Saturday, September 16, 2023

Interview With Author Victor Dixen


1. What inspired you to write this book?

I was raised in Versailles, France, and I have always been fascinated by the castle. As a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time reading classic gothic vampire novels in the castle’s gardens. The inspiration to write The Court of Shadows stemmed from two deeply anchored desires: to write about Versailles on one hand, and to write about vampires on the other hand. These two desires combined into one question: What if Louis XIV, the Sun King and longest reigning monarch in French history, discovered the secret of immortality in order to remain on the throne forever?


2. What exactly is it about and who is it written for?

The Court of Shadows and the whole Vampyria series belongs to the historical fantasy genre, and more precisely to fantasy alternate history. After Louis XIV turned into a vampire, most of the European kings and queens pledged allegiance to him in order to become immortals, too. Because vampires, by definition, are creatures stuck in time, I imagined that a world ruled by vampires would also stop evolving. Even if the Vampyria story happens in the 21st century, it looks and feels like the 17th/18th century: there has been no social progress, no scientific breakthroughs – and, of course, no French nor American revolution.

Originally written in French, the series has already been translated into 9 languages. When I tour internationally, I can see that it appeals both to fantasy readers and history buffs.


3. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?
First of all, entertainment! 17th century history by itself is such an exciting subject, full of anecdotes and conflicts. The added fantasy elements allow me to bring the drama one step further. But I would also like readers to get a new critical view at this pivotal time in modern history.


You see, I’ve long been interested in the “Grand Siècle,” which, for many historians, goes all the way up to the death of Louis XIV in 1715. It’s an absolutely pivotal moment in our history, one that brims with paradoxes. It’s the time of Descartes, of Pascal, and of the advent of reason, which prefigured the Age of Enlightenment. But paradoxically, it’s also an age of darkness, with an incredible resurgence of superstitions and of the occult. Witchcraft was never more practiced in France than under Louis XIV (the lurid Affair of the Poisons bears witness), while in Spain, the Inquisition reached its sinister apogee, and in America, suspected witches were burned in Salem. It’s as if humanity’s dark dreams made a tremendous comeback in this period. It’s a subject matter that appeals to me— especially through the prism of our own period, which between conspiracy theories and fake news, is itself under threat from a rise in irrationality.


Beyond these mystical manifestations, on a cultural, political and social level, the Grand Siècle shaped France into what it is today: centralization of power, development of architecture and the arts, the rise of gastronomy, and the art of living. But here again, there’s a paradox: the unsavory side of Louis XIV’s luminous reign—its religious intolerance (revocation of the Edict of Nantes), and abject inequality (enactment of the Code Noir in the colonies).


So by way of an alternate history, I wanted to question the Grand Siècle, this monument of history books, honoring its splendors and holding it accountable for its crimes.


4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?

Visual aspects of a book are very important to me as a reader, and as a writer I always like to work with artists in order to materialize the fictional world that I have in my head. The European covers were made by a Spanish artist, Nekro, who reproduced the famous golden Apollo mask that adorns all the grids in Versailles. For the US edition, my publisher and I wanted to have a cover very evocative of classic French culture. With the American artist, Colin Verdi, we came up with the idea of the “Toile de Jouy”. This kind of luxurious printed fabric was all the rage in France in the 18th century. Colin gave his own interpretation of the Toile de Jouy, decorating it with scenes from the novel and vampiric patterns.


5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!?

There are as many ways to write as there are writers, so it is difficult to give universal advice. That being said, I think that two ideas can be of great help especially to beginners.

My first advice would be to write regularly, ideally every day. This is how you can keep connected to your characters and your storyline. Writing a novel is indeed an arm wrestling contest between fiction and reality, the latter always seeming more urgent (especially in our modern, hyperconnected world, where we receive notifications all the time). This fight has to be fought and won every day.


My second advice is not to be a too much of a perfectionist while producing the first draft. Many young writers want every sentence to read perfect from the start, which can be very inhibiting and can generate writer’s block. After years of practice, I learned that the time to be a perfectionist is during the second draft and the revisions.


6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? 

One of the big question marks for the publishing industry, but also for all artists, is artificial intelligence. Never in the history of humanity has technological progress been so fast. Will machines be able to write novels in the near future? Will the rise of artificial intelligence push artists to create new forms of creativity? There is legitimate cause for both concerns and hopes. I wrote a book about this, Cogito (not yet translated to English).

7. Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? 

Having spent my youth in Versailles, I feel that the castle is a part of my life. I drew from all my memories of my numerous visits, but also from my extensive reading about the 17th century and the court of the Sun King.

8. How would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing similar to?

Writing the Vampyria series, I draw from the rich tradition of the French adventure novel (writers like Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne), and I infused it with themes borrowed from the English/Irish gothic novel (Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu). My ultimate goal is to create an intoxicating atmosphere, like in an Anne Rice novel, with a breathtaking pacing, like in a Quentin Tarantino movie.


9. What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?

All writers can testify that their characters acquire a form of autonomy in the writing process, making their own decisions. I’ve experienced that in my previous novels, before The Court of Shadows. But of all the books I've written, of all the characters I've created, Jeanne, the heroine of Vampyria, is the one who got the most out of my control. She's so impulsive and unpredictable! She really gave me cold sweats. But looking back, I know that I precisely needed this type of main character for this story. You see, the world of Vampyria has been stuck in time for three centuries. Everything is ossified. I needed a character like a cannonball, very dynamic, destroying everything on her way… including my sanity.


10. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

Because it will offer them both the gilded enchantments of Versailles and the thrills of a horrific vampire story. Gold and blood: this is a delicious cocktail indeed!


Victor Dixen is the author of many bestselling French novels, including four series for young adults: THE STRANGE CASE OF JACK SPARKANIMALEPHOBOS and VAMPYRIA; and he is a two-time winner of the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, the most prestigious science-fiction and fantasy award in France. Born to a French mother and Danish father, Victor grew up in the city of Versailles. As an adult, he has lived in Denver, Dublin, Singapore, and New York City. He now divides his time between Paris and Washington, DC with his family and his two inquisitive cats. Discover more about Victor Dixen at


“The act of reading is extraordinary – whole worlds created out of Mack squiggles on a white ground.”

--John Banville, NYT Best-Selling Novelist


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--Best-Selling Author John Maxwell


“Whatever hasn’t happened ill happen, and no one will be safe from it.”

--JBS Haldane, Evolutionary Biologist


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