Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The 3:2 Interview with Gail Carriger

Welcome to the fourth 3:2 Interview, where I ask an author three writing questions and two that are decidedly not about writing at all. Today I’m delighted to have a virtual tea with Gail Carriger. Gail is the bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series, an intriguing and vastly amusing mashup of urban fantasy tropes, steampunk fashion, and a Victorian comedy of manners.

Her main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is soulless—a condition that grants her certain powers in a London populated with werewolves, vampires, and other creatures of the gothic milieu.

Gail’s third book, Blameless, is available today at your favorite bookstore or online here.

KH: Gail, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat.

GC: Thank you for hosting me.

KH: I know that your books are primarily written to be entertaining—at which they succeed magnificently—but I also enjoy the subtexts of various culture wars. Alexia’s Italian heritage and her soulless condition mark her as “other” in Victorian London, and she becomes associated with quite a few “others” during the course of the series. Most often she fights back against intolerance with superior fashion and manners, and I appreciate the light handling of weighty topics and that the books do not ignore the prejudices of the era (and indirectly shine light on our own). To what extent are you consciously exploring these themes? 

GC: I do tend to prefer to take as light a hand as possible with even the most weighty of matters. I enjoy frivolity in all its many forms. That said, I am aware of some of the subtext. I am consciously playing with (and spoofing) Victorian bigotry and stereotypes. Alexia has some modern sensibilities, but in the end, she is a creature of her era. As the series progresses, readers get to see how this has colored her worldview – sometimes unpleasantly. As to some of the other themes of tolerance and tea addiction, I do think that an author's beliefs are bound to sneak into whatever she writes.

KH: Taking a break from questions of great import, I know you’re quite the tea aficionado. Right now I’m drinking Earl Grey with milk and honey, but due to being American—an incurable condition, I’m told—I’m desperately afraid that this makes me a rather pedestrian consumer. Could you educate my palate a wee bit? What sorts of teas should I seek out to mature my hopelessly American palate? And might this question be of greater import than I thought at first?

GC: Oh dear, this is quite a serious matter, indeed. I'm afraid I have never been one to condone the consumption of Earl Grey – nasty perfumey bit of business. I'm a Twinings English Breakfast gold label drinker myself. Which I have to track down and import from England specially. It's better than the American Twinings because it can be brewed strong enough for a mouse to run across without getting bitter. It should be drunk with a healthy dollop of whole milk. The milk adds just the correct amount of sweetness. Good tea, like good espresso, should not need a sweetener. If it is so bitter it requires sugar it is either over-brewed, under-milked, or bad quality tea. Or the tea drinker his ruined his palate with something utterly plebeian like – shudder – soda.

KH: Clearly I have months of rehabilitation ahead of me. :) How much of a distraction do you find social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and so on? Are they gigantic timesucks that threaten your ability to write anything? How do you balance the need to promote and connect with fans with the need to meet deadlines?

GC: A terribly big distraction, but social media has been very good to me. I try to be  self disciplined about it. When I have a draft due and a deadline, I spend about two hours on social media three days a week, and do things like schedule my tweets ahead of time, or hold off on blogging to save time. If I'm really doing badly at staying on target, I remove myself to a cafe that has no wifi. It's difficult to balance because I want to be accessible and available to my fans, but I also need to write the next book or I won't have any fans. Luckily, they are pretty understanding when I go dark. The hardest thing is the guilt, when someone takes the time to write to me I feel awful if I don't write back immediately.

KH: Everybody wants to know more about bookshelf porn. (I can’t back that up, but I feel instinctively that it must be true.) You introduced me to the concept via your tweets, and I love it. Methinks the world would be better off if more people indulged. Which way do your tastes tend to run? The spare minimalism of modern shelves, the quirky shapes some of them employ, or the traditional wall unit of dark wood lurking in a study or library, faintly redolent of paper and glue and perhaps pipe tobacco? 

Are you a purist who claims bookshelves are for books and naught else, or a knicknacker who believes bookshelves are enhanced by the addition of objets d’art, clocks, and maybe even action figures? What does your perfect bookshelf look like, and what might we see on it?

GC: It often surprises people but I'm a strict minimalist. I have a bit of an OCD side so I like my environment very tidy: modern or slightly Asian inspired furniture, nothing steampunk or frilly Victorian about it. To that end, I once saw a photo of someone who had organized all the books behind their couch by color. I live for that. As things currently stand, I have a mahogany bookshelf that came from my Scandinavian grandmother – very severe, on which reside all my favorite genre paperbacks and a small stack of trade sized Young Adult books. Then I have two stacks of Baedecker's (Victorian period travel guides) and some of my more frequently referenced primary sources. I try not to buy anything in hardback. Sharing the shelf is one small framed picture, a bobble-headed gold plastic octopus, and a vase of fresh flowers.  Hidden away in the wardrobe are my "messy looking" research books.

