By Maureen Lee Lenker
March 07, 2018 at 10:00 AM EST
Credit: Matthew Frost; Avon

Jeaniene Frost has a thing for vampires. They’ve made up the bulk of her fictional world across both her best-selling Night Prince and Night Huntress series, and she’s tripling down on her fanged heroes with her latest series, Night Rebels.

Frost now turns her pen to Ian, a master vampire who has played a side role from the shadows in previous novels and quickly won over readers. The first book in the new series, Shades of Wicked, won’t hit shelves until October, but EW has an exclusive first look at the cover for fans itching for their first glimpse of Ian.

We called up Frost to sink our teeth into the totally-not-gory details about her latest series, why she decided it was time to tell Ian’s story, and the reasons behind her lifelong obsession with vampires. Plus, she broke down the cover and explained the one thing she thinks is missing from the design.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the first book in a new series, but it’s still within the same world you’ve built over your last two series. Can you tell us a bit more about the book itself and the trajectory of this new series?
JEANIENE FROST: I’m really excited to write this book because this character, Ian, has been a side character since my second published novel, back in 2008. When I first introduced him, I actually intended to kill him in that book. But of course I didn’t, and he sort of grew on me. When he was first brought into the series he was kind of villainous, and the more I wrote that series and he kept showing up as a side character, the more I realized there was a lot more to him than that, but he still wasn’t at the point where I felt comfortable turning him into a hero in one of my novels. … I was really glad to be able to show everything that I’ve known about him for awhile to the readers. My heroine — she’s only kind of hinted here and there and showing up a little bit on the page, but I’ve known a lot of her secrets for a while as well. I’ve known since book 5 of my primary series, the Night Hunter series, that I was going to fix the two of them up. So I’ve been dropping little hints in my last Night Prince series. I had the two of them in the book, but not on the same page at the same time. This has been a long time coming, to finally get to tell both these characters’ stories and put them in a situation where there’s romance, there’s danger, there’s a lot of humor and hijinks too.

Over the years, was there ever another moment where you contemplated killing him off again?
No, my homicidal issues only lasted [through] the second book. After that, I was over it. … Pretty much from the third book I knew I wasn’t going to kill him, and then he was fun because writing him is kind of like taking my conscience, pulling it out of me, and setting it in a jar. [It’s] kind of giving your id a microphone. Because he’s says things that are just wildly inappropriate. He’s who we would be if we didn’t know better or fear consequences. So he’s fun to write.

What made you feel you were ready to tell his story?
I knew I was ready when I wrote my anthology story that originally appeared in The Bite Before Christmas, because Ian played a significant role. It started to peek at his past, and you started to really see what he would do for the people that he truly loved. Again, he does have a lot of really not admirable qualities. It’s funny when I saw the movie Thor, there’s a character Loki, where he does terrible things but he does them with great joy and so he’s funny. [Ian] reminded me of Loki in that regard. … He does have a really strong moral sensor; it’s just very selective. Once I realized how much he would risk for the people he loved, I knew I could take him to that next level and make him a hero. As much fun as he is to write with his lack of restraint, he does need to grow, so I had to get him to the point where he could grow into a hero. Being a side character is one thing, you can get away with a lot more. Being a hero, you have a lot more responsibility.

So you’re saying that if there were a movie version of this, Tom Hiddleston would play Ian?
[Laughs] He does bad better than anyone.

Credit: Avon

Can you break down how you arrived at the final version of this cover? Likes and dislikes?
We went back and forth on whether or not to show any of the model’s face on the cover because when [readers] get an idea of a character in a book, they have a specific picture in their head of what that character should like. That’s individual depending on the reader, so when you put a face on a book cover it is not going to match 99% of the people’s mental image of the character. So we toyed with maybe just showing from the jawline down and decided after looking at some different shots that we liked the face, but we’d do a profile and we’d have it be a little bit shadowed. You only see half of his face and there’s a pretty good amount of shadow. … I wanted it black and white because I really liked the light and dark imagery. The male model is actually [in] black and white even though around him is color, and it’s just a little more striking that way. I will own this next part even though it makes me shallow: I wanted him without a shirt. [Laughs] Marketing didn’t fight me on that; I think they figured that would be popular with readers as well. But this is representative of who the character is. Honest to God, if we were really representing him, he wouldn’t have pants either. But you know, there’s limits. So he’s shirtless, and I had really fought my editor because I wanted to give him a nipple stud. She said to me, “You can’t because certain retailers who are family-friendly will not stock the book.” We went back and forth. The last it was left off, she said something like, “If you Photoshop one on to the cover and you put on your website I can’t stop you, but it is not going on the official cover.” So on my website one day you might see a Photoshopped nipple stud on this character, coming soon.

