Will reviews three reads perfect for Halloween: The Secretary and the Ghost by Gillian St. Kevern, The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall by Joshua Ian and The Tutor by Bonnie Dee. Jeff reviews V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
Jeff talks with V.E. Schwab about Addie LaRue and the inspiration behind the character as well as details on which historical events are featured in the book, working with two timelines to tell the story and the importance of authentic queer characters. She also talks about the books she writes as Victoria Schwab and what’s coming up next for her.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- The Secretary and the Ghost by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Mystery of Brackenwell Hall by Gillian St. Kevern on Amazon
- The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall by Joshua Ian on Amazon
- The Tutor by Bonnie Dee on Amazon
- The Mermaid Podcast website
- V.E.Schwab Interview
- V.E. Schwab / Victoria Schwab: website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Forrest Gump by Winston Groom on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab on Amazon
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert on Amazon
- City of Ghosts series by Victoria Schwab on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Monsters of Verity series by Victoria Schwab on Amazon
- Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix
- Fullmetal Alchemist on Netflix
- Vicious by V.E. Schwab on Amazon
- The Boys on Amazon
- Shel Silverstein on Amazon
- William Blake on Amazon
- Charles Baudelaire on Amazon
- Neil Gaiman on Amazon
- Diana Wynne Jones on Amazon
- Erin Morgenstern on Amazon
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett on Amazon
- Crimson Peak by Nancy Holder on Amazon
- The Steel Prince comic series on Comixology
- Emma Roberts To Produce YA Vampire Series ‘First Kill’ At Netflix on Deadline
- Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite anthology on Amazon
- How Bestselling Author V.E. Schwab Finally Found the Words to Come Out of the Closet on Oprah Magazine
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – V.E. Schwab
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Victoria, welcome to the podcast. It is wonderful to have you here.
Victoria: Thank you. It’s so nice to be here in the virtual space, chatting with you.
Jeff: I adored “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” and I’m so glad you’re here to talk about it. Cause it’s honestly one of the most complex and kind of epic books I’ve read that spans three centuries. So of course it’s pretty epic anyway.
Victoria: Yeah, it’s an undertaking. Isn’t it?
Jeff: It is an undertaking. That’s a good word for it, but it’s a beautiful undertaking. How would you describe Addie’s story to people in a way that doesn’t spoil the amazing things that happen across this book?
Victoria: Yeah. The short version is that it is the story of a young woman in 18th century, France, who is living the kind of life where you look up and it’s passing you by very quickly, you blink and 10 years are gone and she starts to become very afraid that she’s going to be born and buried in the same 10 meter plot.
And she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s not going to live the kind of life that she wants, and really, in her early twenties at this time, she’s essentially considered a spinster, but at least she’s going to be free in the sense that she’s going to have bodily autonomy. And then somebody else in the village dies leaving three children and a widow.
And the village essentially decides, well, that’s fine. Addie will step in. And all of a sudden she finds that the one thing that she did have, this bodily autonomy, this choice to be alone/ by herself is taken away from her. And so in a moment of desperation, she summons the devil and tries to make a deal, tries to get out of this unleaveable situation that she finds herself in.
And when the devil asks her what she wants, she essentially wants time. And she’s not quite sure how to achieve that. And so she says that she wants to live forever. And because she just, you know, she hasn’t lived there at all when you haven’t lived at all, all you can think of is I just want time to live.
I don’t want to put a time on that. Anyway, the devil says no, because it turns out that he doesn’t get your soul until the deal is done. And if she lives forever, he’ll never get her soul. And in a moment of absolute desperation, Addie LaRue says to the devil, you can have my soul when I don’t want it anymore.
And sensing an opportunity. The devil agrees. And grants her the ability to live forever and unbeknownst to her in that moment, curses her to be forgotten by everyone she meets, assuming of course, that will wear down her will to survive. And so the book is her story over 300 years of trying to do, discover how to leave a mark on a world that doesn’t remember her and her story over one year in New York City, when she meets a young man in a bookshop who does.
Jeff: Which I have to say now that you’ve actually said that part. I will say that just made my mouth drop open when that happened. It’s like, wait, what happened?
Victoria: Yeah. And it’s an interesting, I don’t consider it so much a spoiler because there are really two timelines of the book. There’s the 300 years and there’s the one year. And so I think it’s fair to say that this is a story of her life in both of those timelines.
Jeff: What inspired this character for you? Because she’s so dynamic. And I like how much you talk about embracing her power, really, because she didn’t want that life. And she wanted something more for herself and she essentially went out and got it.
Victoria: I really like the way you phrase that question, because everyone always asks, like, where did the inspiration for the book come from? But really this is a book about Addie herself and it was born out of my kind of approach to her character. Cause her character was going to be at the center of the story.
And it came from, I wanted to tell an immortality tale, a Faustian bargain, and I was thinking about life and memory a lot. But for Addie specifically, in trying to tell a Faustian tale, I realized that men and women move through the world in different ways.
I love “Interview with a Vampire.” I love these big immortality narratives. They kind of become about existential ennui, as it relates to men. As you know, they do everything. They live everything. They love everyone. They eat everything and they become tired and bored. I didn’t want to give her that option and she didn’t get that option anyway, because women throughout history, don’t get to move through spaces in the same way.