KH: Steampunk is going mainstream, if it isn’t already there. In addition there’s dieselpunk, atompunk, and a whole lot of other punks running around threatening to make people’s lives absolutely fabulous. Why do you think all these punks are suddenly so appealing in fiction? (And by “suddenly” I mean within the last decade.) Is it the next evolutionary step in fiction, an outlet for counterculture expression, a wistful longing for what might have been, or…?

GC: I have many theories on this. Part of the appeal, I think, has to do with our own sense of chaos and impending doom in America right now. This often causes people to seek out a time period that was more rigid and controlled, full of polite manners and forms of address. Steampunk has the advantage of being connected to an aesthetic that incorporates the maker movement and even the green movement. I think that is a large part of its charm: style, conscientiousness, beauty, and escape – all rolled into one.

KH: I can empathize with that immensely—the green bit especially. Gail, thanks so much for visiting with me! I can’t wait to read Blameless, and I wish you the best of luck with it!

GC: Thank you! And good luck with your own literary future.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #5

I think there's probably this preconceived notion out there that miniature dwarfs only defend meat and beer. But that's a vicious lie—probably spread by miniature elves. Dwarfs acknowledge that consuming the occasional vegetable fends off scurvy and aids digestion. Hence the following:
 Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #5

My good friend Sigurd Kneecapper is guarding my Greek salad and a delectable brew called Easy Street Wheat in an Ommegang Witte glass.

The Greek salad is simple stuff: Roma tomatoes and cucumber, chopped basil, sprinkled with feta cheese, olive oil, and fresh-ground black pepper. Easy Street Wheat is from Odell Brewing in Ft. Collins, CO, and it was recommended to me a couple weeks ago by Anonymous in the comments after I sampled 90 Shilling Ale from the same brewer (in Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #3). Best Anonymous tip I've ever received—this beer has won five medals, including two golds, so you don't really need me to tell you it's freakin' good! It's exponentially more drinkable than that mass-produced beer that makes claims to drinkability, and it has just a whisper of sharpness to its taste that keeps it refreshing. Ommegang is a brewery in upstate NY near Cooperstown, and their Witte is very good. Their Three Philosophers Ale makes a guest appearance in my third book.

And now let's take a closer look at the stout sentinel, Sigurd:
If you try to score some of my Easy Street, Sigurd isn't going to make it easy for you. He aims low, you see—and I don't mean because he's a dwarf. He's swingin' for the knees first, and then when you're down and screaming, he'll leisurely swing that hammer at your squishy parts. You won't be thinking about my awesome beer at that point.
I pay Sigurd very well to guard my grub. That's why his (pick one) gromril/mithril/yourmomril armor is gold-kissed, from the chain to the plate to the spectacle helmet.

Remember to come back on Tuesday, when I'll have my 3:2 Interview with Gail Carriger!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One Hundred Plus Three

Not sure if there's some sort of numerological significance to this, but today marks my one hundredth blog post and my third novel accepted by Del Rey!

I have been smiling so much about that last bit that people have begun to fear me. They swerve out of my path and refuse to make eye contact, frightened that I might be happy at them.

I'm incapable of turning down the wattage, however, because at this time last year I didn't even have a book deal yet (The deal happened on Sep. 25, 2009), and now—11 months later—Del Rey has accepted HOUNDED, HEXED, and HAMMERED!

And starting about eight months from now—April 26, 2011—people will finally get to read my books! The trick, I am told, is to make them aware of my existence between now and then. I hope I can manage somehow.

My release schedule—April, May, and June of next year—means readers will get to sink their mental teeth deep into the series right away. It also means I'm in a really weird place right now...the sort of place they never tell you about, and by they I mean all those people who write about the writing life...you know: writers. I've written three urban fantasies, but I'm still a few months away from having a cover or early reviews or any of those other shiny things writers like to gush about. And don't get me wrong—I'm going to gush about my cover(s) and my (hopefully kind) early reviews, etc.—but in the meantime I'm a writer without any books to point at. It's a funky state of being; I should probably take notes.

The reason they never told me about this place is that there truly aren't many writers who have debuted in this fashion. From what I understand, I'm only the third to do so for Del Rey. I don't know if other publishers do this or not...so maybe I'm the third, period. Naomi Novik began her wonderful Temeraire series this way, and Stacia Kane just got finished releasing her first three Downside novels last month.

