Interview: Jay Kristoff author of Stormdancer, The Lotus War trilogy

September 11, 2013 Author Feature, Giveaway, Interview 10

Beware! Because today we are hosting none other than the giant, the beard – the man who brought you Japanese inspired steampunk and a massive thunder tiger! Give us a warm round of applause for Jay Kristoff *queue the wails of ten thousand virgins adoring fans*

Lotus War Series

My Reviews of Stormdancer and Kinslayer

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TABITHA: Jay, thanks so much for agreeing to be interrogated by me! No promises on how much this might hurt.

JAY: I only agreed to an interview not an interro—OH GOD PUT THE JUMPER LEADS AWAY

TABITHA: The pitch!? In 140 characters or less so I can be lazy and tweet it! – Blurb us Kinslayer!

JAY: Um. Okay, hold on, I can do this…

Part 2 of the Lotus War. Telepathic samurai girls! Griffins! Sea Dragons! Chainsaw katana fights! Murder, betrayal and SO MUCH ANGST!

Hmm. That’s pretty bad. I can’t do it when people are watching.

TABITHA: What have you found worked best when attempting to hook prospective readers and make them want to pick up STORMDANCER and KINSLAYER? Personally I like your GIF reviews you’ve posted on Goodreads – they sum up the books quite nicely. And I usually don’t like gif reviews. I probably find it more entertaining since you’re the one that compiled it. Biased? Yes I am, deal with it.

JAY: I can deal with that J

I’m not entirely sure what works and what doesn’t, to be honest. When I first started out, I tried to be really active on Goodreads, thanking people for nice reviews and whatnot, but it started to feel a little “creepy uncle”. To be checking GR everyday for the nice reviews is kinda egotistical, and kind of an invasion of turf. GR is for readers, not authors. I think its ok for us to hang out over there on occasion, but living there, not so much. I used to blog a LOT before I got published, but I figure people would rather be reading books than blog posts these days, so my blog has changed shape too—it used to be about publishing and writing, now it’s more about what’s happening to me personally. And I’m slacker about it than I used to be, since FB and twitter are much more immediate tools for that job. I’m kinda slack-jawed about people who still write epic length bloggery after they get published. Fuck knows where they get time.

I don’t know. I just try not to be a twat online. I try to be myself. To reply to every tweet and try to be approachable. To be grateful when folks such as yourself take the time out to read my book and interview me or whatever. I feel lucky to be doing what I do. And I’m thankful anyone other than my mum reads my stuff.

TABITHA: I know there are vastly differing opinions on steampunk and what exactly makes a book qualify as steampunk. So tell me what defines a book as being steampunk to you?

JAY: For me, it’s important that the anachronistic tech plays an intrinsic role in the story. It needs to underpin the world. Banging goggles and corsets in your story doesn’t make it SP; that’s just window dressing. Pretty window dressing, but window dressing all the same. I think an exploration of the technology and how it’s affected the society is important. You bang robots into Victorian England, it won’t BE Victorian England anymore. A change that dramatic is going to shift the world and the society in it fundamentally.

More importantly, I think “punk” needs to play a role in any SP book. You can’t spell steampunk without it, after all. There needs to be an element of rebellion or social upheaval. Activism, anarchism, civil disobedience. A fundamental discontent with the way things are. And of course, running down that road, you can easily argue that steampunk should fully embrace its punkishness and defy any definition or rules. That it shouldn’t be any one thing. It should just be.

But that’s just me. People far more learned and invested than I can and have argued about this at enormous length and there’s no consensus. At the end of the day, steampunk is going to be what the creators make it.

TABITHA: I recently attended WorldCon and an interesting topic I listened in on was genre stamping and the “punk” tag. It seems lately everything is Punk this, punk that. Cyberpunk, steampunk, technopunk, clockpunk – the punk list goes on and on.  What are your thoughts on this? pssst … Monosyllable answers are no fun.

JAY: Really interesting question. I confess the whole biopunk/clockpunk/jizzpunk kinda confounds me. I’m a big heavy metal fan, and the same stuff happened in metal a few years back. You got hardcore, metalcore, stonercore, deathcore, grindcore, crabcore (yes this is thing, look it up—madness). And in the end, the tag ceases to have meaning and simply becomes noise. It eats itself.

