Thursday, September 20, 2012

STORMDANCER Blog Tour: Interview with Author Jay Kristoff

A couple days ago I posted my review of STORMDANCER by Jay Kristoff, one of the biggest earth-shaking reading experiences I have had this year so far. I'm lucky to say that today, as part of the Stormdancer Blog Tour, I'm featuring an interview with author Jay Kristoff, who has given some of his precious time to thoughtfully and intelligently answering my many questions. Welcome, Jay, to Steph Su Reads!
1. How did the idea for writing STORMDANCER come to you?

This is kind of a lame answer, but I had a dream. It was about a little boy in a field of dead grass. He was standing in front of a griffin and screaming at it, trying to get it to fly, but the griffin’s wings were broken and it couldn’t get off the ground.

Friends who think too much about “what dreams mean” tell me that the little boy was me, and the griffin was my first novel (which I was querying at the time, and wasn’t going to get off the ground no matter how much I yelled). But that image of a griffin with broken wings stuck in my head. It all kinda came from there, really. The little boy became a teenaged girl, and the dead grass became blood-red flowers, but that was where it started.

2. What influences and inspirations did you draw upon to create your world of the Shima Isles and the oppressive Lotus Guild?

There’s this strange habit among a lot of steampunk authors where they treat the advent of industrialization as something fantastic. The machine is a gateway into awesome adventures and inexplicable corsetry. When in reality, the industrial age was forged on the backs of serf and slave labor, child exploitation and misery. So I wanted to make the gatekeepers to Shima’s technology bad guys. The machine is destroying the nation, even as it empowers it. I wanted to draw a parallel between the Guild and the constructs we see in our world today – faceless oil and munitions companies dictating foreign policy, wars being fought in the name of resource acquisition and to keep the military industrial complex afloat.

I’m not some hippy who wants to go back to the days of growing your own potatoes and starving to death when Mr Fungus comes to town, but I do genuinely believe we’re addicts, just like the people of Shima. Not to chi, maybe. But to something that looks an awful lot like it.

3. Tell us a bit about the writing process of STORMDANCER. Did you outline in advance or just start writing? What was the first scene you wrote? What is your favorite scene? What was the hardest scene for you to write?

I just started writing. I’m a pantser by nature. I like not knowing what’s going to happen next. I like surprising myself. Before I actually wrote the scene where he appeared, Kin was going to be a girl. The scar on Kaori’s face was something I threw in on a whim, and over the course of writing the sequels, it’s become this huge, character defining trait for her. The one thing I knew for sure when I started writing was how the book was going to end, and it didn’t end that way at all. :)

The first scene I wrote was chapter 2: Yoritomo giving Hideo his decree. Although again, when I started writing it, Yoritomo was much younger – eleven or twelve. It was only after the story developed that I aged him up and made him an utter bastard.

My favourite scene to write was the scene where Yukiko and Buruu are fighting the oni, and their minds converge for the first time. There’s a really cool brutality in that scene, but it’s framed in this moment where Yukiko and Buruu are perfectly in tune and moving through the world like water amidst all this blood and thunder. Lots of fun to write.

Hardest scene to write is full of spoilers, so I can't talk about it ☺

4. Did any part of the story surprise you with how it turned out?

Oh, absolutely. Most of the big twists in Stormdancer are twists I didn’t know were coming. I have this document called “So what happens now?” dated 2010 on my hard drive, back from when I was first drafting Stormdancer. It outlined where the book was going to go from the halfway point. I read through it now and it’s hilarious - everything ended differently from how I expected.

I can’t really talk about details without throwing in huge spoilers, but the twist at the end of the second act? Had no idea that was coming. The twist during the prison break with Masaru? No idea that was coming either.

But I enjoy that element of uncertainty. If you don’t know how your story is going to end, it’s a sure thing most of your readers won’t either.

5. Yoritomo is one of the creepiest fantasy villains I have ever read. Who are some of your favorite literary villains?
I like real life villains. Villains who have a plausible foundation for their evil. I based Yoritomo on the Roman Emperor Nero – a kid who basically came to rule far too young, and eventually began experimenting with the limits of power. If you’re an absolute monarch who isn’t raised with a sense of justice and integrity, eventually you’re going to figure out you can do pretty much anything you feel like, and nobody is going to stop you – particularly if you’re the lynchpin of a dynasty. The choice between suffering a madman’s rule or plunging the nation into a bloody succession war in which thousands will perish – that’s a hard choice for most people to make.

I like studying people like Nero or Caligula. Xerxes. Alexander the Great. Edward the 1st. Henry the 8th. Napoleon. Stalin. These men were all absolute bastards – villains and conquerors and murderers, all corrupted by the absolute power they wielded. I like that idea. I like an evil founded in reality and human desire, a villain who started with the best of intentions and somewhere just went… bad.

6. How did you put yourself into the mindset of a teenage girl? Was it difficult? Did you have anyone checking your writing for you to make sure Yukiko's voice was genuine?

It was difficult, but I’m not sure if it would be any more difficult than writing in the shoes of another archetype I’m not and will never be. Is writing a teenage girl any more difficult than writing a soldier? I’ve never been to war, never killed anybody. Never swung a sword or felt my life in real danger. I think every writer faces that difficulty – unless you’re writing an autobiography, you’re always in someone else’s shoes. I guess that the challenge of what we do. I tried to stick to universal truths when writing Yuki – male or female, there are things everyone wants and needs. Friendship. Love. A place to belong. We all want those, no matter the configuration of our chromosomes.

I do have my wife vet all my work though. She devours books – she’s the most well-read person I know. So not only is she great for keeping the female voice true, but she spots clichés or tired tropes and my stumbling, bumbling logic. She’s brutal in her criticism, but she’s good at keeping me honest. This series wouldn’t exist without her.

7. Do you have any particular "writing quirks" (location, outfit, time of day/night, snack, music, etc.)?

I write all slouched on the couch with my feet on the coffee table. Usually wearing ugg boots (very glamorous, I know). Sometimes the dog sits on my lap, so I balance the laptop on his back. I always work at night – I just seem more comfortable when the world is asleep. The only snack I really pop is red bull. This is my rock and roll author life.

8. Can you give us a teeeeeeny tiny hint as to what the sequel will feature? :)

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 be 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 basically, the Shima imperium begins to descend into all-out war. The seeds they’ve planted with their conflict overseas against the gaijin begin to bear 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 a couple of the minor characters from Stormdancer become major players.

If you wanted to read more about Kin after book 1, you’ll be happy with book 2. Although maybe not happy with the way it ends…

Dun, dun, duuuunnnnnnnn.

9. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Buruu says it best.


I have a little more optimism than Buruu. I have a little more faith in our ability to turn back from the precipice we’re rushing towards in our 8-cylinder SUVs, tossing our Starbuck’s cups out the window. Maybe not much, but a little.

Everyone can make a difference.

You can make a difference.

Your time starts now.

Thank you so much, Jay. Visit to learn more about the author and book. You can also visit the other stops on the Stormdancer Blog Tour here. Stormdancer is now available in the UK and US.

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