I was lucky enough to be able to attend an event on VE Schwab’s tour for This Savage Song last Friday! As you guys might know, I am a MASSIVE fan of her books. So this was much excitement. I decided to do a recap of the talk, because I’ve had a lot of fun doing them before and I thought you might want to hear what was said!
Although I arrived pretty early (by my standards) there were already a few rows of people there. I stationed myself in the second and passed the time by having some excellent fandom conversations. *nods* Everyone fell very silent when the event was about to start.
So, VE Schwab was in conversation with the lovely Anna James, who’s also done a few other events I’d been to. We began with a brief summary of This Savage Song. Then VE discussed the inspiration for This Savage Song — the idea for it came from a rash of violence in the US — which she hoped she would talk about retrospectively once on tour for the book, but is still very relevant. “I was looking at all the negative energy we were throwing into the universe and thinking ‘how is there no aftermath?'” After a week life goes back to normal. This Savage Song explores the idea of an actual tangible aftermath. (In the form of monsters.)
This Savage Song is really interesting in that it explores redemption and forgiveness. (slight spoiler) August can only eat the souls of people who have made monsters. In taking a life they’re also in some ways doing good. There’s no peace for smol and sad Hufflepuff August. What I love about VE Schwab’s books are that there are always ‘fuzzy’ moral grey zones, and that’s no exception in This Savage Song!
Kate Harker — bless this cutthroat daughter of Victor Vale and Lila Bard — was VE’s reaction to a lot of YA protagonists. “I refuse to believe that if you gave a teenage girl the power to change her own life or to change the world, she would choose the world.” ME TOO. Despite her respect for the Katnisses, Kate is out for Kate. VE said she’s just very interested in self-interest as a personality trait.
According to VE you’ve made a character right when someone else can tell you what that person will do and it’s accurate. See the internet producing an ADSOM coffee shop AU where Kell is the pissy barista and Lila is banned for stealing and Holland drinks black coffee/judges everyone using a laptop. I AM 100% HERE FOR THIS EVERYONE. Characters who act like Rhy and Alucard are very difficult to write because you have to make it clear to the reader that they’re pretending.
After a bit of debate over the plotter/pantser words — because yep, pantser means something pretty different in the UK! but I still use it — VE said she has about 10 main plot points so she has a compromise between an outline and freedom. The only thing she has to start with is the ending in order to rewind the character arcs. (Let me just cry as I think about the end of ACOL. I am not prepared for that to happen.)
Next we moved onto talking a little more about A Darker Shade of Magic and AGOS. Conversation of course turned to the cliffhanger in AGOS (which we are all still in pain about). VE had previously avoided cliffhangers because she thinks they get abused — people just cut off the end of the first arc instead of starting a new one and cutting it off. So she managed to avoid this for all her other books, but according to her this was the gentlest version of the cliffhanger possible! I slightly dreaded to think of what the first draft contain. Apparently 90% of the cast died. *cries*
VE said a lot of people assume she’s a fast writer, but she’s actually a very slow but consistent one. She can only work in one world at a time when she becomes an insomniac who is completely absorbed in her books. “I have to rely on Facebook to tell me what’s happening in my own life.”
Because she designs the world first instead of the characters, she’s never sure about how long a series will be. But This Savage Song was always going to be a duology — the first book creates the roles the characters play in the second of a monster and a monster-hunter. “This Savage Song was about Kate and August figuring out their own identities, and Our Dark Duet is about them figuring out the world around them.”
Does VE write consciously for YA or for Adult genres? She said she doesn’t really care as long as readers are finding the books they want to find — she just writes for a version of herself. This Savage Song was written for 17 year-old-her because that’s what she would have wanted to read at 17. “I’m a firm believer in writing for yourself as primary reader.”
Writing gentle heros like Kell and August and more cutthroat girls was a conscious decision. VE has nothing against feminine girls, but she thinks we have enough of them — she writes what she wants to read. Badass female characters like Rey are a pretty recent phenomenon. She recalls reading a review that called Lila a trope: “She’s, like, a genderfluid aspiring pirate — you don’t get to call it a trope until I see too many of them.”
Something that I and many others really enjoy about VE Schwab’s books is that the romance doesn’t take centre stage. VE says that she enjoys romance but thinks often so many other interesting dynamics get chucked aside for it. YES PREACH. This is really similar to what I think myself! I’d love to see more different relationships explored in books.
The final question before opening up the floor was whether VE starts with small details and builds outwards or begins with a broad idea and works inwards when she worldbuilds. She said that are fantasy writers who give you a door where you can explore everything in the world, and there are fantasy authors who give you a window where you see what’s relevant at that moment. VE told us that she is a window writer — she wants us to guess what’s in the room, but leaves room to change things. Language is her detail in worlds. (YAY LANGUAGES. I was super glad this got mentioned, because the languages in ADSOM and AGOS honestly make me so happy.)
Then we moved onto a couple of audience questions: As for new books, as 4 more due to be released in the UK: ACOJ, the sequel to Vicious (!!) and a book about a French girl who sells her soul to the devil for the ability to live forever, as well as a super secret 4th book. We talked a little about the This Savage Song movie rights getting optioned and then I asked about how VE constructs the languages in her books. I KNOW. I was so proud of myself, because normally I’m a small embarrassed bean. But anyway: VE comes at languages from how they sound in her head, but her editor focuses on linguistic origins. Other questions included the danger of writing rituals, a book in the distant book based on the anime Pyscho-Pass and the awesomenes of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.
After this we all queued up to get books signed and asdfjkl I am still flailing very much from this. Overall I had an absolutely FABULOUS time and I’m actually feeling very motivated to get writing again! (Not looking at that WIP which I haven’t touched in months and I think I need to entirely rehaul. *coughs*)