Putting a morbid streak to good use

  • Johnie Cates
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7 meses 1 semana atrás #102212 por Johnie Cates
Johnie Cates created the topic: Putting a morbid streak to good use
Unexpected monsters haunt the latest young adult novel from Victoria Schwab, who considers This Savage Song “the strangest, darkest book I’ve ever written.” The freedom to explore this creepy new territory comes from her—and her publisher’s—trust in her readership.

“I’ve been really careful to develop an author fandom,” says Schwab during a call to her home in Nashville. “If you have a book or series fandom, you get pressure to stay in your lane and do what works. With an author fandom, I’ve been given more and more creative freedom to be as different and daring as I want, and my readers have been staying with me.”

Schwab, who also writes as V.E. Schwab, has 11 books and counting to her credit—adult, YA and middle grade novels rife with dark settings, sinister storylines and supernatural goings-on. Some of her works have comic-book roots, while others draw upon magic, science-fiction or fantasy tropes.

“All of my work has a speculative thread, and all of my work has me,” explains Schwab. “[This Savage Song] is the most me. It’s a merger of what I’ve been writing for several years as an adult author and a YA author . . . and it’s about things I’ve wanted to explore but haven’t had the window to do it.”

That window’s certainly open now, and Schwab dove through it and into the dark, Gotham-esque world of Verity, a future metropolis divided by war and ruled by two very different men: Callum Harker, a ruthless crime boss, and Henry Flynn, a kind leader trying to maintain the city’s six-year truce even as Harker moves, with devious determination, to break it.

And there’s another problem plaguing the crime-ridden city: monsters born of violence and hungry for flesh, blood and souls.

In the meantime, the children of these two men—Kate Harker and August Flynn—have both reached an age where they want to be more like their fathers. Kate, an only child whose mother died when she was young, has gotten herself kicked out of six boarding schools in five years. Now she’s been sent home, where she hopes to show her father she’s tough enough to earn his attention and love. August has a different perspective on things, not least because he happens to be a monster (as are his two siblings), and it’s getting harder and harder for him to deny his real nature.

Attempting to suppress our true selves to gain approval is an age-old struggle, one that Schwab clearly delights in exploring, as Kate and August engage in verbal sparring, scary physical combat and mental and emotional gymnastics as the city threatens to fall into ruin around them.

“The epigraph for the book is a line from [my earlier novel] Vicious,” she says, “because I was really inspired by the concept from Vicious—the potential for humans to be monsters and vice versa. I wanted to take that and add the societal question, what about humans makes them so monstrous to each other and the world around them?”

She adds, “Being pagan, I think a lot about the natural world, the cycle of give and take, the notion of balance. If we put that much hatred and bloodshed in the world, there has to be something left, some sort of repercussive force and blowback.”

In the world of This Savage Song, monsters spawn from malicious deeds—the steeper the crime, the more dangerous the monster. As the monsters of Verity reveal themselves and their varying levels of destruction, cunning and violence, Kate and August begin to question everything they thought they knew about good and evil.

That’s the fun of it, Schwab says. “I feel so passionately about this book . . . and the freedom to write a YA novel that asks existential questions about humanity. It’s a risky book, but I think for the right people, they’ll see what they need to see in it . . . about what we can and can’t change and the difference between the two, and at what point we have to self-destruct or self-accept.”

That’s something Schwab has thought about a good deal in terms of her own life. She had a happy childhood and has always been independent, always off in her own world. “I definitely had a morbid streak,” she says. “I definitely hung my teddy bears from the stair railing, execution-style.”

She adds, “The first story I ever wrote was about the Angels of Life and Death. Death killed Life, and the whole world died. I was 8. It was the precursor to everything I write.”

Schwab says that early focus on death, and her interest in plumbing it in her work, stems from long-held fears about her father’s health. “He is Type 1 diabetic and has been for 60 years. [When I was a child,] I took it on myself to keep him alive. . . . I was hyper-vigilant of the people around me, especially my parents. The idea that if I wasn’t paying enough attention they could die made me observant to a fault.”

Plus, she says, “It also makes for a kind of god complex: If you just pay enough attention, you can keep all of the balls in the air. It’s the same as a writer: You become a little god in your own world.”

Although Schwab’s father was told he’d never see age 50, he’s now 67 and recently retired to a house in the French countryside with Schwab’s mother. The author is working on her next phase, too: She just purchased an apartment and is getting used to a new tattoo, a key that stretches down her forearm.

“I see writers as gatekeepers,” Schwab explains. “We provide the keys to these worlds and can’t control whether or not readers step through, but we can give them access.”

Fans will be glad to know there will be plenty more books to access, including adult novels and a follow-up for Kate and August.

“It’s nice to have job security,” Schwab says with a laugh. “And every time I sell a new book, I think about how I get to keep doing this thing I love.”
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