Champagne, Custard and Comedy: A Conversation with Gail Carriger


Prudence hits stores on Tuesday, March 17.

On Tuesday, Gail Carriger’s latest novel, Prudence, hits stores, returning the New York Times-bestselling author to the airship-driven world of her breakthrough steampunk series, the”Parasol Protectorate”.

Prudence, however is part of the new “Custard Protocol” duology and follows the adventures of Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama, a.k.a. Rue, and her friends. It features fashion, werewolves and a search for the perfect cup of tea on a dirigible named “The Spotted Custard”. 

I sat down with the parasol-wielding raconteur for a quick chat after as the Tucson Festival of Books  wrapped up on Sunday. Alas, I didn’t find out what exactly a Spotted Custard is, but I did learn not to judge a book by its pink cover as we talked about the steampunk aesthetic and the evolution of comic novels.

Michael: So tell me about Prudence. I admit, I look at the cover and, while it’s pretty stylish looking, I don’t think I’m the target audience.

Gail: Well, it does have a pink cover! It’s really just a classic comedy of manners set in a steampunk world. But if you like P.G. Wodehouse or Connie Willis, you will like my books. I’m heavily influenced by both of them; my stuff is character driven, relationship oriented and it’s very much about people interacting.

Carriger's debut Soulless, kicked off "The Parasol Protectorate" series.

Carriger’s debut Soulless, kicked off “The Parasol Protectorate” series.

And this is set in the same universe as your previous adult series.

This is a spin-off, so you don’t need to be familiar with the original series. But there are reoccurring characters, so if you have read the previous series, you will get little cookies for being loyal!

That seems to be a trend I’ve noticed – Sam Sykes’ and Myke Cole’s recent novels were set in the same universe (and in Sam’s case featured the same characters) but still work as entry points for new readers. Was there a specific request for a new series that wouldn’t intimidate new readers with a long backstory?

I think Orbit would have been quite happy for me to write the original series forever! Look at authors like Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton. Personally I find that quite daunting. In my case I admire writers like Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey who write within — they create a little sandbox and write different generations and children and do spin-offs and standalone novels. I’ve always admired that type of writing and world-building.

You have embraced steampunk’s style and aesthetics as well the genre. Were you into the style before the genre, or vice versa?

I have been into the aesthetic of steampunk for years, the style, the manners, the fashion — obviously the fashion! In fact when I got into it I didn’t even realize there was a literary genre. There have been waves of steampunk – the first wave was back in the ’70s and I didn’t even know it existed. So I was into the style of steampunk and when I started writing seriously, the series just sort of fell into the style, I hadn’t necessarily intended it.

Steampunk Author Gail Carriger. Photo credit: Robert Andruszko.

Steampunk Author Gail Carriger. Photo credit: Robert Andruszko.

You were trained as an archeologist. What brought you to novel-writing?

I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been a convention goer. And I’ve been a writer all my life as well. But I grew up in a community where anyone who was a writer ate quesadillas and ramen every day. I didn’t want to live like that.

My other love growing up was archeology, so I figured I’d become an archeologist and write in my spare time. And that’s exactly what I did. I still love both professions and I’m lucky in that if my writing career tanks I can turn right back around and go back to the university, walk into the laboratory and say ‘You guys need a hand?’

You have quite a presence on social media as well, regularly blogging and tweeting about fashion, tea, parasols and the like. 

I genuinely enjoy social media. I was heavily involved in social media before I became an author and I knew it would be part of my wheelhouse.  But I cheat — I have prescribed times when I do my social media, then I schedule my tweets so it looks like I’m more active than I actually am!  I’m still an introvert, but I like going to conventions and meeting my fans. I’m a rare writer in that I enjoy meeting people.

All the writers I talk to seem to have developed a taste for whisky. Do you have a favorite scotch or bourbon?

I’m not a whisky person – I’m a champagne girl! Vodka if I have to, but I love the bubbly. I’ve never not had a reason to celebrate, so you might as well drink the champagne at the bar!

So who are some of your influences?

I primarily am a comedy writer. I write in other genres but at its core the thing I try to do is write funny. And there aren’t a lot of authors out there who do that, so I latched on to them: Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, Christopher Moore. And the fact that all the names I listed are male names is one of the reasons I decided to try. Why aren’t any women doing this? There is a history of male comedy writers from Jerome K. Jerome to P.G. Wodehouse. There are some women, Connie Willis, Poppy Brite, but they aren’t strictly comedy.

What about Terry Pratchett?

Oh yes! I got to give the keynote, introducing him at ALA (American Library Association) several years ago. He was very informative in my writing. His passing is tragic, but we’re lucky to have so much of his work available.

The luggage still makes me laugh. Everyone has a “Discworld” character they relate to, and for me it’s the luggage. As you can imagine.

Anything else to add?

I’m always on the lookout for a good comedy novel, so please, send me some! It’s hard to write comedy so it’s rare and hard to find. Life’s tough, read more comedy!

Look for a review of Prudence coming soon.

— Michael Senft


About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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1 Response to Champagne, Custard and Comedy: A Conversation with Gail Carriger

  1. Pingback: Review: “Prudence” by Gail Carriger | Relentless Reading (And Writing About It!)

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