Interview with Veronica Roth

December, 2011

Veronica Roth The future is upon us in young adult literature, and it's not pretty. Teenage readers—and plenty of adults, too—are immersing themselves in bleak dystopian worlds with postapocalyptic problems and oppressive governments. One of the most-read authors on Goodreads in 2011 is newcomer Veronica Roth, a debut novelist who started work on her manuscript during winter break of her senior year at Northwestern University. Divergent is the first of a planned trilogy about a heroine named Tris, who is raised in a crumbling, near-future Chicago ruled by five factions. Tris's faction, Abnegation, values selflessness above all else, but when she is asked at age 16 to choose which faction will be her permanent home, she must make a decision based on what is right for her, not others. Now 23, Illinois native Roth shared with Goodreads her thoughts on utopian societies and revealed a few clues about her next book, Insurgent.

Goodreads: What attracted you to the dystopian genre as a storyteller? If dystopian lit is the new vampire, how do you think young adult literature will continue to evolve?

Veronica Roth: I've always loved the dystopian genre. My introduction to it was The Giver by Lois Lowry, which is a powerful book, and then 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. But I never sat down and thought, I want to write a dystopian YA book. When I was writing Divergent, I didn't know it was a thing. I just had this story and this world and this character, and as luck would have it, it hit the market at the right time. I can't predict how YA will evolve now, but I'm seeing a lot more sci-fi, in addition to dystopian, and I am so happy and excited about that. I hope it continues.

GR: Divergent can be interpreted in many ways: political, philosophical, and spiritual. When you began writing, was there a certain message or theme you wanted to communicate?

VR: I think it's too easy to be heavy-handed or preachy if you set out to communicate a message in books, so I don't. To me, at least, the books I write are just an exploration of things I'm thinking about, and my hope is that they make people think about them, too. What I was exploring in Divergent is human nature and the ways in which it warps our best intentions and, on the flip side, how people sometimes rise to do good acts in the midst of chaos. I was wondering what it means to be virtuous—specifically, what it means to be brave—and if that's really important. And if it's not, what is? So those are my questions. I hope readers have a few of their own.

GR: Tris's society has five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the truthful), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Goodreads member Becky Webster asks, "When you were 16, what faction would you have chosen? How does that compare with the faction you would choose today?"

VR: When I was 16, I would have chosen Candor. I found it difficult to trust people when I was younger, for various reasons, and I think I would have seen Candor as a place in which it is safe to trust, because everyone is so transparent. Now, I would choose Dauntless. I struggle with fear on a daily basis, and sometimes it makes me feel like I'm trapped—sometimes it even keeps me from doing what's best for the people around me. I think bravery makes you selfless, it makes you honest, it makes you trust people. Brave is something I want to be.

GR: Goodreads member Sarah Spiegel asks, "How did Ms. Roth choose the qualities that defined the factions? Do the sum of the five factions describe a person who inspires her (or someone society should strive to be like)?"

VR: The world of Divergent is basically what I would come up with if someone asked me to create a utopia. A world in which everyone is focused on becoming good people? Sounds good to me. So I asked myself, what qualities would I pick if I were making this world? And I came up with the five factions. It was only as I wrote that I was able to see how my so-called utopia was actually a dystopia, because it forced people to become narrower, twisted versions of themselves, and they ripped each other apart. It was a really strange experience, to realize that I would be a terrible God. Humbling, definitely.

GR: The futuristic society and deteriorating world you've created are rich in detail. How do you strike a balance between world building and grounding the story in character development?

VR: I've never thought of those two things—world building and character development—as being opposed to each other. The world affects the character. The character gives you ideas about the world. The more you weave those two things together, the better they will both be. Now that I think about striking a balance, I'm sure I didn't get it exactly right, but I did the best I could.

GR: Midwesterners will recognize many Chicago landmarks featured in Divergent. How did you decide to use Chicago as your setting?

VR: I chose Chicago for a few reasons: first, I'm from the Chicago area, so I love it there, and I'm more familiar with it than any other city. Second, the trains! The 'L' trains in Chicago run almost constantly, like a force of nature instead of something man-made, just like the trains that are so important in Divergent.

GR: Goodreads Author Carlyle Labuschagne writes, "I would like to know if she and Tris have anything in common."