And so, even without cursing her to be forgotten, she wouldn’t have had that luxury. But on top of that, you know, she has this curse in addition to our immortality. And so it really becomes a question of willpower. What kind of person survives, even thrives under this curse? And so I couldn’t let her give into existential ennui. I couldn’t allow her to get bored.
I couldn’t make her the kind of person who bemoans their state for very long. I had to give her what I came to call a stubborn hope and a defiant joy, this belief that it is worth it, the pain of living worth the discomfort of her situation, because there’s so much living to do. And it has to be a life without ego in many ways, because she can’t take credit for things.
Even when she finds out how to influence them, she can’t leave marks. She can’t be remembered. It is essentially a very lonely existence, but she is so fiercely, stubbornly optimistic about the potential of life that she is able to carve her way through that. And so it really became about asking who thrives under these circumstances, because spite really only carries you so far and hope has to carry you the rest of the way.
Jeff: I think you touch on a central element for me in the book, because yes, in her early days of trying to navigate what this meant, wasn’t awesome for her by a long shot, because she wasn’t understanding what was happening. She didn’t know how to survive and she figured it out. And as she moved on from there, she did become this very strong, hopeful… she always had hope sometimes a little despair, but always hope. And that even made this the right book to read in these times that we live in.
Jeff: Because she found a way through all this for hope to survive. And it’s a good message now. I mean, it’s always a good message, but particularly now.
Victoria: I mean, that’s the weirdest thing about it, right? I’ve been asked a lot over and over again. How does it feel to have the book coming out in this year, in this time and this hellscape, whatever you want to call it. And I mean, at first I was devastated because I spent 10 years writing this book and you have no idea what the world’s going to look like when it releases, but this certainly isn’t the here that I dreamed of for myself or for this story. It was the biggest book of my career, my publisher had conceived of all of these extraordinary things for it , parties and opportunities that I hadn’t even dreamed of. I came up very small through books and I grew just a little bit in scale with every book, book number 17, right. I had all of these incredible dreams for what would happen when I actually got to release Addie LaRue. And obviously, nothing about this year has gone as planned for anyone, under any circumstances.
And I will admit that for a few months, I was just deeply sad. I was deeply sad for myself and for the story and for what I perceived as the missed opportunities. And then I began to realize as advanced reviewers began to read this book. And as I saw them find some measure of solace in it, and some measure of grounding as well as escape.
And as I realized that this really was a story in so many ways about perseverance through difficult times and through holding on in the belief that the future will hold for you more incredible things. But this in many ways might be exactly the right year for Addie LaRue to hit shelves.
And part of that is accepting that books don’t have an expiration date, right? This will always be the year that Addie LaRue began her journey in publication. That doesn’t mean it will also be the end of that journey. But I do think that, you know, my own ego and feelings aside, I think perhaps this might exactly be the right time for this book.
Jeff: I think it’s why I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to finish it before we talked, but I also didn’t want it to end at the same time because it was so good.
Victoria: I mean, that’s the really, that’s the difficult thing about writing a standalone as well? Like I’m already starting to get asked, is there a sequel?
And I’m like, no, like that’s the book and I traditionally write series standalone. Those are kind of the brief commas in the sentence of my career so far. But I felt so strongly from the beginning that this would be a standalone, but hopefully it’s the kind of standalone that lends itself to rereading.
Because I think when you hit the end of the book and you feel you need more then that’s the failing of the author, but if you hit the end of the book and you just really wish there was more than that is the best thing that the author can ask for, because then go back to the beginning and start again. Like I want people to want more. I hope that people don’t feel they need more.
Jeff: It’s interesting to me putting on my author hat, how you’re approaching it as a standalone too, because of course there’s so much in this story in Addie’s life that you could mine for additional books because she does live for 300 years. And yet you’re saying, this is the story you wanted to tell, and so it is a standalone.
Victoria: Yeah. I mean, almost to a tee. So I mean, putting on author hats for a moment, right? I have a really hard time writing books. I have a really hard time with the drafting process because when you have an idea, it’s this beautiful, glowing orb in your mind, it’s pure potential energy. And the act of writing it down is like taking that beautiful glowing orb and smashing it against a wall. And what you’re left with his kind of this broken very mundane object that bears almost no resemblance to that beautiful thing in your mind. And then the act of revision is slowly painstakingly piecing that back together. It’s never going to be the thing that was in your mind, but revision is the act of trying to bring it close to the authenticity of that thing.
And I will say that whether or not people love this book, the final product is the closest thing to that glowing orb that I have ever achieved in my career. So it was very much meant to be the shape that it is.
Jeff: Considering the two timelines that you’ve got, it’s a pretty straight line, in terms of the plot that goes on with Henry, because it is this year that happens. But looking at the rest of the book and those hundreds of years before she got to Henry, how did you decide what parts of history to let us see her in?
Victoria: Oh, that’s such a good question because it was not simple, right? Dealing with 300 years of history and travel. It’s not as though she stays in one space, but at the same time, I didn’t want this book to be a travel log. She doesn’t just go everywhere. She is a person with an agenda and limitations because of her curse and it does guide where she goes and when.
So much of the… kind of a year’s worth of the work on this book was just figuring out that path through the past. And a lot of it, you know, thematically I wanted it to go hand in hand with where she was at in her own emotional journey where she was at. She kind of goes through a five stages of grief for her own life, right?
