Welcome back for Part 2 of our interview with Gail Carriger, author of Parasol Protectorate series – Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless which was released June 28. Timeless is due out in 2012.
Part 1 can be found here.
Airship Ambassador: Welcome back, Gail. Talking about Soulless, it was written with the structure of the Victorian melodrama romance. What other Victorian narrative styles have you used in your books?
Gail Carriger: Well I love Gothic literature and I got into Gothic lit because I was a science fiction and fantasy geek from day one. I started looking at the Gothics because they are the origin of science fiction and fantasy as a genre. All the tropes and archetypes from a literary sense are sourced in the Gothic movement. (That’s also the origin of mysteries, romances, horrors, and Westerns.) I really love playing with tropes, and I love creating characters that are typical characters you might expect out of a Gothic novel and then upsetting them later. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
With Soulless I really took a sort of Dickensian/early Edith Wharton style romance, standard romantic elements, and then built the first story on top of that to play with it. Omniscient narration (AKA third person head-hopping) is one of Dickens’s tricks, that kind of thing.
Carrying on the story line, I decided that Changeless was going to be more Castle of Otranto style Gothic where we visit a decrepit place and murder and excitement ensues. Really early early Gothic. In Blameless I’m playing with the American Alan Quatermain, ‘boys adventure’ novel, sort of what the Westerns came out of. It’s a mad dash charging across Europe. With Heartless, I went back to my Sherlock Holmesian love. So it’s a parody of the cozy Sherlock Holmes style mystery.
Timeless is where I get to explore the roots of Alexia, Amelia B. Edwards. Amelia existed in the Victorian era and traveled up and down the Nile in the 1840’s and 50’s with only a chaperone for company. I’m going to steal the Victorian travel journal idea for the last book.
AA: I would usually ask how much of ‘you’ is in each character but in prior discussions, you’ve mentioned before that several people of your acquaintance and friendship have been the basis for the some of the characters. How intentional or accidental was that?
GC: Yes, that’s very true. Well, I can’t reveal all my secrets. Ivy, for example, is one of my very dear friends when she is drunk. So when I run out of Ivy-silliness, I will go over to her house and be like, “Drink the red wine. It’s time for more Ivy-fodder.” Then she’ll say something outrageous and I get to translate it into Victorian English. But pretty much, Ivy is her when she’s drunk, which she’s a little offended by. In a silly Ivy-ish way, of course.
Sometimes it is not intentional, my friends will creep into my books without intention. I knew who Ivy came from, but, for example, there’s one infamous character who is in the book, he’s just a little minor character. My friend, the self same drunken Ivy character, says to me, “What’s Paul doing in your book?” And I said, “Paul? Paul’s not in my book. I didn’t put Paul into my book.” And she says, “Oh yes you did. He’s just red-headed.” And I was like, “Oh my God. It’s Tunstell. I did put Paul into my book!” Luckily Paul is, in fact, just as good humored as Tunstell. He bleached his hair and dyed it red and now shows up as Tunstell periodically at signings. He’s like, “Drama? Excellent. Am I in the book? Fantastic!”
AA: With that alternate world that you’ve created, how much research went into it to create the different societies for vampires and werewolves and then the actions and situations you wanted them to be in?
GC: Well, one reason for me to put vampires and werewolves in the Gothic trope is because I was playing with Gothic. This is where such monsters come from, essentially, for Western literature. If you put werewolves, ghosts, and vampires back into Victorian England that’s where they started, so there’s this full circle that I really enjoy. And I totally lost track of where this conversation was going.
AA: Oh, just the amount of research that you put into creating…
GC: Oh, the research. So I knew the werewolves were going to play some wolf-pack dynamics which meant generally alpha-male sort of protocols. And I wanted the vampires to be based off of a natural dynamic that I could draw on easily but was a contrast. I wanted a female ruler-ship, and that’s how I came up with the hive idea, bees and drones and so forth.
With the research, I have a pretty good grounding in some Victorian science because that’s the root of my own discipline. I’m good on the costuming because I’m really into that. I’ve lived in England which helped with speech cadence. My mom is British, so I had a handle on certain other things. Then there’s the medical science, steam technology, London streets and businesses in 1873, locomotion, that I really wasn’t that familiar with, so I did have to do quite a bit of research. I did do some research into early vampiric and werewolf lore just to know what rules I was breaking <laughs>. I generally spend half my time researching and half my time actually clicking on the computer.
