Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interview with Gail Carriger

Posted by Simcha 4:35 PM, under | 4 comments

Gail Carriger is the author of the wonderfully entertaining new novel, Soulless, in which she provides a fresh new take on the paranormal scene; placing vampires and werewolves in Victorian London, where they influence fashion, society and government. Carriger also introduces an interesting new concept of the lack of soul and it's ability to neutralize the supernatural, in the form of the feisty, delightful heroine, Alexia.

Immediately after finishing Soulless, I contacted Gail with a request for an interview so that I could ask her about some of these interesting ideas that she introduces in her novel, as well as to find out more about this intriguing new author.

Hi Gail. Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to do this interview with me.

My pleasure. I'm sorry I was so delayed in getting back to you! The life of an author: complete boredom broken by spates of utter panic.
(For the record, Gaile was surprisingly prompt at returning my emails and answering my questions)

After finishing Soulless, I went over to visit your website where I discovered that in addition to writing you are also
an archeologist, a field that I have always been fascinated with. Can you tell me a bit about your archeological work? How has your background in archeology influenced your writing?

I have an MS in materials archaeology with a focus on inorganics, and an MA in anthropology with a focus on ceramic artifact analysis. Which means that 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."

I've worked on artifacts from Egypt, Italy, Greece, Britain, Rome, North America, and the Islamic Empire. Now I'm associated with an excavation in Peru, and I do go into the
field once a year, but I'm still in a lab while I'm there.

A career as an archaeologist and academic has 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.

I noticed from your website that you have a very strong interest in steampunk fiction and fashion. How did you first get interested in this genre and what is it about steampunk that particularly excites you?

Steampunk is the future as the Victorians imagined it, where steam power never died, and electricity never dominated. Think Jules Verne and hot air balloons flying to the moon. The gothic literature movement saw the birth of science fiction, during the Victorian era. The current steampunk movement is a weird kind of full circle ~ I love that. I honestly can't remember how I first got into it. It just happened.

Um...I'll now have to sheepishly admit that I have never actually read anything by Jules Verne.
Since I am completely unfamiliar with steampunk, can you please clarify for me which aspects of Soulless are considered steampunk and what exactly is steampunk fashion?

Technically speaking, Soulless should have a lot more science to be fully steampunk, it dabbled a bit too much with Other Sub-Genres ~ the slut! But the idea is there, and I didn't want to overload new-to-steampunk-readers with too much gadgetry all at once. Alexia's world is steampunk: an alternate 1800s England with new and different mechanicals, evil scientists, and attack automatons. As the series progresses, the science creeps more and more to the fore, although I do try and keep it from getting all techno-babble.

I suppose Soulless might be considered steampunk-light ~ would that be fluffy-cloud-punk?
The current aesthetic movement (essentially the visual equivalent of the love child of a BBC costume drama and Hot Topic) emphasizes the importance of creativity, found object art, and the maker mentality ~ all of which I find very exciting. If you're still curious, I did a recent blog post on the subject

Soulless, there is a lot of focus on Alexia’s soulless status, but it’s mainly in relation to the effect it has on supernatural creatures. Alexia does mention, in the beginning of Soulless, that she felt she had to come up with her own moral standards because she had no soul of her own, but this idea wasn’t expounded on, and Alexia does seem rather unaffected by her lack of soul. 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. As the series continues, hopefully, this will become clearer.

You have so much wonderfully humorous dialogue in Soulless, I was wondering, how do you go about successfully putting humor into words? Do you find writing humor to be more challenging then other kinds of writing?

Very challenging indeed. I have a post-it note on my computer that says, "Gail, don't lose the funny!" Unfortunately for me, editors kept buying comedy from me and nothing else, so now I'm stuck with it. The "how" is a difficult question to answer. 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 a technique. I have a personal addition to bad puns and ludicrous analogies, so sometimes I can go overboard. My editor is good about reining me in.

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 scenes? How do you decide on how many such scenes to include? ( I notice that most romance novels have at least three)

I include them where I feel they happen naturally. However, I don't feel that a romance has to have descriptive love-making. My nookie scenes tend to be rather gentile. That is, you may notice I never refer to any indelicate bits by name. I like the traditional literary idea of romance, 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.

While Soulless was very much a romance, I heard that the sequel, Changeless, will be less so. Can you tell me a bit about what we expect from the Alexia and Lord Conall in your upcoming book?

I borrow a lot from traditional Gothic literature tropes. So while Soulless was loosely based on a Gothic romance model, Changeless is more of a Gothic mystery (think early Sherlock Homes) and Blameless uses a lot of Gothic adventure, Quartermain-style. So while Alexia and the irrepressible Lord Maccon are still there, the romance is a little less important to the plot of the next book.

What one steampunk book would you recommend to readers who are unfamiliar with the genre but would like to give it a try?

I'm going to branch out and pick a graphic novel, I hope that's OK. There's none better than the original League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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?

Nope, but I always carry a notepad and pen or a digital Dictaphone. Always. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Thanks again Gail for taking them time to answer these questions for me, and I can't wait to read the next book in the series, Changeless, which will be released on March 30th.

To learn more about Gail Carriger, you can visit her website or blog
You can also take a look at some of her other interviews:

Interview at the Book Whisperer

Interview at BSC Review

Interview at Sc-Fi Fan Letter


You asked such thoughtful questions, Simcha. Fantastic interview! I am also very eager to read Changeless.

Great interview- I loved your questions! Soulless is already making its way onto my best of 2010 list; it's sad to have to wait so long for Changeless. Sigh, I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.

i've read so many good reviews about this book. soulless is in my wishlist so i'll definitely be reading this book sometime in the future. thanks for the awesome interview simcha :D

Thanks all of you for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I love how running a book blog gives me the excuse to directly ask authors all the questions that I come up with while reading their books.
Emily, It's not such a long wait until Changeless comes out. Oftentimes you have to wait a year between books, which is pure torture.

chelleyreads: Soulless was a very enjoyable read and I'll be interested in hearing your opinion of it when you do read it.

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