By Lisa Anderson
With vampires still abundant in popular culture, it’s hard to do anything new with the concept. Nashville Writer A. Jay Lee has managed to do so, however, with his Holy Damned series. The first book, Grace Through Blood, finds young Jamie Grace newly arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, where she finds new love and becomes embroiled in a very unusual community of vampires. The vampires are not the only supernatural beings in the story, either: Jamie herself can see people’s auras, and she and her new boyfriend Grant encounter shapeshifters and battle a vengeful demon as their pasts intersect in Charleston.
Lee has written an innovative, compelling book with a strong sense of place. He sat down recently to chat with me about the premise of the series, its future, and his inspirations.
Popshifter: Good evening, Mr. Lee! Thanks for joining me! How are you?
A. Jay Lee: Great, Thank you for having me.
Popshifter: No problem! Let’s jump right in. Please share with our readers a little bit about the premise of your Holy Damned series and its first book, Grace Through Blood.
A. Jay Lee: In short , very short, it is about the interaction one young lady, Jamie Grace, has with a group a Christian Vampires, the Sanctum Damnatus.
Popshifter: How would you describe what the Sanctum Damnatus believe about their condition?
A. Jay Lee: They don’t even call themselves vampires . . . just Damned. They think of themselves as damned by God. Sanctum Damnatus is Latin for Holy Damned. In their eyes, they have been Damned so they could do God’s work.
Popshifter: There is also a love story in the book—a love triangle, even. Would you describe it as paranormal romance? Or just paranormal with romantic elements? What do you feel like sets Grace Through Blood apart from other supernatural stories on the market?
A. Jay Lee:I believe it is darker than a lot of the paranormal romances on the market. I didn’t want the reader to get lost in a love story. It does have some horror elements. The story itself can not be put in a simple box.
Popshifter: I’d have to agree! I noticed that there are Bible verses at the beginning of each chapter of Grace Through Blood. Did you intend for it to have an inspirational purpose or a specific religious world view?
A. Jay Lee: The novel is written for the secular world, but to believe the story the reader needs to know that there is a God and Jesus was his son. But this is not a novel for the Christian market. Too much sex, violence, etc.
Popshifter: What has the reaction been from friends and family who have read the book? Were any of them surprised by that?
A. Jay Lee: Well, I have had to limit it a little. The ones that would view it as un-Christian. But for the most part they have loved it. But yes, it surprised them that an adult Sunday school teacher would write something like Grace Through Blood.
Popshifter: *laughs* I’ll bet! What have some of your literary influences been, though, especially with Horror?
A. Jay Lee: It’s a little lame, but for the horror Stephen King and Bram Stoker. However, I liken my style to George R. R. Martin and Elmore Leonard. Mostly Leonard. Simple and straight.
Popshifter: Nothing to be ashamed of there! All those guys are good. The story takes place in Charleston, SC, and the city’s a big part of it. When did you spend time there, and how would you say that Charleston inspires you?
A. Jay Lee: I took a lot of vacations there and was inspired by the history of the city. It was one of the few Southern cities that wasn’t destroyed during the Civil War. Any one can write a vampire novel set in New Orleans, but Charleston also has that faith history, which is something I play off in the novel.
Popshifter: The novel also draws a lot from the history and lore around Christianity. Just out of curiosity, is it true that the Knights Templar claimed to have gotten hold of the thirty coins paid to Judas?
A. Jay Lee: No . . . But of the first Knights Templar, all but one is known by name. Why couldn’t the unnamed Knight be a Vampire? Second, the Templars were known to have looked for many relics in the Holy Land, but after their downfall very few items they claimed they had were found.
Popshifter: Very interesting, thank you. Now, one of the main human characters, as you’ve said, is Jamie Grace. She has a special ability and you hint at a possibly very interesting background for her. I’m very curious: will she meet anyone like herself later in the series?
A. Jay Lee: Yes and no . . . I don’t want to give too much away, but it all stems from who (or what) her father is.
Popshifter: Very intriguing! Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know in closing?
A. Jay Lee: Yes, Grace Through Blood is the first of five novels. I hope to have the next one, Grace In the Flesh, out by the spring or summer of 2013. It still is set in Charleston, but with a witch and zombies. The third will take place in New England, the fourth in Paris and Rome, and the last in the Holy Land. And more will die. The question is who.
Popshifter: *laughs* Haha! Sounds like fun. Thank you for your time!
A. Jay Lee: Thank you again for having me.
A. Jay Lee is a native Nashvillian and is an alumnus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Grace Through Blood is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book, and you can follow the Holy Damned series on Facebook.