Then at the same time, she’s going through stages of her relationship with the devil because they do, over time, have a very complicated relationship. He is for centuries, the only person who remembers her and they move through this arc of absolute hatred and animosity into antagonism and into something more comradery-based because of the fact that they simply become the commonality in each other’s lives.
And so a lot of what I chose was based on where I wanted her to be emotionally. And where I wanted her to be in relation to her relationship with the devil. And so obviously I knew there were some historical beats that I needed to hit, especially as a French woman, that Addie would be, you know, she was going to be in Paris at the time of the salons.
She was going to be in Paris at the time of the French revolution. I knew that there were some moments in art and culture that I were going to use to guide myself as well, because this is a book… I say it’s like “Forrest Gump” but for art and culture instead of politics. Right? Which is that she begins to graze up against art and history in that way, this becomes the way in which she can leave a mark.
And so I started to look at when were there massive flourishes in Western Europe, especially cause that’s where I kind of confined her to in the beginning, in art and culture, when was Vienna redesigned? When was Paris redesigned? When were these blossoms of beauty? Because that’s a commonality between her and the devil as well. The devil sees himself as a patron of the arts and she becomes a muse. They both foster and are drawn to the hedonistic landscape. And so all of these things became factors and there were obviously more places that I visited and research than ever would make it into the book.
And I think if I ever did write more, they would probably be more of Addie’s past timeline. I don’t think that I can see myself writing beyond the timeline of the book in the future sense.
Jeff: And I guess leads to the question of how much is on the cutting room floor?
Victoria: You know, very little, because I’m an additive author, meaning I tend to write very slim first drafts and then revision becomes a process of shoring them up.
I think part of me is so anxious about not being able to pull off a draft that I simply need to get bones down, but there were certainly ideas. I never got scenes then got chopped entirely. They would always get repurposed or transformed. There were so many pieces of dialogue between Addie and the devil that I had conceived of over a years that never made it in, but obviously weren’t right for the story because you know, writing a book over the course of 10 years means letting go of a lot of past iterations of story in your mind and past moments and not really forcing them simply because your ego wants them to be there. I would say that, you know, it was more a sense of, there were ideas that I had for two different scenes that needed to become fused into one. There were things that never really got to be on the paper in a full sense, so that didn’t need to be fully cut. But I mean, the revision that I did between the first draft and the second was massive. So there was a lot that got moved around.
There was a lot that got revised, but I don’t think things got wholesale excised from the narrative. And so it’s harder for me to think of like, what’s missing.
Jeff: It seems a very compelling thought exercise to work through how Addie adapted to life across the years. Not just adapting to the idea that she is forgotten at every turn, but also just how women evolved over the centuries and what they could do, what they could not do and how that must have seemed a very gradual progression to her.
Victoria: Oh, yeah. I feel like she sees it through fashion, right? Like she’s so annoyed at female fashion all the time, because it’s so cumbersome. And she just, like, she just wants to wear trousers. Like she just wants to get to that point in history where she gets to wear something that feels like it is freedom. It is looser.
Jeff: You know, one of my favorite passages in the book is when she is impersonating the man.
Jeff: Because it’s an easier way for her to move through that moment. And the whole interplay that happens there was just really wonderful.
Victoria: Yeah, I wish I could. Here’s the thing, and I have done this previously in books, as somebody who has kind of a complicated relationship not only to their sexuality, but to their gender identity.
Like I’m always tempted to put my female characters in men’s wear to have them masquerading as a man, as an adaptive element, mostly because it’s how I feel more comfortable. I did it with Delilah Bard in “Shades of Magic” and I wanted to resist that temptation. And so what I did is I made Addie a very feminine looking person, just naturally the kind of face that would not easily stand up to scrutiny and could not pass herself off.
Cause it felt like it would have been the obvious solution to just have Addie spend 200 years masquerading as a young man. And so I gave her the features that would not allow that. And that’s, so we still get to have that moment with her, with Remy, where she’s masquerading as a young man, but knows that this only works after dark when she kind of keeps her distance and nobody looks too close, but I knew that I wanted to prevent myself from the comfort of being able to give her that option throughout history.
Jeff: And how much research ended up in all of this? We hinted on it a little bit before that you obviously had to research history, you’ve got to research places and you’ve got this nice interplay between actual places, actual history, actual people, and then totally made up fictional material as well.
Victoria: I mean, there was a lot of, I’m not going to lie… there’s a lot of research, but it just, as when you write a book and it goes through massive rounds of editing and yet somehow a typo ends up on that page even though 15 people read that book and looked for any problems. I feel like no matter how much research you do, there’s like a late stage “dammit” moment. Like there’s one that’s in there book, I’m not going to say what it is that’s going to get corrected. And it was just, I don’t know how it never got caught when you’re dealing with so much history. It feels inevitable.
But I remember in late stage revision up until like… I don’t know how I messed this up. I do know a great deal about France. I live here quite a lot of the time, but for some reason… Maybe cause I just can’t fathom that Sacre-Coeur was that recent. Originally now in the book, she and Remy, this young man that she meets in Paris, go to Notre Dame and originally they went to the steps of Sacre-Coeur because I wanted to have that view over the city. I didn’t find out for some reason, until an actual advanced reader said, like none of the proofreaders caught it I obviously didn’t catch it, that Sacre-Coeur hadn’t been built for like a hundred years like in that moment. But it was a full century off and all that you could think was, Oh my God. I read books upon books on the salon scene of the 1750s through 70s.
