Ep 133 We talk to “Divergent” author Veronica Roth about her new book “Carve The Mark”.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 133 of So you want to be a writer: 10 tools you can use to jumpstart your NaNoWriMo novel and draw your own maps with cartography software for fantasy writers. Learn how to tame your emails! Astound your friends by casually dropping “syzygy” into conversations about the upcoming supermoon. Discover how you could with a Surface Pro 4! We talk to Divergent author Veronica Roth about her new book Carve The Mark. Plus, building your newsletter list and much more!


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Review of the Week
From Tracey_Hewitt:

All kinds of useful information in these podcasts! Thanks for the know how, the inspiration and the laughs. Alison and Valerie are regular travel companions in my car. I live in rural Australia, so car trips are often long, but with these two along for the drive, the trip goes much faster (and more enjoyably!)

Thanks Tracey_Hewitt!

Show Notes

Top 10 Tools to Jumpstart Your NaNoWriMo Novel

Cartography Software for Fantasy Writers

Forget about “inbox zero”: The real problem with email isn’t your unread messages

Writer in Residence

Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth bio picture

Veronica Roth is an American novelist and short story writer known for her debut New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy.

She has a new series coming out in 2017. The first book is called Carve the Mark.

Visit Veronica’s website

Follow Veronica on Twitter

 

 

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Veronica.

Veronica

Thanks for having me.

Valerie

Now I read your latest book on the weekend, Carve the Mark, and devoured it. But, for those readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you just give us a brief idea of what it’s about?

Veronica

I will do my best, it’s been difficult to summarize this one. But, it’s about a young man named Akos, who along with his brother is kidnapped and taken into a kind of enemy country. And while he’s there he meets a young woman named Cyra, who has great number of difficulties in her life. And they kind of band together for the good of his brother, but for various other reasons against her brother who is the dictator of this, like, enemy country. And it’s in space.

Valerie

Yes, that is the theme.

Veronica

Yeah.

Valerie

So, I mean I got sucked in from chapter one. Now it is in space and I wanted to talk to you about that, because it is — I lived the entire weekend in another world. So, this world is in space and it has different nations and languages and rituals and sovereigns.

Veronica

Right.

Valerie

All with their own, you know, sometimes complicated way of ruling and living and very different societal expectations, just as you would, you know, in our world, but it’s not our world.

But, I would like to talk to you about this other world, because it plays such a big part in the story. Did you start off with the idea for what was going to happen in the book? Or did you start building the world in your head and go from there?

Veronica

You know it was kind of everything at once. So, one thing makes the other thing work — I will explain

Valerie

Yeah. For sure.

Veronica

Originally I had the very basic plot idea a long time ago, when I was young, actually. Just Akos’s story. You know, he’s taken away from his family, he finds that he oddly understands his enemies, the people that have taken him. Then he has to come back and find a way to relate, even though he’s been through this trauma and had these experiences that he can’t understand.

So, that kind of idea has fascinated me forever, and I think to a certain degree that’s also the story of Divergent. So, it’s obviously a theme that I find very interesting.

Valerie

Yes.

Veronica

So, I had that in mind, but I kept trying to put his story in different settings. So, I had high fantasy first and then I tried urban fantasy, and then I tried sci-fi and then I went back to fantasy. And now the only way that it works was this time. There’s like ten different versions of the story on my computer. The first time it was, you know, sci-fi fantasy and it —

Valerie

It worked.

Veronica

— it did work, yeah

Valerie

Did you write ten different versions set in ten different worlds?

Veronica

Well, no, just pieces.

Valerie

Right.

Veronica

So, yes, but only the start. So, the first 20 pages. The first 50 pages and in the longest example the first 300 pages, which whoa, was hard to let go of.

Valerie

Wow, oh my god.

Veronica

But, I never finished, and it never really worked before. And we’re talking about high school and parts of college, so this was a long time ago.

Valerie

Sure.

Veronica

But… yeah.

Valerie

So when you wrote each of these versions, especially the 300-page version, each time were you following the same journey of Akos?

Veronica

I was, yeah. And I think part of the reason it didn’t work before was because Cyra wasn’t there.

