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Author Jay Kristoff on What's Next for Him After Empire of the Damned

The New York Times bestselling author returns to his exhilarating, illustrated horror-fantasy series.

image of Jay Kristoff with the two published books of his in the Empire of the Vampire series
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  • Photo Credit: Jay Kristoff / Instagram

In September 2021, bestselling author Jay Kristoff introduced a dark world where the sun set and never rose, and from the shadows, vampires emerged. It was a grim world, filled with brutality and violence, where humans are dying and vampires rule. Within that world, one man remains as humanity’s last hope. 

Gabriel de Leon is a silversaint, part of a holy brotherhood tasked with protecting the realm from the creatures out to destroy them all. But while the Silver Order once stood strong, the endless night ripped them apart, now only Gabriel remains. And he’s long given up hope.

Except now, maybe there’s a sliver of light. The fabled Holy Grail may be real. 

Packed with gorgeous illustrations to offset the bleak tale, we begin at the end, with Gabriel imprisoned and forced to tell the bloodsuckers his story—one filled with forbidden love, lost faith, and friendships betrayed. But the strength of the silversaint is one of weakness. As his thirst for violence and blood grows, he becomes desperate to solve the riddle of the Grail and raise the sun once and for all.

Empire of the Damned

As we enter the second chapter, Gabriel found and saved the Grail. But that’s not all. The mysterious vampire Lianthe has not just joined him, but saved his life. Now, Gabriel must deliver the Grail to the ancient Blood Esani, a family line that was once feared but has long been forgotten. Little is known about them, but they may be the key to understanding how to end Daysdeath. 

Except now, Gabriel isn’t the only one after the Grail. The terrors of Blood Voss follow them and war brews on the horizon between the Blood Dyvock and the duskdancers of the Highlands. And Gabriel’s bloodlust only grows stronger, perhaps to the point where he risks losing control. Worse, every clue that could unlock the secrets of the Grail leads to more questions. And as they get closer, it looks like the truth may be more horrifying than anyone ever imagined.

Empire of the Damned (Empire of the Vampire Book 2)

Empire of the Damned (Empire of the Vampire Book 2)

By Jay Kristoff

Kristoff’s vampires are not the sexy, alluring bloodsuckers that have captivated popular culture for years. These are dangerous creatures who have long forgotten their humanity. They’re ruthless and merciless predators ruling a living hellscape. The illustrations add lush texture to a story filled with violence and beauty, and the gorgeous prose only elevates the storytelling to the grandiose levels that befit the ambitions of the undead.

With various nods to vampiric pop culture, including weaving the folklore and mythology not just into the characters, but the plot as well, this series is a vampire-lover's dream. Though it’s brutal, it’s fun. Even the format itself, an interview with a vampire, embraces the very best of the genre and elevates it. This is a story for readers looking for cold predators with blood dripping from their fangs. 

These vampires aren’t friendly. Or sparkly. Or seductive—though there is a sensuality wrapped in the prose. They’re terrifying and cold and inflict a viciousness that bites not just on the page, but through it.

In a spectacular display of controlled storytelling, Kristoff weaves multiple storylines of escalating tension. While the world is grim and the characters even grimmer, there is a tendril of tenderness that each character fights to keep. We may not know what this world is like to live in, but we know what it’s like to have loved, to have lost, and to desperately search for meaning in a world that at times feels devoid of meaning. With that familiarity, we can empathize with their plight and become entangled in their journey.

But be warned. If you thought the ending of the first book was brutal, brace yourself for the second. Kristoff has a knack for creating characters that dance into your heart. And he deftly rips them away with the same ease. It’s the middle of a trilogy, which means everything is bigger, bloodier, and far more explosive. Whether it’s a fang-laden sex scene or a tapestry of violent war, every detail is beautifully rendered with prose so good it drips off the page. If you love vampires, this is a series you don’t want to miss. 

We were thrilled to sit down and talk with Kristoff about his new book, when his love affair with vampires began, and what book he recommends to every reader.

Let's start with your writing journey. How did you start? 

I started writing as a creative in advertising agencies. I basically wrote TV commercials for about 13 years. Before that, I had written for fun, nothing too serious. But in terms of when I decided to start to get serious about being a published author, I came to it pretty late. I think I was 38 years old. And I was literally bored one day at work. I wrote a scene. That scene became a chapter. Over the course of the next 18 months, that chapter became a book. 

