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Waistcoats, Weaponry, and Writing: An Interview with Gail Carriger

Author Gail Carriger writes comedic steampunk mixed with urbane fantasy. Her Parasol Protectorate books, their manga adaptations, and the first two books in her YA Finishing School seriesabout Victorian girl spies were all New York Times bestsellers. Her newest book, Waistcoats & Weaponry, is out November 4th. She was once a professional archaeologist and is overly fond of tea.

Gail was kind enough to answer some questions about her latest novel and writing in general. So pour yourself some tea, button that waistcoat, and let’s get started!

Rachel Cordasco: Waistcoats & Weaponry is the third book in your young adult steampunk Finishing School series: can you give us an overview of this latest installment and explain how it fits into the series as a whole?

Gail Carriger: In this book Sophronia and her friends finally get to spend time away from their school, putting all their newly leaned spy skills to good use. There is a train heist, an accidental kidnapping, a renewal of old acquaintances ­(not all of them welcome) and, finally, some serious flirting. Also, I suspect someone throws food at someone else ­– in my books, they usually do.

RC: What drew you to the idea of a “finishing school”?

GC: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of girls’ boarding schools. I blame A Little Princess. However, I realized recently, as I was re-watching the BBC adaptation of Gaskell’s North & South, that I think this TV series may be to blame. There is a line where Mr. Bell says, “Have you meet Miss Latimer? Just returned from Switzerland and very much finished.” Or something like. Mr. Bell is a facetious character and I think he is meant to be contemptuously dismissing both the young lady and the very idea of women being made into mere representations of a minimalistic social ideal. But the line has always stuck with me. It made me think about the very idea of sending girls away from home to be finished, and what a powerful thing that could become, were they to learn a whole new set of social skills.

RC: How do you approach writing a series? Are all the books mapped out beforehand and written together, or do you take time between books?

GC: In this case, I knew exactly how many books would be in the series from the start, so I mapped out a full arc. At the beginning, the prototype seems a throw away plot point but as the series progresses it becomes more significant. I hope that readers will see that Sophronia has inadvertently been involved, from the very start, in a technological revolution that has nation-wide implications. While each books stands alone with its own story, it is the steampunk aspect of these books that carries a plot thread from one novel to the next. In the final installment, readers will get to see how Sophronia is, in part, responsible for changes to her entire world. It is these changes that result in the steampunk world of my two adult series.

RC: What do you think humor adds to steampunk?

GC: I think humor adds to all forms of literature, not just steampunk. My hope is that it brings the reader joy and makes reading a pleasure not a chore.

RC: You’ve described steampunk fashion as “the lovechild of Hot Topic and a BBC costume drama” (I just love that). What is it about this kind of clothing that appeals to you?

GC: I think it is the whimsy. Also I’ve never had the courage to be a Goth, I’m a bit too bubbly to commit to that much black. But I have always loved the alt-Victorian aspects of Goth attire. Steampunk seems to be a lighter-hearted alternative. Also I don’t have to wholly commit every day, I can just wear a bit of a steampunk accessory here, a hair bob there. In the end, I guess I like it because I’m lazy. Sad but true.

RC: On your website you say that you “inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning.” Which subjects did you study, and how have they informed your writing?

GC: I have a BA in Archaeology with minors in Geology, Anthropology, Theology, Classics, and Philosophy. I have an MS (MSc in the UK) in Archaeological Materials and an MA in Anthropology (Archaeological Ceramics focus). Basically I’m an archaeological scientist who concentrated on ceramic analysis, which meant I spent half my time in a field lab and the other half in a university lab plopping priceless antiquities into ridiculously expensive machines with very long names. I suppose that being a devout academic has helped me in a number of ways: research skills, respect for deadlines, ability to outline, time management. Archaeologists are notorious for loving charts, categories, statistics, and booze. We are a heavily social science field: managing both stuff and people. Many of these organizational skills are useful for the business end of writing. Most of us authors are neurotic, I’m just lucky that my neuroses is mostly spent obsessing over Excel spreadsheets. I’m proud to say that I have actually caught mistakes on royalty statements. Yeah, I read them all. As for the booze, well authors, like archaeologists, invariably end up at the bar. So, yeah.

RC: Who are your favorite writers and why?

GC: Interesting, you asked me about writers, not authors. So I’m going to take this as a query about my peers not my preferences as a reader. To that end, I’m particularly fond of writers who reach out and help their community by running blogs or podcasts. Some of these have really helped me as a professional to weather the slings and arrows of publishing, from negative reviews to how to format an ebook. J. Daniel Sawyer of Literary Abominations is one of my best friends and lifelines. I cannot tell you how many times he has saved my bacon. (Also, we are also constantly writing each other into our respective books.) Victoria Strauss and the Writer Beware team kept me from getting into trouble before, during, and after transitioning to professional author-doom. Mur Lafferty and her I Should Be Writing Podcast still keep me sane. Patrick and the SF Signal roundtable peeps give me much-needed water cooler moment between conventions. Tee Morris (and later, Phillipa Balentine) started with the Survivor’s Guide podcast and now has the Shared Desk, light-hearted takes on current issues. I’ve recently gotten interested in the The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. Podcasters often have a certain perspective on social media management and marketing that I find modern and progressive. I also appreciate Kristine Kathryn Rusch for her Business Rusch and Chuck for his ranting on Terribleminds.

RC: What are you currently working on?

GC: I’ve just handed in the final proofs for Prudence, the first book in my adult Custard Protocol series. That is out next March. Once I get back from World Fantasy and my Waistcoats & Weaponry book tour in DC, Boston, and Chicago, I expect edits on the final Finishing School book, Manners & Mutiny. That should take me through the end of the year.

RC: Thanks so much for your time!

GC: Thanks for hosting me.

1 Comment on Waistcoats, Weaponry, and Writing: An Interview with Gail Carriger

  1. Giggles from another person corrupted by A Little Princess. I loved the storytelling aspect of it, the power of Sara’s imagination to transform not only her life, but those of the girls around her.

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