In 2010, Soulless earned Gail a nomination for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, also, a finalist for several literary awards and a recipient of the 2010 Alex Award, Soulless was declared by Publisher’s Weekly to be one of the “Best Books of 2009”. Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless were all New York Times Bestsellers.
Airship Ambassador: Welcome, Gail! It’s great to chat with you again! The last time we were able to talk in person was at Nova Albion 2011. How have you been since then?
Gail Carriger: Very well, indeed, that you so much for having me.
AA: Before we get too deep into our conversation today, what is the correct pronunciation of your name? I’ve heard people say it different ways.
GC: Ger–hard ‘G’ rather than like a conveyance.
AA: See, you know there’re people out there mispronouncing it.
GC: I know. Strangely enough, as you may or may not know, it is a pseudonym and I chose it because I thought, “Oh, it’s a nice simple name. No one will mispronounce it.” My real name is an awful unpronounceable monster. Of course, no one pronounces Carriger correctly, but it’s a pseudonym so I don’t care that much.
AA: You’ve been very busy with the release of each book quickly in succession and all kinds of signing events and conventions. How do you keep a balance in life and stay healthy with all the traveling?
GC: I try to only do one big event a month. When I travel I try to eat as healthy as I can and get as much sleep as possible, and wear gloves.
AA: What has the fans reaction been like at signing events?
GC: My fans are very enthusiastic and full of vim and vinegar. And questions, lots of questions. I remember Huntington Beach in 2010 in particular, I was on tour for Blameless and was standing there looking over my notes and heard this ripple of laughter. I looked up and a whole gaggle of ladies had their parasols up and were bobbing them up and down in unison while they waited. It was adorable.
AA: You’ve gotten good feedback for the series. What are some of the more outrageous and extreme bits of feedback that you’ve gotten?
GC: I’ve had many complaints about embarrassment on public transport, because the books make people laugh out loud. One Twitter follower complained I ruined her Friday because she refused to go anywhere or do anything until she finished Heartless.
AA: After two years on the market, are you surprised at how many new people are just being exposed to the series now?
GC: Actually my publishing house has a special on for July and August 2011 where all three of the first books in electronic form are available for $9.99. So a number of people are just now discovering the series and writing reviews of Soulless. It’s been wonderful gaining new fans. Not to mention that only now are the books beginning to come out in foreign lands. I just had contact from my first German, Japanese, and Polish fans! So cool.
AA: Before the whirlwind of The Parasol Protectorate, what did you work on beforehand?
GC: I used to be an archaeologist who moonlighted as a writer, now I’m a writer who moonlights as an archaeologist.
AA: What was your publishing experience for Soulless?
AA: What was your first meeting like with the publishing staff?
GC: I went to meet my editor, and there with her were my publisher and my publicist–totally unexpectedly. The publisher himself! I was so nervous. She introduced me to them, and invited me to have drinks later, and just for a chat. I was like, “Oh God. Oh no.” So later that evening, I met with all three of them, and I realize now in hindsight that they were vetting me, testing to see what kind of person I was, whether I was a writer that had to be kind of “J.D. Salinger”-ed away, or whether I was a writer who could go out and do a book tour. There are writers that are more gregarious than others. I’m used to public speaking because I was a professor.
Finally, my publicist said, “So, do you have any ideas for the cover art?” And I thought to myself, “I’m prepared for this question.” Because, the author’s response is supposed to be, “Oh no, no. You guys bought the book. It’s all your decision. Wrap it in whatever you think is best.” Authors have no say in the cover art, you see, and I’d been trained for years that authors have no say in the cover art. “Choose your words carefully, Gail.” I thought to myself. So I said, “Thanks for asking, and if there are any images that I come across on the Internet that remind me of Alexia, I’ll just send it your way and you can use it as inspiration.” I belong to a great LiveJournal group called “Steam Fashion,” which I highly recommend if you’re on LiveJournal. It’s just a really friendly group of creators who like talking about the clothing. Donna Ricci, who is the owner of “Clockwork Couture” and who’s also a professional model, posted this image of herself in garb, which became the cover. It’s a different colored dress, but essentially it’s that original image. The funny thing, of course, is that this image is used for advertisement–I’ll get back to that later–on her website, so I ganked it. I sent it to Orbit and said, “This is kind of what I was thinking. She’s a little skinny, but she’s got the right nose and face shape and that kind of thing, so….” and then I didn’t hear anything.
I thought, “Oh, they hated it. Oh well. Nevermind.” And about two months later (and this is how publishing works–the author hears nothing for months and months and months and then the publishing house wants something done with them in three days) Donna friends me on Facebook, and she says, “Oh, I’m signing the contract for your cover.” And I thought, “I guess they liked it.” And of course the hindsight funny story is that this image is used to sell that dress on her website, and so I constantly get people contacting me, “Do you know someone is using your cover art on a commercial site?” And I say, <<whispers>> “Actually, it’s the other way around.” Later on that year, I went down and met Donna in LA, which is where her business is based, and she looks nothing like Alexia at all. She’s this minuscule little thing. We went to karaoke—a gay boy karaoke bar – Lord Akeldama would have loved it. Now Donna and I are great friends, so I have an inside track in “Clockwork Couture.” “Donna, I love that hat. What can you do for me?”
AA: What about the Alexia paper doll web app? It’s quite entertaining. Did you have input into that too, or did they just say, “Here, we’re building this. It’ll be fun. You’ll love it.”
GC: Well, it ties back to that conversation I talked about. The publicist and I talked about online marketing, and one of the reasons that I ended up choosing to go with Orbit is that they’re a very young US company. (And the staff is literally age-wise young.) I thought I would rather work with a publishing house that’s my generation because they’re just more familiar with the way the Internet works, and they’re not shocked by e-books, online promoting, or anything like that.
I talked with Alex, who’s my publicist at Orbit, about having a website. I’d already started designing one, and I had a very specific brand in mind, and after tracking me for a little while, I think Alex realized, “Oh, she’s got the social media thing under control.” I think it freed him up to be really experimental with some of his other marketing ideas, and the paper doll app is his brainchild. I created an Alexia dossier for him.
I went through the entire first book and pulled out every piece of clothing Alexia wears that’s described. Then I found period images that were similar, as well as backgrounds in the way Alexia’s facial expressions. The final dossier is on my website if you want to download it, but you can also play the paper doll. As a result, the artist who drew all the outfits for the paper doll app, those are all actual outfits all from the first book. It’s pretty fun.
This is the end of Part 1.
Join us next time for Part 2 when Gail will share with us the structural inspiration of her books, and the research which goes into creating her characters.
Until then, read more on Gail’s website.
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