Book Nerd Interview
Jay prostituted his writing arm in the soulless crack-house of 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 nobody outside the advertising industry gives a toss about.
Jay’s debut novel, STORMDANCER, a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy, will be published by PanMacMillan/St Martin’s Press/Tor UK in 2012 as the first installment of THE LOTUS WAR trilogy.
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 has a sweet beard.
He does not believe in happy endings.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
That the biggest compliment they can pay me is telling me my book made them cry J
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Base not your joy upon the deeds of others, for what is given can be taken away.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Never finish a writing session by finishing a scene. Even if the scene is working really well. Hit your word count for the day, then force yourself to stop. That way, you’ll be eager to start work again tomorrow, and when you do, you’ll be able to pick up writing immediately, and not be stuck staring at the blinking Cursor of Doom™ wondering “WTF happens next?”
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
Being a n00b at all this, I can only speak from a n00b’s perspective, but I think the biggest challenge is standing out from the pack. There are hundreds of books published every month, and you’re essentially fighting Tekken Tag Tournament against every one of them.
I’ve found book blogging communities and Goodreads to be an amazing way to get the word out about Stormdancer – there have been so many wonderful people who’ve spent so much of their personal time building up the excitement for its release, telling their friends, making artwork, writing songs and poems and all kinds of awesome stuff. But people generally won’t come looking for you – you need to put yourself out there, be involved in these communities, make an effort to get to know its members as people first, and readers second. Because they really are fantastic people bound together by a love of books, and better friends you can’t hope to find.
But don’t be a wallflower! They don’t get to dance.
For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; Stormdancer, how would you introduce it?
Stormdancer is a steampunk fantasy novel, set in a Japanese-inspired feudal dystopia. The story centers around a girl named Yukiko, who can speak telepathically to animals, and her friendship with the last griffin left alive.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Yukiko?
Writing inside the head of a sixteen-year-old girl isn’t as impossible as I first thought it might be. It’s still difficult, absolutely, but I think any author who isn’t writing an autobiography is stepping outside themselves – it’s simply a question of how far. That’s always difficult, but its what we do.
Is writing a convincing sixteen-year-old girl more difficult than writing a convincing soldier? I’ve never had to fight for my life, never had to kill anyone before they killed me. I’m only imagining what those experiences and sensations might feel like. All authors tell lies for a living. Fortunately, I had my wife on hand to occasionally tap me on the shoulder and say “Sweetie, girls don’t think that way”. :)
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
It started with a dream I had, about a griffin with broken wings. That image really stuck in my head like a splinter – what is a griffin who can’t fly? What kind of character would it be?
There are some parallels between the Shima Imperium and the world we live in today that I felt compelled to write about. But I don’t want to draw attention to them or come off like an author on a soapbox, so I’ll leave it up to individual readers to decide what they are. Readers can take the story on face value if that’s what they prefer and they’ll still have fun. Hopefully!
For those who are unfamiliar with Buruu, how would you introduce him?
He’s a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. His kind have been extinct in the Shima Isles for over a century. He weighs two tons. His wingspan is twenty five feet, and his talons and beak can cut steel. When he growls, you feel it in your chest.
He begins the story very much a beast – primal and animalistic. He’s angry about what’s been done to the islands, and about the predicament he finds himself in with Yukiko. But as the story goes on…
Well, I don’t want to spoil anything. But he seems to be everyone’s favorite character in the book. :)
Do you have a favorite quote that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire you?
There’s a quote from Mario Savio that’s pretty much the foundation for the Lotus War trilogy. It’s not visible in my workspace, but it’s always in my head:
“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
If you could introduce Yukiko to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I just think she might cheer Yukiko up a bit :)
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m still working on the Lotus War trilogy – Stormdancer is only part one. Book 2 will be out this time next year – I’m just about to start working on my editor’s notes for it. I’m almost finished the second draft of book 3.
After that, I’ll either be working on a dark epic fantasy novel I’ve been thinking about, or a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk story. I miss cyberpunk. Someone needs to bring it back.
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Read widely is my best advice. Inundate yourself with all kinds of wonderful books. Don’t just read in your genre, and definitely don’t just read in your demographic. Otherwise you’ll end up sounding just like everyone else and playing on the same old tropes.
Other than that, believe in what you have to say (you have to actually be saying something with your work for this to happen) and write like nobody can see you. Don’t be afraid to suck. Clearing out the suck makes room for the good stuff to flow.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Rome. My wife and I got married there. Coolest and most romantic city in the whole world.
What book are you reading now?
Just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Just starting Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
Who was your first girlfriend?
A girl named Joanne. I think I was eleven? She was twelve, and she blackmailed me into going out with her - I’d been up to no good, and she threatened to tell my dad. So yeah, my first kiss was stolen from me under duress. I still remember it quite fondly though…
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
My age. And I don’t outright lie, I’m just very… vague on the topic :)
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
Stapling cardboard boxes for a bakery. I got paid 2 cents a box. Working at optimum speed, with wind conditions just right and the planets in conjunction, I could make nearly 1,000 boxes in an hour. To this day, I can’t look at a stapler without curling into the fetal position and weeping.
When was the last time you cried?
A few weeks ago, writing a scene in book 3.
Where can readers stalk you?
Thanks so much for having me!
But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.
Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.
Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?
The plot is absolutely gripping and snatches your attention from the very first page. The characters are dynamically beautiful but one outshines them all, the heroine Yukiko. She is probably one of the most compelling characters ever in a book. She’s flawed, feels resentment, forgiving, and always looking for answers. Jay’s description of her tenacity is unquestionably admirable.
Stormdancer is a highly captivating story right from the beginning. Jay’s writing style fits in perfectly to the book’s mixture of fantasy and steampunk. His careful choices of words made each chapter that much more exhilarating and action scenes more impactful. His storytelling is unmatched as he delivers one hell of a complex story. The world these wonderful characters exist in is absolutely beautiful. There is something grand and spectacular about Stormdancer. He has created such an enchanting tale even with the absence of a cliffhanger. Stormdancer is so comprehensive that it could be a standalone book. Readers will find joy that Yukiko’s story does not end as two more books will follow. Jay has created a path for himself to show the world his highly imaginative mind, and readers are eagerly waiting behind him to follow where this magnificent story will go.