I did so much work and then something like that slips by. I did do a huge amount of research for it. I also presented myself a challenge because I was dealing with setting as character in so many places because I needed every place you go to feel like that place.
You know, for 10 years, Addie was in the backdrop of my mind as I would travel for work. Every time I would land in a city in a country, I would ask myself if I only had a page to convey the heart of the city, what would I say? And so it really became, because I knew that we were not going to spend very long in any one of those flashbacks, how could I distill a city down to a few essential ingredients?
Jeff: Wow. And on top of the history, you’ve got all this art too. The art descriptions that appear at the beginning of each individual part, how did you pick your art? And was that always part of it or did that come at some point later in the process of getting it right?
Victoria: The art was always part of the story. Featuring the art pieces more didactically at the beginning of each part was a thing that happened in revision. So that was a decision made after the draft. But, I knew I wanted the art to be crucial, because one of these themes that we explore is this concept that ideas are wilder than memories.
And so Addie discovers over the narrative that she can nudge art, that she can influence artists. At the time, several years ago, I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” which is a book on creative examination as an artistic. And I’m always fascinated by the personification of ideas. So like muses fascinate me. This idea an origin for creativity.
And, as a writer yourself, you’ll know, sometimes we can’t track back to the exact thing that makes us think a thing that makes us think another thing, and so on. We can’t get all the way back to seed. And so I love this idea that Addie might be that seed, that some people can’t remember exactly where those three notes, that the beginning of that song, that became the song, that made them came from. That they just came to them on a wave of inspiration.
And the whole question is like, well, what if there was a person? You know, what, if you woke up with those three notes in your head, because Addie told them to you the night before and Addie didn’t stick in your mind, but those three chords did? So I really wanted to explore that, especially because…
So this is how I am. My brain comes from like 50 different places down to one idea. A couple of years ago, one of my best friends is a photographer and we had gotten into a really in depth discussion about how we pretend that photographs tell the truth. As a photographer, she was like, but that’s not true at all. We weren’t even talking about digital manipulation, but about how in choosing the lens and choosing what to show the frame, what to show and what to exclude, the photographer is lying inherently. And this concept of visual truth would go on to inspire so much of the narrative, both from Henry, who has this interest in the lies that photographs tell. And in Addie, who I made the decision could not be captured by photograph or film, but could be interpreted and rendered through art.
And so that became one of the concepts I really wanted to explore. And one of the reasons that she has these seven freckles, because I felt like you could erase so much of her. And that could be the thing which becomes interpreted, whether it’s a wood sculpture of a bust with seven holes drilled through whether it’s an abstract night sky, that one of the artists makes with seven star dots. I wanted this to be a thing of addie could be interpreted through other people’s eyes.
Jeff: And it’s a fascinating process as that happens various times through the book to how that manifests herself and how she can nudge it.
Victoria: Yeah. And it’s that it’s interpretation. And it’s also the thing that forces you to, like, you can’t have ego. And artists, there’s always a measure of ego there and Addie as the subject, doesn’t get to have that ego. She doesn’t get to have that, but what she does get are these physical proof that she exists. That have followed her through history and that she revisits and that she thinks about these moments that are whenever she doubts her own veracity, whenever she doubts that she did these things, because memory is kind of one of those crazy things, memory and madness.
And she has a flawless memory, but she has gone mad several times because of it. But these are almost anchors throughout her existence at that track forward with her.
Jeff: Among the many things I liked in this book is that Addie and Henry are so comfortably bisexual, which is how we ended up talking about this book on the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast.” It totally makes sense for Addie to have had many loves through the years, but what led you to create the characters this way and for both of the characters to be bisexual as the driving romance through that year of Addie and Henry?
Victoria: I resist this concept of straight default. Like I just don’t buy into it and I would rather explore casual queerness in my stories because one of the things I don’t like is that so often when we include queer characters that their queerness has to be a plot point. Like that’s the reason for their inclusion in the narrative is because they’re gay or bisexual or queer.
And I didn’t want that. And so what I wanted to do in this narrative, because I knew that Addie was going to be in essentially a straight presenting relationship was I wanted to make sure that I included space to say that neither one of them is straight and that their past relationships obviously informs so much of their identity.
But yeah, it’s not because of the sexuality of those past relationships. And I wanted to normalize it. I think I just want to create that space where we need the normalization. We need to stop having these monolithic representations of queer identity. And the only way to do that is to have enough characters actually be queer.
And it made sense because it also feels like so often when we have queer character in the book, they’re the unicorn. But like, as you know, like we find community, we find our tribes, we’ve formed that found family. And I wanted, because Addie couldn’t have that found family, I very much wanted Henry to have it.
Plus on top of that, there’s just a massive amount of erasure of bisexual men. And wanted to give him that and I wanted to explore the spectrum. I didn’t want everyone in the story to have to present one way. I didn’t want to create confinement when there didn’t need to be any confinement. And I thought that one of the ways in which I could do that was simply by having a casually queer presence throughout the entire story.
Jeff: It’s one of the things I love in books where it doesn’t have to be explained or over explained, become a driving plot point, as you said. And what I really liked with Henry is that he managed to still be friends with his most recent male ex who keeps coming back, who I swear has a tinge of jealousy running through him.
Victoria: Absolutely. A possessiveness.
Jeff: A little bit.