Part of what makes the story interesting to me is that it’s these two people with two different perspectives on the situation between their cultures and their countries and their political situation. So, she’s insisting that he really is one of them and he’s saying, “No, like I get to decide what my identity is.” So, it’s just a source of tension between them, which will develop more in the next book. Yeah, so without both of them it just — it wasn’t really like doing it for me.

Valerie

Yes.

Veronica

And it couldn’t hold my interest.

Valerie

So you have some chapters told from the point of Akos and some chapters told from the point of view of Cyra. What did you do to switch hats, because they
are — well, one’s male and one’s female. They are from different enemy nations. So, what did you do to get into their minds?

Veronica

Well, I think like with a lot of writers, maybe more than some, I really struggle with changing voices. And, to me, they always sound more different than they actually sound to other people. And so that’s something that I struggled with a lot.

But, with Akos. I mean I tried to keep his in first person, but it didn’t work, because he was kind of like constantly pushing me out, that’s how it felt anyway. Just like I couldn’t get in there right.

And I think part of that is that his character is so, like, is defined frequently as being very wary and kind of guarded. And that’s his current gift too, I mean we see that part of that psychology expressed in his kind of ability to push out these supernatural forces in the universe.

So, writing it in third person was what made it work, for me. And also I thought about their kind of class differences. They’re both people who come from privileged backgrounds, but that means something different to both of them. So, he’s from this, like, kind of low class city in Thuve, his country, and she is at the very top of the social strata in Shotet. So, she hopefully has more formal diction than him, and I tried to keep that in mind too.

Valerie

When you are building these worlds of Shotet and the other nations and the customs that they have, how did you keep track of all of the different things in the world and the different characteristics that each nation was supposed to have? Did you have some kind of planning board? On a practical level how did you do it? Did you have, like, lots of Post-Its, did you write out entire histories of worlds? How did that happen?

Veronica

Well, I’m not big into like very formally written descriptions. I just take a lot of notes. So, I use Scrivener — have you ever used that?

Valerie

Yeah, I love Scrivener.

Veronica

Yeah, Scrivener is great. And, you know, you can create all kinds of documents and you can save pages and you can, you know, do all kinds of things. So, that’s mostly how I keep track is I create like a series of documents that no one else would be able to understand because they’re just gibberish.

But, to me, they help me keep it straight.

Valerie

Yeah, for sure.

Veronica

But, it helps to have a couple guiding principles for each one, you know? I think in the book itself I list what each country kind of worships as a way of defining it. So for the Shotet is the current and for Thuve it’s the iceflower. So, to me, that was like a way of keeping them separate. So, things like that kind of helped me to remember. Like, “These people are about this series of things, and these people are not.” You know?

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

And they’re at war, so they’re distinct. They take pride how distinct they are from each other.

Valerie

Now I understand that you wrote Divergent, according to Wikipedia anyway, while on your winter break in your senior year at Northwestern University. Is that true?

Veronica

Kind of. I mean, yes, I wrote a huge portion of it over winter break, most of it. The original draft for Divergent was 45,000 words, so more of a half, you know, so it’s… saying I wrote it all over winter break is like, “How? Did you sleep?” Like, “Yes, I did.”

I did write it fast, but that was the rough draft and it just grew from there. But, you know, my parents were on vacation and my friends hadn’t come back from school yet, so I was just sitting there watching Veronica Mars and writing this manuscript.

Valerie

So take me back to when you wrote it, did you imagine it was going to be such a phenomenal success?

Veronica

Oh no, no. I mean — no. When I was done with it I was like, “Oh, let’s see what I can do with it.” And that was as far as my imagination for it went. I mean I love writing, so — and I knew how young I was, you know, so I was fully prepared to write multiple manuscripts that never went anywhere. But, it just didn’t end up that way. You know, I feel like it was good timing, but also a little bit of luck. So…

Valerie

So, tell us about the process of getting that published, what exactly were the steps until Divergent got accepted?

Veronica

Well, you know the first thing I think was figuring out what I wanted, so there’s different ways to be published. And I figured I may as well go for it. So, I decided you know a big publisher in the US would be great. So, we’ll see… see if that works. And in order to do that you really need an agent.

So, then I looked into how to get an agent, and wrote my career letter and sent it out into the world.

But, I met my agent originally at a writers’ conference and I pitched my first manuscript to her, which was not Divergent. She agreed to read it, but then ended up rejecting it. And I sent her Divergent next.

