Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with Jay Kristoff, author of Stormdancer

I'm pleased to welcome to the Inkpot Jay Kristoff, author of STORMDANCER, a "Japanese steampunk" novel that hits stores on Tuesday. What does Japanese steampunk mean, you ask? Well, that was my first question too...

 From reading the description of Stormdancer, it seems like an anime-inspired fantasy (even to someone like me, who hasn’t watched a lot of anime!) – but then I read the word “steampunk” in the description, and was intrigued! We usually think of steampunk as being specifically related to Victorian times. Can you elaborate on the steampunk elements in Stormdancer?

Surely can.

The technology is powered by a fuel called “chi”, which is derived from a flower called “blood lotus”. Problem is, the roots of the flower kill the soil it grows in, and the exhaust produced by the fuel is destroying the atmosphere.

Wealthy people wear mechanized breathers to filter out the chi fumes (most people just have kerchiefs over their faces). You’ve got samurai clomping about in big chi-powered suits of armor, armed with chainsaw katanas. You’ve got motorized rickshaw, a chi-powered railway system and sky-ships (big hydrogen suspended airships driven by chi engines). And the members of the Lotus Guild, who administrate blood lotus production, are all walking around in mechanized hazmat suits to ensure they’re not polluted by lotus poison.

Aaaaaand, as with any steampunk story, you need to have frackin’ goggles (you get kicked out of the Steampunk Author Club if you don’t include them), but at least I have a reason for them – the atmosphere has been so stripped by the pollution that the sun is bright enough to burn you blind if you look at it with your naked eye.

There is clearly an environmental theme that runs through the book. How much of the story stems from that?

The whole setting springs from it, really. I wanted to draw some parallels between our world and the Shima Imperium. The idea that a country would continue growing this flower that’s driving them to destruction seems crazy, until you look at what we’re doing with our addiction to fossil fuels.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m on some environmental soapbox or anything. First and foremost, I wanted to tell a cool story with interesting characters. I wanted to write about an epic friendship, have exciting battles and tragedy and make people cry. But if readers can get something deeper out of the book, that’s all good too.

Your book introduces a creature unfamiliar to readers of fantasy lore: the thunder tiger. How much about this creature was your own invention, and how much is drawn from Japanese mythology?

It’s all mine – there’s no real equivalent in Japanese lore that I’m aware of. I used a few mythical creatures from Japanese sources, like oni (demons) and sea dragons. But the setting for STORMDANCER isn’t actually Japan, it’s just Japanese-inspired, so that gave me a little more freedom to move (translation: shamelessly steal whatever took my fancy and leave the rest).

Thunder tigers are kinda like griffins, except they’re a fusion between white tigers and eagles rather than lion/eagle. Tigers are just flat-out cooler than lions. I challenge anyone who thinks different to a deathmatch on Guitar Hero 5.

A common problem faced by writers writing non-Tolkienesque fantasy settings is that of convincing their readers that this is, in fact, not a Tolkienesque fantasy setting. Did you encounter that issue? If so, how did you deal with it?

Not rrrrrreally. I don’t think so anyway. I mean Tolkien was totally Euro-centric, and there’s pretty much nothing European about the setting for STORMDANCER. You won’t find any elves or dwarves or wizards here. There be dragons, surely, but Japanese dragons were pretty different beasts to the average Euro-dragon.

That’s one of the cool things about riffing off a Japanese source – their mythology is virtually nothing like European myth, so your reader will hopefully feel like they’ve never seen anything like it before.

In theory, anyways :P

Your cover is very different from most of what we see on the YA shelves. Did you have any input in the cover design?

My publishers asked me for ideas early on in the piece, which I dutifully delivered, all mocked up in Photoshop and whatnot. I got very excited about it.

Thankfully, they TOTALLY ignored those ideas and hired someone who knew what the frack they were doing. I did stipulate that we could, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES, have a pretty white girl in a prom dress on the cover of this book. I think there’s a special place in the hells for publishers who white-wash covers. Thankfully everyone seemed on the same page in that regard J

I wrote a blog post about the creation of the cover here. Enjoy!

Thanks, Jay, for stopping by at the Inkpot! STORMDANCER sounds fascinating.
More information about the book can be found at Jay's website:


  1. I like both covers, but the lighter one is fantastic.
    Great interview!

  2. Great interview! Stormdancer sounds really intriguing--I love Steampunk and thishas an interesting twist---I'm putting it on my to-read list. :)


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