VR: Tris and I have a lot in common. We both feel a little awkward in social situations, we're a little too serious for our own good, we tend to be straightforward and assertive, we both feel this overwhelming need to face our own fears. She's braver than I am, but then, I'm a little more compassionate. I think she helps me to figure out some things about myself while still being different enough that I feel like each decision she makes is a new discovery.

GR: Tris's mother, Natalie, is a particularly poignant character. What was your inspiration for her? Will we get to learn more about her story in future books?

VR: Thanks! Divergent's dedication says, "To my mother, who gave me the moment when [Tris] realizes how strong her mother is and wonders how she missed it for so long." So, definitely, my mother was my inspiration for Tris's mother. They are both selfless, but even more than that, Tris realizes more and more that her mother's selflessness comes from bravery, and I have realized the same thing throughout my life about my mother. It's a powerful revelation to have about one of your parents. And I hope that you will find out more about Natalie in future books, but I'm not sure how much, yet.

GR: Goodreads member Mary asks, "What was the most inspiring writing class you took in college, and what did you learn from it?"

VR: I was in my school's writing program, which had 45 people, 15 in each section (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry), enrolled in three separate yearlong classes. The yearlong fiction class was incredible, especially the second half. We had to critique each other's work, and there is nothing quite like hearing 15 smart, thoughtful reactions to your work at once. It hurt a lot, actually. But it made me and my writing so much stronger. It taught me how to see flaws in my work but not to be too discouraged—to just pick up the pen, or the keyboard, or whatever, and keep writing, keep working. And it started to teach me to learn from reviews, but not to be crippled by them, something I'm still working on.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

VR: It goes like this: Wake up. Blink a lot. Eat breakfast. Drink tea. Attempt to start writing. Get distracted. Take a shower. Get dressed. Attempt to start writing. Get distracted. Eat lunch. Attempt to start writing. Actually start writing! Write until 5. Get exhausted. Stop writing. Hang out with the three-dimensional people.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?

VR: Oh, man. Books: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Dune by Frank Herbert, the Animorphs series, Harry Potter, anything by Flannery O'Connor (she has a way of making you hate a character and then realize that you are like that character that is just incredible), I could go on forever.

Ideas: Psychology! Exposure therapy, Milgram's experiment on obedience and authority figures, anxiety disorders, phobias, group dynamics. My faith shapes how I see the world, so it inevitably shapes my work, but that's not so intentional. "The Hero's Journey" (learned about it in sixth grade, and I've never forgotten about it). And writing ideas: coming of age, character agency. I'm going to stop there.

GR: What are you reading now?

VR: I just finished The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab. I'm about to start The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm in the middle of The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. And I'm looking forward to The Pledge by Kimberly Derting.

GR: Are there any details you can reveal about Insurgent?

VR: Spoilers, if they can be called that: Insurgent delves deeper into the factions that Divergent didn't (Candor, Amity, Erudite), and there's no love triangle. Other than that, I'm keeping my lips sealed.


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Comments (showing 1-50 of 60) (60 new)


message 1: by Olga (new)

Olga Excellent interview, thank you!


message 2: by Alexa (new)

Alexa I think Veronica Roth is an amazing author and a great inspiration. Her book Divergent is definitely my favorite book of 2011 and I can't wait to read Insurgent!


Jana (The Book Goddess) SO glad to hear that there won't be a love triangle in Insurgent. Thank God.


message 4: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books.


message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I voted all the way for this book and I'm really happy it made it to the top.
Thank you, Veronica, for this inspirational interview. I have a passion for writing, and it makes me feel a little bit more Dauntless about letting people read it.


message 6: by Liljerk22 (new)

Liljerk22 This has been my favorite book of the year and my favorite book ever. I am happy beyond belief that there is no love triangle. I love Four and Tris together! I re-read this book every chance I get!!


message 7: by Christina (new)

Christina Excellent questions!! So happy to hear there's no love triangle in Insurgent. It's becoming a bit cliche.


message 8: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

This is just a suggestion. Rather than restrict your daughter's reading based on someone else's rating, read the book she wants to read yourself and then decide. If there are parts in any given book that press on the limits of what you would like her to experience at this stage in her growth, you might use them as teaching moments - asking her to tell you when she gets to such and such a page so that you can talk...


message 9: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Cynthia wrote: "Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

Th..."