So, I met her there. And, she loved Divergent. And then we revised it together and she sent it to editors that she knew who might like it. And that’s how it came together. It was kind of fast from that point on.

Valerie

How fast after she sent it out did you get a call? And do you remember what you were doing when you got a call?

Veronica

Oh yes. It was four days.

Valerie

Four days?!

Veronica

Yeah, it was like she sent it at the end of a week. So, Molly O’Neill who became my editor for Divergent read it over the weekend and then called Jo, my agent, on a Monday.

I mean I was not — I was not ready.

Valerie

No.

Veronica

So when she called me I was right next to the dumpsters in my apartment building, because that was like a quiet place to take a phone call, and I was also like leaving the building at the time to do something on campus.

Anyway, so I’m like crouched next to a big garbage can when I got that call. So, you know…

Valerie

Really?

Veronica

Yeah. 

Valerie

Wow, OK.

So, obviously they wanted Divergent. At that time, or when you were writing Divergent, did you already have the subsequent books, Insurgent and Allegiant, in mind when you wrote it? Or did those stories come later

Veronica

I think it’s kind of both at once. Like, I knew where the story might go, and I had an idea of the ending of this whole series, but I also wanted to be flexible because I’ve heard that’s a good thing to be with publishers.

Valerie

Yes.

Veronica

So, I was like, “Well, it could end here or it could be these three books, whichever ends up working.” So thankfully they wanted the rest, because I do think… I mean the first book… it’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it’s definitely not resolved. So, I think I was kidding myself a little bit thinking it could just standalone.

Valerie

I understand that you sold the film rights for the book even before the book came out. Can you tell us about that process? Did you know that your agent was going to see if people would be interested in making it into a film. Did you ever anticipate that it was going to be made into a film?

Veronica

Well, I knew that — so Pouya Shahbazian is my film rights manager. And he works with my agent at the same company. So, I knew he was going to take it and see what he could do with it. But, you know, like even if a film studio buys the rights to your work, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to make it.

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

So even when the rights sold I wasn’t — I didn’t let myself be that excited. I was like, “Yeah, that’s great. And it will certainly be good in certain ways, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

Valerie

Yep.

Veronica

And so Pouya and I had a joke the whole way through, which was we would only let ourselves celebrate on the way to the premiere, because up until that point anything could happen.

Valerie

OK, sure.

Veronica

On the way to the premiere I was like, “Pouya, can we celebrate now?” And he was like, “Yes, finally.”

Valerie

Now both Divergent and Carve the Mark are kind of like coming of age stories. You’ve written for a young adult audience. Having said that though, what is interesting is after Divergent came out, I remember — I catch planes a lot on the business route on the Eastern Seaboard of Australia, and there was a period where every — and they’re full of business people, and there was a period where every plane I was on there were multiple business people reading Divergent.

Veronica

Oh, that’s great.

Valerie

So, obviously it’s way more than a young adult audience, but essentially it’s a YA book. What appeals to you about that audience?

Veronica

Oh man. Well, I — I don’t know — I do know. I have a lot to say about this, which is why I’m suddenly getting stymied by my own thoughts. But, I think it’s a really exciting period of life, first of all. I mean it’s high drama, everything you experience feels like the biggest thing on Earth, because for you it really is. You feel like an adult, but you’re not quite an adult yet. You have a lot of first time things, a lot of, like, very intense struggles in friendships and in relationships. So, it feels like really fertile ground for stories.

But, also I think there’s something specifically about young women that compels me. So, certainly I love that young men or other people read my work. You know, anyone that wants to read it is, of course, like welcomed, I guess. But, when I think about who I’m writing for it’s for young women, because I think it’s really easy to dismiss women at that age. And it happens all the time. And it really sucks.

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

I just really didn’t want to be one of those people.

You know, I’ve read about young men when I was that age, because that’s what you do. As a woman you learn how to identify with male stories. And if you’re lucky you find something that speaks to you, like I did with Judy Blume or a bunch of other authors. But, just not as many, not as many adventure stories or genre fiction.

So, I guess I just wanted to write something that teenage me would like. Yeah.

Valerie

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Veronica

Well, I remember when I started writing I was like 11 or 12 and my mom, she didn’t let us say that we were bored. That was like a huge no-no at our house. So she’d get us these kits, you know, like build a functional fan. Like, that kind of stuff — appliance kits, or like just things to occupy us. And, one of them was a make your own book kit.

