A Q&A with V.E. Schwab, Author of March/April Kids' Indie Next List Top Pick "Gallant"

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Independent booksellers across the country have chosen V.E. Schwab’s Gallant (Greenwillow Books) as their top pick for the March/April Kids’ Indie Next List.

Gallant follows Olivia Prior as she navigates our world — one full of life — and a world that mirrors it — haunted by death — and the strange Gothic manor that stands between them both.

“A family curse, a haunted house, and a shadow realm await Olivia Prior as she returns to her ancestral home, despite her mother’s ominous final warning,” said Matilda McNeely of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia. “A dark fantasy perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Melissa Albert. Not one to miss!”

Here, Schwab discusses her process with Bookselling This Week.

Bookselling This Week: Where did the idea for this story first come from?

V.E. Schwab: Stories so rarely come to me all at once. Instead, they are a basket of ingredients, gathered until I can figure out the meal they will make. Gallant came to me in pieces — a house, a locked door, an angry girl, a journal. For years I thought of it as a fairy tale, and then one day, I realized, it was an underworld tale, and that was the piece that turned the ingredients into a meal I wanted to cook.

BTW: How did you craft Olivia’s character?

VES: I wrote her as I write all my lead characters — for a version of myself. Fifteen-year-old me, to be precise, who was lonely, and angry, and didn’t have the words for everything she was feeling, couldn’t find a language for the things she was feeling. In Olivia, I wanted to explore the isolation and claustrophobia that comes with that communication gap, but also with the loneliness that that age brings, especially when you don’t know your own story.

BTW: The visual components of this book really stood out to me — whole pages are dedicated to bits of her mother’s journal and beautiful illustrations in ink. When you were writing, did you have these components in mind?

VES: Yes, the artwork and journal entries are integral to the story, and always have been. I knew from the start I wanted a visual component to the narrative, to show the different manifestations of voice on the page. I actually wrote up didactics for each piece of art, so that the brilliant artist, Manuel Šumberac, knew what elements needed to be present in each Rorschach-style piece. 

BTW: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process?

VES: This is actually the very first book I’ve ever written entirely in order. I found the ending first, as I always do, and outlined the beats, but normally I then write out of order, assembling the pattern as I go. With Olivia’s story, though, it’s so intimate, so close, I wanted to follow it linearly, so I actually wrote my way through the draft, until I reached the ending I had planned on the final page.

BTW: The book’s setting brings together all of my favorite gothic tropes: a sprawling, empty estate, a ruined mansion, ominous statues. What inspired you to write in this kind of world?

VES: I’ve always believed that setting is a character, a vital one to the story. Because of that, it’s often the first piece for me. I had the image of the Gallant estate in my head before the rest of the narrative. I love setting stories in single places like this, because they can be both haunting and claustrophobic. We become intimately familiar with the nuances of the place, but also feel trapped inside it. An estate is like a miniature world. 

BTW: On Instagram, you just announced an upcoming tour for Gallant. What are you most excited for?

VES: Honestly, I’m just terribly excited to see readers in person. I didn’t get to travel at all for my last novel, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and it’s made the entire creative journey feel even lonelier than usual. As introverted as I am, I miss the in-person interaction with readers so much.

BTW: Is there one thing you’d hope readers take away from this book?

VES: I hope it lingers. I hope it haunts them. I hope they find themselves thinking about it at odd times. I hope it makes them search for cracks in the world, and doors where there are none.

BTW: What role do indie bookstores play in your life?

VES: Honestly, I can’t even quantify it, except to say that whenever I find an indie bookstore, it feels like a doorway into a magical space, at once familiar and completely new. Every city I go to, it’s the first place I look. I’m incredibly grateful, to readers and booksellers alike, for giving this weird, dark, strange little book so much love.