It wasn't something that I really went into with a lot of planning. I didn't really tell anyone what I was doing, because I thought it was silly. I didn't think I would finish it. I didn't even tell my wife I was doing it. But I fell in love with the idea of writing every day. 

One of the things about working in ads, or any creative field, is you're a servant of a lot of different masters. Like in advertising, you have to please a client. You have to please internal stakeholders. And your ideas can very quickly die a death of a thousand cuts. I wanted to have something that was kind of all mine, that I could control. If it turned out to be good, that was because I was good at it. And if it turned out to be bad, that's because I was bad. I couldn't blame a client or anything like that. 

After that first book got finished, it was a bad book because books that you don't really plan at the beginning usually turn out pretty bad. So, when I started writing the next book I did it with a little more planning in terms of structure and that's it. I was on my way.

Do you have a writing routine? 

Yeah, I pretty much treat it like a day job. I mean, it is my day job now. So I have to approach it with a sense an employment structure, otherwise nothing ever gets done. I sit myself down at the desk by about 10 o'clock in the morning and aim for 2,000 words a day. Sometimes I get a little bit more, but 2,000 is kind of the point where I'm ready to stop. Once I hit that target, then generally, I'll tidy up a scene or whatever I'm working on, then I'll stop. 

Sometimes I can get that done in three hours, sometimes it takes six. It just depends on the nature of the scene I'm writing and how difficult it is. But I start each day by reviewing the work I did the previous day, give it a quick edit pass, and that kind of puts my head back in the space that it needs to be in to knock out 2,000 words. 

Do you outline or do you just write and see where it goes? 

I do now. I never used to. For everything up until Empire, my solo work, I mean, that was by the seat of my pants. I literally didn't know what was happening from one scene to the next. When I was writing Nevernight, I didn't know who the narrator was going to be until almost the end of the second book, the end of Godsgrave. It was really open-ended. But I found when I was collaborating with Amy [Kaufman, with whom Kristoff wrote The Illuminae Files], you have to plot things out because your co-author needs to know what's coming up, what's going on inside your head. 

With Empire, because that book is just bigger, both in terms of the scope of it, but also the word count, I found that when you make a wrong turn on a 120,000-word novel, it's not such a big deal. When you make a wrong turn on a novel that's going to be a quarter of a million words long, you can waste a lot of time. I found that I just wasn't working as efficiently as I needed to be. 

One of the things about making it up as you go along, you kind of sit down some days and you literally don't know what happens next. So you spend half the day just kind of staring at the screen. Whereas when you outline something, you know what happens next. You follow the roadmap.

So, halfway through the process of writing Empire, I pulled the brakes and stopped and sat down and outlined everything because it was just ballooning in terms of size. It would have been like 500,000 words long or something ridiculous. I had to sit down and apply the plotting techniques that I had learned as a co-author to my own solo work. And so now until forever, I will outline to be more efficient. 

I enjoy both ways of working, but I'm not completely prescient, so I try and leave the plan a little bit open-ended. I won't lock down the finale, for example. I'll try and have a couple of pathways I could go down, depending on how I'm feeling. I'll have a couple of possibilities in terms of broad brush strokes but I like to leave it at the moment. I figure if the book surprises me when I'm writing it, it probably surprises the reader when they're reading it. And there is a lot of fun in that discovery when you think of a cool idea. 

empire of the vampire

Empire of the Vampire (Empire of the Vampire Book 1)

By Jay Kristoff

Why vampires?

I've loved them ever since I was a kid. I don't know why exactly. I remember reading Salem's Lot when I was probably 11—too young to be reading that book. But Mark Petrie was the first time I ever saw myself in a book. He's the nerdy kid who read the horror comics and figured out that vampires are real and they're here and they're trying to kill us. 

So, I kind of fell in love with them there. I've loved them ever since. Interview with the Vampire is one of my favorite novels of all time. 