And I think for the first time it occurred to me that I could write things down. And so I started to and then I switched to a computer because it’s easier. And it was at that point that I just started writing all the time, and I didn’t think about being a writer. I just wrote a lot.

Valerie

Yep.

Veronica

And it wasn’t until maybe high school or college that I thought, “People do get paid for this…”

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

“…so it is possible that it could work.”

Valerie

So what were you writing at high school? Were you writing short stories or just scenes or entire books? What were you writing when you were younger?

Veronica

Well, I never finished anything, but I was always writing books. I find short stories very difficult. So, I never gravitated toward them, initially. But, yeah, I was writing mostly kind of Lord of the Rings rip-offs, I guess, early on, like with elves and all kinds of things.

Valerie

Right.

Veronica

You start out by imitating. You know, like that’s a pretty normal place to start as a young writer. You’re figuring it out by kind of like playing in someone else’s sandbox, I guess, which is why I think fan fiction is so great. You’re taking something that already exists, so you don’t have to do every little bit of work, but you do get to play around with your writing and be creative and that’s great.

Valerie

Did you write fan fiction

Veronica

I didn’t, no. I didn’t even know that was a thing that people were allowed to do. Yeah.

Valerie

So tell us about the process, the creative process of writing the latest book, Carve the Mark. Now you had already had, obviously, the idea brewing in your head from when you were younger. So, that was taken care of, but when you were ready to write this version of it, the version that is being published, and you had to sit down and actually produce a manuscript, can you tell us about your writing routine or your creative process? Like, do you think, “I need to wake up and have a cup of tea and then immerse myself in this world, and then write 2,000 words…”? Like, what’s some kind of structure to your day, if there is any?

Veronica

I am structureless, I would say. So, I’m definitely not a routine person. I’m trying to write once a day. That’s kind of my rule for myself, but if it doesn’t work out I’m not too fussed about it.

But, I write better at night. So, that’s great for my social life, not really.

Valerie

Yes.

Veronica

Everyone else gets back from work and I’m like, “Nope, I’m starting.”

Valerie

So what do you do during the day?

Veronica

Man, I don’t even know. I mean right now there’s plenty of other work to do.

Valerie

Yes, of course.

Veronica

Answering emails and signing things. And kind of like brainstorming, I think, happens in the afternoon for me, like, while walking the dog or going for a run, or whatever.

So, I do fill my day with things. Just I do my days in reverse. Like, if other people relax in the evening before bed, I relax in the morning and get to work in the afternoon and continue into the night.

So, generally that’s how it works, but I’m also just determined to be flexible. So, sometimes I wake up and I start writing right away, because I know that I have things to do later, so…

Valerie

Yeah. So, do you have a word count target or a chapter target or something like that?

Veronica

I try to have a word count target, but then I’ve found that I would avoid scenes that were stressing me out by just, like, writing a lot in one scene. If that makes sense, you know? Like, “I’m just going to, like, tread water here for 1,000 words.”

Valerie

Oh, how funny.

Veronica

So that I can avoid the stressful thing.

So, I can’t do that. I split it up by scenes and I try to get through at least one a day and, if not, you know, if they’re shorter then I’ll do more than one. But… yeah.

Valerie

Do you know what’s going to happen? Are you a plotter?

Veronica

Now I am. I didn’t used to be. Yeah, Divergent was, like…

Valerie

Yeah, Divergent, that wasn’t plotted?  

Veronica

No. I mean, so I had kind of a loose idea of where it was going, but I had no idea how it would end and I ended up writing the ending, like, a few times because I couldn’t figure out how to bring it to a conclusion.

But, then each subsequent instalment became more and more planned out until… now Carve the Mark was definitely just outlined beginning to end. And then the second Carve the Mark book, whatever it will be called, is like such a detailed outline. It was like 25 pages of outline.

Valerie

Really? Wow. Why do you think you’ve developed into that? Do you enjoy it more or less?

Veronica

You know, I think I did it out of necessity, because when you’re writing to a deadline, you can’t just like wander around for four months while you’re figuring out what comes next, which is how it used to work when it wasn’t my job, when I was a student. So, I had plenty of other things to do and I didn’t have to write, if it wasn’t working or I didn’t have to work on one thing in particular.

