V.E. Schwab returns this fall with The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, a highly-anticipated novel years in the making. In 1714, Addie makes a deal with Luc, a mischievous god, to live forever. The catch is that she’ll be forgotten by everyone she meets…. until she crosses paths with Henry in 2014, a boy who works in a bookshop and somehow remembers her. In this spoiler-free interview, I chat with Schwab about the gorgeous cover, deromanticizing the creative process, and crafting stories with queer normalcy.
This cover is so beautiful. What was the design process like for you?
Covers, much like titles, rarely have simple journeys. The book was always called The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but the cover took a long time to find the right iteration of. This was a book that was going to branch out from my fantasy base to inch roots into literary and general fiction. Everyone on the team felt very aware of that and it became a process of figuring out which direction the cover could go in. I know the power of a cover; A Darker Shade of Magic was one of those books that every time I did a signing somebody brought up the fact that they’d never heard of the book, they’d stumbled across it in a bookstore and the cover drew them in. I wanted Addie’s cover to be a propulsive force rather than a hurdle.
It was a long time of looking at covers that looked very much like they would sell but didn’t feel like my book, or felt like my book but didn’t necessarily feel like the right market. Addie has so many elements to her story, which do you choose to emphasize? For me, the seven stars were important. Confession: I have a lot of tattoos and none of them are markers of any of my books, but I desperately wanted to get an Addie tattoo because of how long this story has been a part of my life. I think I emphasized how badly I wanted the constellation to be a part of the cover because I knew I was going to get the constellation tattoo and I wanted to have an official constellation.
It wasn’t the simplest journey to come to the cover but that said, it’s a stunner. I’ve been fighting for years to have a typography centric cover. It’s probably my favorite cover I’ve ever had.
This story has been with you for a long time. Is there anything that changed really dramatically when you finally sat down to write it?
Oh, it all changed. I opened the first document for Addie in 2011 and every couple of years I’d check back in with new notes. As authors, we write the same story over and over again in many ways. Sometimes a story comes along that you realize you’re only going to get to tell once. I knew this story was only going to get one manifestation, and I sat with it until I was the right version of myself.
The piece I was waiting for would come when I was almost 30. That’s when I hit the threshold that Henry is dealing with in the novel—the panic that comes with adulthood and feeling as though you’re a mile behind everyone else. That was the thing that I had been missing. I had this ennui, I had the history, I had the passion and what I didn’t have was the fear of time as a throughline and central theme in the narrative. I had it for Addie as the generator of her deal, but I needed it for everyone. Everyone in the book is lost and feels at odds in the framework of their world.
I don’t think I could’ve written this book at any other age and I’m very glad I didn’t try. There’s a chasm between the idea in your head and what ends up on paper. I was frightened of that chasm because the idea in my head was so important to me. I’m grateful that the book exists, but it was by no means a pleasant process. All of my insecurities and fears and hopes became so intrinsically connected to the themes within the book. Before I wrote it I was gripped by fear, while I was writing I was gripped by fear, and after I wrote it I was gripped by grief. There’s a massive hole in my life that had been filled for 10 years with Addie. I’m still grieving.
You’re really passionate about deromanticizing the creative process and being open about the challenges of being a writer. How did that influence the way you wrote about art and artists in this book?
I grew up with art. My undergraduate degree is in art and my graduate degree is in art history, and I tried to fold in all of those pieces. Everyone in the book is an artist in some way and I tried to provide artists in all of their manifestations: Sam lives and breathes it and is extraordinarily confident, Beatrice is an art historian trying to find herself, Robbie is a performance artist, Henry is a lost artist. What it came down to was this is a book about vulnerability. Creative vulnerability is uncomfortable, but it’s something I believe is absolutely intrinsic to the creative process. If you don’t self examine and don’t understand your strengths and weaknesses, it’s hard to get to the root of that in other people.
As Addie starts to realize she’s less human, we see just how wonderfully and painfully human Henry is. How did you go about striking that balance?
Henry was the greatest fear that I had going into the drafting process, which is funny because he’s my favorite part of the book now. When I was discussing the book with my editor the only part she wasn’t sold on was Henry because on paper he’s kind of a whiny white boy who comes from a privileged background. What I wanted to do with him is the same thing I try to do with male characters across all of my books: tap into the emotional and vulnerable side.
Rather than throw myself into Addie or Luc, I threw myself into Henry. I gave him all of my fears and he became who I would’ve been had I not found writing. Then I tried to find a way to make him feel ten times more human because his counterparts in the book were becoming less human. Henry’s rawness is, in the end, what I think people are going to be able to latch onto and see themselves in.
This is your first standalone since your debut The Near Witch. Was it refreshing to be able to tell the entire story in one novel, or did you find it challenging after your recent experiences spreading plotting over multiple books?
Every format has its own challenges and its own strengths. But I think there’s an elegance to a standalone and an immense pride in being able to tell that kind of story. Some stories are designed to be capsules.
I felt very free because I knew that I didn’t have any length requirements. I also knew I didn’t want to drag it out. I had no interest in making it a series. Because I waited to be the right age to write this book, I didn’t want to be a different age when I came back to it. That’s a weird thing to think about but books become static entities and people are still growing. You inevitably track that change over the course of a series. I’m working on Threads of Power now, which is the continuation of the Shades of Magic series, and I’m five years older. I have to surrender to the fact that I’m still growing as a creator, whereas in a standalone you’re immortalizing one period.
How did you go about figuring out the limits and loopholes of Addie’s curse?
Painstakingly. I wanted loopholes because the story’s not much fun without them. I had to conceive of what would make this cage more interesting. How do you bend the exact wording of the curse? Is there anything that Luc couldn’t have predicted? They became a reflection of Luc far more than Addie. Luc builds in loopholes that seem designed to push Addie to explore the full boundaries. The curse isn’t a sealed box; there are cracks and crevices and the loopholes almost taunt her to find them. You could make either argument that Luc could either be showing kindness or he could be a cat playing with a mouse.
There are references in the book to David Bowie (and the movie Labyrinth specifically), and as a reader, it felt as though you were really inspired by the movie when it came to Luc. Was that one of the key inspirations, and what else helped to influence his character?
One of the big questions in the book is: Is he the devil? I would argue that he’s not. He’s more of a mischief god. He’s a god of promise. The thing that binds Luc and Addie together is they’re both hedonists. They’re drawn to art, beauty, and culture. He sees himself as a passionate instigator of cultural reform, as a patron of art. I wanted to give him the affectations of someone who is indulgent—a little Oscar Wilde, a little David Bowie, and a little bit everyone who is the life of the party. He’s somebody who is dazzled by the beauty and potential in the world. That is not perpendicular to Addie. There is something about her love of life that draws Luc to her. I really see Luc and Addie as flipsides of the same coin. Luc is bending the hands of fate on so many lives, and Addie sets out to bend fate by influencing artists.
In the queer community, coming out often isn’t a one-time experience. It happens over and over again as you meet new people. Is there a parallel there with Addie, who needs to reintroduce herself over and over again?
That’s fascinating. I’m not sure I thought of that.
Queer representation was at the forefront of my mind. Coming out narratives are so important, but what excites me most is the idea of queer normalcy and having existence on the page without it having to be a plot point. I wanted queer representation at every corner in the novel—to see a tapestry that felt more like life.
But I do think that’s a really, really interesting allusion as someone who’s had to come out over and over again. I think I probably pulled Addie’s sheer exhaustion from that. You can tell it frays a little at her nerves and that’s my point of reference. I haven’t been forgotten in my entirety by anyone but I have had to have the same conversation it feels like over and over, sometimes with the same people. There are moments she decides she isn’t up for it again and it’s almost like a passive stepping back into the closet when you don’t have the energy to reinsert yourself into your own life.
Addie loves movies and books. Is there anything that’s come out since early 2016, when this book ends, that you’d want to share with Addie?
The thing about Addie is that she’s voracious, and nothing is a classic to her because she was there when everything happened. She loves stories, but after a while it’s the way she finds them that becomes new. The excitement for her is in the surprise. She’s definitely the one in the bookstore who would take the wrapped blind date with a book.
The best movie I saw in the last year was Parasite. I think she’d be fascinated by the way the story’s told.
That’s a great answer. I’d love to read her reaction to The Handmaiden.
Oh my god yes! Hands down. I’d say The Handmaiden and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Unlike most of Henry’s group, I don’t think Addie is super precious. She’s an equal opportunity consumer of art, and I think she’d be just as likely to watch those as the Marvel movies and The Umbrella Academy.
There is such power and excitement to the end of Addie’s story. This is not a series, but I already know that readers will be asking if you plan on writing more about these characters.
All readers know the feeling of a book hangover, so you can only imagine the size of mine as the author. The greatest difficulty as an author is understanding the difference between what you need and what you want. You fail as a writer writing a standalone if the reader finishes the book and feels as if they needed more. But you don’t fail if they simply wanted to know what happened next.
What books would recommend readers pick up next?
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune—I love it, but I love it even more for what it is against 2020, which is to say it’s a very wholesome, joyful, beautiful book. I just finished A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, and that was wonderful and a fabulous start to a new series. I can’t wait to see where she goes with it. Now I’m reading Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender and really enjoying it.
Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including the acclaimed Shades of Magic series, Villains series, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post and more, translated into more than a dozen languages, and has been optioned for television and film. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, she lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and is usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.