Cynthia,

That is a very valid suggestion, unfortunately the amount of time she has to read, and the amount of time I have to read are vastly different. If I had the time to read every book she wanted to read I would gladly do so. That is why my attempt at crowd sourcing the information. Once I have a general sense of the book's content I can use my limited time better to do exactly what you suggest.


Redwallcrazy- My God is Healer, Awesome in Power! I loved that interview, it was soooo much fun to read, and I loved the different questions. It ended too soon for me, lol.

And for Sandeep, I'd say probably PG-13.


message 11: by Posie (new)

Posie I adore this book! I can't wait to read Insurgent!


message 12: by Giana (new)

Giana no love triangle... :D!!!!!!!!!


message 13: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Redwallcrazy- My God is Healer, aweome in power! wrote: "I loved that interview, it was soooo much fun to read, and I loved the different questions. It ended too soon for me, lol.

And for Sandeep, I'd say probably PG-13."


Thanks for the feedback.


message 14: by Franz Megan (new)

Franz Megan Amazing interview Goodreads!


message 15: by Raabe (new)

Raabe Gabriel Awesome! She's my hero right now, love Divergent!


message 16: by auliafina (new)

auliafina Awesome! "And there's no love triangle"! Yay! Tris & Tobias might have a happy-end.......... or not.


message 17: by Mystery (new)

Mystery Box Awesome!I'm gonna check out the books she likes.


message 18: by Heather (new)

Heather Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

Perhaps you should read it first and then you could decide if she should read it. I am 33 years old and I loved it as did my 66 year old mother. Plus it would give you something in common to talk about with your daughter right? =) Win, win.


message 19: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Heather wrote: "Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

Pe..."


Given my time constraints, I was trying to narrow the list of books I need to read using the community knowledge about the book. :) Someone in this thread gave it a PG-13 rating, so the book has been acquired.
Now I will read it, and ...


message 20: by Taddy (new)

Taddy Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

There is no actual sex, but it mentions sex. Has some kissing. Lots of violence, so I guess it dpends how sensitive your child is to that or how much you want your child exposed to any of that. Personally I don't think this book contains anything that a child couldn't see if they turned on an afternoon soap opera or early evening rated PG TV show, and to me I would much rather my daughters be *reading* something quality that could be rated PG 13 than *watching* something rated PG 13. But that is just me.
I think @Heather gave you fantastic advice that you should read the book first and decide. I just finished it, and would absolutely let my daughters read it if they were around 11 or so of age, depending on maturity level and interest. You know your children better than anone!
Glad to see you've acquired the book, you will very much enjoy it and then you and your daughter can discuss it. What could be better than that?!?

Happy reading!


message 21: by Cat (new)

Cat D-M Yeah! Not every book needs a love triangle to be awesome and captivating. :D


message 22: by Taddy (new)

Taddy @cat, agreed! I am glad Veronica is not trying to go that direction, but instead is focusing in her strong storytelling and wonderful character driven plots instead of the love triangle formula. Quite refreshing!


message 23: by Kris (new)

Kris Irvin Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

I would say a light PG-13. I am pretty picky with my books as well :-)


Brigid *Flying Kick-a-pow!* Great interview! :D

And I'm so glad to hear there's not going to be a love triangle. Oh, man. If I read another YA series with a pointless love triangle in it, I think I'll explode.


message 25: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Kris wrote: "Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

I ..."


Thanks for the feedback.

~Sandeep


message 26: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Taddy wrote: "Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

There is no actual..."


Taddy,

Thanks for your detailed feedback. Based on a couple prior PG-13 ratings I was comfortable. But your detailed reply made it even better. I agree with all three of the ladies (yourself included) here who have
suggested reading the book first and then later having something to discuss with my daughter. Also I totally agree with your comment "rather read something PG-13 than watch something PG-13".

Thanks again.
~Sandeep


message 27: by Kats (new)

Kats Jana wrote: "SO glad to hear that there won't be a love triangle in Insurgent. Thank God."

