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The most comprehensive source for everything DIVERGENT.

USA Today Interviews Veronica Roth

Serena Chase interviewed Veronica Roth for USA Today. There is definitely something in this one for everyone.

Here’s what they talked about:

Veronica Roth exploded onto the YA scene last year with her smash dystopian novel, Divergent. To promote its follow-up, Insurgent, she is touring the country this summer with several other authors on the Dark Days book tour. I had a chance to visit with Veronica while she was attending the BookExpo America convention in New York, the first stop on the tour.


Serena: Welcome to HEA, Veronica! You’re on a book tour with Aprilynne Pike, Elizabeth Norris and Bethany Griffin. How is the group promotion dynamic different from the “my-book-only” focus?


Veronica: I really like the group tour better than going it alone. First of all, it kind of takes the pressure off a little. I’m not a naturally extroverted person. But I also like it because it brings in new fans. For example, someone who really loves Aprilynne Pike’s books might pick up mine and vice versa. I think it’s really good for all the authors involved.


Serena: Your blog is always fun to read due to your quirky sense of humor. You even have a “joke” title and cover art for book three of the Divergent Trilogy, which features a container of laundry soap and the title, Detergent. Clearly, you are a fan of fun. Have any of your close friends or family been surprised that you would write such dark-themed books?


Veronica: Yeah, I think some people were surprised about the dark themes because I’m just not a violent or a dark person, really. But I think they adapted pretty well. They know that I’m not the books or vice versa. They got over it pretty quickly.


Serena: I love how the taglines for the series really set the stage for the theme of each novel and build upon one another to give the gist of the series. Divergent’s is “One choice can transform you,” and Insurgent’s is “One choice can destroy you.” Just for fun, what would the tagline for Detergent be?


Veronica: I think it’s “One choice can disinfect you.” I like to poke a little fun at myself and my books. It’s nice to have a little laugh at yourself every now and then, so Detergent is sort of how I do that.


Serena: Readers have left comments on your blog such as, “I’m the one at Comic-Con who gave you the handmade (fill in the blank).” Do you have a special place you keep all the material evidence of your fan love?


Veronica: I do. I keep it in my office. And some of it is great! People make me key chains … someone attached a Dauntless symbol to a silver pen. That one is what I use to sign books. I use that a lot. I like to keep them around because they remind me that people are waiting for these books and that they really love them. It gives me motivation in those times when I’m not feeling very motivated.


Serena: Do you ever cringe when readers ask questions or make statements about who lives, who dies, who’s a traitor, etc., that might spoil some of the surprises for those in the crowd who have not yet read the books?


Veronica: It happens a lot on the Internet, like on Twitter where things are pretty public. I try and reply, and then someone’s like, “No! You spoiled it!” But spoilers are everywhere, even in reviews. So I figure if people really don’t want to find spoilers they usually don’t — and if they want to find them, they will. Hopefully the books aren’t spoiled because of a few things you may have been told beforehand.


Serena: How about when your readers refer to Tobias by his given name rather than “Four,” the name he adopted when he joined the Dauntless faction (and by which he was known through most of Divergent). Do you worry it will spoil the first book for those who haven’t yet read it?


Veronica: Not really. It’s just so hard to try to ward off those comments. And it’s kind of my fault, because I keep calling him Tobias, so …? But it’s not a particular spoiler. A lot of people figure it out before anyone says anything or before they’ve read the whole book.


Serena: How would you define romance? And how does that definition apply to your writing philosophy and this series?


Veronica: I think romance is friendship and attraction sort of meeting together and that does influence what I’m writing a lot. I try to establish the attraction, obviously, but I also think it’s important to show the characters having actual conversations about things other than their feelings for each other — and to develop their friendship on the page. That was really important to me. And they have mutual respect for each other and I tried to establish that also. All those things that I believe about relationships and what makes a healthy relationship really made it into the book.


Serena: For a novel with such serious themes, the romance between Tobias and Tris serves as an anchor to the story without slowing it down. As a writer, was it difficult to fine-tune those scenes so that a simple touch of the hand could convey such deep connection and comfort?


Veronica: It did take some fine-tuning. I had to think a lot about my teenage experience of love and just how you focus so much on all the little details. How every touch can feel like your heart’s going to explode or you’re going to throw up or whatever … so I had to edit a lot. It’s hard, sometimes, to go back and relive that experience, but I just tried to remember how exciting everything was when I was just falling in love.


Serena: And there is a sort of life-or-death feeling in the teen romantic experience that sort of plays into your story.


