V. E. Schwab Made 'First Kill' In Reaction to Genre That 'Didn't Love' Her

V. E. Schwab wrote the short story First Kill in reaction to the way the fantasy genre "didn't always love her" while growing up, the author has told Newsweek.

The story follows teens Juliette Fairmont and Calliope Burns, who fall in love with each other. There's only one problem: Juliette is a vampire and Calliope comes from a long line of monster hunters—and both are out for their first kill.

First Kill has now been adapted by Netflix, and for Schwab it was important for her to create a story that had LGBTQ+ representation but didn't make the characters' sexual identity the main facet of the story—something she hopes will help queer kids feel seen in a way she didn't.

First Kill Netflix
Left: Imani Lewis and Sarah Catherine Hook in "First Kill", Right: V.E. Schwab, the author of the short story the show is based on. Schwab spoke to Newsweek about the process of adapting her story. Netflix/V.E Schwab

"I'm so excited [for people to see First Kill]," Schwab told Newsweek. "The whole reason that I wrote this is because I grew up on genre, I grew up on Buffy and Supernatural and Charmed, and I grew up loving these spaces that didn't always love me.

"I often say that I think if I had seen myself, if I really connected with characters on screen in central roles [and] I'd seen myself, it might not have taken me an extra decade to figure out I was gay.

"And so I'm really excited to be part of creating a show that gets to live in that space, and also tells queer kids, 'hey, you get to take up space in a story that's not about being queer.'

"That is something I still just don't feel like we have a lot of. I feel like we're getting better and better at having more narratives, but the vast majority of those narratives are still saying 'okay, the queer kids can be the main characters if the story is about their queerness,' you know?

"What if I just want to be a monster hunter? My queerness is 10 percent of my personality most days why does it have to be 100 percent onscreen?

"So that, to me, is probably the thing I'm most proud of [about First Kill], is that it's campy and it's fun but also at the center of it are two queer girls and it's not about them being queer.

"I'm so happy that it's going to exist, and I hope most people have fun watching it but I hope the kids who haven't seen themselves at the center of the story get to see themselves here."

On Adapting Her Short Story for Netflix

First Kill is Schwab's first story to be fully adapted. Her hit books The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and A Darker Shade of Magic have been picked up to be adapted into films, but they are still in the pre-production stages.

Netflix's adaptation was finished within two years of it being green-lit, and it was quite a surprise for the author to have First Kill get made so quickly in comparison to the others: "I've been told this is an uncommonly quick process so I've now been royally spoiled, but obviously it's such a different experience from writing novels, where you're the sole creator.

"I always say you are the God of the fictional world that you're working on, I'm a very visual writer as well so everything down to like the color palette and the score playing in my head, the energy, these are all things, which I dictate when I'm writing novels, and working on a TV show it's so antithetical to the control."

Schwab explained that it was a struggle to relinquish this control but that she also found it a "highly collaborative" experience: "If you don't embrace it can feel almost combative to that sense of control.

"If you do embrace it, though, it can feel highly collaborative because the beauty of it and the difficulty of it is that you go from being that god to having 30 other gods who all have a vision and a voice.

"And you want to make sure that all of them, in some way, get to execute that voice, and that vision and that style, so it's truly a space of immense compromise, and as an extraordinary control freak that was definitely the most difficult part.

"But also, getting to see something through, from inside your brain to outside your brain, even if it changes shape a little bit is still such a surreal alchemical process."

The Collaborative Process

She went on: "There's a lot of levels that aren't mine, there's a lot of visions that aren't mine., I wrote the script but I didn't control the score, sound editing, director, director of photography, any of the other things, and there's so many other voices there.

"So I think you truly have to lean into the collaborative nature of it, but what's exciting to me is that there are plot points scattered throughout the season that I had written for the bible [I wrote] before the show got done.

"It was exciting to have little waypoints that I still felt like 'these are mine, and I'm going to fight for these' to make sure my little moments that I would want to play out [did].

"But I think in a lot of ways it was easier for me because it's a short story, I think it would be harder for me if it was like one of my novels or one of my series where I truly have dictated out the ending, but with a short story it really is a beginning.

"A short story is a jumping off point, I really wrote the short story to be the first episode of something, I wrote it with that in mind. So it was a fairly easy translation from the short story to the first episode."

She added: "Readers will come up to me and they'll be like, 'Oh, I hope they don't ruin A Darker Shade of Magic, I hope they don't ruin Vicious. Well they can't ruin my book can they? Because they're my books, and no matter what happens in a TV [show] or film it doesn't erase my novels.

"So I think that is something that I have tried really hard to embrace as I embark on other adaptation work as well. Certainly with First Kill... hopefully there are kernels of me in it still, kernels of my voice and my style, but at the same time it's like 300 people that worked on this show!"

Finding the Perfect Juliette and Calliope

Sarah Catherine Hook and Imani Lewis take on the roles of Juliette and Calliope, respectively, and Schwab admitted it was "the most gruelling process" to cast the two characters, but when she saw the actors together she knew instantly they were perfect.

"I'll never forget the day that we put them into a chemistry read," Schwab reflected. "This entire process is happening virtually because of COVID... and it's happening two in the morning my time because I was in France, and so it's making it even more surreal.

"And then, all of a sudden, just the moment these two girls were together in their first chemistry test it was like, 'oh, that's what it's supposed to feel like,' it's like people say 'you don't know what it feels like to fall in love until you fall in love,' it's just that gravity.

"I felt like the moment they looked at each other and started talking, I thought 'there they are, we're going to be fine.' Like they became Juliette and Calliope... getting to see actors become them and then make them so much more than I ever dreamed they could be really add that depth.

"I think that, more than anything, is probably the part that I liked most, because it's the part I really couldn't counter. In novels, a character only exists as much as I write them, if I don't write something about them a reader doesn't know it, I am giving you the totality of the character.

"I don't think I really anticipated how strong I would feel getting to see actors bring a depth to a character that I had envisioned."

First Kill is out on Netflix now.

Correction 06/10/2022 9:37 a.m. ET: This article was update to correct the spelling of Calliope throughout.

First Kill
First Kill
First Kill
The cast of "First Kill," which premiered on Netflix on Friday, June 10.