Consumers like labels. It makes it easier to render quick judgement on whether they should buy something. I totally get that. And banging “punk” somewhere in your book genre evokes a certain mood and helps consumers make that decision (even though, as mentioned above, a lot steampunk has nothing to do with punk). The consumer brain does the math “Oh, I like cyberpunk, I might like clockpunk” and reaches for the bigger synopsis. And that’s really what any marketing effort is about—keeping the consumer interested enough until they find a detail that finally sucks them in.

“Oh, pretty cover.” (picks up book)
“Oh, blurb from author I like.” (turns book over)
“Oh, buzzwords that evoke familiarity with stuff I’ve liked before.” (reads synopsis)
“Hey this sounds cool, I’ll buy it.”
That’s the way it works. And the buzzword thing is just part of it. I get it.

Thing is, no one can even agree on what a genre as big as “steampunk” is, so what the hell does “clockpunk” or “boobiepunk” or whatever mean? And very quickly, we devolve to the point where the label is meaningless, much as “core” is meaningless in metal, and anyone who’s still bandying the term about (usually out of touch marketing departments at big labels/publishing houses) ends up on the receiving end of many a disdainful glare.

TABITHA: Ooo now the juicy stuff. I know some authors don’t read reviews of their book at all. Do you?

JAY: Very rarely. I read reviews people send me (linked to me in twitter and so on). I read professional reviews like the LA Times or Kirkus or whatever. Other than that, I try to stay away. I don’t know how much nourishment you can actually get from reading reviews. I always thank people who take the time out to tell me they liked the book, and I try to get a vibe on what worked and what didn’t in order to improve. And don’t get me wrong—I’m delighted when people like my books. But reading reviews can lead to madness, and I’m mad enough already.

TABITHA: Do you think reading reviews would effect how you write? Swaying you one way or another?

JAY: It can do, sure. But that’s what beta readers and editors are for. You find people you trust, you work with them. Considering the opinion of everyone who ever reads the book is going to tear you to pieces. You just need to make the call on whose opinion you truly trust, and know when to listen and when to go with your gut.
The surest way to fail is to try and please everybody.

TABITHA: When it comes to the young adult genre I feel as if it is dominated by female authors and protagonists. What are your thoughts on this? And how was your experience getting published as a YA author? *edited in* Ok so I really don’t consider Kinslayer and Stormdancer YA books – they may feature young folks but they are young in the age sense, but as far as maturity goes they would be adults in my mind*

JAY: Female protags and female authors (and editors) are the vast majority—I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, it just is. It’s logical, given the vast majority of YA readers are also female. In terms of my own experience though, I can tell you first hand there’s certainly no gender bias from publishing houses or from literary agents—they don’t care what chromosomes you have, they only care whether your book is marketable. So male authors certainly shouldn’t be dissuaded in that respect. I mean, I don’t even know if what I write is YA. I’m on an adult imprint. The Lotus War is probably more of a crossover series imo, it’s heavier than most YA I read. But I think most people nowadays would have problems codifying what constitutes YA anyway.

But yes, end of the day, only the words matter. You could be a three-headed humpbacked junkless martian—if you write an awesome book, someone will buy it.

TABITHA: Research and beta readers are such an important part of the process for publishing a book. Do you have beta readers? Perhaps your wife or best friends – and what types of questions do you ask them when handing over your manuscript to be read?

JAY: I have five beta readers. All of them have lady parts. My wife reads everything first, usually as it’s all taking shape. And I bounce ideas off her all the time (while trying not to spoil her for the twists, because I want a visceral reaction—I still have the all caps text she sent me when she got to a certain point in KINSLAYER, it’s pretty funny). My other four readers usually get the manuscript after it’s been through first round of edits, so it’s reasonably polished. I don’t want to waste their time on really rough work. That’s what crit partners are for.

