This month the highly-anticipated debut Stormdancer is published. The first novel in the Lotus War series is hugely imaginative and, as a very enthusiastic Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind said: What's that? You say you've got a Japanese Steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist? I'm afraid I missed everything you said after 'Japanese Steampunk.' That's all I really needed to hear. Click here to read an extract from Stormdancer We caught up with Australian author Jay Kristoff to see what he had to say about the book.
Japanese steampunk, hey? So where did that come from?
I’d been thinking about writing a steampunk story for a while. I think the scene has an amazing aesthetic, and I thought I could have some fun subverting what I call the 'rose-coloured goggles' point of view. A lot of steampunk authors tend to treat the advent of industrialisation as something marvellous, and ignore the child exploitation and slavery and other such unpleasantness that came along with it. I thought it would be interesting to tell a steampunk story where the machine was the enemy, rather than a gateway to inexplicable corsetry and rayguns of suggestive design.
But I felt that Victorian England and Colonial America had already been done, and done very well. I didn’t want to walk on ground that was already well-trodden. The world had some amazing cultures at the turn of the 19th century, and it seemed most of them were being ignored, both in steampunk stories and in fantasy generally. I decided to use a cultural touchstone that not many people had played with yet – the Tokugawa Shōgunate of Japan.
That said, it’s not really accurate to call Stormdancer 'Japanese steampunk'. I’ve used Japan as a source of inspiration, certainly, but the setting is entirely fantastical. There weren’t many griffins or telepaths running around feudal Japan, as far as I’m aware.
As Stormdancer is the first in a series - what did you learn from writing this going into book two?
I’m traditionally a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer as far as plotting goes. My favourite twists in Stormdancer are the ones I didn’t know were coming until I was writing them. But moving into book two, and particularly now working on book three, I’ve had to be far more disciplined about writing with an outcome in mind. It’s been an interesting switch.
It’s also been really interesting expanding on minor characters who appear in the first book – how casually mentioned traits or features can become the underpinnings of an entire character in later books. All the characters have a story to tell, not just Yukiko and Buruu.
What authors influenced you or your writing style?
Biggest influence stylistically would be William Gibson. Others include: China Miéville, Robin Hobb, Philip K. Dick, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Feist. I also take a lot of inspiration from the lyricists of bands I love – telling a story with 100,000 words is easy. Telling one with a few dozen is hard.
You've got some great characters in your novel, both human and non-human, do you have a favourite?
I think that’s almost like asking someone to pick their favourite child. I try to give all of them a minute in the sun, and they all have moments that I love them for. A lot of people seem to love Buruu though, which is good news – of all the characters in the book, he’s the one that has the most in common with me. Which makes me wonder why I’m not more popular in real life…
…excuse me I have something in my eye…
There are some fantastic bits of technology/weaponry in the book - if you had one choice, which piece would you choose?
Easy answer would be a chainsaw katana, but I’m not sure what I’d actually do with one if I had it. So I’m going to go with a sky-ship. It’d be slow travelling, but you could make a hell of an entrance to a book signing in one of those things.