Veronica Roth is an American author of not even thirty years old who wrote the immensely successful Divergent-series, which I reviewed earlier. She wrote the first Divergent book while on winter break during her senior year at University. The publishing rights were sold before she graduated in 2010 and was released in April 2011, while the movie rights were already sold in March 2011. She has another series of two books underway, of which the first Carve the Mark is set for release on January 17th, 2017.She describes it as “in the vein of Star Wars, the story of a boy who forms an unlikely alliance with an enemy.” It’s on my to read-list for sure!
She is still quite young to have already amassed such success and popularity as an author, I think. So I thought I’d delve a little deeper, especially since I really liked Divergent and I even like the movie adaptations. I looked through dozens of interviews and selected the most interesting questions and answers. Enjoy!
You had the idea for Divergent during a psychology class. How did studying the mind help you get a deeper understanding of your characters? (source)
The psychology inspiration is true—my (brief) study of exposure therapy inspired the Dauntless fear simulations. I find that psychology gives me world and plot ideas more than character ideas, but one significant example is with Tris’s grief in the second book (it leads her to risky, self-destructive decisions, it makes her incapable of holding a gun for a long time, etc.)—I’ve never lost anyone very close to me, so I talked to my mother, who lost her own mother in her early adulthood, and some of my friends who studied psychology (and now work in the field), about how Tris might realistically process all the loss she endured in Divergent. The way Tobias ends things with Marcus is another example—I never wanted his confrontations with Marcus to feel triumphant, because I had read up on the effects of abusive situations like his, and one thing I came away with is that trauma can’t be overcome with a fistfight or a few zingers and a fist pump; it’s overcome by processing what happened, with difficulty, and learning to move forward, which is what Tobias does at the end of Allegiant. This is all to say, studying the mind helps me when my characters are enduring things I have never endured, to find my way to an emotionally realistic portrayal.
Will there be more books in the Divergent series than Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and Four? (source)
I don’t currently have any plans to write any more Divergent books.
“Politeness is deception in pretty packaging.” (Divergent – Veronica Roth)
When you had everyone’s favourite characters die in the books, did you feel sad? How do you deal with all the negative comments from fans over the way you ended the series? (source)
As a writer, you can’t be afraid to let bad things happen to characters—that’s how stories move forward, that’s where character transformation and growth comes from, that’s how you keep your word, in a sense (so if I tell you that dystopian Chicago is in fact dystopian—inherently flawed and dangerous—and then I don’t let any real harm come to anyone in the story, I’m not really telling the truth, am I?). If anything, this is something I learned from Harry Potter—if there had been no loss, we would have had no impression of the depth and scope of Voldemort’s evil, and Harry’s fight would have been far less significant or important to us. His struggle derives much of its power from its utter necessity, and we feel that necessity because we cared about the people he lost.
As for the negative comments, I believe that negative feedback, like many challenges and struggles in life, is essential for growth. I respect it, I consider it carefully, I let it shape my development as a writer, and then I get back to work.
What faction would you choose? (source)
I used to say that I would choose Dauntless, but I’ve recently come to believe that’s just wishful thinking (who doesn’t want to think they’d be able to jump off a moving train and zipline off the Hancock building?). Really, when it comes to my aptitude and my affinity for a peaceful life, I think I would choose Abnegation. (I also tend to gravitate toward the factions/groups that no one else gravitates toward, so that could be part of the reason.) Also, selflessness makes you brave, right? So I’m really just covering all the bases.
If you could add another faction to the “Divergent” world, what trait would the group dedicate themselves to? (source)
I thought about this the other day: What would make the world work better? And it was a hardworking faction. I don’t know what the name would be — I’d have to look it up in a thesaurus or something — but they’d be intense about tedious action but also committed to hard work, and they could do all the factory stuff. I think it would make the society run better because then they wouldn’t be relying on the factionless and all that.
“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” (Divergent – Veronica Roth)
The books were already a success before the first movie came out, but how did the success of the film impact you or your career? (source)
Well I think the best part about it is really that when a book has success like this, a movie propels a book to a new level of success which is wonderful, you know, in addition to all those other great things like seeing the story come alive and all that. But really for me, it sets me up to have a longer career of writing. I’ve wanted to write for a living since I was 11. So to have kind of career stability has been a great life change as a result of all this. But as far as anything else goes, I mean, I kept my life as similar as possible. I live a pretty quiet life out there in Chicago and I like it that way. So not much has changed by design.
