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An Interview with Jay Kristoff, Author of the LOTUS WAR Trilogy, About ENDSINGER, Different Endings and Our Ecological Trajectory

6’7” tall Jay Kristoff grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and is a tragic nerd. The first installment of his Lotus War trilogy, STORMDANCER, was critically acclaimed and shortlisted for several SF/F awards, and the Lotus War novella THE LAST STORMDANCER won the 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction. The third book, ENDSINGER, is out in November 2014.

Jay kindly answered some questions about the Lotus War trilogy.

Paul Weimer: Congratulations on finishing the third volume of the Lotus War! How does the end of the novel and series differ from your original conceptions, when you started writing Stormdancer?

Jay Kristoff: Thanks so much!

Well, I originally wrote Stormdancer as a one-shot novel—I didn’t have an agent or book deal at the time, and I figured planning a trilogy would be a little presumptuous of me. Yukiko actually died in the end of the original Stormdancer, but then I landed an agent and he was like “This whole brutally murdering your protagonist thing…how wedded to that idea are you?”

I tend to be something of a pantser when it comes to writing. I don’t plan too far in advance, and prefer to let the story find me. So I really had noooo idea where the series would go or how it would end, especially back in 2012. But I did go into writing the third book knowing the body count would be high. Last book in the series. All bets are off. No one = safe. And that conception turns out to be pretty spot-on.

PW: The themes of ecological damage and the short-sightedness of environmental destruction resonated strongly with me and resonate throughout the book. What drives your passion for the subject?

JK: I honestly don’t understand how everyone isn’t passionate about the subject. It’s not a difficult equation to understand. Any high schooler knows how an exponential function works, and that’s all you need to figure out the kind of curve we’re on. Population. Pollution. Resource depletion. Species extinction. Exponential functions, all the way, and we’re on the wrong end of the swing.

I mean, I don’t have kids. I have no skin in the game, so to speak. But it honestly baffles me how a parent can look around at this place we’ve built, and shrug, and go back to watching Monday Night Football. I don’t understand how the children who will inherit this place aren’t fucking outraged at the state we’ll be leaving it in.

I mean, sit and watch this for five minutes. This is the world you’re giving your kids. Now let’s all jump in the SUV and go have McDonald’s!

PW: Yukiko goes through a wide-ranging character arc, and ends in a place I did not quite expect. What have been the challenges in writing her story?

JK: She’s stubborn as hell. And I realize this is something a mad person would say, but after living with her in my head for five years, she pretty much has a mind of her own. It’s a little extraordinary how these figments of your imagination reach a point where they start behaving ways you don’t quite expect. I mean, that’s where the magic happens—when your characters become so realized they almost start writing their own dialogue. But it can be challenging when they don’t do what you want them to. When you realize your novel isn’t quite in your hands anymore (if you want to remain true to the characters you’ve written, at any rate).

But yeah, I’m talking like a mad person. So I’ll stop before someone calls the white coats on me.

PW: I did not expect the gaijin to appear in Kinslayer, and for them to play the role they do in that book and in Endsinger. What do you think their inclusion on the screen directly brings to the Lotus War?

JK: Showing the face of the enemy. Showing that they’re people, rather than simply antagonists. Giving a human face to the “other”. All wars are fought on tribal grounds. Some kind of “us” and “them” mentality. We humans are very destructive in that regard. If we don’t have an Other, we invent one. But there’s nothing that bothers me more than novels or films that fail to define the enemy as anything other than “evil”. People generally don’t pick up a weapon and start swinging without a reason. “Evil” as a concept is completely arbitrary, and as a motivator, it makes for a weak conflict, and weak characters.

This series has always been about shades of grey. The Kagé aren’t noble liberators in white cloaks trying to overthrown a despotic regime. The “good guys” in these books do some pretty bad things. It’s like Kaori tells Yukiko in Kinslayer: “We will all turn the waters red when we bathe once this is finished.” Showing the gaijin up close is just another way to flip the notions of good and evil on their heads.

PW: The Earthcrusher most reminded me of Michael Moorcock’s Land Leviathan. Was that a deliberate homage? Who and what are the literary forebears in the series?

Alas, I’ve not read The Land Leviathan. But Moorcock certainly deserves some homage, so let’s run with it anyway!

I guess the most obvious forebear would be Frank Herbert’s DUNE series. The Spice must flow. The Lotus must bloom. But I tend to draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and not simply novels either. The lyrics of a guy like Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) or speeches from Mario Saviohave played just as important a role in the formation of the Lotus War as the writings of someone like William Gibson or China Miéville.

PW: Endsinger throws a lot of stuff into the mix, and into the finale. Is there anything or anyone you wish had gotten more page time or exposure?

Isamu, the Daimyo of the Fox Clan. In the original draft, Isamu was a ten year old boy, who’d just inherited the throne from his father. I had a bunch of really fun subplots with his mother and the General of the Kitsune armies, but in the end, we decided to chop it all for the sake of brevity. The book is a bit of a monster already—we didn’t need more moving parts. And Yukiko and Buruu are ultimately the heroes.

I have those early drafts saved though, and I’m sure I’ll recycle those subplots into some other book. So it’s all good.

PW: Now that the Lotus War is complete, what’s next for you?

JK: Busy, busy!

I’ve got a new series starting next year called ILLUMINAE, which is straight up the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on. I co-authored it with another Australian author, Amie Kaufman. It’s a scifi thriller, set on board a refugee fleet fleeing an invaded world. The book is basically a series of documents—IM conversations, emails, medical reports, security cam footage, and so on—and as the reader trawls these docs, they begin to piece together the mystery of what happened to the fleet and the people aboard it.

It’s a cross between House of Leaves and Battlestar Galactica. Virus outbreaks. Insane Artificial intelligences. Epic space battles. We’re doing stuff in this book I’ve never seen done before. Typographically. Narratively. It’s absolutely insane. You have never seen a book like this, I guarantee it.

You can pre-order here. If you do pre-order, hold onto your proof of purchase, because we’re announcing a pre-order promo thing soon that you’ll love.

And, I’ve got a new solo series coming out too. Doesn’t have a name yet, although the series will probably be called THE GODSGRAVE CHRONICLES. It’s epic fantasy. The setting is a mix of ancient Rome and merchant prince Europe. Here’s the blurb:

In a world where night falls for only a few weeks every few years, a fledgling assassin stalks a city built from the bones of a dead god, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

More details here.

So, busy! Which is a hell of a lot better than being bored!

PW: Thanks, Jay!

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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