Victoria: I love that. I didn’t want Robbie to fall out of his life. And obviously things get more complicated as the story goes on. I guess I didn’t think about it with as much agenda as it sounds like as I’m presenting. I just wanted it to be there. I wanted it to be there on the page because letting it just exist on the page allows somebody to come along and say, Oh a mirror, right?
Because so often we’re deprived mirrors. So often we make things exceptional and it’s kind of othering. Right? And I just want to be like, it’s there. It’s right there. You’re there. Like, this is valid. Everything’s valid here. This isn’t exceptional. This is just life. This is the world, as it really is.
Jeff: Exactly. And for Addie to have lived hundreds of years, of course, she’s going to run into all kinds of characters who would be marginalized either because of the very time that they’re in or marginalized for some reason. And so they’re part of the fabric of life, which is so wonderful.
Victoria: Also I call bullshit on the idea of Addie being straight, like they’re… If you asked her, she might’ve started out with like an aesthetic ideal of her love. She’s 300 years old. Even if she didn’t start, like, even if she wasn’t born bisexual, the simple, like desire to continue. She has such a voracious love of of living and of exploring that, the idea that she would have ever limited herself in that way is for her, like it’s more an organic assumption of I’m sure she was born and raised in a time where that would not have been considered okay. And where it probably took 50 to a hundred years for her to break down her own assumptions of what’s, you know, drilled in, but 300 years is a lot of time and I refused to believe that any of our three leads was ever really straight.
I think about this, I know that straight people exist. I’m not trying to erase them, but I do think there’s a lot of conditioning that we experience in society. That is something that then we have to take time to unpack for ourselves. I mean, I came out when I was 27, 28, so that means that like, I was a very, very closeted gay teen, who could not have told you if you had asked me, I would have said I was straight because I hadn’t done that unpacking. I hadn’t done that deconditioning yet.
And so I think making space for that, it’s wonderful to see kids and teens who already know that about themselves. But, some of us take longer.
And I just think I have such a resistance to checklist diversity to this concept that we include people, but we include it for the wrong reasons. So it’s like if you’re going to have queer representation, like it better be intrinsic, it better feel authentic. You can’t just be like mentioned on page 52 “oh, he’s gay” because you want to like, be able to say that you have queer representation.
But I also think that there’s a massive chasm between casual representation and, like wanting a brownie point and making it the only reason that they’re on the page. Right? There’s just a full spectrum of accountability that needs to be on our shoulders as creators to say like, okay, how is it reflected in their character and understanding because we’re not monolithic. That for some people, their sexuality and gender representation is a massive part of their identity. And for some, it’s not. For me, I’d say that like, my queerness is like 15% of me. Right? Like it just is not the driving thing in my life.
Jeff: Well said. So this book was my first by you. And for me, and maybe other listeners who are not familiar, tell us more about the books of both V.E. Schwab, which is the name you have on “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” but also Victoria Schwab.
Victoria: I write as V.E. Schwab, traditionally, I’ve written as Victoria Schwab when I’m writing for children and teens. Cause I’ve got like a middle grade series called “City of Ghosts,” which is essentially about a 12 year old girl who almost drowns and the ghost boy who saves her life and now they’re kind of inextricably connected and can cross the veil together and see, the ghosts on the other side. Her parents are TV paranormal investigators.
So they traveled to the most haunted cities in the world. So the first book is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the second one in Paris, France, and the third one in New Orleans. So things like that I write as Victoria Schwab and as for my teen novels. And then on the adult side, I write as V. E. Schwab.
And the very like P.C. answer is like, so that children don’t stumble upon my adult work accidentally. And the very honest answer is that because adult science fiction and fantasy is a super, sexist industry traditionally. And there’s a lot of people who won’t pick up a book if it’s by a woman, which is something I get told often by my fans, which is really kind of a messy thing to unpack. I’ve written everything across the spectrum from that “City of Ghosts” series to the “Monsters of Verity” books, which are in the YA space and really an examination of what happens when violence reaches a point in society that it begins to breed actual monsters. What if the aftermath of violence is not just thoughts and prayers, not just, you know, shell casings and smoke, but what happens if we, as humans begin to usher forth incarnations of that violence, what does it mean?
So probably I’m best known for my “Shades of Magic” series, which I write as V.E. Schwab. “A Darker Shade of Magic,” “A Gathering of Shadows” and “A Conjuring of Light,” which are about a magician with the ability to move between alternate versions of London, officially as a messenger between the crowns and unofficially as a smuggler of rare artifacts. And he comes into possession of something he absolutely should not have. And before he can get rid of it, he gets his pocket picked by a cross dressing thief named Delilah Bard. And the series unfolds from there.
And so that’s more a love letter to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Full Metal Alchemist” and elemental magic and just a lot of things that I’m deeply passionate about. Also a very queer series, which I love because I get to explore representation in different ways. And as the series continues, I’ll get to continue to explore representation.
And I just really like whenever I can have that representation. In a fantasy context, because again, it’s about normalizing. And when you write fantasy, you have the incredible luxury of getting to redefine what is normal. And there always have to be power dynamics and hierarchies, but you can write a world in which it doesn’t have to be sexuality or race. It can be something else.
Jeff: Obviously, I’m going to need to pick up more of your books, is what it comes down to.
Victoria: They’re all a bit different though. The one, I guess I didn’t talk about at all is “Vicious.” I wrote a super villains series. So essentially I wrote a series that’s about the idea of, if there are no heroes, who do you as the reader root for? It’s about two college students, Victor and Eli who discovered the key to super powers are near death experiences. They set out to manufacture their own supernatural abilities by controlling their own deaths and resurrection, and everything goes heinously wrong.
