I was lucky enough to catch Gail Carriger at the Huntington Beach stop of her Blameless tour. Several members of the audience were sporting voluminous pink hats and steampunk attire in honor of the event. When Gail walked out and saw them, she said with a grin: “I have the best fans.”
Gail started off by saying she felt she had to apologize for her lack of British accent – her Mom is British, an ex-pat, but Gail is, and sounds, American. She’s also droll, unpretentious, and was sporting an absolutely fabulous pair of red pumps.
When asked where her characters came from:
“I steal ruthlessly from real life, make composites of people I know and love. Ivy is based on a very dear friend of mine when she was drunk.” Gail admits she periodically will go over to her friend’s house and ply her with red wine when she needs more Ivy-isms.
Tunstall was a surprise, he crept into her story – she didn’t realize he was based on someone she knew until her (Ivy-inspiring) friend asked, why is Paul in your book? Luckily Paul was the type to immediately dye his hair to match so he could play the part of Tunstall at a party.
On Lord Alkedama – “I grew up in San Francisco. I think that should probably explain Lord Alkedama. I had a lot of Uncles in my life. Some of them were also Aunts.” (Gail pictures him as Richard Chamberlain in The Shipper and the Rose.)
She modeled Alexia’s personality and character on Amelia B. Edwards, a fearless woman who traveled up and down the Nile river valley in the 1860s.
On what she does for research:
Gail draws heavily on both her British family and primary sources. Her Mom being an ex-pat, her Grandparents were of course British, and when they passed away she raided their library and stole (“liberated”) a bunch of primary sources. Some of her favorites are a series of travel guides for Europe, dated 1860 on, and Things a Lady would Like to Know by Henry Southgate, a guide for middle class women on how to run their own home, which includes meal guides for every day of the year (it’s up on Google Books – you can check it out here). Gail also read Edward Footer for insight into how Victorian scientists though (like why they were so obsessed with vivisections).
On how she came up with the world:
She wrote a book that she wanted to read – a lighthearted steampunk comedy of manners with vampires and werewolves thrown in. (She got called within two months, out of the slush pile – the full story of her first sale is here).
There is no magic in her books – she uses rules from Victorian period science. She needed a biological imperative, some sort of population control on immortals to keep them from completely taking over the world. Her idea of the amount of soul being the key was inspired by an American scientist, Duncan MacDougall, who had posited that the soul weighed 21 grams.
Her biggest literary influences:
P.G. Woodhouse. Amelia B. Edwards (on the non-fiction side). Gail grew up reading Tamora Pierce’s Song the Lioness quartet, and she built a life-long group of friends around their mutual love of Tamora. When Gail finally came face to face with Tamora, she had a complete Fangirl moment and couldn’t say a word.
On how she names her characters:
Alexia is Italian because of the name, Tarabotti – Gail’s first excavation was just outside of Florence, where she learned of Arcangela Tarabotti, a famous Italian Nun from the Renaissance era who fought back against the Catholic Church when it announced women didn’t have souls.
Alkedama is an Arabic name, it means field of blood.
90% of the names in Gail’s books are cookies – foreshadowing, or a hint at what a character is really like. The vampire names tend to be some variation on fang/blood, the werewolves names variations on bite/teeth/wolf.
Maccon is pure Scottirsh – Con means “Wolf,” Mac is “son of”. (She chose the lowlands for Maccon’s home, to make him a “Civilized Scot.”)
On her other life:
Gail is an archaeologist and holds a MS is materials (and a MA too). She doesn’t field excavate, she analyzes the artifacts after they’ve been unearthed. She was working on her PHD when she got her book contract and had to choose between fiction and academia – with her carpal tunnel, she could only do so much writing. Still, she has an open invitation to return to academia, and is still part of a Peruvian expedition – they don’t care if she’s attached to a university, which is very rare – so she goes down to Peru every year in the summer. She’s an expert in ceramics and technological transitions.
While in Peru she learned of their vampires mythology – a pale, srong vampire that sucks fat instead of blood. She’s definitely going to use that in a future book…
What’s up next for Gail:
In the Parasol Protectorate series – so if the 1st book was a spoof of a classic Victorian romance, and the 2nd book was a spoof of a classic Gothic mystery, and the 3rd book was a spoof of a Victorian adventure story…
The 4th book – Heartless – is a spoof of a Sherlock Holmes style cozy. We’ll get an inside look at a ghost going crazy, a peek at someone’s private journal AND a rampaging octopus!
The 5th book – Timeless – is going to close down the Alexia/Maccon story. Gail wants to be Mercedes Lackey-like, in that she will have more stories in the same universe, but feature different characters. Also Alexia goes to Egypt and the God-breaker plague is solved.
Peru and America are not for Alexia – Gail is leaving those adventures for past and future generations. She is pitching a YA series right now that’s set in the same universe, 25 years earlier, and Gail also has plans for the generation after Alexia and Maccon – and by next generation she doesn’t mean just Alexia and Maccon’s progeny…
There’s also a manga style graphic novel of Souless coming from Yen press.
Her writing advice:
“Write something different.”Gail spent 10 years writing the same series, was obsessed with it, but it never went anywhere. “So write a first book in a series, then write a completely different book.”
Gail works from a strict outline, has a strict ass in chair policy, and writes 2,000 words a day. She also indulges in shameless self-bribery – finish a first draft, buy sushi, finish first copy, buy a new pair of shoes…
She has a sticky note affixed beside her computer, to remind her: “Don’t loose the funny.”
And what about that famous hedgehog?
Gail might write that infamous encounter as a short story, someday…