Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Author Interview: Jay Kristoff previews Stormdancer

For my spotlight on upcoming dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction series, I interviewed over 20 authors with novels coming out in the genre in 2012/13.  These are exclusive first looks at exciting new works.  Enjoy!

Raise the roof for debut author Jay Kristoff! STORMDANCER is due Spring 2012 from St. Martins Press (US)/Tor (UK).
Here's the fab summary:
A dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan. The Shima Isles are verging on the brink of environmental collapse; decimated by clockwork mechanization and toxic pollution. Sixteen-year-old Yukiko is the daughter of the Shogun's Hunt Master, gifted with the ability to speak telepathically to animals, but forced to hide her talent for fear of the murderous Lotus Guild and their campaign against "impurity". Befriending the last griffin alive on the islands, Yukiko pits herself against the Shogun and the Guild in the hope of seeing her homeland saved, her family freed and the crippled griffin fly again.
Dystopian steampunk set in Japan? I'm so there!  Now let's get onto Jay's witty answers to my interview questions.

Why do you think people are drawn to "dark" stories?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. It could be something as innocent as the “horror movie” instinct. The same impulse that makes us climb aboard roller-coasters or take one step closer to the edge of a really tall building and look down into that drop. I think part of us likes to be scared, to embrace that impulse inside us, because it makes us feel alive.
But that impulse has always been there, and stories about the end of the world have never been more popular. So I think the truth is a little less simple. I think the truth is that there’s something wrong with this place we’ve built, and deep down inside, we know it. The western empire in which we dwell is built on such a tenuous premise. Our economies only work if they’re constantly expanding. The machines that drive us are fuelled by a finite resource, becoming more and more difficult to obtain. We chop down 1.5 hectares of rain forest every second. Animal species are disappearing at a rate of somewhere between 30 to 150 every day. And this is the world in which teenagers are growing up. Would I be scared if I stood to inherit this place? Jesus, I’d be terrified.
So, I think we like dark stories because they help us deal with fear we feel every day. I think we write stories about the end of the world because we can see one on the horizon. But most importantly, we like to read stories about one person’s power to change that future - to believe that all of us have the ability to do something positive about it. That no matter how bad things get, it’s not too late. It’s never too late.
If STORMDANCER had a theme song, what would it be and why? 
Wow. Really hard question. Music is so important to the writing process for me. I get ideas for whole books from lyrics.
If you forced me to pick one song (you are sooooo mean) I’d pick Guerrilla Radio by Rage Against the Machine. It’s about defiance in the shadow of a corrupt regime, speaking the truth no matter what the cost, and most importantly, that change can start with one voice. That’s STORMDANCER in a nutshell:
“It has to start somewhere.
It has to start sometime.
What better place than here?
What better time than now?”
What fictional character from another book would Yukiko chose as her best friend and why?
Katniss from the Hunger Games, probably. Katniss and Yukiko are both courageous, self-determined, and have crappy taste in boys. JBuckbeak from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban would rate an honorable mention (though he’s a hippogriff, not a griffin). He’s fierce and loyal, and has the air of slight unpredictability that comes with being a wild animal.
What are your top 5 Dystopian lit recs and why? 
1984 – George Orwell. This is kinda the ultimate dystopian, probably the first one I ever read. Censorship/information control is a subject very close to my heart. I’m also a sucker or tragic endings, and they don’t get much more tragic than this.

