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Thursday, April 19, 2012

SBT12: Guest Post: The “Small Town” Feel by Victoria Schwab


Southern Book Tour 2012

Y’all, one of my first Southern-bookish experiences was going to the Ash2Nash Tour in Spartanburg.  Beth Revis, Myra McEntire, & Victoria Schwab organized several stops from Ashville, NC to Nashville, TN to promote their books.  My wife was unable to attend, but asked me to go in her stead.  She was really excited about The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (see her review here) and wanted to get a copy signed.  Being there and hearing these Southern authors tell their stories, share their inspirations, was amazing.  I feel as if I “know” them and are close friends with them.  I bought Beth’s and Myra’s books, had them autographed as well, and the rest is history in the making.

This long introduction is simply to say that I am super excited to have my close personal friend [lol] Victoria on the blog today, sharing how her small-town upbringing helped create the setting of The Near Witch.

It's porch gossip on a Saturday morning, sidelong looks and sometimes outright stares, "what brings you to these parts?" and "just passing through?" with the raised or knitted brows that suggest you should be.
Growing up in the south, but not being from the south, I found myself constantly straddling the line between insider and outsider. I had picked up many of the cultural tells, but not the linguistic ones. I knew politeness as a social construct, and even said y'all, but never with an accent. I attended an all girls prep school where nine out of ten students were debutantes, and my mother played cards with women who referred to their local Methodist branch as simply The Church. Much as loved my city, I was perpetually aware of the fact that I'd never fully belong.

Even though The Near Witch is a fairy tale set in a village on the English moors, in some ways it could have easily been set in a small town in the south.

One of the major themes in the book is that relationship between insider and outsider. The village creates divides between those who belong, and those who don't, and it's not always a matter of who lives there and who doesn't. The stranger, Cole, is an outsider in the most obvious way, appearing on the moors one night, but the main character, Lexi, has lived in Near all her life, and she doesn't belong either. Growing up in the south would come to inform the village of Near more than I would ever anticipate.

I played it up, obviously, transformed the experience into a more archetypal one for the sake of fairy tale. The subtle divide between insider and outsider became a physical one, a line between humans and non-humans, and between those who fit into the world, who share the ideals and the fears, and those who don't. The insular feel of the small town became a literal isolation, Near existing in a sea of hills, cut off from any and everything else. The careful curiosity toward outsiders became distrust and outright hostility.

I'd always wanted to write a fairy tale where the setting was as much as character as any person in the book, and Near is that, a twisted, fairy tale version of a small town in the south.

But if it seems like I'm being too hard on southern small town living, I promise, I give Near the chance every community has. A chance to change. To grow. In the real world, it's often easier. Battles don't always have to be fought, worlds saved, days won. But in The Near Witch, where the stakes are higher, the outsiders have to drastically impact their world to even have a chance at becoming part of it.

About the book

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. 

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger — a boy who seems to fade like smoke — appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

About the author

I am the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, I have been known to say "tom-ah-toes", "like", and "y'all". But since this is about what I write and not how I pronounce my a's, I will say that I tell stories.
I love fairy tales, and folklore, and books that make me wonder if the world is really as it seems. I love writing about doors, and places between, and the cracks where reality slips into something darker, stranger, and invariably more interesting.
I grew up on the west coast, but went to high school in the south, an all girls' prep school complete with plaid skirts I used to doodle on during math.
I went to Washington University in St. Louis, where I changed course SIX times (and would have done it a seventh time, but my family and advisors said you couldn't switch majors in your last semester). I went from Physics, to Film, to Set Design, to Art History, to English, to Communication Design.
Job-wise, I have been a clerk in a department store, where I met a very nice Erotica writer while re-hanging bras. I have been an assistant caterer and a personal chef. Because of this, I bake some mean chocolate chip cookies, can plate hors d'oeuvres, and know how to make twirling napkin towers. I was a dog daycare attendant for a few summers, and have the scars to prove it. In college, I worked in a bookstore, where I never made ANY money because I spent every check feeding my book-buying habit.
And now, I am an author. That's still really fun to say, and I feel like I need to fact-check myself just to make sure it's true.



In honor of the upcoming release of The Near Witch paperback, I’m giving away a copy (well, preorder, really).  Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. It's INTERNATIONAL, as long as the Book Depository ships to your country!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. OOH I wanted to go to Ash2Nash in Asheville. So. Far. Away. Lucky you Richard!

    I've heard so many things about this book, every one of them good. And yet I've never read it. Why? - I don't know.

    I love, love, love setting-as-character! I'm happy to see that The Near Witch has a little of that because it'll make me want to read it even more. (Also I love the part of the Bio that says "Because of this, I have been known to say "tom-ah-toes", "like", and "y'all".")

    1. I actually went to the stop in Spartanburg, SC!

  2. Fabulous post, Richard! :) I really, really love Victoria, she's a wonderful lady with a personality that is both very cheerful and magnetic :) Needless to say, I would LOVE to win a paperback of The Near Witch, so thank you SO MUCH for hosting this! It's so exciting that you got to go to the event - it's one of those that I always regret not being able to attend ;_; So sorry your wife couldn't go with you, I'm sure she would have loved to be there, too! Especially with such a brilliant bunch of authors! Ooooh! I can only imagine :)

    Thanks for the guest post - Victoria's fabulous writing shines through even in a short piece like that. I love the idea behind the story - outsiders, insiders and trying to break through the invisible wall that divides them. Can't wait to read more! Thank, Richard!


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