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Interview with V.E. Schwab

VictoriaThis week I was lucky enough to interview an author that will inevitably be challenging for one of the top spots on 2014’s ‘best SFF book of the year’ lists in the UK. That author is V.E. Schwab and the book I’m thinking of specifically is Vicious, which we awarded 9/10 in this review.

Although Vicious is the author’s first ‘adult’ book, in a recent blog post Victoria announced that she had officially been in publishing now for 5 years and in that time sold 10 books to a blend of the world’s most sought after publishers including Disney*Hyperion, Tor, Titan and Scholastic amongst others.

Not only a talented author, Victoria has become a well-loved personality within the genre for her intelligent blog posts, fan interaction and social media usage – where her Tweets average her followers around a laugh or agreeable nod per hour.

Between now and the end of 2014 Victoria has 4 books coming out and is still managing to fit in a move to Scotland (from the US) to study a Masters Program at the University of Edinburgh. (Editor’s note: me and Victoria are the same age… I need to get a move on with some of my life’s ambitions!)

So, now you know who we’re dealing with, lets get on with the interview shall we? 🙂

Firstly, and I hate to ask you a question that you’ve no doubt been asked hundreds of times before, but for people who haven’t yet picked up Vicious, could you give us your best elevator pitch for the book?

Two pre-med students discover that the key to superpowers are near-death experiences, and set out to manufacture their own abilities by controlling their own suicides. It goes very wrong.

Although I’ve used the term ‘Superhero’ above, what I loved about Vicious is that there are no absolute heroes or, arguably, villains either. Each character has their own reasons for doing what they do and – depending on your values – you are very unlikely to fully support either of the lead characters. How important and how difficult was this for you to achieve with Vicious and in the context of current SFF genre trends?

Vicious-USOne of my primary goals when I sat down to write VICIOUS was to play with the idea of the superhero as social construct, and the fact that if you gave an ordinary person supernatural abilities, they probably wouldn’t feel a sudden imperative to do good deeds. So I wanted to strip away these terms of HERO and VILLAIN and ask the reader, in the absence of those cues, who do you root for?

As far as trends, I think it works because we are in a phase—one I hope lasts—where people are less interest in the moral good and the abject evil, and far more engaged with the gray between. We like our heroes flawed and our villains complicated.

Superheroes are becoming more and more prevalent in novels these days… so much so that Superhero Sci-Fi / Superhero Fantasy has kind of become its own sub-genre. What is it about Superheroes in 2014 that you means they no longer have to be confined to Graphical Novels and Cartoons?

Which is so funny because I was told VICIOUS would never ever sell because superheroes don’t sell in fiction (they sell in comics), and then zeitgeist, we have multiple superhero books hitting shelves within a span of a few weeks. As I said above, I attribute it to our current engagement with the flawed protagonist.

What three ingredients do you think you need in order to have a successful hero / villain that can hold a reader’s interest?

Vicious-UKI’ve discovered it’s less about what a character DOES, and more about WHY they do it, so the motivations are key. I’m also a strong believe in solid origin story. In VICIOUS how a person dies directly impacts the ability they return with (if they return) so backstory is even more important. Also a purpose. Everyone in VICIOUS has something to gain, and something to lose.

What are your favourite comics or graphic novels? Did any inspire you in particular?

I’m a huge Marvel fan, but my favorite comic is probably Gaiman’s Sandman series. I’m also inspired by things like Watchmen. Anti-heroes all the way.

If you could have any superpower (in your novel or otherwise) what would it be and how would you use it?

The ability to manipulate time, but only moving forward or pausing. All the trouble seems to come when people try to go back.

I always find it interesting how covers in the US and covers in the UK vary so widely. Firstly, do you have an opinion on why this is. Secondly, what do you think of each of your covers and how to you feel each represents your book?

I honestly have NO idea. As for which works better, my favorite thing about my US/UK covers is that they target completely different audiences! And as an author, the broader the net, the better.

As most of our readers will know, you are a very successful author of a number of Young Adult books. I guess this is hard for me as someone who enjoyed Vicious so much, because I’m worried that you won’t be writing an adult book again for sometime. What are your thoughts on this? If Vicious sells well (which I’m sure it will), how do you balance being an author to two different audiences?

I have every intention of writing both YA and adult! In fact, my next book is adult. A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC hits shelves with Tor in just over 4 months, and I honestly can’t see myself giving up my adult side any time soon.

What I thought really ‘worked’ in Vicious was how you managed to merge numerous elements of young adult fiction, comic book fiction and a science fiction novel into your own unique style that felt very snappy and easy to read. Chapters are very short and scientific explanations aren’t given at the expense of driving the action forward (as they are in hard sci-fi for example). It is a heck of a balancing act between ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’, but truly: you nailed it. Did you think much about form and style or did it just come naturally?

VESchwab-FeatureAh, well thank you! I do think a bit about form and style, while obviously not letting that override the most important thing: telling the story. I knew that VICIOUS would be my first foray into adult fiction, and coming from the world of YA, known for its quick pacing and immediacy, I very much wanted to carry that over into adult genre, which has a reputation for sometimes sacrificing that pacing for detail. I wanted to find a way to hold on to both.

Now that it’s finished, how what would you think about Vicious being made into a comic? I think it’d work pretty well, but I’m interested to know whether you think it’d be able to keep the same amount of depth and how you’d feel about your ‘baby’ being played about with by other artists and writers?

I think it would be awesome, but I’m not sure that simply translating VICIOUS into a comic medium would ADD very much to the story, because I specifically wrote it to read like a comic, minus the pictures. Now a comic set in the VICIOUS world, that would be fun.

Could you tell us a little about what writing means to you and how you’re finding life as a writer? Is it something you enjoy? Does it ever stress you out? Is it as rewarding as you imagined it would be?

Writing is my passion, and my job, and that can sometimes be very tricky, being financially dependent on something you love. It inevitably alters your relationship to the material. But honestly, this is my dream job, and my first thought, every time I sell a project, is how grateful I am that I get to keep doing what I love.

We’ve already spoken about this briefly, but to finish up, could you tell us a bit about your short-term and longterm plans? What have you already written that’s due to be published and what do you plan on writing in the future?

A Darker Shade final for IreneAbsolutely! My next book is A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, and it’s coming out with Tor on February 24th! It’s the beginning of a new fantasy series with them (I’m finishing up the sequel right now) about alternate versions of London, and a magician who can move between them. On the YA side, I also just announced MONSTER, which is coming out with Harper/Greenwillow in 2016 and is a bit like Sin City + Romeo and Juliet (with monsters). I have a few more irons in the fire, including something in the VICIOUS world, but they aren’t far enough along to talk much about yet!

We at Fantasy-Faction would like to thank Victoria for taking the time out of her busy writing and studying schedule to talk to us. You can tell she is a pro at this interview thing, right? Leaving us hanging on the ‘something in the Vicious world’ point especially! You can look out for what that might be and keep up-to-date with everything else V.E. Schwab by following the author on Twitter or visiting her website. Oh, and don’t forget to check our Vicious review out too!

Update: this was just spotted through social media. Huge congrats to Victoria!

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