Do you really try to separate the book and the movie in your mind? (source)
Yeah I really do. I think it’s just because of how much I love working on books and writing and that I’m not that crazy about doing anything else in life. I am just book-focused. So it’s awesome that they’re making movies and I love watching the whole process and I think I really get to enjoy it because I’m keeping them separate in my mind and letting them be their own entities. It’s just fun to watch that way because it’s like a rediscovery of the book instead of just putting all this pressure on it to be exactly the same which, of course, it can’t be. So I found a lot of happiness and freedom in kind of letting it go and just trusting the people that I agreed to work with to do it justice and I think they have.
When you think of the characters now, do Miles Teller and Shailene come into your mind? Does that line blur from how you originally saw them to how the actors embody them? (source)
The good thing is that I was pretty much done with all of the books by the time the movie was being made so I didn’t really write them with these actors in mind or anything like that. So they didn’t creep into the writing process. But now of course, if I ever reread the things that I’ve written I do see the cast, which is awesome but sometimes problematic when they don’t line up exactly physically, you know. It’s like, “Wait a second. This is not right.” But yeah, they’ve definitely taken root in my mind.
When you were in high school, did you know you wanted to be a writer or did you figure it out later? (source)
I’ve been writing almost every day since I was 11, so it’s always been kind of a hobby, but that’s what it was. It wasn’t until high school that I had a teacher tell me that I should submit my work to writing contests because then I could have something to put on my resume. I had almost nothing because I spent all my free time writing. He was the first one who made me think, “Maybe I should take this seriously.” It wasn’t really until college though that I thought, “I really need to try and get a book published.” It started in high school, but it wasn’t so focused until college.
What is your writing routine/schedule like? Do you have a certain time that you write in the day for a couple of hours? (source)
I have no routine or schedule or journal. Sometimes if I get an idea that I’m not sure I’ll remember (like one that comes to me in my sleep or at an inconvenient time), I make a note of it on my phone or e-mail it to myself. Other than that I think I mull things over all day, every day, like a cow chewing its cud. (That word is gross. I’m sure you get my meaning.) And then suddenly I’ll be done ruminating and ready to put it on the page. At that point I usually write for really long stretches of time until I run out of steam, and then I’m back to chewing again. I try to keep my “process” flexible and changing with my needs—whatever keeps me writing is what I’ll do until it doesn’t work anymore, and then I find something else, whether it’s outlining or not outlining or listening to music or writing longhand or going back to reread or never going back at all until I’m done.
“It must require bravery to be honest all the time.” (Divergent – Veronica Roth)
Do you have any strange writing habits? (source)
Hmm, I do often write on a treadmill. I have a treadmill desk. I like to be moving. It’s really helpful because there’s a part of your brain that’s always like, “Oh, I need to check Twitter” or “I need to look this thing up.” And that’s the part that’s keeping you balanced on the treadmill, so I stay a lot more focused than usual. I don’t click away as much.
If you could go back in time and give your 16-year-old self one piece of advice, what would you say? (source)
Oh, so many things. I think I would say to be kind. I wasn’t mean per se, I wasn’t a bully, but I was really defensive and maybe not as kind to people generally as I wish I had been. I was just afraid that people were out to get me or something, and so I felt like I had to get them first or keep them away. I don’t think that’s true, and by the time I was out of high school I learned that everyone’s trying to get by. That’s my advice.
“Sometimes, the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” (Divergent – Veronica Roth)
What advice do you give to young people who want to be authors or have their work published? (source)
A few things. I just read the book “Yes Please” by Amy Poehler, which was great. I love her. She said one thing she finds that successful, creative people have in common is ambivalence. Not about the work itself, but about the results of it. You need to be passionate about the creative work that you’re doing, but you need to be kind of emotionally separated from how people react to it or how it does. Those things should be secondary, and primary should be your love of the creative act. If that’s not how it is, then it will be hard to persevere through criticism and rejection. But as far as the more nitty-gritty polishing things, I think you need to find some good critique partners, people you trust to tell you the truth but also to not be a jerk about it. It’s only by exposing your work to other people and accepting their criticism and really taking it to heart that you can build on it.