In 2020, I noticed a massive buzz surrounding a certain book—The Invisible Life of Addie Larue. V.E. Scwhab’s novel hadn’t even come out yet, and it already seemed like the book of the year. Of course, I had to test the buzz, so I grabbed my copy as soon as it hit the shelves. And boy, was the buzz right!
Part literary fiction, part fantasy, Addie Larue was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 43 weeks and sold more than 1 million copies in its first year. For me, the novel changed my outlook on writing and my definition of a good book—so when I saw that Schwab was releasing a new novel soon, I knew I had to read it.
Gallant does not disappoint. From the very beginning, I found myself sucked in by the quirkiness of the story and the characters, and the pure poetry of Schwab’s language, the same literary style that made Addie Larue so successful.
When a young non-verbal girl who sees ghouls discovers she has an uncle, after living her whole life in an orphanage, everything changes. With nothing but her late mother’s journal to accompany her, she starts a new life at Gallant, her family’s ancestral manor, hoping to understand the secrets of her mother’s past. But the young girl discovers too late her mother’s dire warning—stay away from Gallant at all costs. Gallant is not just her family’s manor—but a doorway to a shadow world that her family, and her mother, have gone mad to keep closed.
I’m thrilled to share this chat with Schwab about Gallant and her best writing advice.
HT: You write so well in an impressive mix of styles, tones, and genres—screenplays, comics, and graphic novels—for a wide range of age groups. What motivates you to switch it up so often? And how does your creative process for novels like Gallant compare to your process for creating a comic? Do you follow a similar route to outline your plot and discover your characters, or do you use completely different methods?
VS: Honestly, the motivation to change things up is two-fold: the first reason is so that I don’t get bored! I sit with stories for months if not years before anyone else ever sees them, so I want to make sure I’m challenging myself and having fun. The second reason is so that my work isn’t easily comparable to itself. I don’t want readers to be able to hold up two of my works and make an apples-to-apples comparison. My creative process, however, doesn’t change, no matter if I’m writing a single POV linear novel like Gallant or a multiple-POV, multiple-timeline story like Shades of Magic. I always find the ending first, and then work toward that.
The main character Olivia in Gallant is non-verbal, and only communicates through sign language or drawing. In what ways do you think that removing her physical voice allowed you to express her voice in different ways? What features of her character were you able to focus on and bring out? What were the challenges?
It’s interesting, because there was never a version of Olivia in my mind that was verbal—she was always as she is. It certainly provided creative challenges, since dialogue is traditionally such a large part of my work, and I also knew I didn’t want to write the book in first-person because then when it was narrated, someone would be giving Olivia a verbal voice. But I wanted to explore the various ways a voice takes shape, and remind a verbal audience that just because non-verbal is unspoken, it doesn’t mean silent.
And finally, you are a major inspiration to aspiring young writers like me. What’s your advice for those of us starting out?
I think the best advice I can give is this: find an ending that excites you, and write toward it. The main reason writers abandon projects is because they don’t know where they’re going, or the distance isn’t measurable. But if you have an ending that excites you, then on good days, you can’t wait to write, and on bad days, you won’t quit because you know there’s an end.
Gallant is available now! Go to IndieBound to get your copy at a local independent bookstore.
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.”