban Fantasy – interesting. Does London (or another city?) become a character in the books?

GC: Not as much as the Victorian inventions of the world. My characters travel a lot.

SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?

GC: My Mum read me science fiction and fantasy as a kid, Tolkien, for example. Water Babies, Narnia, etc. She’s the ex-pat.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of the writers who inspired you?

GC: P.G. Wodehouse, Tamora Pierce, Misty Lackey, Jane Austen.

SFFWRTCHT: I can definitely see those influences. When did you start writing seriously and how long until your first sale?

GC: Define seriously? I always wrote. It was kind of like breathing. I started trying to get published in high school. I wrote my first novel then, but I didn’t send it out. It was about ten years and four novels before I got a contract for a book. It wasn’t until last year that I switched careers.

SFFWRTCHT: Interesting. So your fourth novel was Soulless? Did you study creative writing at all in school? How´d you learn your craft?

GC: I had English class, but actually I didn’t outside high school. I was Social Sciences and Philosophy orientated.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you think your training in archaeology has influenced your fiction writing?

GC: Archaeology has given me some great research skills, and a very object drive way of looking at the past. And a killer work ethic.

SFFWRTCHT: Might you ever consider writing a book set a little closer to home, i.e. science fiction?

GC: Perhaps, but not for a few years. It’d probably still be a historical setting, though.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you try other genres or other types of SFF before doing steampunk?

GC: Yes, Young Adult SF, YA High Fantasy, some alt historical fiction.

SFFWRTCHT: So where did the idea for Alexia Tarrabotti come from?

GC: Alexia happened out of the science I was researching for the books.

SFFWRTCHT: so would you say that most of your stories have historical base then?

GC: Yes, I think better in the past. It’s more alive for me. Although I did a contemporary short M/M Urban Fantasy recently.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did you spend writing Soulless before you sold it?

GC: Three months to write, three to edit, two to sell, eight to negotiate contracts, twelve before it hit shelves. That’s my ultra tough agent. She wouldn’t let me sign a sub-standard contract. Ever.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?

GC: Everything! Graphs, sketches, spread sheets, lots of outlines, notes, story boards, “design boards” = archaeologist.

SFFWRTCHT: Gail Carriger and the Science of Writing. Do you do a lot of research before starting to write?

GC: I do most of my research as I go along, or after I’m done with the rough draft. Avoiding derailment.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the key elements in writing steampunk?

GC: Hum, a sense of time, atmosphere, Victorian invention, and a healthy dose of whimsey.

SFFWRTCHT: You captured it very well. It really came alive. What are the key elements in writing humor?

GC: Oh, I think humor is really difficult. I have a post-it note on my computer that says, “Gail! Don’t lose the funny!” I think there are all kinds of ways to get humor, I actually have a whole class lecture on the subject. Three stooges are funny no matter where. slap stick wit and word play = not so much. They depend on culture and age. I use more revenge, slap stick, farse and character comedy in the YA.

SFFWRTCHT: Are any of your protagonists archaeologists?

GC: Nope, but archaeology sneaks in, mostly to the plot.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you have any go-to books that made you think “Aha! This is how I want to write!”?

GC: Hum, possibly P.G. Wodehouse, but that was more, ‘this is how I want people to feel when they read my books.’ I wish I could write as well as certain authors, but in the end, I’d rather make people amused than impressed.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you go about getting the right pace and tone? Did you have to keep trimming?

GC: Lots of editing and passes and beta readers, lots of BBC costume drams on in the background.

SFFWRTCHT: This book led not just to four more books in its own series but an entirely separate series of YA books. Was that planned?

GC: Nope, none of it was.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about Timeless please. Is it the last in the original series or will there be more?

GC: It is the last. I believe in ending a series. I have a new YA series and a new adult series as well. Something else, same universe 20 odd years in the future.

SFFWRTCHT: Do the books have a through line or are they mostly stand alones?

GC: Definite through, in fact I can’t really talk about one book without spoiling the books before.

SFFWRTCHT: What is the biggest difference between writing YA and a novel for adults?

GC: Character motivation and self-awareness, and concern for consequences. For me.

SFFWRTCHT: Do real world events inspire your stories at all?

GC: Absolutely. There is a fire in book four that actually occurred in London at the time the novels take place. Also I often steal my enemies from the terror is see in the news, obsession, manipulation.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you written short stories in the world of your books?

GC: Yes, one about Alexia’s father. I’d like to write more, but novels have to take precedence.  I actually think shorts may be the highest form of prose, but i think better novel length myself.

SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing process like? Specific time set aside to write? Grab it when you can?

GC: 9-1 Business (website, email, NY chats, agent, blog) 2-7 or later write. On deadline? 2k words. Low words equals no TV. I’m really disciplined and tough with myself. Have to be. I’m on a six month rotation right now. It is my full time job and I try to treat it as such, but occasionally I get a little overwhelmed.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re a tough master! Do you use special software? Music? when writing?

GC: Open Office. No music. I nearly was a pro dancer so music just makes me want to dance, not write.

SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?

GC: I still tailor my deadline down so I have time to pass it on to at least two of them before my editor. After 25 years I trust my betas to be brutally honest with me. It’s necessary. I have two betas who hate my books, they actually make the best readers.

SFFWRTCHT: What projects are you working on for the future that we can look forward to?

GC: Timeless, the last Parasol Protectorate book, plus a manga of Soulless come out next spring. The new YA Etiquette & Espionage is out next fall (1 of 4). My new adult series, the Parasol Protectorate Abroad launches in 2013, with Prudence.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb