THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LaRUE
by V. E. Schwab
(Tor Books; Illustrated Edition, October 2020)
Exclusive Authorlink interview
by Anna Roins
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever – and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab’s genre-defying tour de force.
AUTHORLINK: Ms Schwab, it’s such a delight to chat with you today at Authorlink about Addie LaRue and your work in general. With this book, you tried to move out of the fantasy genre and into more of an adult literary space. This can be tricky at the best of times, but with Covid hitting at the time of publication, this must have been particularly challenging.
What are your observations about the differences in way this book was promoted and received?
” It’s been a strange and humbling journey, to be sure.”
SCHWAB: It’s been a strange and humbling journey, to be sure. Addie was a decade in the making, and while I knew in my heart I’d told the story I wanted to tell, once I finally got it down on paper, I also knew that the gears of publishing and readership so often spin beyond the realms of an author’s control. So to see this book embraced, across genre lines, to see it find its way into book clubs, and intergenerational reading groups, and college spheres, to see it find its home on so many shelves, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever known, and am likely to ever know again. So I’m doing my best just to savour the strangeness of this success, and not get too used to it 😉
AUTHORLINK: You should get used to it! In June of last year, you appeared in conversation with one of your heroes (and ours!) Neil Gaiman on Crowdcast during Macmillan’s TorCon and Neil ended up endorsing Addie LaRue. How did that feel? Were you expecting this? Were you able to pick his brains for any writing tips? Did he pick yours?
SCHWAB: It was one of the most surreal and flattering things that’s happened in my career thus far. I first met Neil as a fan 10 years ago, but over the past decade I have looked to Neil for inspiration and advice. He’s an incredibly genuine and generous person. It’s a dream, to have an idol become a mentor, and I’m grateful for every chance I get to speak with him about stories and liminal spaces and fantasy that takes place between worlds.
AUTHORLINK: You’ve been born under a lucky star. We understand Addie LaRue is the closest version of an idea in your head to be metamorphosized into a book and that you had the kernel of the idea when you were 23, only to finish it nine years later. You realised in the process that it’s not a story about a deal with the devil, but about “the loneliness of feeling like life is passing too fast,” with which we can all relate. Would you kindly expand on this?
“…I grew through my twenties, into my thirties, and was plagued by a persistent fear: of disappearing.”
SCHWAB: Sure. I knew right away that I wanted to tell a story about a Faustian bargain—that part came easily. The next 8-9 years were spent getting to know Addie, and Luc, and Henry. Over that time, I grew through my twenties, into my thirties, and was plagued by a persistent fear: of disappearing. I’d blink, and time would go so fast, and no matter how much I had to show for it, it never felt like enough. And over the years, that’s what the story became about. A universal fear.
AUTHORLINK: We can relate to that. Wait till you reach 51! Addie LaRue is set in Paris and New York and plunges into a 300- year history setting the contemporary scenes in 2014. We understand this was deliberate because you wanted it to be set before Trumpian politics. Can you elaborate on this?
SCHWAB: Haha, well, I think it’s safe to say that while every time period is rife with its own history, the American landscape has changed drastically in the last 5 years, sometimes for better, but often for worse. Telling a story as expansive as Addie’s already requires choosing which pieces make it onto the page. I used art to guide her through history. She has a nuclear life, one defined by the small more than the large, and I didn’t want to lose that. Plus I lived in NYC the year she did, and I wanted to pay homage to the city as I came know it then.
AUTHORLINK: Lovely. Out of Addie, Luc, Henry, or the other characters, it is Henry that you most associate as being based on an actual person. You said, “… but that person is me, or at least, who I would have been if I hadn’t found writing.” (Los Angeles Public Library, 12 November 2020). Would you kindly elaborate?
SCHWAB: Henry is in many ways autobiographical. I struggle with the same mental space he does. I faced the same indecision and fears of inadequacy, the same sense that by choosing to live one life I’m missing out on a hundred others. It’s just the very specific—and yet universal—paralysis of growing up as an introspective and sensitive person.
AUTHORLINK: Addie has been described as a “hedonist, a self-interested independent entity”, and a character that might simultaneously be called “an unlikeable female character” and/or “a strong female character”. (TorCom, 7 October 2020) How well have critics and your readers responded to Addie?
SCHWAB: On the whole, people have loved, or at least appreciated Addie. And it’s funny, because I can say “she’s not for everyone,” but what realistic person is?? And it’s not a standard we ever hold to male characters. For some reason women have to be reducible.
