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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character: The Fonz

Posted by Simcha 4:16 PM, under | 5 comments

Favorite Fictional Character
Hosted by Ryan at Wordsmithonia

Inspired by Ryan's nostalgic memories of his favorite childhood cartoons, I decided to focus on another one of my favorite TV characters, Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, or "The Fonz."

I don't remember when I first discovered Happy Days, but once I did it became one of my favorite TV shows, which is largely due to the star of the show Fonzie, a high school drop-out and former gang member, who eventually mends his ways, after befriending Richie Cunningham and his family.

The Fonze was the ultimate in cool; commanding the bathroom of the local hangout as his office and getting any song on the jukebox playing, just by hitting it with his fist. Interestingly enough, Fonzie was only supposed to appear in a few episodes of Happy Days, but his character was so popular that he was made a regular on the show and eventually received top billing.

I actually almost got to meet Henry Winkler once, when I was a teenager, and he was speaking at a Jewish fund raising event that my mother was attending. But I got sick the night before, and my sister went instead. She even got a kiss from Winkler, and all I got was an autographed napkin ( with my name misspelled). Sigh. Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Send over your good wishes and prayers

Posted by Simcha 4:00 PM, under | 5 comments

The young daughter of a blogger friend my mine, Ramona from Alone in the Holy Land, was hospitalized last week and diagnosed with the Rota virus, as well as some other problems. Ramona is having a very difficult time right now, and I know that she would really appreciate it if any of you could take a few minutes to stop by her blog to offer up some good wishes and prayers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's Tuesdays...Where are you?

Posted by Simcha 2:38 PM, under | 4 comments

It's Tuesday...Where are You?
Hosted by An Adventure in Reading

I arrived a few days ago in the barren planet, Arrakis, where water is so scarce and precious that the natives wear special suits that recycle all of the body's moisture. There are also monstrous, man eating worms here, though we haven't actually gotten a good look at one yet (which is probably a good thing). I had come along with Duke Leto and his family, who by the command of the Emperor, will be taking over the rulership of the planet, displacing the, Harkonnen, their bitter enemies.

But Duke Leto knows that the Harkonnens have not really relinquished their hold on Arrakis, and that they have a plan to try to destroy him. He suspects that the plan involves sowing seeds of distrust within his household by making him think that his beloved concubine, and mother of his son, is a traitor. To root out the true traitor, the Duke plans to pretend to fall for the ruse, but poor Jessica doesn't understand why the Duke is suddenly treating her so coldly.

And the people of Arrakis suddenly have reason to hope that Paul, Leto and Jessica's son, is the legendary figure from prophecy whom they have been waiting for, for so many years.

I am reading....Dune by Frank Herbert

Monday, January 18, 2010

You can never have too many

Posted by Simcha 3:36 AM, under | 9 comments

Do you have a favorite book that you reread at least a few times a year, that you like to keep by your bedside at all times and which you force all of your friends to read (for which, of course, they are eventually grateful)?

I have two such books,
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and whenever I come across one of these books in a used bookstore I feel compelled to buy it, no matter how many copies I already have at home.

And so when I was in used bookshop a couple of weeks ago and saw
A Year in Provence lying unnoticed in a box of books, I automatically reached for it excitedly, even though I already have two copies at home. I just couldn't help myself. It's like the pleasurable experience of running into your close friend unexpectedly.

But then I began to think 'do I really need another copy of
A Year in Provence? Perhaps I should leave it for another deserving reader to discover and enjoy.' And while I do like to have extra copies of my favorite books to lend out (because sometimes you never get them back) and additional copies to perhaps give as gifts, my funds have been stretched a bit tight lately. Eventually I decided that perhaps I was being a little extravagant and I really don't need to own every copy of A Year in Provence that I come across. In the end I left the book in the bin in which I had found it, hoping that someone else would give it a good home.

But last week I was looking around for
A Walk in the Woods, and I couldn't find it anywhere. After searching through all my bookshelves I came to the conclusion that I must have lent it to someone a while ago, and it had never been returned. And though I asked everyone who I usually lend books to if they might have it, no one had seen it. around to everyone who I usually lend books to, no one admitted to having it. I was beginning to despair, when I noticed a couple of days ago that some books had fallen behind my nightstand, and when I reached behind it, I came up with my beloved A Walk in the Woods, now torn and somewhat moldy. And although I was horrified at what had happened to my book, I was somewhat consoled by the fact that on my last visit to America I had purchased a copy of A Walk in the Woods at library book sale, which I had given to my father. And since my father never got around to reading it - I'm taking it back. So although my current copy of the book is in very poor condition, at least I know that I have a backup copy that I can get a hold of.

And so I learned an important lesson from this experience. You can never own too many copies of your favorite book because you just never know what might happen. And I think I'll be going back to that bookstore tomorrow to see if A Year in Provence is still there. Just in case.

P.S: If you have not read A Walk in the Woods or A Year in Provence, I insist that you do so immediately. Particularly A Walk in the Woods. There is not a single person that I have lent this book to who has not loved it- though I consider A Year in Provence to be just as good.


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