We chat with V. E. Schwab about her latest book, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which covers 300 years figuring out the true meaning of life and death, freedom and immortality—plus, we dip into writing, reading, and coping with the current state of the world. Read our conversation below.
FULLY BOOKED: Welcome back, Ms. Schwab! I don't know if you remember but back in 2016, we had you over for Author Spotlight, and in that conversation, you mentioned that one of your back-burner projects is "a love story between a French girl and the devil over 300 years." Six years later and we now have The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Can you tell us about the journey of this story? What first sparked the idea? What was the last six years like, from back-burner to new release shelf?
V. E. SCHWAB: It’s so surreal to be talking about this book in the present instead of the future. It’s been such a long and winding path from concept to reality, a journey that started on a hike in the Lake District when I was early my 20’s (I was standing on the top of a hill, at once surrounded by the vast wild world, and entirely alone), and then continued in the backdrop of every other book I’ve written. While she spent so many years in the back of my mind, she was never fully out of my thoughts. Addie has been a constant companion on my travels, and I’m both so sad my time with her is over, and everyone else’s is just beginning.
Addie LaRue is an extraordinary journey through space and time—from 18th century France to modern-day New York City. What led you to choose these two cities, these two points in time? What usually inspires the worlds you build?
I have always been fascinated by large cities, the ways in which they’re constantly changing, the idea that even if you spent your whole life in one, you’d never learn all of its secrets. On top of that, every city has its own spirit, its own color palette and musical score and energy, and NYC and Paris are cities with very different but similarly magical energies. NYC is new and vibrant, Paris is old, and elegant. In a way, NYC is Henry, and Paris is the Devil, and Addie exists and makes herself at home in both. As for time, 300 years seemed like the perfect span of time—long enough to live vibrantly, experience history and be exhausted by it, while still holding onto the idea there’s more to see.
In a way, Addie simultaneously gains and loses life after her Faustian deal—to live forever but to never leave a mark, a warped version of the freedom she desires. Can you tell us more about how you came up with the details of this deal? Especially highlighting the power of a name by taking it away?
I wanted a catch. I love immortality tales, but so often the immortal succumbs to existential ennui, and seems unhappy with their lot. But Addie always has a way out—she just has to give up, admit defeat—so it became a matter of designing the young woman who would be able to survive and thrive despite her curse. She starts out fueled by spite, but spite doesn’t sustain, so it becomes a tale of stubborn hope. The question becomes, how do you leave a mark in a world that doesn’t remember you? And Addie is determined to find a way.
There is a moment in Addie's long life when she realizes that she could have gotten the freedom she longed for easily, if only she were a man, and she encapsulates it in a powerful line: "Freedom is a pair of trousers and a buttoned coat." Can you tell us more about your exploration of true freedom and autonomy, particularly a woman's autonomy, in the story?
Absolutely! Immortal stories tend to focus on men, and become narratives of bon vivants, of independence, and loneliness, but there’s never a question of autonomy. But when you put a woman in the same position, you don’t liberate them in the same way. Addie is still a woman at a time when women aren’t afforded independence, when their bodies and their persons are still seen as possessions, so Addie not only has to fight against her curse, she has to fight for her own autonomy and agency against the backdrop of the changing world.
The captivating thing about Addie LaRue is that the devil—the darkness—despite being an old god, feels so familiar and at home in our current world. Anything in particular that inspired the creation of this character?
I always knew that my “devil” was going to be an older iteration of the concept, something co-opted by modern religion. I wanted him to feel more grounded, more natural, and more adaptable. So I got to wonder, how does he fold in, how does he stand out. I made him, in some ways, an abusive boyfriend. He’s certainly the toxic component in their relationship. One of the things I love about polytheism—designs of the world with multiple gods instead of one omnipotent one—is that when you strip away the burn of omnipotence, gods get to be flawed. I wanted to make Luc flawed—I wanted him to be jealous and fickle and spoiled, and by extension make him feel more human.
For you, what is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest?
The hardest part is realizing the idea in my head, dragging it out of my mind, where it’s perfect potential, and putting it down on paper, real and realized and inherently flawed.
I’m not sure there’s an easy part, but the most natural/enjoyable for me are the actual word choices.
If not writing, what career do you think you'd have right now?
I think I’d probably be a hostage negotiator. Or a criminal profiler. Or an astrophysicist.
What are you currently reading? What's on your to-be-read list?
I’m currently halfway through THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett, and I just finished BLACK SUN by Rebecca Roanhorse, both of which are wonderful. Up next is GROWN by Tiffany Jackson.
Anything down the pipeline we can look forward to? Maybe we can look back on this after another six years!
So many things, and so few I can talk about! I don’t have another ADDIE in the pipeline—but who knows in another 6 years—but I do have the next arc in the Shades of Magic series, called Threads of Power, and a third book in the Villains world, and two projects I’m very excited to talk more about soon.
Any advice for writers on how to cope with the current state of the world?
Honestly, I’d say we have to take a page from Addie’s book. We are all of us stranded in a kind of eternal present right now. There are so many questions, so much uncertainty. Many of us are feeling lost, lonely, unmoored, and trying to create in those circumstances can feel impossible. I try to make the challenges as small as possible. Don’t try to write a book, just try to write a line. Remember, all stories happen one word at a time.
Get your copy of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab at Fully Booked Online.