Jeff: Oh, wow. I’m glad you mentioned that one cause that sounds pretty amazing.
Victoria: Very much like Professor X and Magneto via “The Boys” Amazon series.
Jeff: There’s another book for the TBR.
Victoria: I clearly don’t sit still for very long. I don’t like to write the same thing twice either.
Jeff: So a friend of the podcast, who is also an author, was so crazy excited I was talking to you because she’s like, she’s a huge fan. I said, she could give me one question to ask. So she came up with, “She writes so beautifully. I’d love to know how she’s gotten there… to create such beautiful prose?”
Victoria: Oh my goodness. Practice is such a trite answer. So I’m not going to give you that. What I will say is, I come from poetry and so I’ve always been very attentive to cadence and syllable, like rhythm. And, but the voice is the weirdest thing, right? Because you can’t really teach it, but you also have to get better at it. I will say that I think you almost learn the kind of prose that you want to write through exclusion. Like you kind of look at other people’s writing and you say, “Oh, I love that.” And you, then you say, “I don’t love that.” Or this speaks to me, this doesn’t, and then you just write a shit ton of words.
And I mean, and I try to write differently. I definitely feel like I have a thing which makes my books mine, and that there is this kind of cadence or rhythm to it all. That’s just the way I’m wired. I grew up on Shel Silverstein and William Blake and Baudelaire and all of these like really over the top poets who had a fascination with rhyme and rhythm. But I will say like, I just, I read a lot. And I read specifically out of my zone of what I write and out of my zone of assumptions of what I will like.
So I probably read a hundred to 120 books a year. And in that is everything from poetry to memoir, nonfiction, historical fantasy romance, literally like everything. Right? And I say this all to say, you feed this story monster and in reading, you begin to develop especially in reading broadly, you really just develop a sense of your own internal rhythm, your own internal voice and cadence.
It’s something that I feel like I’m so glad I don’t have to teach because I don’t know how I would. And so looking at my own education in that way, it has been a product of write relentlessly and read voraciously.
Jeff: Are there particular authors that you point to who are inspirations?
Victoria: Anyone who follows me online knows I’m a massive Neil Gaiman fan and have been for a very long time. I, my family’s English. So this is the weird reason that I became obsessed early on with Neil Gaiman is that if you hear him ever narrate any of his work, which he does, there’s such an incredibly loving cadence to it. And his accent is almost identical to my family’s accent. And so I grew up kind of like almost thinking of it as being told a bedtime story by a member of my family, there was just always kind of a wonderfully soothing, almost boat rocking rhythm to it. So Neil Gaiman is somebody whose work I have always admired. Also because I admire the expansiveness of it. When I was growing up and being told like, Oh, you need to pick, are you going to be a poet? Are you going to be a novelist? Are you going be a short story writer? Are you going to be a screenwriter? And then you see an author like Neil, a creative, like Neil didn’t pick and just does it all and manages to carry that voice, that very, very specific voice through everything he does. I wanted to be able to do that. And I found that deeply inspiring.
Also, I look to Diana Wynne Jones and to more recent ones like Erin Morgenstern or Susanna Clarke. I remember, I think Susanna Clarke sticks in my head because up until I read “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” I would have told you that was exactly the opposite of the kind of books that I like to read. It was really long and it had footnotes and it was really slow and it was a book that made me eat my words. Like I would have put on paper. It was everything I don’t like in a book. And then I read it. And I realized that you can pull off anything as long as you do it well.
So I think I’ve taken different things from different authors that I admire, whether it’s their world building or their voice or their like ambition and it’s constantly changing every year. But I would say like on my shelf, it’s like Neil Gaiman, Donna Tartt, Diana Wynne Jones. Yeah, those are probably my triptych, my trifecta.
Jeff: And speaking of books, what’s something you’ve read recently that you would recommend to this audience?
Victoria: Okay. So probably my favorite book of the year is so counter to what I normally read. And it just shows you what a hellscape this year is, because I normally go to like the very dark, the very kind of like “Dexter”-esque or the just like sinister stories. I read a book this year called “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune.
Jeff: Oh, so good.
Victoria: It’s like a big gay sweater, right? It is like a cozy, happy, heartwarming, beautiful, kind book. And I been recommending it to everyone that I know.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m a big fan. It’s certainly in my top books of the year and I can’t envision anything coming out that’s going to knock it off the top slot for the year.
Victoria: It’s just wonderful and my mum read it and she loved it. My dad read it and he’s such a difficult reader and he loved it. Like I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t respond to it.
Jeff: Yeah. Tremendous book. What can you tell us about what might be coming up for you next?
Victoria: Oh God, it’s always an ordeal. We were talking earlier about not giving away secrets between what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not. What I can say is that the third book in my “City of Ghost” series, my middle grade series, comes out in March called “Bridge of Souls.”
And I’m writing a comic book series set in the “Vicious” world called “Extraordinary.”
And I’m working on the next book in the “Shades of Magic” series. Cause there were like two arcs. So the first three books came out and now the second three I’m working on and I’ve just finished work or I’ve just finished drafting. So the work has really just started on a book that I haven’t been allowed to reveal yet, but that I’ve been saying is “The Secret Garden” meets “Crimson Peak.”