Veronica: Right. Everything feels like life or death when you’re that age. And there’s some truth to that. You’re making all these huge decisions and you want everything to last forever even though it can’t sometimes. Trying to capture that life-or-death feeling is a little tricky.


Serena: A lot of popular YA fiction creates romantic tension by the “opposites attract” factor — or authors skew the idea to pit characters against each other or separate them in some way to ratchet up the romance. You chose for Tobias and Tris to have more in common. They both reject the same faction (Abnegation) in favor of Dauntless. They are both Divergent. Was there a specific motivation behind giving your heroes so much in common?


Veronica: I think that’s how I see love. I see it developing from friendship. Common ground is a strong basis for friendship. My husband is my best friend and we have a lot in common even though we’re admittedly different people. I think it evolves from how I see relationships working. You know, the opposites attract thing happens all the time, but so does the best friends thing. It’s just a great kind of relationship in fiction.


Serena: Tris has a hard time saying she loves Tobias aloud, and the first time she does, she says it in a way that he won’t hear, prior to doing something that she believes could make him stop loving her. Are you, like Tris, someone who is hesitant to pronounce “I love you” too soon?


Veronica: Not really. I guess I haven’t had the opportunity to test it that much. (laughs) I’ve only been in two serious relationships and one of them ended in marriage. But yeah, I don’t have huge issues with it. You have to say “I love you” knowing that the feeling you have could either change or become deeper and stronger over time. I think Tris puts a lot a pressure on herself. She has to be so sure of knowing exactly what she feels. And I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself.


Serena: Tobias is just the opposite; he’s more open. Do you see more of yourself in his expression that way?


Veronica: I kind of do. Actually, he’s a lot more like me than Tris is and I’ve realized that over time. He’s pretty sure of himself in different ways and sort of private in ways but I think he’s always certain of how he feels about Tris and he just doesn’t think it’s a big deal to tell her exactly what the experience he’s having is.


Serena: In Insurgent, the romance between Tris and Tobias has matured, both physically and emotionally, from where they left off in Divergent, yet they are still very much two teenagers in love. How do you straddle the fence of keeping their romance — and their response to romance — so age appropriate while they are dealing with life and death, adult-size horrors?


Veronica: I don’t really think about what’s “age appropriate” for my audience because I think they can handle quite a bit, but I do try to think about what’s honest and true to my characters who have grown up in situations where they’ve been taught to handle these things very carefully and that they’re very powerful. As far as their romance goes, Tris is afraid of physical intimacy and Tobias is a little uncertain, so it would be a little unnatural for them to move very quickly. It would feel very forced. I just try to think about them and what they would actually do. And they’ve only been together for, like, two months, and they haven’t had a lot of time to be alone. There’s only so much that can go on!

 Serena: Summit Entertainment, the company that brought Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series to theaters, has optioned the film rights for Divergent. As an author, that has to be a huge pat on the back — the thought that someone would consider making your book into a movie …


Veronica: It’s really flattering and it’s so shocking. I never even thought about it when the book was published. It was like, “Oh! And there’s also this element?” It’s pretty great. Cool. But it’s so early in the process that I can’t say with any clarity what is going to happen.


Serena: A couple of years ago you publicly vowed (on your blog) that you would jump into a pool filled with marshmallows if you achieved success as an author (as in: signed a book deal) and … you not only did it (using a bathtub rather than a pool, of course, because that would be an incredible amount of marshmallows) but you  posted the video online for all to see. What sort of fun video should we expect from you if the film version of Divergent actually makes it to the silver screen someday?


Veronica: Hmm … well, I feel like I’ll have to be in a tub of something else in order to keep with the theme. I’ve always wanted to jump into a pool of Jell-O. That may be really hard (to make happen), but for something as incredible as a movie coming out? So … yeah. I’ll call it. Jell-O.


Serena: And now you’ve said it in front of millions of USA TODAY’s HEA readers, so …


Veronica: Yeah. It’s official now. I can’t back down.


Serena: Jell-O it is! You’ve been fairly engaged in the world of dystopian Chicago for a while now. Have you started getting an inkling about what you might write when you’ve finished the Divergent Trilogy?


Veronica: You know, I really try to focus on what’s right in front of me. So I haven’t thought very much about what I’ll do next. I know that I’ll be writing for young adults for a long time. Mostly because I just love the readers and the teachers and librarians that I interact with. So that’s all I can really say. I have a few ideas, but nothing really solid.


Serena: There’s such amazing writing going on in YA right now. It’s a great place to live.


Veronica: Yeah. YA is a wonderful genre. There’s so much room for invention and creativity. It’s remarkable. Especially right now.


