I get a lot of books to potentially blurb these days, and I’d love to hug and squeeze each book to my bosom and blurb them unabashedly, but I’m a slow-ass reader. And already writing four books in the next 12 months. So, when Tor said, “Hey, maybe you blurb this book?” and they waved Victoria Schwab’s book Vicious at me, I told them the same thing I tell everyone else: if I have time, and if I really love it. And I expected neither of those things would come true. I was wrong. So wrong. It was one of those books I opened, and it was like a hand around my neck that yanked me into the story. (My blurb, by the way: “An epic collision of super-powered nemeses. The writing and storycraft is Schwab’s own superpower as this tale leaps off the page in all its dark, four-color comic-book glory.”) Vicious comes out next week. You want to read this.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I have no idea. It’s always the first question asked and it usually leads to “Oh god, who AM I?” and that leads to drinking…tea, of course. But existential crises aside, I’m the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. I’m a 26-year-old superwholockian who likes to write about dark things. I have two YA books on shelves right now (THE NEAR WITCH, about a village where children start to disappear, and THE ARCHIVED, about a library of the dead) and my first adult novel, a supervillain origin story called VICIOUS, hits shelves this week!
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Two pre-med students discover the key to superpowers—near-death experiences—and set out to create their own abilities. It doesn’t end well.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
I’ve always wanted to write about superpowers, but VICIOUS actually started out as someone else’s story. Originally, this guy with superpowers came to this city called Merit and was recruited by two rival groups, one that called themselves heroes, and the other that called themselves villains simply because they were on the other side. In writing about those two groups, I became fascinated by two things: 1) the leaders of the respective groups, Victor and Eli, and why they hated each other, and 2) the idea that the labels hero and villain had nothing to do with whether these people were good or bad. They were just opposed.
Everything else got trashed and I started again, this time looking at Victor and Eli and how they got to be arch-nemeses, how Eli came to be thought of as a hero, making Victor automatically the villain. I wanted to explore what happens when you take the meaning out of those words. Who do you root for?
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
It’s pretty sick and twisted, that dark funny where you feel like maybe you shouldn’t be laughing, and I think that’s very much my own personality coming through. Also I studied hero/villain archetypes in college, and have always been fascinated with the gray between, the Anti. And my editor and I joke that Victor is my sociopathic supervillain alter ego, so this book is pretty much made up of me. But most of all, at its heart, this book is me because it’s mine. I wrote it over the course of two years, in between other deadlines, and I did it entirely for me. It was everything I wanted as a reader and as a writer, and while I’m so very excited to now be sharing it with others, it is more mine than anything else I’ve ever written.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING VICIOUS?
Coming off of THE ARCHIVED, which is an intensely emotional book, I’m used to giving emotional answers, about having to live out my characters’ grief, etc. But VICIOUS is in many ways a purposefully unemotional book. Our main character, Victor, is a sociopath. There is a level of remove (it’s not the kind, hopefully, that makes you as a reader care less, everything just has a careful distance), and so the hardest part of writing a book was, for once, not the emotional component.
The hardest thing about VICIOUS was making the craft element feel invisible, effortless. From a construction standpoint, the book is a puzzle. It’s a braided narrative, five POVs—two main, two secondary, and one tertiary—twisting across a decade-long window. Making it move the way it needs to was no small feat. And then there was the actual logic between the superpowers. No radioactive goo for me. I wanted a medical foundation that was intuitive and compelling, something the reader could see actually happening. Those two components (I know, I cheated and said two, but we can put them under the craft blanket) were the hardest.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING VICIOUS?
That the trick is not in finding ways to kill characters, but in finding ways to bring them back in one piece.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT VICIOUS?
I love that even though there are no heroes, you will root for someone. I love that even though it’s emotionally detached, you will care about the characters. I love that after almost three years with these characters, I still love them. It is the only thing I’ve EVER written that I re-read for fun, and because I miss them.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
“The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words. “I’ll go first.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
The second book in my ARCHIVED series, THE UNBOUND, comes out in January, I have a Middle Grade series about a Doctor Who/Peter Pan-esque guardian angel—EVERYDAY ANGEL—kicking off with Scholastic next summer, and a brand new adult book full of magic and Londons (yes, plural) and cross-dressing pirates hitting shelves next fall. If I finish writing it in time. I guess I should get back to work!