AA: You are not always kind, in your own way, to your characters. Lord Maccon is drunk, or naked, although not both, yet. What kind of challenges did you have in creating some of that unkindness, those actions towards them, and keeping their reactions within Victorian norms and cultural attitudes and such?
GC: Well, I think again that’s part of the fun. One of the reasons that I have vampires and werewolves in Victorian London is because I find both vampires and werewolves intrinsically amusing as a practical idea. Werewolves in particular because what can be more anti-Victorian than a creature that has to strip in order to convert into a beast? I mean that’s shocking. Injecting them into polite society was bound to be a recipe for amusement. Vampires are similar. I don’t know if you’ve ever worn fake teeth, but the first time I put them in I lisped for most of the day trying to talk around them, or the very idea that you have to suck somebody’s blood. The Victorians would be like, “Oh, terribly nice chap. Wonderful at polo. But that neck nibbling habit, we’re not going to talk about that. No no no.” So it’s all fodder for fun.
AA: Alexia knows the most interesting people, which is probably an understatement – proper societal friends, gay vampires, nerdy and beastly werewolves – how did this charming array of party guests come about?
GC: Well again, part of it is my own friendship group. Part of it is my love of dichotomy. I’m really interested in taking a typical character like the ultimate romantic urban hero vampire and going, “Oh, let’s make him flamboyantly gay. You know, and, sparkles. <laughs> Or let’s take the classic werewolf, super scruffy archetype and make one a professor, a very urbane werewolf. I like contrast.
AA: There’s plenty of fun, frivolity, and irreverence as you play with Victorian bigotry and stereotypes. What kind of balancing effort did you have to maintain to show Alexia as a product of her times and experiences yet with modern sensibilities and actions?”
GC: It was mostly a matter of voice. I wanted Alexia to sympathetic to the modern reader but still of her time. I couldn’t be too Victorian as a result but I could make her terribly embarrassed when she accidentally shows an ankle.
AA: In so many stories, a hero/heroine is strong, independent, and generally does all the work for a resolution. How does Alexia support or challenge that idea?
GC: Alexia uses her friends and relationships to network and solve the problems presented her in the book. She isn’t on the solitary one-man-against-the-universe hero’s journey. This reliance on others is not a weakness, it is a foundation. I often feel solitary struggles are over-valued, to be a whole person you must know when to ask for help and that this is not a defect of character or story.
AA: A lot of times I share all the steampunk stories and authors and write-ups with my nieces and nephews, probably to my sister’s chagrin. She’d call it pushing it onto them. But one reason that I do it is so that they can see they can be anything when they grow up. Looking at Alexia as a role model, what are some of the things that I could call out to my nieces and nephews that they can adopt into their lives and say, “Oh, I want to be like Alexia?”
GC: Well, I think one of Alexia’s strengths and one of the reasons I think people find her really engaging as a character is her pragmatic approach to life. Any situation, could be the most dire crisis, and tea is the first solution. And then maybe whacking it with a parasol is a secondary backup plan. Alexia tends to be very level headed in a way that a lot of protagonists aren’t, and that is part of her appeal. It comes from her sort of soul-less aspect. She lacks creativity and inspiration but she makes up for it with this innate practicality.
Another thing they can take from Alexia is her ability to surround herself with wonderful people and great friends. I have lots of subversiveness in my books which, you know, is masked by comedy. Nobody realizes when they’re laughing but I like to hope there’s a little part of their brain saying, “Oh, it’s ok to be gay. Oh these relationships are valid too. Cross-dressing, perhaps not so bad.” I’m a big proponent of the female hero’s journey rather than the male hero’s journey. I did a lot of classical studies in University and you may or may not notice that Alexia is very rarely alone striving against all odds killing people and returning home to save the day. That’s not my approach . I think her strength is in her friends and being able to call on others. That is the best way you can be in life, surrounded by wonderful friends. That would be my biggest take-away from Alexia.
AA: What led you to become a writer? Why do you keep writing?
GC: A healthy does of insanity mixed with a reckless disregard for my own survival topped with ingrained escapist tendencies. I keep at it because it’s almost like breathing. Even if I didn’t make my living as an author, I’d write.
This is the end of Part 2.
Join us next time for Part 3 when Gail will share with us her background as an archaeologist, and some of her literary inspirations.
Until then, read more from Gail on her website.
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