There are very few authors who I would confidently dedicate my entire life to reading only their books forever and never waver in that declaration; Victoria Schwab is one of them.
I was lucky enough to be able to see her speak on October 3rd as she promoted her most recent release, Vengeful, and spoke on her craft. Hosted at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Victoria – also known as V.E. Schwab – filled the small theater with her smart sense of humor, excellent oration skills, and interesting points about crafting complicated fictional worlds. Even though I was among another 180 plus people, it felt as though she was speaking directly to me. The audience was leaning forwards, laughing and clapping, completely enthralled with Schwab as both an author and a speaker.
Schwab, with fifteen published books to her name, discussed many of the ups and downs on the roller coaster of being a successful, and at times, unsuccessful, author. Most significantly, she spoke on the importance of writing for herself. Schwab conveyed that she when she writes book, she writes the book that she wants to read. That ultimately, she aims to be proud of her works before they even receive any outside comments and viewership. This stuck out to me as a crucial point for those who are aspiring authors. Schwab said that she is her “prime” reader. The most important person to please is herself.
Schwab spoke about making time for writing. As a creative writing major, I know of the constant juggling act between doing the many tasks I need to complete in a day and looking for time to both read literature and attempt to create it. She explained that she was recently achieving her master’s degree in Scotland while also writing a book that had a set due date within her publishing host. Schwab imparted that these were too amazing things on their own, but together was incredibly overwhelming. While she advised never to do both at the same time, she made the point that she completed both projects confidently. The dedication that writing needs is just as important as the skill.
She shared an anecdote that as an undergraduate student, she wrote her first book, in her senior year. In order to attain this expansive goal, she would go to a local coffee shop every day from nine to their closing time of eleven and write. That was it – no homework, no reading, no alternative project, just Schwab writing her story. She laughed while reminiscing about the cup of tea that she would buy and nurse while typing, even though she couldn’t really afford it at the time. “I was investing in [the writing]” she explained, using it as a form of self-motivation. Schwab said some days, she would write two hundred words and some days, two thousand; but it didn’t matter because she was writing. Schwab completed her book by the end of the semester.
An audience member asked where Schwab’s favorite spot to write was. She said that her favorite place was at her current residence in Scotland, but that doesn’t hinder her from writing on the road. Being on tour requires her to adapt; she said she’s been writing in cars, airports, coffee shops and so on. She spoke on the importance of keeping necessities minimal, saying it can be a motivational setback when you tell yourself, “I need this a cup of this specific type of tea, I need the right lighting, it needs to be the right time of day.” All these comforts, she explained, quickly become excuses. They are contingencies set to prevent you from ever really sitting down and writing.
On the content of her books, she talked about how she starts with her ending and works her way backwards, unwinding the story until she reaches the beginning. Not only that, but how she cuts up and plays with bits and pieces of her scenes working in both an organized (she explained her outlining) and a messy way (how she unravels scenes and chapters in an unorthodox manner). The complexity of Schwab’s books is not only in plot but in characters. In Vicious, of which Vengeful is the sequel to, Schwab deliberated over her characters who are undeniably bad people who do undeniably bad things, and yet the reader roots for them. All of her books feature characters who are walking the tightrope between good and bad; it makes them interesting, flawed, real. This is one of the many factors that contribute to my adoration of her stories so much.
When a question was asked about Schwab’s propensity for killing off characters in her books, she said, “I don’t do it for sport.” While the audience chuckled, she said that some characters make it through the first two drafts and then at the third, suddenly, there is a dynamic that needs to change or a plot point that needs to be altered which affects, sometimes, the lives of characters who feel very real to those reading about them. She reassured the room that it wasn’t for shock factor, mentioning that she only does it out of necessity because “You can’t torture them if they’re dead.” Despite the callousness of this statement, she mentioned that losing a character is just as emotionally harrowing for her as it is for readers.
On a final note, she discussed that Venegful in many ways is a women’s story. Vicious, its predecessor, was male-oriented and had a fascinating duality of toxic masculinity and power structure between the two main characters. She said that Vicious was very much about Victor and Eli, its two lead characters, gaining control. In Vengeful, that dynamic shifts and is focuses on Victor and Eli dealing with the loss of control and the trio of women, Sydney, June, and Marcella reclaiming the power that has been taking from them. Schwab said that this book has a lot of rage that stems from a patriarchal society, and that many of these emotions were felt recently as she connected them to many of the political and human right’s issues happening today.
Victoria Schwab’s ability to create worlds that defy all expectations, characters that lurk in the shadows, relationships that are messy and complicated, and stories that harness real and palpable emotion will continue to garner all my attention. Whether her audience is middle school grades, college aged, or adults, she is able to spin a story so rich and compelling that you won’t be able to escape. She explores worlds and concepts that are both familiar and altogether altered – a combination that I crave in my personal reading experiences. I can’t recommend her books highly enough; she is extraordinary.