Tuesday, 29 September 2009

INTERVIEW: Gail Carriger

Ladies and Gentlemen, may we humbly introduce to the cream of Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, Mz Gail Carriger.

With the hot off the presses release of Gail's first novel, Soulless, we retreat into a Victoriana Steampunk era that should have existed. With such compelling characters such as Gay Vampires and combative parasol weilding young ladies, what else could we come to expect from this interesting and perhaps novel new author. We thought that fate must have dealt us a lucky blow for our chance of an interview with this quirky author and discovered the following over Tea and Treacle Tart...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Gail Carriger: I suspect writing is more of a curse for those around me. I get distracted and spacey at the beginning of a project, frustrated in the middle, briefly euphoric at the end, and grumpy when I'm not writing at all. I imagine it's like living with someone who has a six-month rotation of some bizarre kind of pregnancy – all the time, over and over again.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

GC: I'm not entirely convinced I am one. I still pause whenever I'm asked what I do at cocktail parties.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

GC: I don't know that I would put it quite that way. I do think that writing a good short story is the pinnacle of the writing art. The only thing harder is writing a good _funny_ short story.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

GC: It's got gay vampires, dirigibles, and madly wielded parasols in it. What more could you want from a book?

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

GC: Soulless spinster meets grumpy werewolf investigator over the issue of lisping vampires in a steampunk universe. If you can get over the sheer number of sub-genres you're in for a ridiculously fun ride.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

GC: I must have Douglas Adams and I'm always waiting for the next in Tanya Huff's Valor series.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

GC: I'm a militant outliner, to the point where sometimes I plan for events to occur on specific page numbers. A Victorian era setting can become bogged down by social convention, so I have to watch my pace. I also came to writing via YA, so I like plot to be neat, tidy, and clear. I keep several notebooks with timelines, chapter outlines, gadget listings, outfit & place sketches, battle scenes, historical research notes, and general ideas and inspiration. These also include cast lists and character profiles (once a character is written). Characters are one of the few things that aren't planned. Sometimes a character will surprise me by becoming more important, or introducing himself/herself unexpectedly. They usually know what's going on better than I do, so I let them do it in defiance of my outline.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

GC: I find exercise very relaxing, so I do things like dancing, swimming, or hiking. I'm also a big vintage clothing shopper and podcast fanatic. Sometimes you can find me doing all of these together (well, not the swimming), this relaxes me and gives me an immense sense of accomplishment. I just finished reading Ken Scholes's latest book.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

GC: Project Runway, closely followed by Trader Joe's Paneer Tikka Masala and Marie Claire magazine. Again, sometimes I can be found indulging in all three at once.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

GC: I have a cat, Chubby Fucker, who, as I often inform her, is only kept around as food after the zombie apocalypse. She is a brindled tabby, whose main purpose in life appears to be to sit, monorail-like, on the arm of the couch and occasionally bestir herself to murder a pair of innocent ear-buds. She can, however, use the toilet. She makes an appearance, as a calico, in the first book, and has a small but vital role in the third. (Don't tell her, though, she'll want royalties.)

FT: Which character within Soulless was the most fun to write and why?

GC: Lord Akeldama. I'm under the impression you need only read him to understand why.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

GC: Ah. More similar than I'd like to admit, I suspect. But the real me is split between two side characters, the second of whom doesn't appear until Book 2. I'll leave you to guess which two.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

GC: I like to sew, dance, cook, and eat. I've also traveled considerably for my day job. All of these things creep into the book: Alexia is obsessed with food and I'm always describing the way people move and what they are wearing.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

GC: Sometimes something will spark when I'm doing research for work. I also 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 or while I'm driving.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

GC: I have certain friends I can call when I'm stuck, depending on the issue. Sometimes I pigeonhole the Armenian Lovers and stride about the living room talking at them until I've gotten over the hump - generally to their utter confusion and entirely without their input. However, if I'm on a deadline, I simply highlight the problem area and keep writing, come back to it later. That's the one and only real trick to authordom - sit your arse in that chair and just keep writing.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

GC: Oh I'm nothing if not civilized. With a project due and no day job (mine's intermittent) I write from 2 to 7 every weekday – with breaks for tea. The rest of the household, with the exception of the Chubby Fucker, is quite respectful. I have a closed-door policy. Which is to say: if the door to my office is closed my policy is to throw the nearest moveable object at anyone who disturbs me. They've learned. Even the cat.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

GC: Short answer, nope. I'm a dancer. If music is playing I want to dance, not write.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

GC: Not a lot, I eased into the industry slowly and I did my homework. I attended every panel and visited every website I could on how to get published in the SF/F genre and what it was like. I also hit most publishing problems I could in a rather convenient sideways manner through a stint in educational print in Australia. Fifteen years later, I still made some mistakes when the Call came, but fewer than most I hope.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

GC: Writing is the booze of introverts. My explanation? Have you ever been to a hotel bar at a convention? I rest my case.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

GC: There's a dirigible trip, a whole lot of Scottish werewolf fuss, and Ivy gets drunk.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

GC: (Trots off to check her history.) Hotmail, Livejournal, Amazon, steampunkexhibition.com, and efanzines.com/ExhibHall/.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

GC: Only if you count many years as an academic, which taught me one thing: respect deadlines.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

GC: Sheer unadulterated stubbornness. I also review books professionally, so knowing what kind of crap was getting published gave me hope.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

GC: The worst aspects of writing professionally are the long interminable wait between submission and publication, and the fact that payment comes in lump sums. Those are also the best aspects.

1 comment:

Donna Gambale said...

This is a fantastic interview. Gail is too too funny, and Soulless just nudged itself even higher on my TBR pile. Thanks!