Serena: Some reviewers and fan sites have likened the world you’ve created in The Divergent Trilogy to the same sort of alchemical plotting and characterization used by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series. How does it feel being compared — favorably — to such a literary giant, especially by her fans?


Veronica: That’s nuts! It’s kind of … terrifying, but an incredible compliment. I mean, if you’re going to be compared to someone … she’s a pretty great person to be compared to! I don’t feel like, “Oh, I’m J.K. Rowling,” obviously! No way. I mean, Harry Potter is the best thing.


Serena: Did the philosophy of alchemy have any cognizant bearing on the creation of this series, its characters, plotting, or sociopolitical factions?


Veronica: No, not really. I’m really glad someone thought of that, but it’s not something I thought about. I’ve read a lot of analyses about the Harry Potter books and I even saw the one that mentioned Divergent. When I saw it I was just really pleased that I had accidentally done something right!


Serena: Are you an outliner or do you create your stories more organically as you go?


Veronica: I’m definitely what we call a “pantser,” which means, “write by the seat of your pants” — so I don’t outline. I had to outline the second book in order to sell the first one because they like to be sure you have a plan and that you’re not really risky (for the publisher). That was hard, but I just sort of built on what had happened in the first book and let everything come. I had to do a lot of editing, because that’s what happens when you don’t outline (laughs), but it was a really great experience.


Serena: Although you write for a mainstream YA audience, you’ve never hidden that you are a Christian. In Insurgent there are brief moments when Tris’ doubts, questions and thoughts about God seem to resonate as someone seeking a way to combine the different factions’ faith practices into something that is true to her own experience. Are you ever surprised when hints of your faith show up, unannounced, on the page?


Veronica: I’m not really that surprised because I wanted to be true to the teenage experience, which often involves a lot of consideration about existence and about God and even whether you believe in a God or not. I didn’t feel that Tris would be a real person unless she considered those things. I tried very hard not to have her proselytize the reader or anything like that because what I really think is that Tris is always questioning everything. She never comes to a decision about spiritual issues. My opinions don’t really bleed onto the page, but the things that I think about she also thinks about. I just try to make it as honest and real as possible.


Serena: In the dystopian world you’ve created, could it ever be possible for a divergent character to have equal aptitude in Dauntless (the faction known for bravery and lack of hesitancy to resort to violence) and Amity (the faction known for kindness and love of peace)?


Veronica: Oh, I don’t know … that’s a good question! Anything is possible, but it certainly wouldn’t be discovered by the aptitude test because it necessarily separates those two factions right from the get-go. I think someone can be brave while being kind and peaceful at the same time, but maybe not in the flawed system that Tris’ world has concocted.


Serena: There’s a lot pressure coming at you from around the blogosphere not to “pull a Mockingjay” with the final book of your trilogy. How do you respond when readers give you specific demands concerning what “not” to do?


Veronica: I try to remember that their demands come from enthusiasm, so they’re not really trying to be controlling or to put pressure on, they’re just trying to say, “Please don’t kill this character that I love!” or something like that. And sometimes they worry about things I’ve never even considered! Their demands and concerns really don’t play into what I’m going to do because even I don’t really control it. I just let the story go where it wants to go. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the end or who’s going to live, so it’s kind of like me saying, “I don’t know, guys! Just wait.” (Laughs) That’s what I’m doing!


Serena: How do you respond to comparisons to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series?


Veronica: I feel like it’s very flattering. Again, it’s sort of like the JK. Rowling thing. She’s a really talented writer and her books are really incredible and I’ve been a really big fan of hers for a while. So the comparison is flattering. But, again, it’s a little scary. I don’t want to try to live up to someone who’s created something so incredible. I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing and what I do best. It’s sometimes hard to focus in and only think about my books rather than how they measure up to someone else’s. But mostly it’s an incredible compliment.


Serena: Are you a writer who likes to read your reviews or do you try to stay away from them?


Veronica: I try to stay away from them. I’ll read a couple to sort of know what I need to work on. And there are people that I trust to give me good feedback in that respect, but other than that I avoid them because it can become overwhelming and they apply a lot of pressure even if they don’t mean to.


Serena: Is there anything else you’d like to share specifically with romance readers who might not have thought to pick up your books before seeing them here — but who might, now that they’ve learned a bit about the romance angle of your story?


Veronica: It’s an action-based book, but I think those action-y moments make the romance even more powerful and distinct in a lot of ways. If you can put up with a lot of running around and shooting people then … you might enjoy the book!



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