Gail Carriger is a born storyteller and her novels show it. After a stint in the academy as an archaeologist, Carriger has gained a huge fan following due to her incredible novels which range from romance to steampunk to fantasy to many others. Her ongoing series set in the 1890s, The Custard Protocol, will be soon bringing its readers a new installment with the novel Competence. Wanting to learn more about her career and her upcoming work, I was lucky to be able to interview Carriger for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved reading again and again?
Gail Carriger: I was raised by an expat on British young readers books like The Water Babies, Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers, The Railway Children, and so forth. But the series I truly loved, that changed my life, and that I reread over and over again was Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series.
Yanes: As someone with a Ph.D., I am jealous that you had the courage to abandon the academy. With that said, do you feel that your time as a scholar impacted your approach to storytelling and world building?
Carriger: It’s made me very concerned with details, and very conscious of how material objects reflect culture and can be used to bring setting and characters to life (that’s the archaeologist part). I suspect my readers have noticed that what characters wear and own is almost as important as what they do and say in my books. A career as an academic has also given me good research skills, a respect for deadlines, a fascination with historical cultures, and, most importantly, the ability to subsist entirely on instant soup and tea.
Yanes: I first learned about you because several of my friends were raving about your audio books. What steps do you take to make sure your audio books are so engaging?
Carriger: I was raised on audio books, without a TV, so I think of my stories as being told around a fireplace late at night. When I’m writing a new book I always like to do one revision where I read the whole book, out loud, to an empty room. I find it helps me catch errors, but also smooths the voice and cadence of my own style and use of words. For my indie projects, where I have complete control of the narrator, I’m really careful about who I pick and I hire a really fastidious producer to make certain the audio quality is really high. I’m a bit of a nerb about it, actually.
Yanes: On this note, what advice do you have for other writers who want to create audio versions of their stories?
Carriger: Unfortunately this is one part of the process where most of us authors really have to spend a lot of money to get a quality product. Unless you yourself are a voice actor/podcaster with years of experience and a quality studio, I advise (strongly) against narrating the book yourself. Audio is a different medium, and I believe a professional narrator should be involved to make your writing shine, not to mention a producer.
Yanes: Of all the characters you’ve created, which one would you like to see more people cosplay?
Carriger: Ivy Hisselpenny without a doubt. Also after this next book comes out, I’m hoping to see more of both Anitra & Tasherit. I also really love crossplay, I’m always excited to see that with my characters.
Yanes: In another interview, you mentioned that you are a “militant outliner,” and I am as well. So do you have any advice for how militant outliners like us can maintain friendships with writers who don’t plot ahead?
Carriger: It’s a serious issue because I have probably more pantsers than plotters as writer friends. They are always complaining about losing the thread, having to rewrite or delete large chunks, getting road blocked or stymied. And I just deadpan back, “Well if you outlined…” Which makes me less sympathetic than I could be. I’ve learned that everyone has a different process and way of approaching writing, and they’ve learned that I’m not sympathetic enough to complain to…
Yanes: One of your upcoming novels is Competence. What was the inspiration for setting Miss Primrose Tunstell in Singapore?
Carriger: I was at the Singapore Writers Festival a few years ago and just fell in love with the place. I also visited the National History Museum there and picked up a little book of collected primary source material from the 1890s that isn’t available elsewhere. Then I promised the Minister of Culture Sim Ann (who is a fan of mine – squee!) that I would put it in the next book. I like to keep my promises.
Yanes: Primrose is an amazing character. For a character like this, how do you plot character growth in such a way that they can develop without alienating readers?
Carriger: I think no matter how different a character is from the reality of a reader’s life, she or he has touchpoints of sympathy. Sure Primrose is an uptight Victorian woman trying to come to terms with her romantic interest in other women, but she wants things other people want: children, family, responsibility, and home. She struggles with passion and love and purpose in life. I think there is something in her everyone can relate to.
Yanes: When people finish reading Competence and your other stories, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Carriger: I have a lot of themes of found family, and cohesion, and finding lightness and joy and belonging in the world. So I guess I hope they can find that for themselves as well.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
Carriger: For those who like art with their words, I’ve a special edition of Soulless coming out in hardcover with 10 stunning illustrations by Jensine Eckwall. In November I’m bringing out the second San Andreas Shifters book, for those who like things a bit more steamy. And early next year, I’m planning to release a fun mash up police procedural on a space station with an adorable alien who comes from a planet with five genders. Joining my newsletter, The Chirrup (http:/gailcarriger.com/chirrup), is the best way to keep up with me, but I’m also all over Social Media.