An Interview with Jay Kristoff

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

Jay Kristoff needs little introduction. He is the author of the Nevernight series, the Empire of the Vampire series and a range of YA novels. He also looks like Dave Grohl’s literary alter ego and regularly breaks bookstore websites when new editions of his work are released – a rockstar in the SFF world, if you want to put a label on him. His latest novel, The Empire of the Damned is the follow-up to the best-selling The Empire of the Vampire and out in spring 2024. Grimdark Magazine was able to snag one of the coveted interview spaces in the run-up to publication.

Empire of the Damned[GDM] Is no horse safe in Empire of the Damned? Is this your way of disposing of all the ponies you demand from your readers asking you silly questions?

 [JK]It’s strange to think that “Horse” turned out to be the most dangerous occupation in a medieval vampire apocalypse. Funny thing is, I actually like horses irl! The way I write them, anyone would think a gelding murdered my parents in a mugging gone wrong when I was a kid.

[GDM] The relationship between religion and faith, and how mutually exclusive they can be, is a prominent theme in Empire of the Vampire and are some of my favourite parts of the novel. Will we see this continuing or expanded upon further in Empire of the Damned?

 [JK] Faith is a central theme of the whole trilogy. Gabe’s struggle with the idea of a benevolent creator presiding over a world gone so horribly wrong is a constant. But nothing in this world is what it seems, and our heroes have a few rude awakenings in DAMNED.

 So yes, much God angst. I was raised catholic, after all.

[GDM] When you wrote and sold Nevernight, you were a published author with a solid audience. Since, you’ve developed a sort of cult following. How has that affected your writing and your publishing process?

[JK] I keep seeing people talking about this cult following of mine. Where are my tax exemptions based on religious status is what I want to know.

[GDM] How do you maintain balance between privacy and being a public figure? What are some of your favourite audience reactions – or some of the most surprising?

[JK] I stay offline as much as possible. And when I’m there, I talk shop and maybe Formula 1 and not much else. I’m not interested in being anyone’s idol. To quote the GOAT, “Never choose to be a hero, because heroes die uncomfortable deaths.”

 The tattoos are my favorite. The idea that a character or phrase I wrote can mean so much to someone they ink it on their body for life is truly amazing to me.

[GDM] Once a book is out there, do you ever have any regrets? Is there anything you wish you’d left in, or taken out, or handled differently?

[JK] Like the great man said, “Books are never finished; they’re abandoned.”

 I’m proud of all my books, but all books are imperfect. You have to find contentment in that, or you’ll drive yourself pants-on-head insane.

[GDM] Video games like Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim and more very clearly inspire and have strong influence on your work. If you could design a dream game to play through, what would it be and where it would be set?

[JK] A Souls-style EMPIRE OF THE VAMPIRE game would be cool. Anyone who knows the FROMSOFT folks, pass on my deets.

 I never played Skyrim til last year, and only for a few days. Then I tried to mod the graphics, broke my game completely and haven’t played since. Probably for the best. I should be writing.

[GDM] Please tell us a bit about your favourite vampires across media! What are some of your favourite tropes and elements of the mythos you really wanted to include (or exclude) in your novels?

[JK] Claudia from INTERVIEW is my fave. She’s the match to that book’s gasoline. David from THE LOST BOYS was the inspiration from my mullet in the 90s. Not sure if that’s good or bad. You’d not know it to look at me, but I’m an unashamed fan of the VAMPIRE DIARIES. And the new INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE series on AMC is brilliant.

 The trope of morality eroding over time is a favorite. But I also like playing with the traditional vampire banes—not being able to enter unless invited, not crossing running water, repelled by holy symbols, all that awesome nonsense. For a wargamer like me, playing with those weaknesses on an epic fantasy scale with vampire armies is a lot of fun.

[GDM] Empire of the Vampire (and, I expect, Empire of the Damned) has taken a lot of influence from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire – how did you first discover this classic take and what made you go “this is what I want you to write next”?

[JK] There would be no EMPIRE without INTERVIEW. I probably discovered that book when I was 19. I’d loved vampires before that (I read Salem’s Lot when I was 11) but Anne’s take was transformative. She brought the Sexy along with the Horror and Tragedy.

 I’d wanted to write a vampire novel since I started trying to get published. My first (trunked) novel was a vampire story. But it took a lot of practice for me to get good enough to write a book like EMPIRE. I couldn’t have pulled that novel off ten years ago.

[GDM] Let’s talk Lemon Fresh! With the rise of AI concern on the horizon, is there anything worryingly prescient about your Truelife series?

[JK] The idea of Created destroying Creator is a theme through those books, so yes. if I were a gambler, I’d bet our destruction won’t take the form of nuclear war, but I do truly believe social media and algorithmic recommendation systems are deranging our society in fundamental and unsustainable ways.

 Presuming we survive, people 40 years from now will look back on the way we use social media today the same way we look at the way people smoked in the 60s. It’s insane.

[GDM] Many of your YA books are written with Amie Kaufmann as a co-author. Can you tell us a bit about how you develop ideas together and how the drafting process differs to your solo work?

[JK] Amie and I usually got together at the pub to kick around ideas. The magic usually happened around drink #4. Thank you, Jack Daniels.

Writing together is more fun than writing alone. It’s also easier—it’s a cliché, but two heads are always better than one. Having a co-author is a lot like being married—if you choose the right person, it’s just brilliant. But my time writing YA is done. Boobs and blood is my brand now.

[GDM] If you can tell us, what are you working on next?

[JK] I’m deep into EMPIRE 3 at the moment, and it’s going well. Pray for me!

 I’ve a 6 part epic fantasy miniseries coming out with DC Comics in 2024 called ALLWINTER. It’s set in the DARK KNIGHTS OF STEEL universe my buddy Tom Taylor wrote. Grimdark! DC! Vikings! 

 After that, I’ll be getting to work on my next dark fantasy trilogy. We’ve sold that to my publishers already, and I’m super excited. But we don’t announce details until next year.

 Sleep when you’re dead!

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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