I've been told my blog posts will start poppin' up on Suvudu. Maybe it will even be this one—if so, hello there, nice person who clicked on a curious link! I should probably warn you that I will not simply be writing about my books. I tend to write about beer and miniature dwarfs and things of importance to nerds, and I do my best to post twice a week. I also like to interview other authors because I'm sort of a fanboy and easily impressed by smart people (my interview with Gail Carriger will go live a week from today, August 31). Browse through my archives to get a sense for it—I have 99 other posts here to enjoy! And if you say hi in the comments to let me know that you're now aware of my existence, I'll repay you by introducing you to Sigurd Kneecapper on Saturday—plus an awesome microbrew! :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Playin' Taps for Sci-Fi

All right, before we get down to what I have to say, this blog post about the withering of sci-fi is a must-read. Go there, absorb like a sponge, maybe do a shot (or two) for courage, and then come on back. :)

I lament the slow, painful death of sci-fi, but I must acknowledge my role in its decline. I haven't bought but maybe two or three sci-fi books in years—even though I used to devour them when I was younger and didn't get into fantasy until later.

I think the sentiments expressed in that blog post by both Mr. Allen and Mr. Martin are correct—we've become less optimistic about the future, we might be thinking things are getting worse instead of better, and so the already large suspension of disbelief we'd need for lots of sci-fi grows exponentially with our worries. It's like, "DUDE, not only can you not travel faster than light, but you can't seriously think there'd be a worldwide human government in the future when all we've been doing for the last few decades is splintering into ever-smaller tribal factions even as we're joining the ‘global village.’"

But I think there's even more to it than that: I can't keep up with the science anymore, and perhaps (??) that's a large part of the decline as well. We know so much more about the costs and realities of space travel than we did in the 50's and 60's, and so it's tougher on those grounds to suspend our disbelief for spacefaring shenanigans. If I'm reading about this nanotech idea or that idea for an FTL drive, part of me will think it's cool and part of me will think, "this idea will be completely exploded in ten years."

The last sci-fi I was really into was cyberpunk. The dystopian futures laid out so clearly in William Gibson's novels and Stephenson's Snow Crash now seem quite spookily prescient: we have multinational corporations running things and an urban planet on the way where everyone is plugged into the net. Hmm. Maybe that's why I stopped; the fiction is becoming reality, and I read fiction to get away from reality.

I think the reason fantasy has become ascendant—besides fulfilling the need for escape—is that it's filling another need: the need to examine social structures from a safe distance and figure out where we went wrong. Sci-fi often looks at alternate social structures that we can't possibly hope to achieve anytime soon; these days the social issues raised in fantasy allow us to wonder if there's some way to make things better now, to hell with the future on other planets. The struggles that urban fantasy heroes face, in particular, permit us to say "Okay, I know modern life can be shit, but look at what THAT guy/girl has to deal with on top of everything else," and we feel a bit better. It's nice to think that someone can deal with everything we deal with plus paranormal issues.

The sci-fi I'd like to read now is that which convincingly envisions a way through these times. I'd buy a book like that and read it over and over and buy copies for all my friends. I'd like to be optimistic again; I'd like to see a rebirth of sci-fi because it would mean that optimism is widely shared. Until then, I'll read and write fantasy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cover Update and a Public Appearance Thingy


Things are happening.

Though I can't share what I saw because it just wouldn't be fair, my editor sent me something that the cover artist is working on and it is jaw-droppingly cool! These days the cover artists often use photographic models on which to base their digital illustration (think Gail Carriger's books, see this cool video on how they made the cover for her third book), and so to get themselves ready for the photo shoot they'll construct whatever props and doodads they feel necessary for verisimilitude. What I got to see today was one of the props created for the shoot, and I cannot describe how awesome it is to see something I imagined come to life like that! I have been doing a happy dance for three hours and I think I've lost a couple pounds.

By the way, for a fun look at how urban fantasy covers have changed, check out this neat survey and this other article from Orbit books.

In other news, I'm going to be making my first "public appearance," which is such a douche-y phrase that I can't say it without laughing. But nevertheless, here it is: I've been asked to speak at a Writer's Workshop on Saturday, October 9 at the East-West Exchange on 100 N. Tonto Rd. in Payson, AZ, from 1-3 pm. It's sort of a whirlwind tour of getting published for aspiring authors, though of course I'm going to be focusing a bit on urban fantasy in particular. Come on by if you can make it, they have a great little coffee bar in there (it's an indie bookstore) and I'll hang out for a while.