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi. Beautifully, beautifully written story of a post-collapse world set in South East Asia. Never seen it done before, and it’s amazing.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess. Again, wonderfully written. Alex is a great character - thoroughly deplorable and yet somehow still sympathetic. The way Burgess writes the slang of the future (Nadsat) is just ripping.
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore. Subversion. Rebellion. The power of one to change the world. Yes, comics can be literature, people!
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. Comes back to what I was talking about above – the idea that one person really can make a difference, even in a world that’s gone totally dark. And because Katniss kicks mucho ass. 
I also need to give a shout out to Divergent. I’m only half way through it atm, but it’s 100% worthy of the hype. So nice to see a new wave of kick ass female heroines, as opposed to a pack of Bella Swans.
What's on the top of your to-do list before the world ends? (you know, in case it ends next year)
Publish my damn book! Lol. I feel so extraordinarily lucky to be working with such an amazing group of people right now – my editors, my agent, his assistant, none of it reals quite real. I keep feeling like this is a dream that I’m going to wake up from any minute now. I just want to hold the damn thing in my hand so I know all this actually happened. J
How does your novel stand out from other dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction out there?

STORMDANCER is a collision between dystopian and steampunk fiction, and I wanted to see if I could break the rules for both. One of the golden rules of dystopian fiction seems to be that it needs to be set in a dark future. STORMDANCER is actually set in a dark 
past - it's a kind of historical end of the world novel, I guess. And of course the book has steampunk elements and more "traditional fantasy" elements mixed in that you don't usually see in a dystopia. No laser guns or computer networks here, folks. We've got griffins and samurai in suits of combustion-powered armor. :P

There's this unspoken rule in steampunk that says your book has to be set in Victorian England or Colonial America. So I said "why not set a steampunk novel in feudal Japan?" Likewise, there seems to be this 'rose-colored glasses' (or should that be goggles) aspect in steampunk; a lot of SP writers hearken back to Victorian times as some kind of utopia, where the world was filled with the spirit of adventure and techonology made anything possible. So I said "why not make this steampunk novel set in a dystopia, where the wondrous technology has actually screwed everything up? Where the machine isn't the savior, it's the enemy."

Finally, instead of the setting being post-apocalypse - a world or a nation in ruins - the apocalyptic collapse is actually unfolding throughout the book. STORMDANCER is set in a country that's teetering on the brink of total ruin, and it falls to one young woman to take the first step in pulling things back from the edge.
Thank you Jay! We can't wait!
Visit's Jay's blog
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Add STORMDANCER to your Goodreads wishlist
Jay is also a part of the group blog Brave New Words.  Check it out!


Cecelia said...

I had the same reaction when I read the summary of Kristoff's upcoming book - I'M IN. Dystopian + steampunk + Japan = amazing. Can't wait!

Emily @ Brave New Shelf said...

I can't help but feel that people gloss over past times as dystopian settings because many people already associate those times with the negativity that they do with a dystopian society. A lack of technology/ 21st century comforts, poor medical care/ unsanitary city conditions, world wars, and what many see as outdated or "wrong" ideals are pretty unappealing, especially to the younger generation at which many dystopian novels are aimed at nowadays (even though we still have those things in our world today.)

I love that you're breaking the mold though; the book sounds fantastic and I can't wait!

caitieflum said...

Cannot wait to read this! Got the chance to read the first 50 pages and it rocks!

Zibilee said...

A historical end of the world novel? I am so there! Jay has some great things to say about why he thinks people gravitate towards this type of writing, and he says them all with a great amount of intelligence and pragmatism. I loved this interview, Lenore. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Jay Kristoff said...

Thanks for the kind words all. :)

@Emily - The negative aspects of historical settings you mention are totally true, but lot of the historical pieces I've read tend to apply a rose-colored tint to the setting; dialing up the ball gowns and opulence, and forgetting about the child exploitation and lack of drainage.

*waves to Caitie* Long time, girl! :D

caitieflum said...

Hey Jay! Cannot WAIT to read the rest of your book. I was telling a friend about it and they wanted to know where they could buy it. They were not happy when I said it wasn't out yet! Wish you all the best - you deserve it!!

Charlotte said...

This sounds great--onto my tbr list it goes!

perla said...

Awesome interview! I have been waiting for someone to step outside of the Steampunk box and really let it push the boundaries of what Steampunk can be. Can't wait to read it!