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July 7, 2016

An Evening with Victoria Schwab, Author of THIS SAVAGE SONG

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Yesterday, Teenreads.com’s Rebecca Munro and I attended the launch party for THIS SAVAGE SONG by Victoria Schwab at Books of Wonder here in NYC. It was actually Victoria’s birthday, so once again happy birthday! Someone gave her a body pillow of one of her characters --- Kel from A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC --- which was hysterical.

First, here are some fun facts to know about Victoria Schwab: she is a Slytherin and identifies with Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones (she was particularly obsessed with Cersei's armored dress from the recent season finale). She also changed her college major six times; she started out as an astrophysics major and graduated with a BA in graphic design. She wrote THIS SAVAGE SONG while getting her Masters in Monstrosity in Medieval Art.

THIS SAVAGE SONG is Victoria’s 11th published novel to date and is her second book published in six months, which is just remarkable. I recently read one of her books --- A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC --- which is technically an adult novel but I recommend it to YA readers. Victoria’s writing is incredible; her world building and character development alone makes it a must read.

When asked to explain this newest novel, Victoria said, “I write between the lines; between life and death, good and evil, human and monster.” There are different kinds of monsters in THIS SAVAGE SONG, but what is unique is that they were all created by humans. Her exploration of the lines between polar opposites spawned this concept of “violence starts breeding monsters.” The Corsai are born from violent, but nonlethal acts and they survive on flesh and bone. The Malchai are born from murders and they survive on blood. Finally, there are the Sunai who are born from mass tragedy and survive on only the souls of the guilty. August --- one of the main characters --- is a Sunai and has to deal with wanting to change who and what he is. For Victoria, THIS SAVAGE SONG is a very personal book and she explained right away that she is still learning how to talk about it, especially with it being published so recently.

I found the inspiration behind the three monsters to be fascinating. Victoria stated that she “doesn’t write anything that is established from any existing mythos.” So she may write about witches in THE NEAR WITCH and ghosts in THE ARCHIVED, but she made sure that she created her own type of witches and her own version of an afterlife. In THIS SAVAGE SONG, she wanted to write monsters nots as the stereotypes that you recognize, but instead as an exploration of the archetypal monsters. She decided on three supernatural creatures to inspire her monsters: demons, vampires and angels. The demons became the Corsai and the vampires became the Malchi. It was most interesting to hear her explain the Sunai and their angelic basis. The Sunai can only survive on consuming the guilty and because of that some may see them as good, whilst inherently they are born from the worst horror. The naming of the monsters came from taking a blank pad and writing things down until they sound nice. Victoria has a background in poetry so it was important the names have a lyrical quality.

I personally love to write creatively and connected so much to what Victoria had to say about her characters. For Victoria, “Every characters is [her]; every hero and villain has aspects of [herself]." Delilah Bard, for example, is who she wants to be and Holland is her worst parts [from A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC]. She compared it to being a form of catharsis. When you write it is easy to assume that these characters are just simply acts of your imagination, but so often you realize that each character is a different exploration of an aspect of yourself. Kate and August from THIS SAVAGE SONG are explorations of anxiety, which she herself deals with. At the end of the day, Victoria writes for herself first and then when it is published it becomes something for other people to enjoy as well.

Kate from THIS SAVAGE SONG was the hardest character for Victoria to write to date. THIS SAVAGE SONG is now written in third person with dual perspective, but when she first started writing August’s voice came to her straight away in first person. Victoria knew that she wanted to have Kate’s point of view, but she didn’t want to speak and was difficult to connect to. So she made the decision to switch to third person. For Victoria, she prefers to write more emotive male characters because it is so rare in literature to see. Her “ladies on the other hand are Slytherins who don’t talk.” She is currently writing book two in this series and is still trying to get Kate to talk.

Emotions --- especially negative ones --- inspire Victoria’s books, specifically darkness. All of her books are about outsiders and feeling like you don’t belong, because all of her books in some way are about her. In THIS SAVAGE SONG, Kate is a girl who is so lost that she will cut out her own soul to belong. She has an abusive family --- specifically her father --- and yet he is all she has. Kate feels that anything is better than being invisible; in other words, mattering as a villain is better than not mattering as a hero. Kate acts a juxtaposition to August, who is a monster. Victoria liked playing with this theme of change, where one of the characters can change and one can’t. Kate can become a monster, but August can never become human.

Victoria says that all of her books have been "blessed by the cover gods" because they are all gorgeous. It is really funny that Victoria comes from a graphic design background herself. She finds it interesting that readers rarely realize that an author doesn’t have much say in their covers. The only thing an author has full control over is the words on the page --- even the summary is not in the author's control. All of the reasons a reader picks up the book: cover, jacket copy and back cover; are not her words or final decisions. She was really happy that THIS SAVAGE SONG’s cover has no face on it, no girl in a dress and no girl or boy on it, period. She likes that it is objects, which doesn’t narrow who this book is for or what it is about.

If you haven’t seen Victoria’s calendar on Instagram then you are missing out! It is a neurotic organizer’s dream. She fully believes in tiny successes so she uses colored star stickers to record her daily writing, editing, reading, travel and exercise. While it may seem like she is a fast writer with 11 published books, she is actually pretty slow --- but she is consistent. Victoria would rather be creative in some way working on an idea than be extremely prolific one day to only suffer from burnout the next. The most she has ever written in one day was 5,000 words, but she had trouble getting back to writing after it. It is always difficult to hear readers say that they read one of her books in a day when it took her so long to write it. THE NEAR WITCH, her first novel, took two months to write because she dedicated two hours every day while a senior in college finishing up her graphic design degree. Her advice is to write the endings first because without an end in sight it is easy to lose motivation to get there.

Victoria challenges herself to read 100 to 125 books a year. I make a similar Goodreads goal every year and then fall miserably short come December. She is a big fan of Leigh Bardugo and thinks that Caz from SIX OF CROWS would be great friends with Delilah from A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC. She is eagerly awaiting the release of CROOKED KINGDOM. She is a Neil Gaiman mega-fan and is very excited for the AMERICAN GODS television adaptation. She is currently binge reading Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer Series.

So, what’s next for Victoria Schwab? The third book in her Shades of Magic Series,  A CONJURING OF LIGHT, comes out on February 21st of 2017. She is currently writing the sequel to THIS SAVAGE SONG.