Couldn't agree more - in my opinion that was the one major flaw with the Hunger Games (and stupid Twilight)... it bored me to tears! Tobias is perfect for Tris, no need for another tangent to form a triangle!


message 28: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

i know you arnt asking me, but i would rate it PG-13 but only because of some violence. ovel all this book is very clean! its a good pick, it your daughter doesnt get scared really easily.


message 29: by Megha (new)

Megha *Punches fist in air*

NO LOVE TRIANGLE! =D


message 30: by Hannah (new)

Hannah I fully support your lack of a love triangle. Some people compare all dystopias to The Hunger Games, but the no love triangle decision will put Insurgent into a different category, which is good. :)


message 31: by Crystal (new)

Crystal i just finished the book. it was amazing!!!


message 32: by Emoree (new)

Emoree Just finished it and I love it. Anyone else dreaming about the book characters/content? I have since reading it...that happens though when I become consumed by a book... I loved it but man I have to stop reading great books where I have to wait for the next one to be released. Talk about nerve racking. Well guess I will read more then come back to Insurgent as soon as it comes out!


message 33: by Sandeep (new)

Sandeep Sarah wrote: "Sandeep wrote: "If you were to put a movie rating on this book, would it be PG, PG-13, or R? My daughter really wants to read this, but I would rather she not read R, or even hard PG-13 books."

..."


Sarah,
Thanks for your feedback.
~Sandeep


message 34: by Rose (new)

Rose No love triangle.
YES!!!! Thank you Ms.Roth!!!


message 35: by Jomar (new)

Jomar NO LOVE TRIANGLE! THANK YOU AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA LOT.

You're such a good writer. You're beautiful Ms. Roth just like Tris, inside and out.


message 36: by Anya (new)

Anya Bee I'm already in love with this woman, and I haven't even started reading Divergent (can't wait, though). I hope the book meets my sky-high expectations, ha ha. :')


message 37: by Gdcla (new)

Gdcla I read the giver for english class, loved it... love dystopian novels as a whole. really, really want to read Divergent!!!


message 38: by Ashley (new)

Ashley One: Divergent is my favorite read of 2011.
Two: Excited for Insurgent (and happy to only deal with one love interest...THANK YOU)
Thee: I will be keeping my eye on Ms. Roth as she continues her literary journey.
Cheers!


message 39: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa I can NOT WAIT for Insurgent. And I appreciate the fact that there will not be a love triangle. So many authors do it and while it creates drama and some of the storylines are good, it's pretty overplayed. I'm glad she won't be writing one it.


message 40: by Jennie (new)

Jennie No love triangle. YES!


message 41: by Ryoko (new)

Ryoko As always, I'm blown away by Roth's interviews. Amazing (almost as good as the book)! :D


message 42: by Story Lover (new)

Story Lover X Great interview! Thank goodness there's no love triangle.


message 43: by Isa (new)

Isa But there wasn't a love triangle in Divergent either. I do not know why she needs to clarify there won't be one in Insurgent, but I am glad. I hate love triangles. Not many people can get those right, I'd be hard pressed to find a good one in recent years.


message 44: by Molly (new)

Molly Grimmius Thank you for not making a love triangle!!!! I would love to hear more about how your faith influences your writing!


message 45: by Irfan (new)

Irfan Wow! I heard about Divergent a long time ago. When I read this interview, it made me really interested.

Keep going!


message 46: by Liz* (last edited Mar 14, 2012 04:40AM) (new)

Liz* I thought I was the only one who was relief about the "there's no love triangle". Sometimes they're so beautiful but sometimes they just ruin the main subject of the story. Divergent was beautiful, Tris is such a complex character.
I can't wait for Insurgent.


message 47: by Rhea (new)

Rhea F YES!! NO LOVE TRIANGLE!!!


message 48: by Greta (new)

Greta Gessert I think that Divergent is like the best book EVER! REALLY GOOD JOB AND THANKS VERONICA! I LOVE the book! Counting the days for Insurgent!


message 49: by Amy (new)

Amy Yes! No love triangle! Finally a book that can read and not get pissed off by the stupid love triangle! That is what turns me off about so many books.


message 50: by Lexis (new)

Lexis i havent read the book but i am hopeing to get to it this summer i have a ton of books to read!!! yahh


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