Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Evening With V. E. Schwab

 I am lucky enough to live in a city with a big name independent bookstore (Powell's), and lucky enough to live four miles from their second biggest branch. I "discovered" author visits there a couple of years ago. I've been able to see some of my favorites, and even got to bring groups of students out when Margaret Peterson Haddix and April Henry made appearances. Last year though, I didn't see as many names I was excited about, other than Neal Shusterman, of course.

This year though--wow. I checked their event calendar, which I often forget to do, and couldn't believe how many great authors they have coming to my suburban branch alone. The calendar only goes out two months, but when I checked in early September I saw Kwame Alexander, Laini Taylor, Colleen Houck, Sy Montgomery, Dana Simpson, and V. E. Schwab. I immediately started campaigning my principal to let me bring students to see Alexander, let my daughter know I'd take her to see Simpson, and put Taylor and Schwab on my own calendar. 

I kept meaning to re-read Vicious before the event, and on Tuesday, two days before the event,  I finally got an ebook version on Scribd. I had forgotten a lot, so I still got to be shocked several times, and the story had lost none of its power. I wrapped it up Wednesday night and was ready to dive into the new book the next day.

Thursday after school I got a large coffee on my way home from work, swung by the house to eat a quick dinner, then made it to Powell's by 6:10 for Schwab's 7:00 event. I ended up with ticket 78, and there were a lot of people sitting behind me. Luckily, there was no boredom while waiting for her to speak, since I picked up Vengeful on my way in. I made good headway while sitting in a less-than-idea folding chair in a crowd of strangers, many of whom were dressed in the red, black, and white of a Schwab cover.

Schwab herself was diminutive, confident, cheerful and open.  (I suppose I'm just assuming about the last three there, but it's how she appeared to me.) Her work is so fierce and dark that I was almost surprised. Still, one recurring message of her work is to not dismiss the small and cute. An early question in the evening had to do with the increased role of women in this new book, and with the rage they feel and express, and how that might possibly tie into current events (remember, this was the same day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified).  She gave us this quote, and I thrilled when I encountered it in the book the next day:

"'Never underestimate an angry woman.'
'Never underestimate a woman,' amended Rios."

She talked about her OTHER new book, a middle grade novel called CIty of Ghosts (which you better believe I had her sign for my classes) and upcoming comic, a prequel for the Darker Shades of Magic series, and joked that once she had a picture book whole out, she'd be creating Schwab readers from early childhood on. Wait, maybe it wasn't a joke. The middle grade series, she said, would "start out scary and then get scarier."

There were several questions about process. She always has the end planned out, and says if she knows where her characters will end up, and who they will be at the end, she can then back-plan to figure out where they came from and how the developed. She writes by creating quick summaries of scenes, then expanding into slightly longer summaries, and as she goes, if a great line of dialogue or perfect piece of description occurs to her, she jots it down. At the end, she has a bunch of puzzle pieces that may or may not fit into the scene, and then she starts assembling them. It sounds like she has a really interesting and personal blend of careful plotting and wildly spontaneous drafting.

She told us that when she first submitted Vengeful last winter, her agent told her look, this is a good book, and most of your readers will like it, and if you want us to sell it we will. But I think you've grown a lot as a writer since the first book, and I'd love to see you push yourself further with this.  So she rewrote the whole damn thing. Instead of telling us more of Victor's story, she centered the book around the stories of Marcella, June, and Sydney, three women who had been overlooked, infantilized, pushed aside, and who are now claiming their power, each in her own way. It's very satisfying, I must say.

It was a great evening, and I didn't mind waiting over an hour for the signing afterwards because I still had that great book to keep reading. She was very generous about personalizing two books per person and then signing any others as well, and letting everyone take a picture with her. Celebrity culture is always so weird, but I can never resist getting books signed and author photos taken. In the picture I took it looks as if I'm a giant, or possibly as if we're in two slightly different dimensions, which of course is absolutely perfect.


  1. I might get to see her today! It’s a long drive, so I have to make sure my rides work out. I’m glad she’s coming in the afternoon. Most author events are at night, and seeing them would involve me walking 8 miles through Denver in the dark. Public transportation doesn’t go to the bookstore, unfortunately. I’m crossing my fingers that I get a ride to see her.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I love author events! I love getting photos too, and would gladly wait.

  3. Wow, this post is awesome! First, it's cool that you got to meet her, but the talk with her agent was... wow. Really cool, actually- that she was able to revamp it that way. And SO timely. AND, now I am absolutely going to read Vengeful- I was on the fence, but the female-centric theme? YEP, I am SOLD. Love the picture, too!

  4. I think she's coming to my area soon, and your post is making it a must do for me!

  5. I'd heard that story about what her agent said. Pretty crazy---and impressive that she wrote the whole thing over!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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