Sunday, 2 September 2012

Interview - Jay Kristoff

For first interview with an author I have the one, the only and the seriously awesome Jay Krisoff, the author of Stormdancer [Lotus wars #1].

UK Cover

The Shima Imperium is verging on the brink of environmental collapse; decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshippers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, land choked with toxic pollution, wildlife ravaged by mass extinctions.


The hunters of the imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary beast, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows thunder tigers have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.


Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a hidden gift that would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.


Stormdancer is described as a Japanese Steampunk dystopian novel, where did you get the idea of combining what are essential very different settings? 

I love the steampunk aesthetic. There’s something about the low-tech end of the spectrum that fascinates me. I like the thought of machinery that doesn’t quite work like it should, technology driven by greasy combustion and held together by rivets. I’m not sure why that is.

Thing is, a lot of steampunk fantasy seems to look back on the advent of industrialization as some marvellous, liberating event in history, and gloss over all that unpleasantness about child exploitation and slavery and whatnot that came with it. I wanted to tell a story where the machine was the enemy. Where technology wasn’t just killing people, but the land they lived in. I wanted to challenge the notion that everything was hunky-dory back in “the good old days” and maybe draw some parallels to the way we’re living on this planet right now. So that’s where the dystopian angle came in.

The setting of the novel is quite different from most dystopian novels, refreshingly so but why Japan?

I felt like Victorian England had been done – it seemed to be the default setting for almost every SP story (or colonial America to a lesser extent). A lot of great writers had already covered that territory, and I wanted to go somewhere different – I always try to be different. I’m a speshul snowflake, you see.

I took a look at some of the other amazing cultures on this planet during the 19th century and settled on Japan. I’ve always found the samurai age fascinating, and I was excited at the thought of combining a Japanese-inspired aesthetic with a grimy, industrial-style tech.

I mean, chainsaw katanas, come on, what’s not to love?

Did you have a foreknowledge of the Japanese culture was it something you decided to undertake when you decided to write Stormdancer, if so how hard is it to keep up with all the cultural references and terminology?

I had some limited knowledge, sure. I’ve always had a love of Japanese cinema, literature, manga (is manga literature? Probably not…) and I studied Japanese history. But I think the important thing to note here is that Stormdancer is only inspired by Japanese culture. It’s not actually set in Japan – the setting is totally fictional. So while I’m keying off Japan as a cultural touchpoint, there are some significant changes I’ve made to societal structures, language, religion and so on.

I’ve a couple of good friends who live in Japan that I bounced ideas off and threw language questions at (in particular, what rules they though I could get away with breaking), there are a couple of great websites around on the Shōgunate age of Japan, plus some excellent books about the history of the samurai age. But when I felt the need, I bent the rules, or just straight-up broke them. Stormdancer is, above all, a fantasy. There weren’t many griffins or telepathic sixteen year olds running around in feudal Japan – at least as far as I know.

Stormdancer is packed with visual stimulants, if I can call them that. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Anywhere and everywhere. The skeleton of a half-finished building at the end of my street. A photograph of a bird drowning in an oil slick. A song. I studied graphic design at college, I used to fill sketch books with ideas when I was younger.

Type the word “steampunk” into a search engine and you can spend hours trawling through the work of amazing creators like Datamancer or say great illustrators like Keith Thompson or James Ng. There’s some incredible stuff being done out there atm, and there’s no shortage of inspiration for people playing in this particular sand pit.

Yukiko is perhaps the best female protagonist I have ever seen on a book. Where you inspired by a particular person or did she just come naturally?

That’s awesome of you to say, thanks so much!

I can’t really say where Yukiko came from. I’d been reading a lot of female MCs at the time, and really didn’t like most of them. They seemed primarily concerned with and defined by the boys in their lives – the biggest question in the books seemed to be “Who will she pick?”, “Will they get together?”, and so on. I wanted to make a character who could stand on her own feet. I didn’t want to add to the pile of “female MCs who cannot think or eat or be without a boy on her arm”.
Maybe it comes of growing up with sisters? Or being married to a woman who kicks ass so hard she can leave a footprint in your genetic code?