You mentioned Thor as an inspiration. Were there other pop culture touchstones for you?
The character first appeared in public in 2008, but I first thought of him in 2003. … I’ve always liked characters that were a little bit of the bad boy, but with a sense of humor. I haven’t been a fan of the glum, angsty bad boy. I am a fan of the flamboyant, funny bad boy character. Spike [from Buffy the Vampire Slayer] is a great example of that, and Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow. He has very, very questionable morals, one might say, but he’s loyal to who he’s loyal to and very amusing. If the character has a great sense of humor, is witty, and maybe skirts the line of darkness without going all the way over, I’ll probably give in.

More broadly, you belong to the paranormal subgenre. What attracts you to that world? And was that the genre you were primarily reading?
It is my favorite subgenre, but I wouldn’t say it was the genre I was primarily reading. I’ve been a romance junkie since I swiped my mother’s Bertrice Small Skye O’Malley novel off her nightstand when I was 12. That got me hooked on the genre. I used to measure my allowance in terms of how many books it could buy me. … I’ve always loved vampires, always. Apparently one of my first times at Sunday school, the pastor asked me if I knew what the cross on the wall stood for. And I said, “Yes, that keeps the vampires away.” And he thought it was funny. My parents were mortified. But that’s how long I’ve been a vampire fan. So it was no surprise to anyone when I wrote my first novel that it was going to feature vampires and romance, because those have been my two favorite things for a long, long time. Growing up, vampires weren’t the heroes, they were the villains that died in the end. I hated that, I kept rooting for Dracula, and I kept getting in trouble and told you’re supposed to be rooting for Van Helsing. I would say, “But why? He’s killing this poor guy who just wants to eat.”

What about vampires draws you in?
There are so many cool things about vampires, and because they’re not real, at least to the best of my knowledge, their mythology runs the gamut from Salem’s Lot to sparkling. You can just let your imagination run wild, and they are so much fun in that regard. They can be the villains, they can be the heroes, they can be the comic relief, they can be the monstrous-type characters. They’re so versatile, and you can put all of your favorite things onto them. They seemed to be more a little more human-ish to me than some of the other paranormal creatures, like werewolves or mummies or zombies. They did have that air of allure to them that a lot of other paranormal creatures didn’t have. And again, they did so many things: They can dematerialize, they can turn into bats, they can hypnotize people. They had the cool factor.

The romance genre for so many is about escapism, but the last several months have seen the genre play a larger role in a different kind of conversation, with #MeToo and Time’s Up and authors discussing writing consent, why it’s sexy, etc. Is it something you’re more hyper-aware of lately?
I’ve always been hyper-aware of consent, actually. To me, without consent there’s no sexiness. I know for a while back in the ’80s and probably extended into the ’90s in the romance genre, the forced seduction thing was a fairly popular trope. I was not a huge fan of that, and even when I wrote my first book, my heroine had had a bad previous sexual encounter, and so the hero made very sure during their first sexual encounter that he told her beforehand, “Anytime you want me to stop, you say stop — it doesn’t matter when.” Consent was explicitly part of their first sexual experience. To me that doesn’t drag down the romance or the heat, it amps it up. When you have a man that wants to make their sexual experience the best it possibly can be for the heroine, there’s nothing not hot about that. That’s been a theme in all of my books, and it will continue to be a theme because, again, when the heroine says no in any book I read, that’s when I as a reader say no. That’s a line I’ve always felt very strongly about. … A good hero would never need to force. A hot and sexy hero never has to ignore a no, because they want the heroine to have the best experience ever.

Do you think the fact that romance authors are being called upon to speak to this might help the genre move past some of the misguided dismissals?
More conversation about this topic is 100% a good thing. This is a genre that’s written primarily by women, for women. If we can’t talk about it, who can? There should be openness about it. It should be addressed, especially since our genre is supposed to be about happily-ever-afters. A woman having agency over her own body and her own relationship is a cornerstone of a happily-ever-after, so this is a conversation that’s been long overdue, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have it and shouldn’t have it enthusiastically, because they are good things to talk about. God knows no problem has ever been fixed by smothering it with silence.