The program will include how I discovered a niche in the market and rushed to fill it, followed by what I hope is a mildly inspirational story of how an unknown schmoe with zero connections in the industry got a three-book deal with a major publisher. I'll walk people through the process, from market analysis to writing the book to sending out queries and landing an agent, and then discuss what I feel are some demands in the fantasy market (both urban and epic) that aren't currently being supplied. There will be a Q & A afterward so that you can stump me.

And someday, when I can, I'll post REAL COVER ART and I cannot wait!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #4

I was really hoping I could get hold of the Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Company for this one, since blogging/writing buddy Hillary Jacques has spoken so highly of its divinity. I journeyed for many leagues all the way out to this specialty beverage establishment only to find out that they had everything from Alaskan except the Smoked Porter. Color me crushed.

But I have to tell you, I think I might have found something equally divine. It might be my new favorite.
Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #4

Behold: Oberon Ale from Bell's Brewery in Comstock, Michigan, in a glass from the Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff, Arizona; a turkey sandwich on a poppyseed roll with kettle chips on the side; and a dwarf ready to throw his own personal kegger. (Better pictures of him below)

I had to buy the Oberon Ale, because one of the main characters in my series is named Oberon. He's a doggie—an Irish wolfhound, to be exact. He kind of looks like this:
If you're wondering how a main character can be a dog, you'll have to wait a bit to find out. I promise you, however, that it's nothing like those execrable children's movies where animals talk. Oberon is a constant source of joy to me as a character, so when I saw a beer with the same name it became a moral imperative to see whether it might also be a source of joy.

It is, my friends, it is. It's bottle-conditioned, so you should pour it in a glass to enjoy it properly. As a summer ale, I can't think of when I've tasted a finer one. It's smooth and refreshing and I can't believe I was lucky enough to run across it. I mean...look at this distribution map. How messed up is that? Midwest, south...and Arizona. That seems really random to me, but I'm grateful, because it suits me perfectly.

The Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff is my favorite brew pub so far. I'm not saying it's the best ever, because there's always a chance I'll run across a better one in my travels, but so far it's the best I've found. And it's right across the street from Macy's European Coffee House, which is my favorite coffee joint EVAH.

And now let's take a closer look at that miniature dwarf:
This dude is ready to party. He's got a giant stein o' suds, plenty of refills ready to go on his shoulder, and he's even shaved his upper lip clean because it's just going to get covered in beer foam anyway. Oh, and in case you think this guy's a pushover, check out the side view:
He's got an AXE slung back there out of sight, son, so don't mess! If you make him drop his keg to pull it out, he's not going to put it back without your blood on it!

I haven't given up on the Smoked Porter. Alaskan's website says it's available in several places in Arizona, so I'll hunt it down eventually.

Just finished a round of edits on Hammered and sent it back to my editor—she made some outstanding suggestions, as always—so I'm excited about the shape it's in and feeling good about life. Oberon probably has a little something to do with that too. :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Upcoming Stuff

Well, this is weird...I'm going to blog about stuff I'm not currently blogging about. It's not terribly brilliant as far as posts go, but school starts tomorrow and I must obsess about that for a bit. So here are some things to which we may all look forward:

1. On August 31 there will be the special treat of my latest 3:2 Interview with the amazing Gail Carriger, author of Soulless, Changeless, and the upcoming Blameless!
2. Sometime soon I might get to see some preliminary cover art for my books! I don't know when I'll get to share that with you all, probably deep into the fall sometime, but I have it on good authority that someone is working on it.
3. Also in the works for later is a full-on website—that definitely won't go live before I get my cover art, though. I'm planning on uploading some sound files of the foreign-language passages in my books, especially the Polish and German in HEXED and the Hebrew in HAMMERED—the Icelandic, too, if I can find someone to do it for me. And there will be pictures of my character sketches, early attempts at a map for Asgard, and other goodies.
4. Speaking of sound files, don't know if I've mentioned it before, but there will be unabridged audio versions of all three books from Brilliance. I cannot WAIT to hear who they get to do these books! Besides speaking English with the western American accent, he'll have to pull off passable versions of Irish, Tamil, Polish, Icelandic, and Russian accents as well, then actually speak several passages in Irish, Polish, German, Icelandic, Hebrew, and Russian like a native speaker. Whoever does it will probably  hate me by the time he's through. But I will make it all better by soothing his sore vocal cords with beer.
5. Speaking of beer (because you should whenever you can), there are more Still Lifes with Dwarfs and Beer ahead. I think I may have found that Smoked Porter Hillary was telling me about, cannot wait to try it...but I have to wait until the weekend.
6. On October 9, if anybody can make it to Payson, Arizona, I'll be speaking at 10 am on genre fiction, how to break into the biz, that sort of thing. It's targeted toward aspiring writers and I'm excited that I might be able to help—because I was an aspiring writer too, until just recently. Don't have a venue quite yet, but I'll post it as soon as I know.