I find most authors tend to make their protagonist the same gender. What would you say is the hardest thing creating a female protagonist and a teenage one at that?

I wrote a blog post about that not so long ago. I think any writer who’s not writing an autobiography is experiencing some kind of disconnect in that regard. I’m not sure writing a convincing teenage girl is any harder than writing a convincing 500 year old vampire. At least with teenage girls, you can always ask teenage girls (or women who were once teenage girls) to vet your work and look for your Moments of Fail.

I think the hardest part is probably balancing the notion that this character is your MC – that people have to like her and empathise with her, they have to feel a kinship with her, but at the same time, she’s a teenager, and teenagers sometimes do stupid things for what can be very stupid reasons. Hells, I know I certainly did – I have the criminal record (supressed) to prove it. So you have to have your MC make mistakes, act irrationally sometimes in order to seem authentic, while not having your audience throw her in the To Stupid To Live pile.

Both the covers of Stormdancer are absolutely stunning. Would you like to share who designed for you and did you provide input?

Neil Lang was our UK designer, and Young Jim Lin did the US cover, with the illustration done by the amaaaazeballs Jason Chan. I provided some input – describing how Yukiko looked, what she dressed like and so on. I had a lot more input on the US cover since it was an illustration and we could tweak the design based on sketches. With a photography-based cover, things are a little more rigid.

I wrote a post about the creation of the US cover here.

Absolutely Stunning!

For those of you who have not read Stormdancer, I urge you to get it the moment it's out in the shops but until then avoid this question. If you want to see the question and answer just highlight the empty space bellow.

Stormdancer ended with the Lotus Wars finally beginning, what shall we expect in the next instalment?

It’s actually tricky to talk about that – there are some massive spoilery events that occur in the first half dozen pages of book 2 that I shouldn’t let out of the bag yet, and if you haven’t read book 1, the climactic events at the end of book 1 are also huge spoilers. 
But yes, the Shima imperium begins to descend into all-out war. The seeds they’ve planted with their war overseas against the gaijin begin to bear some bitter fruit, the nation begins tearing itself to pieces. The Lotus Guild try to maintain their grip on power as the nation begins to decline, and they risk all in a stratagem to wipe out the Kagé rebellion once and for all. Yukiko’s powers are growing beyond her ability to control, and she’s also trying to deal with the mantle of “hero” that’s been thrust upon her. We meet new friends, new enemies and trust becomes an incredibly difficult thing to come by.

Are you currently working on any other projects or should we be expecting the next instalment of The Lotus Wars anytime soon because I have to tell you I am dying of suspense?

Hah, that’s very cool of you to say :)

It’s all Lotus War at the moment. I’m putting the finishing touches on draft 2 of book 3 – I’ll be handing that in to my editors very soon. After that, I’ll be back at work on editor notes for book 2. The next instalment will be out this time next year, unless something disastrous happens in the meantime, like my dog getting abducted by aliens or something.

One last question before I let you go and this is a personal one. For those of us stuck at 5’2, official midgets; what would you say is the secret to becoming a literary giant?

Eat lots of vegemite. I ate it every day for about 30 years. Seemed to work for me. :D

I wonder if they sell that in London.

And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, from the man himself, Mr Jay Kristoff. 

Author Bio

Jay Kristoff is a tragic nerd, but has spent the last ten years dumping expeez into his Intimidation stat, with the result that nobody is brave enough to say it to his face. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. He spent most of his formative years locked in his bedroom with piles of books, or gathered around dimly-lit tables rolling polyhedral dice. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.Jay prostituted his writing arm in the soulless crack-house that is “creative advertising” for over ten years. He’s hocked petrol guzzling monstrosities to sexually inadequate men, salty condiments to schoolchildren, and toilet paper to anyone with a bottom. He has won several awards that nobody outside the advertising industry gives a toss about.

Jay’s debut novel, STORMDANCER, a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press & Tor UK in 2012 as the first installment of THE LOTUS WAR trilogy. He is represented by Matt Bialer at Sanford J Greenburger Associates.Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 13870 days to live . He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.He does not believe in happy ending.

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