AUTHORLINK: Hmm. Good point! Addie also enjoys art and culture, and refinement. You structured her lifespan along the path of cultural development in the Western world. How long did it take you to research the art history for your book? Were there any interesting facts you discovered along the way that were not included, that you might like to share with us?
SCHWAB: Addie involved an incredible amount of research for the background tapestry, but it’s still very much a work of fiction. While she follows the course of Western art, the works of art themselves are all fictional.
AUTHORLINK: Interesting. Have you had the same editors since the start of your career at 21? How did you convince your editors to publish to a different audience, YA/middle-grade to adult? Or did they persuade you?
SCHWAB: Nope. And I have separate houses for MG, YA, and Adult, so it’s never about convincing an editor to let me change directions. It’s about making space for where I want to go.
AUTHORLINK: Brilliant. You also felt upon finishing Addie LaRue that if you never wrote another book again, you would be okay – in the legacy you wanted to leave. (Explore Entertainment, 21 September 2020). Do you have another book waiting in the side-lines that has materialised in the same way? What are you working on now?
SCHWAB: I don’t have a book like Addie. I’m not sure I ever will again. But I am always working, and though my next several books are not at all like Addie LaRue, they’re all still very much me. From the third book in the Villains series, to the next arc in the Shades of Magic world to the book I have coming out next spring, which will hopefully be announced soon.
AUTHORLINK: Great, looking forward to them. How long does it take you to write your books? How many times do you proofread and then edit? Who is your first reader? How many times does your agent then go through your books? How many times does your editor?
“I edit as I’m drafting, and then again, 3-4 times with my editor…”
SCHWAB: Questions like this are hard because they assume there’s a formula, a standard, and there’s not. My books take anywhere from 3 months to 10 years (actual numbers). I edit as I’m drafting, and then again, 3-4 times with my editor (my agent doesn’t read early unless I ask her, because I have strong creative relationships with my editors). My mum and my beta reader, Patricia, see the words first.
AUTHORLINK: Oh, yeah mum! Speaking of which, how do you feel when you read constructive criticism or feedback? Do you take it on the chin or draw the curtains and lie in bed all day…Ha ha?
SCHWAB: It really depends who it’s coming from, doesn’t it? I can’t give every voice the same weight, especially since what one reader loves, another hates, and every opinion in between. But when it comes to feedback from my agent and editors and creative team, I like to think I’m pretty good. It comes down to the simple understanding that once a book is on shelves, you can’t make it any better, so it’s always worth doing the work along the way.
AUTHORLINK: On the trajectory of your career, did you ever have a crisis of confidence despite your fantastic success? Did you struggle to write or ever feel like you’re not good enough? How do you think you have evolved as a writer?
“…the first hurdle my inner creative has to overcome is my inner critic, and she’s ruthless.”
SCHWAB: Many, and often. Most recently this morning. Every time I sit down to write, the first hurdle my inner creative has to overcome is my inner critic, and she’s ruthless. I hope I’ve evolved with every book. Maybe not always in one direction, more like a stain, spreading out from the point of impact.
AUTHORLINK: Fascinating. We are so excited to hear about the recent announcement of the film adaptation of Addie LaRue is on the way (for which you have penned the script). How did that come about, and do you know who is going to be playing which characters?
SCHWAB: I knew that I wanted a crack at the screenplay, because I’d spent so long with the characters, I knew that I was the one person who would understand them best. Plus, Hollywood is so fickle, and things fall apart so easily—at least this way I’d know that Addie had the best shot *I* could give her. As for details, Hollywood makes Publishing look FAST. Which is to say, I don’t have anything I can share right now.
AUTHORLINK: Okay! 😊 And now to finish off our chat with some fun Proust-like questions…
- What book would you most like to see turned into a movie or TV show that hasn’t already been adapted?
- Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
- What character from literature would you most like to play?
- Sherlock Holmes
- What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
- Broken (In the Best Way) by Jenny Lawson
- The last book that made you cry?
- I honestly can’t remember.
AUTHORLINK: Terrific! Ms Schwab, it’s been so wonderful talking to you today! We thank you for your time and look forward to reading more of your fantastic stories.
SCHWAB: Thank you so very much for having me.
About the Author: Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”
You can find out more about Victoria Schwab at https://www.facebook.com/veschwab, https://www.veschwab.com/, https://twitter.com/veschwab, https://veschwab.tumblr.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/veschwab/
About Anna Roins: Anna Roins is a Senior Lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist.
She has studied creative literature at The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors. She also tries to write novels in her spare time, reviews books and writes community pieces for reputable online and print publications.