Snapshot 2012: Jay Kristoff

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoJAY Kristoff is a Perth-born, Melbourne-based author. His first trilogy, The Lotus War, was purchased by Tor in the three-way auction by US publishing houses in 2011. He is as surprised about it as you are. The first instalment, Stormdancer, is set to be published in September in the US, UK and Australia.

He can be found shuffling about aimlessly and frightening the children at

What attracted you to the Japanese-style setting for Stormdancer? And then that dollop of steampunk? An interesting mix!
Steampunk came first. I thought the steampunk genre was a cool place to explore the idea of a destructive techonology –- I loved cyberpunk as a kid, loved the mood of decline combined with the theme of the machine as an ‘enemy’. And that’s a well-trodden alleyway in the realm of futuristic sci-fi, but historic sci-fi tends to look at the past through rose-tinted goggles and see the advent of the machine age as a ticket to a land of wonders. So I liked the idea of destroying that perception, bringing back that nihilistic ‘punk’ element for which steampunk is named but so often overlooks.

Thing is, the traditional stomping grounds of steampunk (Victorian England and colonial America) have been done, and done very well. I don’t like the idea of repeating someone else. There were some incredible cultures on this planet at the time when Victoria and Albert were knocking boots, and I’ve been a fan of Japanese film and fiction since forever, and it seemed like combining the two might lead me somewhere interesting. Plus, you know, chainsaw katanas…

In what ways has your penchant for role-playing games informed your writing?
I never really considered it until recently, but when I think about it, I’ve been building worlds since I was 12 years old. It starts with grid maps and random pluckings from the Monstrous Compendium (‘Heh, THIS will fuck ’em!’), but I think anyone who’s spent any time being the game master knows how cool it can be to create a living, breathing world, people it with memorable characters and watch players get lost in it. I think that is writing, in a very real sense — the same discipline you use to create an exciting game world is the same as the one you use to create the world in a novel.

A couple of the fundamental world-building ideas in Stormdancer came directly from the last Pathfinder game I ran. So apparently you can learn some important life skills sitting in dimly lit rooms with your buddies rolling polyhedral dice. Who knew.

On your blog you say you don’t believe in happy endings. Why is that?
Victory without sacrifice feels cheap to me. If I read a book or see a film in which all that was required to beat the Big Bad Guy was a little sleight of hand or some sharp-shooting, I feel cheated. I want to be afraid for the characters I love. When I’m in a book or film, I want to know not everyone I love is going to make it out alive, or intact, because to my mind, that makes me love them more. And I’m not talking about pathos for pathos’ sake. I’m talking about the death of Wash in Serenity, or Lin being rendered brain dead by the slake moth in Perdido Street Station — that kind of thing. Characters feel more real and tangible and alive to me when I know they could be gone at any moment, because that’s what real life is like. Triumph means more when it’s purchased with the things heroes hold dear.

I want my readers crying even as they’re cheering.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I read The Music of Razors by Cameron Rogers last year, and simply put, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. Capital A ‘amazing’. I also scammed a copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak from my lovely Aus publishers at Pan-MacMillan (ah, freebies) a couple of weeks back, and I’m loving it so far.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years?
Truthfully, I’m not really part of the scene, so I can’t really speak to that one. I do think we live in very tumultuous times in publishing — the advent of e-books, the rise of Amazon and the impact that’s having on publishers and brick-and-mortar stores. Long-standing publishers are shedding entire floors in NY city. Audiences are changing, and what’s expected of you as an author is changing.

But ultimately, it’s still all about the words. Write the right words, and everything else will follow. That’s the beauty of it.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2012: Kyla Ward

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logo
KYLA Ward is a Sydney-based creative who works in many modes. Her latest release is The Land of Bad Dreams, a collection of dark and fantastic poetry. Her novel Prismatic (co-authored as Edwina Grey) won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Ticonderoga Online, Shadowed Realms, Borderlands, and in the Macabre anthology, amongst others. The next Cursebreaker story, ‘The Jikininki and the Japanese Jurist’, will shortly appear in The New Hero anthology from Stone Skin Press, who will also print her very first Mythos tale, ‘Who Looks Back?’ in Shotguns vs Cthulhu.

Her work on RPGs including Buffy the Vampire Slayer saw her appear as a guest at the inaugural Gencon Australia. She has had feature articles in magazines ranging from Dragon to Art Monthly Australia. Her short film, ‘Bad Reception’, screened at the Third International Vampire Film Festival and she is a member of the Theatre of Blood repertory company, which has also produced her work. In addition, she programmed the horror stream for the 2010 Worldcon. A practising occultist, she likes raptors, swordplay and the Hellfire Club. To see some very strange things, see her website at

Your first solo book is a collection of poetry — did you see that coming in your projections of a writing career, given how hard it is to get poetry published, let alone (one would think) macabre poetry?
No, it was a complete surprise! I attended the secondary launch of Leigh Blackmore’s Spores From Sharnoth at the Don Banks cottage and performed a few pieces in the open mic section. Danny Lovecraft of P’rea Press heard me and the entire idea was his. The faith was his and a serious part of the work. Poetry is a hard sell these days and I can’t pretend the book has been an overwhelming financial success, even though we recently made it onto Amazon. But I hope that the good reviews in Publishers Weekly amongst others, the Rhysling nominations and making the Stoker preliminary ballot go some way towards repaying him.

You write for the theatre and for role playing games as well as poetry: in what ways do these pursuits influence your fiction practice?
Undoubtedly it does. As a matter of fact, one of the things turned up by the process of editing The Land of Bad Dreams was that, all unknowing, I write poems specifically to be spoken aloud. Danny would point out errors in the metre and such that I couldn’t see, until we realised I was counting the points where I drew breath as syllables! Some pieces such as ‘Day Cars’ we ended up leaving in this weird hybrid form. But as I have said elsewhere: when I have an idea, it’s generally specific to a form. A script idea is a script, a poetry idea is a poem, a novel idea is a psychosis. It is extremely rare that I would translate one to another.

I think this is one reason poetry continues to be written, long after the days when people would fight each other at bookstores to secure the latest instalment of Byron’s ‘Don Juan’. Some ideas can only be expressed in poetry, and any attempt to do so tends towards poetry, whether this is acknowledged or not. Thus ‘prose poems’, dramatic monologues and a significant amount of flash fiction.

What advice do you have for writers who get the chills when it comes to reading their work out loud to an audience?
No, no, no: it’s the audience who are supposed to get the chills!

Being able to read your work in public is a great resource for a writer. They are the most difficult aspect of a work for the general public to ignore, or pirate. Readings can make a launch or signing into an event. Readings can be filmed and placed on YouTube. Plus, nothing displays the artistry of a piece, the flow of sentences and the aptness of words, like performance — assuming that the performer doesn’t freeze up and treat gripping prose like it’s a list of ingredients on a cereal box. The life is all there on the page, you simply have to release it out. Practice is the key: first getting used to the sound of your own voice and then learning how to control it. In my case, I can’t pretend that lengthy drama training didn’t help.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Ben Peek’s ‘Below’ and Stephanie Campisi’s ‘Above’ <in Above/Below>. Clever, unusual and effective.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Those associated with a slow recovery from near-total exhaustion? Or was that just me? E-books seems to have taken off in a big way. I am also looking forward to seeing what happens with GenreCon in Sydney this November: a brave experiment by any standards.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at: