Jay Kristoff

Filmed and edited by David Todd

Duration: 9:28

New York Times best-selling author Jay Kristoff talks to PRC Officer Tamara Rodgers about killing friends in his books, writing Artificial Intelligence, and the benefits of co-writing books with other authors.

Back to:

Transcript – Jay Kristoff

TAMARA ROGERS: Hi. I'm Tamara Rogers from the Premier's Rating Challenge. We're at Northern Beaches Secondary College at the Manly campus today, and we're joined by Australian author, Jay Kristoff. Thanks for joining us, Jay.

JAY KRISTOFF: Thanks for having me.

TAMARA ROGERS: No problem. So your profile on Reading Matters says that your 42 Australian additions of Illumuniae high, that you enjoy killing IRL readers and friends in your books, and that you don't believe in happy endings. So tell us about killing people that you know in books that you write.

JAY KRISTOFF: I mean, that was our way of saying thank you to everyone who helped this out on the journey of Illuminae. So we started out with a couple of our author buddies. I think we killed Laini Taylor and Leigh Bardugo and a couple of others. I think we killed George RR Martin in Illuminae as well.

TAMARA ROGERS: Yeah, and Will Christakais.

JAY KRISTOFF: Will Kristakais, yeah. And that was just us saying thanks to the people who either read early copies of the book or have kind of helped us out on our author journey. And later subsequent editions in Gemina and Obsidio, because we got to travel to the United States and meet a lot more authors, people who were just cool to us along the way, that was our way of saying thank you. So even though we kill people we know, we do it out of love.

TAMARA ROGERS: So you also kill people who are reading your books too. I remember when I read 'LIFEL1K3,' and I got to the end, and I didn't know that it was book one in a trilogy.


TAMARA ROGERS: I was so mad.

JAY KRISTOFF: Right, yeah. That would have been--

TAMARA ROGERS: I was one of those, like little tantrum chucking, threw the book across the room, said words that were not appropriate for little children, kind of children. When you started writing 'LIFEL1K3,' did you know that it was going to be a trilogy?

JAY KRISTOFF: Yeah. So I'm lucky enough to be able to sell in series what's called on spec, so I'll send in a proposal for the series and maybe a chapter sample of about two or three chapters, and then my editor decides whether or not they're going to buy it and publish it. So in the planning of the first book, I decided that it was going to be a three story arc.

TAMARA ROGERS: OK. So one of the things you deal with in 'LIFEL1K3' is the idea about what it means to be human. Do you want to talk to us a little bit about what that's like, and how you create non-human characters that are, in fact, really quite compelling?

JAY KRISTOFF: The lifelikes in the book, they're artificial people. So they are, for all intents and purposes, fully formed adult human beings, but they only have the minds and experiences of kind of two, three-month-old beings. So they have all these input, all this capacity for emotion and intelligence, but they don't really have the experience to deal with it.

So that was me just kind of toying with the idea of the morality of creating almost thinking beings. And we're on the verge, technologically speaking, of creating computers who can think for themselves. We have already created computers that can learn for themselves. So it's just me exploring the morality of creating what is essentially any form of life, and the ways that could possibly go wrong.

TAMARA ROGERS: So non-human characters in your new series, also back to the Illuminae chronicles, really compelling non-human character in AIDAN, who's the artificial intelligence character in here. One of the things I love about AIDAN is, a lot of his stories played out in the visual of the way the text works on the page. Did you have some input into that?

JAY KRISTOFF: Yeah. I used to be a graphic designer and an art director. That's what I did as a day job before I was lucky enough to become a full time author. And I studied graphic design at university, so the idea of introducing a graphic element to books was something that I always played around with in my head, but it wasn't until the Illuminae series came along that we had the opportunity to really take that idea and run with it.

So we were really trying to break the idea of what a book could be, an combine the graphic novel with the long form novel and see where we can take it. But because I was an art director in a former life, I worked pretty closely with the art director at Random House, a US publisher, and sometimes it was easier for me to just show her what I meant rather than trying to explain what I meant. So maybe 30% 40% of the art direction in that book was just me on Photoshop, because I'm better at showing than telling.

TAMARA ROGERS: Nice. And it's really some really beautiful visual elements. There's a part where there are some screenshots, and I found myself, as I was reading, like trying to move the windows, covering stuff underneath out of the way.

JAY KRISTOFF: That's interesting.

TAMARA ROGERS: You cowrote the Illuminae chronicles with Amie Kaufman.


TAMARA ROGERS: And like, they're big books, and it's a massive story that ranges across planets and multiple space stations and universes, even. How do you manage planning that story out with such a huge scope with another person?

JAY KRISTOFF: It's actually a lot easier with another person there, because you have someone to bounce your ideas off. You're getting constant feedback. When you're writing a book by yourself, like I'm doing on 'LIFEL1K3,' like I have to write huge chunks of it before I can send it and show it to anyone. So it could be that I make a mistake really early on, take a wrong turn, and I don't know it until someone else sees it.

Because you tend to get a little bit blinkered when you're writing your own stuff, but when you're working with someone else, you kind of have a default safety built into the process. So if you suggest something that isn't going to work or that your co-author can see problems with further down the line, they can put their hand up straight away. So it's actually easier. It's a cliche, but two heads are better than one. And Amie's a pretty smart lady. She's a lot smarter than me.

TAMARA ROGERS: And her stuff is great by itself.

JAY KRISTOFF: Amazing, right.

TAMARA ROGERS: Yeah. So were you writing separate sections, or were there parts that you worked on together? I mean, I'm thinking particularly with the messaging sections. Was that a case of you and her sitting there having conversations?

JAY KRISTOFF: Just back and forth, yeah. So technically, we're both in charge of one character each. So I write Ezra and AIDAN, and Amy writes Katie. And that's a trend that we continued into later books. She writes the girl, I write the boy, which is kind of weird because in our other series, I write girls and she writes boys.

Yeah, and with the IM chats in particular, that's us just bouncing each other chats back and forth over the course of the day. And they're all mostly improvised as well, so we will know roughly what the chat is supposed to achieve in a storytelling sense.

For example, Katie and Ezra have to have a fight in this scene. But we're not sure what they're going to fight about, or how they're going to resolve it, and we just start pretending we're the characters and messaging each other and see what happens. So I think it was good that we were both role playing nerds when we were young. That was a good training ground for actually writing that book. So if anyone ever tells you that playing Dungeons and Dragons is a waste of time, you can point them to that book and tell them no.

TAMARA ROGERS: Well, and Dungeons and Dragons is really about creating story and creating characters, so it's a perfect training ground for an author.

JAY KRISTOFF: Yeah, it's a group storytelling exercise.

TAMARA ROGERS: So the Premier's Reading Challenge is about encouraging kids to develop their own love of reading. Were you a big reader as well as a gamer when you were a kid?



JAY KRISTOFF: Yeah, for sure.

TAMARA ROGERS: What were the kinds of books that really caught your imagination?

JAY KRISTOFF: I mean the first book that I can remember really opening my eyes to the idea that there were books written for people like me was 'The Hobbit' by JRR Tolkien. It's a bit of a cliche now, but I remember where I was the moment I first read that book. It had that much of an impact on me.

'Salem's Lot' by Stephen King was another really big one. I probably was a little too young to be reading Stephen King, but my mum used to do the grocery shopping, and she would drop me off at the news agency at the shopping centre, and then would go in and do the grocery shopping. This is back in the days when news agencies actually had books on the shelves.

And so I would sit down in the aisle of the news agency, 10-year-old Jay, and just pick up a Stephen King book and start reading it. And when my mum came to collect me, I would rip off the corner of that bus ticket and stick it in the page, and then put that copy right at the back of the stack.

TAMARA ROGERS: Hope that no one comes along to buy it.

JAY KRISTOFF: It was still waiting there, and yeah, a week later I would come and take my copy from the back of the stack and keep reading. And I read like Stephen King's entire back catalogue that way. I wish I knew the name of that news agent owner, because I should thank him in the back of the book. Because he never told me once to get out, this isn't a library, what are you doing reading those books, you're way too little.

But yeah, 'Salem's Lot' was the first time I kind of saw myself in a book. There's a character called Mark Petrie in there who is a young boy who wises up to the fact that vampires are taking over his town before most of the adults do. So I kind of saw myself in him.

TAMARA ROGERS: 'Salem's Lot' is one of only two books that I've ever started to read and not finished.

JAY KRISTOFF: Oh, too scary? TAMARA ROGERS: Because that scene, and I was reading it when I was 11 or 12-- sorry, I just hit my microphone. So that scene where, I can't remember the name of the kid, but he's hovering outside his bedroom, first floor bedroom window, and his mum's inside and scratching on the--

JAY KRISTOFF: Oh, yeah, yeah.

TAMARA ROGERS: It just terrified me so badly I could not read past that point.

JAY KRISTOFF: [inaudible]

TAMARA ROGERS: Yeah, yeah. So I will go back and read it one day as an adult. Yeah. So what's next for you?

JAY KRISTOFF: Later in this year, Amie and I will be finishing off the first book of our new series, so that starts in March next year. It was called the Andromeda cycle, but we changed the name, because it was set in the Andromeda galaxy, but we've since moved it back to the Milky Way, and calling it the Milky Way cycle. It makes it sound more like a chocolate bar than an epic action adventure set in space.

So we'll be doing a title reveal on that in a couple of months. So we'll be finishing off that book. I'll be editing the second part of 'LIFEL1K3' and writing the third.

TAMARA ROGERS: How long do I have to wait for second 'LIFEL1K3?'

JAY KRISTOFF: It'll be out this time next year. So the second one's already written, and I'm writing the third one.

TAMARA ROGERS: OK. Well if you need a volunteer.

JAY KRISTOFF: Oh, sure. I'll ask.

TAMARA ROGERS: Proofreader.

JAY KRISTOFF: I might take you up on that.

TAMARA ROGERS: Excellent. So it's been really great to have you with us today, Jay. Thank you so much for coming and having a chat.

JAY KRISTOFF: Thanks for having me.

TAMARA ROGERS: Happy reading, everyone.

End of transcript