Jeff: That’s an interesting combo.
What’s it like adapting for comic book?
Victoria: I love it. Well, and I’m not really adapting because it’s new stories set in the world that I’ve already made, adapting what I’ve already written. I think that would be easier. And I would love that a lot, but, I’m creating new content.
I had written in the “Shades of Magic” universe is a comic book series called “Steel Prince.” That was 12 issues. And that just finished and I loved it. And so now doing that again. I just think translating to a visual medium is so nice because writing can be intensely lonely and visual mediums require collaboration. So it’s just an open conversation and you’re working and then you get to see art. It’s basically like professionally commissioned fan art. It’s just ticks all of those delightful creative boxes.
Jeff: I love seeing authors get involved in different types of adaptations and universe expansions like that. It’s always exciting.
Victoria: Yeah. I love it. It just is different. They’re different flavors.
Jeff: And how can people keep up with you online to keep track of all this stuff that’s coming next?
Victoria: The best way to find me on the internet is I basically live on Instagram. And so I’m just veschwab over there. I post almost every day. Usually more than once a day in the stories, but every day. And it’s just like the easiest way to keep up with everything from whatever I have in the works to I do talk a lot about creativity and like the creative hurdles and headspace and anxiety. And I also, you know, talk about my kitten and random, stupid things in my life. So like, there’s a good balance there just like neuroses and creativity and like pictures of my pets.
Jeff: Perfect. We will link to that and everything else that we’ve talked about in our show notes for the episode so everybody will be able to find what they need from that, Victoria. It has been so awesome talking to you. Congratulations on the release of “Addie LaRue” and I can’t wait to see what you come out with next.
Victoria: Thank you so much.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
The Secretary and the Ghost by Gillian St. Kevern. Reviewed by Will.
So like the beginning of any good gothic romance, young and innocent Philip who everyone calls Pip, makes the pilgrimage to the foreboding Foxwood Court. To pay off the family debt, he’s going to work as secretary for the handsome, but stern, Lord Cross and putting Cross’s papers in order is a chore, but Pip is up to the task.
The simmering tension between employer and employee comes to a boiling point when Cross passionately kisses Philip, something he finds he very much enjoys. One day in one of the many parlors, Pip comes across a portrait to which he bears a striking resemblance. He carefully questions, the butler and learns that the painting is of Joseph Layton, Pip’s distant relative who took his own life and is said to haunt the halls of Foxwood and the sightings result in tragedy.
Late one night, there was a commotion in the study. His Lordship has been attacked and members of the staff witnessed Pip as the culprit. But since he was upstairs talking with the butler, it could only have been the ghost of Foxwood. Cross eventually explains to Pip that after getting conked on the head, the intruder was most definitely not a ghost.
In a quiet moment together Cross doesn’t necessarily declare his undying devotion cause that would be far too improper, but he lets it be known that he definitely returns Pip’s affections. He invites Phillip into bed and they share an amazing passionate night together. But, the next morning Cross has gone cold, insisting that it could never happen again and that the love of a Cross is always forbidden and inevitably fatal.
Cross’s frustrating sense of duty and his feelings toward Pip are something I’m going to come back to.
Under false pretenses, an interloper arrives at Foxwood. It’s Phillip’s uncle Andrew, the scoundrel who plunged Pip’s family into financial ruin. Cross makes it clear that he has plans for Uncle Andrew, but if Phillip interferes with his wishes, he will no longer have a place at Foxwood.
In a huff, Pip prepares to leave, but he encounters the cold, ghostly apparition of Joseph Layton. But instead of being a harbinger of doom, he thinks that the ghost is a sign. There must be a method to Cross’s madness. So Pip stays to keep an eye on scheming, Uncle Andrew. Once his plan is revealed, a meeting is set in the neglected orchard on the estate grounds. Imagine the forest in like snow white.
It seems that Pip was right about the ghost and the confrontation eventually leads to the good name of Phillip’s family being restored, leaving Pip and Lord Cross to plan their future happiness together.
Now The Secretary and the Ghost is just about everything you could ever ask for in a Gothic romance. There’s mystery and intrigue, a ghost, duplicitous relatives with nefarious motives, a gloomy manor house filled with dark passages and things that go bump in the night and most important of all–a brooding alpha male hero, who is just as frustrating as he is swoony.
Cross runs hot and cold, leaving poor Philip both confused and turned on at the same time. At one point in the story, while he’s sorting through Cross’s personal letters, Pip realizes that for someone with such a prickly demeanor Cross corresponds with a wide variety of people on any number of subjects. It’s then that Phillip understands that Cross presents a certain image to the outside world that doesn’t necessarily jive with his true nature.
This is sort of like the Darcy conundrum. Just like Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Cross is also duty bound and frustratingly proper at times. He often comes off, you know, frankly, as a dick. But, in reality, he cares very deeply about the people around him, Phillip included. Cross might not be demonstrative, but he lets his actions speak for him. Philip eventually learns, along with the reader, that Cross has been working behind the scenes all along to resolve Pip’s financial problems. He shows his love by taking care of people.
And speaking of love, I love pretty much everything about The Secretary and the Ghost, because it pays homage to the tropes of gothic romances of the past while giving them a modern, very gay twist. It’s romantic and it’s sexy and it’s spooky without being scary.
The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall by Joshua Ian. Reviewed by Will.