I usually don’t ask specific questions, unless there’s something I’m particularly concerned about. I just ask them to be MEAN. I’m not looking for praise at this stage, I’m looking for parts that don’t work. I’m looking for brutality. A beta reader who’s unafraid of hurting your feelings, who will lay the almighty smackdown on your bullshit—those are the betas you want.

TABITHA: How much tweaking do you do based off of your feedback you receive from your editor and beta readers?

JAY: It really depends on the book. I look for common threads among the feedback—if you get two or three people telling you the same part needs work, you bet your ass that thing needs some love, kiddo. My initial rework of KINSLAYER based on editor feedback was pretty intense—it was a good book, but they really helped me push it to the next level. There were a couple of scenes I added really late in the piece (the Painted Brotherhood Monastery and the big battle with the Kagé and the Oni) that are some of my favourite in the book now. But by the time I got it to my betas, the book was fairly polished, so the feedback was more about nuts and bolts stuff, rather than plot/story arc work.

TABITHA: I think of your books as being Japanese inspired rather than actually taken place in Japan. Would you agree?

JAY: Most definitely. I’ve always referred to them that way. The big map of Shima that looks nothing like Japan at the start of every book is the first clue . Shima is to Japan what Westeros is to England. There are concepts and riffs the places have in common, but they’re most assuredly not the same place.  

TABITHA: What kind of research did you do for STORMDANCER and KINSLAYER?

JAY: I wish there was an interesting way to answer this question, but smartassery often isn’t appreciated. It’s just reading, really. Histories of the Tokugawa Age, like Taiko, The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Musui’s Story, Samurai (a lot of this stuff if very dry, fyi). Reading old Japanese lit for stylistic riffs, writers like Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (creepy shit, man). Watching old Kurosawa films. Listening to Chibo Matto. Eating pocky til your eyes bleed (yeah ok, there’s a bit of smartassery there).

TABITHA: Someday the big magic whammy is going to hit the world…it might be a big asteroid and we all not survive…but if we DO – what creature do you think you would morph into? I’m thinking you’d be a sasquatch…oh wait…tee hee hee

JAY: I think it’d be too hot for sasquatches in Australia. Unless the big whammy leaves our air conditioners operational. Maybe I’d be the first hairless sasquatch? Jesus, that’s a disturbing image…

I’m going to go with wise-cracking sidekick. Every post-apocalypse story needs one of those. I’d never be short of work.

TABITHA: Ok, I got a bit carried away with myself normally I try to limit myself to 10 questions. But this is the last I swear because we simply have to know…as we are all about confessions. Do you have one for us? It doesn’t necessarily need to be book related. My confession would be…I still own as many stuffed animals as a 6 year old and they are all over my home office!

JAY: I wrote about 80% of KINSLAYER wearing track pants and ugg boots.

And with that romantic image firmly burned into your brain, I shall leave thee.

TABITHA: Thanks so much for joining us! Now get back to the writing cave and give us the next book!!!


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The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.


Find: Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

Jay KristoffJay 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 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 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 endings. (BIO taken from author’s website) WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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10 Responses to “Interview: Jay Kristoff author of Stormdancer, The Lotus War trilogy”

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Wohoo! Thanks! It’s hard to come up with decent interview questions and I’m always worried I don’t. Glad you enjoyed it – I think you’ll love The Lotus War series!!

  1. Christopher Denney

    Very nice! Although I have to disagree somewhat with Jay, “Consumers like labels.” it’s really more that marketers like labels, because it makes their job easier. People who like to read like to read lengthy “blurbs” as a rule. Marketers are lazy pikes who are just trying to move product, but readers love reading, and authors love writing. Somehow we each get what we want despite the marketing folks. 🙂
    I await Jay’s second book as fervently as I did the first….. are we there yet?

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      It really could go either way I think. I think avid readers are very much into the book description but the casual reader probably pays closer attention to the labels and genre stamp they are given.

      I can’t wait to hear what you think – it was really dark and heartbreaking!!

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Oo what is the surprise book that arrived? I agree it would be nice if he visited – but I’m sure sales have to warrant a visit. Maybe he’ll come to the BEA someday? Or maybe a Comic Con? Wouldn’t that be nice!