This last Saturday, I donned my goggles, pocket watch, top hat, and waistcoat, and took the bus into Seattle to meet Gail Carriger–archeologist, anthropologist, fashionista, and author.
I wanted to meet Carriger not only because I love her work and characters (shout out to Biffy/Lyall), but also because, as another academic-cum-creative writer, I feel a certain intellectual kinship to Carriger.
Her writing combines history, archeology, and Victoriana, with vampires, werewolves, and myths. My writing combines history, early media, and Gilded Age/Progressive Era politics with soul-eaters, energy-users, and legends.
And, as a hopeful author, a major part of me wanted/needed to see what kind of joy the world of publishing can bring to someone who unapologetically combines their various interests and airs them to the world.
The answer? Just so much joy.
She waltzed into the bookshop in this cool vintage number, complimented us for forming an orderly queue, and then asked us to please and thank you knock that off so she could gather us around her for a Q & A session/story-time. I broke the ice with a question about gender and sexuality (for which she later thanked me! fanboy moment!) and then we were off and running, with Carriger fielding all sorts of questions from a hugely diverse fan base.
She had an elderly woman asking about her sci-fi stuff, a young woman in a steampunk corset asking about manga, a guy with his baby appreciating her representation of flamboyant fatherhood. She had questions about themes, characters, publishing, plans, and writing methods.
And she loved every second of it, I swear.
So, in the interest of continuing to share what she obviously loves with all her heart, and in the hopes her advice/comments might do another aspiring writer some good, here were my major takeaways from the discussion:
Writing with humor
Carriger loves sci-fi, urban fantasy, steampunk, and romance, and told us that she reads widely in each of those genres. She also loves humor, though, and in her reading, she found there to be a deficit of the stuff. So, she actively chose to be a humorist in her take on her favorite genres, bringing something new to the table.
In the process, she discovered two things.
First, humorists don’t win very many awards. The second you decide not to write serious literature (pronounced suuuuhrious literatoooor) you essentially wave goodbye to the major writing awards out there.
Not that she was bitter about this–she mentioned it in passing as a sort of cautionary tale to others. It seems that she’s quite happy with the things that humor has garnered her: a cult following of loyal readers; room for vibrant, hilarious characters.
Second, humor is hard. She stressed this point a couple of times. It takes a lot of work, observation, and daily practice, just like dramatic writing.
Her suggestions for aspiring humorists?
Watch great stand up comics and see if you can transcribe their movements, timing, and beats into writing. Steal funny moments from your friends and family for your characters. Get to know all forms of humor–slapstick, wordplay, sing-song, etc.–and see what works for you. Read widely.
Always read widely.
Carriger mentioned that she is a social writer. In other words, she likes to go to a cafe with writer friends and work together over tea. She likes having an online presence, with an active Twitter account, blog, Instagram, etc. And she likes going to writer retreats and spending time with people who do what she does.
It seems like the bit about online presence is inescapable–if you want to be a writer, you have to know how to market yourself.
The other two points just made me think a bit more about writing style, and how, like so many other things, it slides on a scale between intro- and extroverted. I think the important thing here is to get to know yourself and your productivity, and then cultivate the space/relationships that will help you get your work done.
Just don’t get so wrapped up in making the *perfect space* that you forget to write.
Carriger’s book are not only funny, they are also feminist. And the feminism is nuanced–it is “intersectional” and “queer” as they say, including all races, classes, expressions, sexualities, and genders (yes, also men–patriarchy ain’t good for no one).
Women kick ass or don’t, according to their personalities and needs. They sleep with other women, with men, with no one, according to their desires. And they wear everything from frills to top coats.
Similarly, the men run the gamut from macho to studious to flamboyant to serene. They also wear everything from frills to top coats and share their beds according to wants.
And perhaps best of all, her characters talk about this stuff. They make choices, ask questions, live openly, and affirm what they need.
She spoke to us about how important it is to her that she write multi-dimensional people for a multi-dimensional world, that it feels like an educational opportunity.
I don’t really have a bigger point to make about this, other than, yes. We need more of this. Go Gail!
Confidence is one of those intangible things that really helps to make writing special. I am by no means an expert on the subject, and I’m sure that Carriger–like any sane human–has moments where she struggles with it, too.
But on Saturday, her discussion and deportment reminded me that a lot of confidence comes from just being your own damn self and trusting that someone–or the many people clutching your books–will love you for it.
Always a good reminder.
And I would say, based on her work, that confident writing is the sort that takes risks, builds worlds, has fun, and makes you happy.