Many people long to tell a story.
Say to any group, “I write books,” and at least half will respond that, one day, they plan to write one, too. One day, when they have the time. One day, when they have the focus. Some have even started, though few have gotten past the first chapter, or the third, or the fifth.
This isn’t meant as a judgement (the world needs far more readers than writers). I only mean to say that it is no small feat, to write a book. And if you want anyone to read said book, The End is only the beginning. Next, if one has opted to participate in traditional publishing, one must find an agent, a publisher. Then comes revisions, sometimes one round, sometimes half a dozen, all to ready the text for an audience, to earn that place on the shelves of a bookstore, and then, a reader’s home.
With so many obstacles between the first flutter of an aspiring author’s imagination and the final product, few stories get to live even a single life on shelves.
Almost none get to live two.
But The Near Witch has been afforded that luxury.
This is the book that, for me, began everything. It wasn’t the first one I wrote – that dubious honor belongs to the plot-less, acid trip of a story I created when I was nineteen and simply longed to discover if I was capable of holding a story in my head for more than a dozen pages, capable of finding The End.
But The Near Witch is the first book that found it’s way to shelves, to readers.
This, for those who don’t know, is a book about magic.
It is also a book about fear.
Specifically, about the fear of the inside toward the outside, the antagonism between those who belong, and those who don’t. Little did I know then that it would become a theme central to my work. That all my stories, from A Darker Shade of Magic to Vicious, The Archived to This Savage Song, would center on those who felt lost inside their own worlds, or found inside someone else’s. But at twenty-one, as a second semester senior at university, stealing hours in a coffee shop each night to write, and as a young adult on the cusp of graduation, and the unknown of life beyond school, I felt pressed between two chapters of my own life, and as if I belonged to neither.
That is the world in which this book was written.
It began with a crack, and a sputter, and a spark.
Those are the opening words of the book, but they could just easily apply to my career as an author. The Near Witch was a small book, quiet and strange at a time when everything that sold well was loud and vaguely familiar, and though I tried to shield the fragile candle of its life, it was only a matter of time before the wind of publishing blew through, and snuffed it out.
Fortunately, my own flame was more resilient. I kept writing, kept publishing, kept bolstering the fire until it burned hot enough that the seasonal gusts of this wonderful, but fickle industry served to stoke the fire instead of quash it.
Over the next seven years, I wrote fourteen novels. With each one, the readership grew, the books found their audience, a little more with every release, and as the years passed, people began to ask about the first story.
The spark started the fire.
It is bittersweet, to see a story wanted so long after it was gone, but I harbored a stubborn hope that one day, it would find its way back. Some part of me has been sheltering that matchstick ever since the flame went out.
And here we are.
Back at the beginning.
V.E Schwab, 2018