Hope everyone is doing well!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Punk Writing

I'm starting to like punks a whole lot. But not this kind:
I'm talking about steampunks. Dieselpunks. Atompunks. Fiction that's set in an alternate-history, alternate-tech sort of world, populated by characters who don't shop at IKEA and The Gap. Lots of brass gadgets and clockwork. Dirigibles. Language from a time when people used to read outside of school.

And the aesthetic is just plain cool. Look at this steampunk computer somebody made:
That's a working computer, folks. If you want to see the details and more pictures, click here. A lot of steampunk fans are also Makers. Have you heard of them?

Maker culture is thriving: here's a link to Make magazine. Broadly speaking, they're people who reject pop consumerism and make something new out of found items. There's a strong DIY ethic and a premium placed on personal creativity. And in terms of design, they usually don't want to hide the way something works, like modern doodads; they'd rather see all the gears and gizmos and the wires and so on. Here's a link to a video of this year's Maker Faire to get a sense of what they like.

In terms of writing, the opportunities are vast. The market isn't glutted yet, demand is increasing, and there's so much that can be done. In terms of writing trends, I think there's still plenty of room to get in on the ground floor here. Granted, if you're trying to come up with a Sherlock Holmes clone, that might be a tough sell, but look at what else is out there and doing well. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest features a kid and his mom in 19th-century Seattle. Leviathan and the forthcoming Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld feature a couple of young'uns, too, and that's WWI-era stuff, qualifying it as dieselpunk (though there are significant biopunk aspects as well). The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a biopunk novel doing quite well now. And then there's Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, set in 19th-century London, which is definitely steampunk with a bit of urban fantasy and Jane Austen mashed in. (By the way, my next author interview is with Gail, and I'm very excited!)

I'm hoping inspiration will strike me soon for a punkish short story...or even a novel, heck, why not? I've started an epic fantasy and I've outlined the fourth book in my urban fantasy series, but it's never too late to start something else. Plenty of burners on the stove, right? Multitasking keeps the brain fresh and all that. Food for thought, anyway. :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #3

Been out o' town for a few days, visiting Anaheim for school stuff. I got to geek out about fonts and play with InDesign and laugh at puns.

But I'm back now and working on a map for my epic. Luncheon comes around and here's what's laid out on the table:
Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #3

Chili dogs with mustard and a fine brew called 90 Shilling Ale in a glass from the Carver Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado. All of which is guarded by a dwarf troll slayer, who is holding very graphic evidence of his troll slaying skills. Said troll looked at my beer the wrong way, see.
Here's a closeup of the dwarf troll slayer:
What amazes me most about this guy is how hairless his chest is when his chops and eyebrows are so epically gifted. I thought he'd have a happy trail down the center, at least. Coming in a close second is the fact that his left hand could probably engulf his entire head. And in third place is the fact that he'd be hard pressed to fit a kneecap under that grass skirt, much less thighs and calves and other goodies. How is this guy even ambulatory?

The answer is that it doesn't matter. He's a badass miniature dwarf troll slayer and that's all there is to it.

The 90 Shilling Ale is from the Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. It's a Scottish ale that's been lightened up a trifle and it's remarkably smooth and flavorful. What's that beer that keeps bragging about its drinkability? Is it Budweiser? They're lying. Bud is overcarbonated, tasteless swill, and it's not even an American beer anymore. It's owned by the Dutch. If you want a drinkable American beer, try this 90 Shilling Ale—or almost any beer that doesn't have a national ad campaign. That's where all the flavor and drinkability is hiding. Still looking for that smoked porter that Hillary suggested to me in the comments from the last Dwarf and Beer post.

If you ever get a chance to visit Carver's in Durango, please do. It's kind of an unusual place because they're known as a brew pub, but they also do a brisk breakfast business with great coffee and baked goods. I haven't been there in a few years and I miss it. Here's what you do: hit Carver's in the morning for the coffee, get on the railroad for the trip to Silverton, then try out the beers when you get back in the afternoon. It's beautiful country up there.

Summer's almost over for me and I'll have to go back to work soon. Think I'll have to squeeze in a trip to Flagstaff before it's over, introduce you to the joys of Macy's European Coffee House.