The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall by Joshua Ian is another wonderful Gothic romance. It’s about a guy named Jonas. He is a landscape architect who has come to Hillcomb Hall to overhaul the neglected grounds that are surrounding the estate. But when he arrives, the lord of the manor is away on business, leaving Vita the lady of the house to entertain them along with her mother in law and the Dowager Countess.
When Jonas arrives, everything seems to be on the up and up, but he can’t help but have a sense of foreboding… because what gothic romance would be complete without a sense of foreboding?
Is there something in the shadows of Hillcomb Hall or is it just a trick of the moonlight? And what’s the deal with the amorus valet assigned to him and his needs? Are the three hostesses simply unconventional or is there a darker purpose for their need of Jonas?
All of these questions get answered in The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall, the recent release by Joshua Ian.
The Tutor by Bonnie Dee. Reviewed by Will.
The Tutor by Bonnie Dee is described as a combination of The Sound of Music, The Enchanted Garden, and Jane Eyre. If that doesn’t sell you up front, then I don’t know what else I can say, except that the author takes all of the gothic romance tropes and like cranks them up to 11, which I loved so much.
The story revolves around a guy named Graham who thinks he’s landed the cushy job of being a tutor to a pair of twins who live on an estate in the country. Things of course are not as easy as they seem. Graham has to find a way to both entertain and educate the twins while at the same time, keeping his hands off their sexily brooding father, Sir Richard.
There is a strange darkness present, evil of some kind is at work. And the disturbing history of the room at the top of the tower is at the center of it all. Graham tries to solve the mystery while at the same time, mend the wounds of the family that he has grown to love.
There’s a lot going on in the story. And I loved every single second of it. I think the author particularly nails, the first person narrative. Graham is charming and witty. It’s always entertaining to see how he navigates the situation that he’s found himself in, whether it’s dealing with the family themes of The Sound of Music plot. or coming to grips with the supernatural elements of the gothic menace.
I also highly recommend the audiobook of The Tutor. It’s read by a narrator that I’ve never encountered before, a guy named Ruri Carter. He does an excellent job and takes the first person narrative to the next level. It feels like he’s telling the story directly to you. Right now the audiobook is an Audible Exclusive, so if you have those credits saved up, I highly recommend spending one of them on this title.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. Reviewed by Jeff.
Over the years of doing the podcast I’ve discovered authors and read books that I never would’ve before. I’m so glad that happens because otherwise I might have missed out on V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. If you like the way TJ Klune or Gregory Ashe spin sprawling, epic tales full of twists and turns that surprise, shock, delight and give you all the feels, this book is for you.
There’s a lot happening in this book, which spans 300 years and I’m going to dodge all the spoilers. What I can tell you is essentially what you’ll hear directly from Victoria in our interview. There are two timelines in play here. Addie’s past, where we meet her as a child in 1698 France. She loves her family, especially her father, and grows up in a small village. When she gets to marrying age though, she doesn’t want any part of it. When she’s forced to marry a widower with children, she does a deal with the devil. The devil can have her soul when she’s done with it. The devil thinks he can force her into this sooner than later by making it where everyone forgets her. She can’t be remembered, she can’t leave a mark. Nothing. She’s stubborn though. She plans to live, live and live some more and the story covers various points along her history.
The other timeline is 2014. Addie’s present, if you will. She’s in New York City and has adapted to life well. She knows how to deal with, and even take advantage of, the fact she’s not remembered. Her world is turned upside down though when one day she crosses paths with a guy who can remember her.
Now before you say, but, Jeff you just spoiled it. Remember what I said that the author herself will tell you this in a moment and it’s also mentioned in the blurb.
There is so much that I fell in love with here. First, the richness of the writing and storytelling. Addie is a strong, independent woman–it’s why she made the deal she did after all. It’s incredible watching her adapt to her situation as well as the changing times happening around her. It’s an incredible mix of happy, sad, frustrating and exhilarating. Victoria picked amazing moments of history, and historic people, for Addie to witness while also showing what it was like to be a woman in those days and trying to maintain agency over oneself.
Along with Addie on the journey through the decades is the devil, who is quite frustrated with her that she won’t give her soul up. She’d been deliberate with her words around keeping it until she was done, but she couldn’t stop the turn he’d made on everyone forgetting her. Addie and the devil are strange companions through time. Sometimes he ignores her, sometimes he annoys her, sometimes they’re more friend the foe. It’s a fascinating and ever changing dynamic.
The representation of bisexuality in this book is also outstanding. Addie is bi–and why wouldn’t she have loved many people across the centuries. The guy that remembers her, Henry, is also bi and in fact one of the fun parts of the book is the jealous streak Henry’s ex, Robbie, has over Addie every time they meet. It’s great to see characters where the bisexulity just is. It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of who they are and the relationships they’ve had. To find that in a mainstream, best-selling book is fantastic.
Time and place are practically characters in Addie LaRue. Victoria has a way of infusing so much into the time that Addie’s in–from the social customs to clothes to how people get around that it becomes almost physical. Many places also show up as Addie travels to Paris, New Orleans, New York and other places. Each pops to life with a mix of real places and fictional ones. But don’t worry about getting lost in time. Victoria alternates between the times and places fluidly, while also making sure we know where we are.
I’m so delighted with this book, especially because I couldn’t figure any of it out. At every turn I was amazed with where the story went. I highly recommend V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and I definitely need to check out more of Victoria’s stories.