I love vampires as a construct, as a creature. There's a whole bunch of different writers who've done a whole bunch of different takes on them, which I think is testament to how interesting a construct they can be. They can be objects of horror and evil or they can be the broody antihero. They can be the romantic love interest and all those choices are valid. All of them work. They're just an intriguing exploration of different aspects of the human psyche and different writers can take them in different directions. And they can say a lot about us, depending on what kind of themes the writer is exploring and what they want to say.

My intent was to kind of bring vampires back to the characters from when I was a little kid. They were the monsters in the dark. They were an evil to be fought and to be defeated. I wanted to bring that kind of vampire back, but on an epic fantasy stage, rather than an urban fantasy stage. 

And what aspect of humanity did you want to capture and explore in Empire of the Vampire?

To me, the vampires in Empire are really an exploration into the notion of time. It’s the idea that everything goes away: On a long enough timeline, everything erodes, everything ends, even morality and humanity. So, what happens to a creature when they wake up every day for 400 years and they live by killing someone? What does that do to you as a person? And what paths does that kind of lead you down? 

When you live to be 80, dying is a big deal. If you live literally forever unless something kills you, I think you would become a lot more paranoid about your existence. It becomes that much more precious. But at the same time, you’d probably be bored out of your mind. You would have done everything; You would have seen everything. You would be so starved for a new experience, new sensation. You would probably be kind of sick of life. But at the same time, you’ve spent 500 years living, you don't want it to end. It's a really interesting paradigm to play around with. 

Who are your favorite vampires? 

Claudia from Interview with the Vampire is my favorite vampire of all time. Louis and LeStat are great, but Claudia makes that book. She's the match that gets thrown onto the tinder. She makes it all happen. 

Who else? Probably Barlow from Salem's Lot. The idea of that ancient, unknowable evil, something that is so old, it's not even really human anymore, something that looks at people the same way that you and I look at the steak that we're about to eat for dinner. 

Like it's not even necessarily evil. It's just the nature of that kind of existence. But yeah, the idea that something is so old, it's almost alien. I kind of drew on that pretty heavily when I was sketching out Fabian. 

Like, yeah, a consciousness that began as human, but has just become something entirely different. And who else? Top three. I'm going to say Jesse from Near Dark. It's this great old 80s vampire movie. It was directed by Catherine Bigelow. She's a great director. But the first feature she did was this semi-schlocky vampire flick. It has a whole bunch of the James Cameron alumni in it. So Lance Hendrickson and Bill Paxton and all those guys. 

It's about a group of vampires who live in the south of the United States. And they're kind of hillbilly vampires. They live in an RV. They tape up aluminum foil over the windows every day and they just drive around the south inflicting carnage. Jesse is the leader of the band. He's kind of this old-school cowboy type. He's about 100 years old, and he's the leader of this group of misfits. He's a really cool character. 

What's one book you think everyone should read? 

I'm gonna say House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It's a weird book. It's not something that you would give to a beginning reader, but just what he did with the idea of what a book could be … it's a book within a book within a book. 

It's a strange book, unlike any book I've ever read, which is why I recommend it. I think it's a masterpiece. But whether you like it or not, it completely pushed the edge of the envelope in so far as what a book could be. The idea of the object as experience. 

You can't really read House of Leaves. You live it almost. You become absorbed in the physicality, like just holding the book in your hand and twisting it and turning it and flipping it upside down to read. It's a tactile experience, as well as an imaginative one. It's strange and weird. And it's not for everyone, even though I recommend it to everyone, but I think everyone should experience it. 

So, what’s next?

At the moment I'm writing the third Empire book. I'm hoping to have 100,000 words done by Christmas. So yeah, that's all tracking really well. Hopefully you guys won't have to wait as long for the third book as the second. 

I also did some work for DC earlier in the year and we're working on the artwork and proofing at the moment. We announced at Comic Con this year, but we'll start doing promo for it early next year. 

It's called Dark Knights of Steel. It's basically DC, but in an epic fantasy setting. Essentially, it's what would happen if Superman crashed to Earth during the Knights of the Round Table era. I’m doing a story in that world in a Viking setting around a character named Slade. And we did something a little bit weird with the artwork and story, because I always have to do something a little bit weird.

I’ve also sold my next trilogy to my publishers and a standalone novel, as well. The standalone is almost written already, and I’m starting pre-production work on the trilogy. So, pretty busy, but busy in a good way.

Featured image: Jay Kristoff / Instagram