Gail Carriger on writing, tea and more

Gail Carriger is the New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series, a lighthearted steampunk comedy of manners in an England where vampires and werewolves are very much out.

Byrt: You’ve mentioned you deliberately set out to subvert Campbell’s hero’s myth with the Demeter Myth – can you elaborate on that?

GC: Women in ancient myths often accomplish their quests through the building and maintaining of friendships and family groups. They use networks to complete tasks and engage in their version of the hero’s journey. I thinks its a problem that we often view this type of behavior as weak. We are obsessed with the idea that in order to succeed a hero/heroine must be strong and independent and act alone. Alexia’s greatest strength is in her friends and her relationships, and I always try to ensure that my stories highlight this to some degree or another.

Byrt: You seem to put a lot of thought into the architecture of your stories – building off Campbell, playing on Victorian conventions, lots of primary source research. Is that the foundation of your creative process? Or do the characters come first?

GC: I pay very close attention to my friends when they’re drunk, but usually inspiration comes to me when I’m contemplating the absurdity of the universe and at the most inconvenient time – like in the shower.

Byrt: Does your background in archaeology have any impact on your writing?

GC: It’s made me very concerned with details, and very conscious of how material objects reflect culture and can be used to bring a setting and a time period to life. A career as an archaeologist and academic has also 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.

Byrt: I’m always intrigued by people who come to writing from a scientific background – do you ever have left brain/right brain battles during your creative process?

GC: I suppose you could say that I use my scientific side to keep my creative side disciplined and on track. I impose a lot of structure on my writing process: strict outlines, daily routines, and editing techniques.

Byrt: What’s your favorite thing to do when you get stuck while writing?

GC: I’ll read something non-fiction that relates to what I’m writing – for the Parasol Protectorate that’s Victorian fashion plates or cook books or medical manuals. Sometimes I’ll go back to my world building notebooks. More often I’ll simply put a note in the margin, skip the part that is giving me trouble, and just keep writing. I must hit my daily word count (it’s that scientific side imposing on creation again).

Byrt: When and how did you first discover Steampunk? Did Steampunk trigger your love for the Victorian era, or vice versa?

GC: The Victorian era came first. I used to make hoopskirts out of my hula-hoops as a child. I came to steampunk later as an aesthetic movement. I’m a longtime fan of vintage clothing and Goth style; steampunk drew me in as a cheerful melding of the two. I also love seeing recycled technology used as jewelry, and other examples of how creative the maker community has become over the past few years.

Byrt: So far you’ve spoofed a Victorian romance, a Gothic mystery, a Victorian adventure, and a Sherlock Holmes cozy. Are there other spoofs you would like to write, either in the Parasol Protectorate world or beyond?

GC: Oh parody is a rich minefield, I could just keep going. My humor can be a bit mercurial so I really have no idea what might be beyond the Parasol Protectorate.

Byrt: You’ve said The Parasol Protectorate #4 will be called Heartless, and Parasol Protectorate #5 will be Timeless – the first three titles, Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless, all referred to Alexia. Is it safe to assume the titles for 4 and 5 do as well? Can you hint at all at how Alexia will be Heartless? Or maybe tease a bit about what’s coming up next?

GC: In a small way both the next two titles refer to Alexia, but they are more pertinent to various other characters. I look forward to people guessing which.

Byrt: You’ve mentioned that you’re developing two YA series – one 25 years prior to the Parasol Protectorate, and one that follows the next generation. Can you tease any more about those projects? Maybe hint at what characters they’ll feature? (Yes, I’m shameless.)

GC: Ah, well the one that follows the next generation probably won’t be YA. It is just a twinkle in my eye at the moment, not even a notebook in sight. As to the one set previous in time, all I can say is that it will feature a few recognizable minor characters from the Alexia books, again as minor characters but in different forms and states – so to speak.

Byrt: Have you read any books recently that you would recommend?

GC: I was lucky enough to get a galley of MK Hobson’s The Native Star which I very much enjoyed.

Byrt: And lastly, I have to confess the only tea I drink is of the Lipton ice tea mix variety. (Ducks hurled tea saucer.) So how does one educated their tea drinking palette? Any state-side brands you can stand?

GC: Eeek! Lipton? If I’m forced, I’ll drink regular red label Twinings, and once in a while try something new from a boutique mix. As to developing a palette, I believe, as with coffee or caviar, that you need to hunt out the best of the best in order to really know what good tea is, otherwise you will never learn to like it. To me the best tea is a high end English Breakfast with absolutely no herb quality to it (herb = as you get with Stash, ugh) that can be brewed strong but never bitter, and that is perfectly sweet with just a dollop of whole milk (always always always whole). If you find yourself drinking a milky tea and wanting sweetener this is a sign of not very good tea (as it is with coffee).

Byrt: So in situations of hospitality and hot beverages – is hot chocolate an acceptable substitute? Or would such a non-leafy choice be insulting in the home of a true tea lover? :)

GC: It depends entirely on the quality of the cocoa powder. I think a good high quality, not too sweet, is an acceptable alternative in the evening. In fact, sometimes preferred by those sensitive to caffeine. And, of course, easily elevated through the addition of some quality liquor.

Thanks again to Gail Carriger for stopping by the Bookyurt!

For more on all things parasol, you can find Gail’s website here.