But, now, you know, you’ve got to get it done and it’s work. So, I’ve let it become like more practical, more of a job for me.

And so to a certain extent, like, no, I don’t like it more. I like that feeling of discovery. But, I’ve been able to find it inside of the outline. So, you know, sometimes things still surprise you, you have to change the outline or something turns out differently than you expected or… yeah.

Valerie

Because the Divergent series was so ridiculously successful and popular, have you felt pressure for this next series of books?

Veronica

Yeah, I mean — yeah, I have.

Valerie

And how have you dealt with that?

Veronica

I try not to think about it, because that’s paralysing.

Valerie

Yeah.  

Veronica

I feel like every writer knows about that internal editor that you need to silence in order to take risks and get going, really. And so that’s a daily exercise for me, just letting go of like the constant critiquing and letting it be flawed.

So, the way I deal with it is just by falling back on — I mean it sounds silly, but my mother just constantly when I was young would say, like, “Just do the best you can, that’s all you can do.” That was like the mantra of my school life. And so we never got yelled at for bad grades, as long as it was clear that we had tried.

And that, I think, took root deep in my brain, because when I was writing Carve the Mark I occasionally would get very nervous about how it would be received. And then I’d always return to that, “Just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”

Valerie

Remember that first manuscript that you sent to the agent that she rejected before she then decided she loved Divergent?

Veronica

Yes.

Valerie

What happened to that?

Veronica

It is locked away, no one will ever see it.

Valerie

Really?

Veronica

It’s not good.

Valerie

Really?

Veronica

Yeah, really.

Valerie

Alright. Are you sure it’s not good?

Veronica

Yes, I’m pretty sure. I mean it’s not that the writing was terrible, the writing was competent, but like the characters, not so great. I’m sure there’s something to rescue from it, so I might reread it someday and try to figure out what to save and what to get rid of, but in its current form — yeah, it was just a great exercise in learning how to finish a story for me.

Valerie

Yeah, sure.

Have you been tempted to write for other age groups? Or have you written for other age groups?

Veronica

No, not yet. Not really. I feel pretty comfortable in young adult and find a lot of value and freedom in it. So, to me, that’s where I would like to stay. I mean I don’t know what I’ll do later in life, hopefully there’s plenty of time to figure that out.

Valerie

Yes.

Veronica

But, for now I’m pretty content.

Valerie

Yeah, of course.

You wrote Divergent a few years ago now, and not that much older from being young adult. To stay in this world where your characters are at that period in life, where it’s a series of firsts and where they are coming of age, do you need to do any research or remind yourself of what it was like to be at that time or hang out with younger people or whatever? How do you capture that feeling so well?

Veronica

Well, it doesn’t hurt to actually interact them. And I get to do that on a regularly basis, thankfully because of events for Divergent. So, there’s that.

But, also I say this to my husband a lot, but you have to have grace for your younger self. So, you have to be able to look back on your past experiences with fondness instead of judgement. I think a lot of people can get very embarrassed by the things they said or did when they were young. And, for me, that’s what helps me to remember so clearly what it was like to be that age, by actually letting myself look back at what it was like and what it felt and the things I went through.

So, for me, that’s kind of how I’ve been keeping it working. Just trying to be honest with myself about where my mind really was. Not trying to paint my youth with, like, a rosy kind of tint, but also being kind to myself, even though I did some very silly things.

Valerie

Why do you think people have responded positively? Why do you think it’s resonated with them, your books, so far?

Veronica

Oh man. I feel like I’m the least capable person of answering that question.

Valerie

I know, other people can obviously look at it very analytically, but I’m keen to just get your take on it, if you have one.

Veronica

Well, I don’t know. I think really it must be character-based. When I love stories that much it’s only because the character has stuck with me. So a lot of other things can be interesting in a story, but character is what, like, keeps me reading a series.

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

So, if everyone else is like me, that’s why.

And I think Tris is kind of — I mean she’s a very flawed person. But, you root for her. So, I think at the end of the day that’s probably what it’s related to.

I definitely think that people are interested in sorting themselves into categories though.

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

That’s obviously something that fascinates me. And, it’s present in a lot of stories, especially most notably like Harry Potter. So, that’s probably part of it too. What faction are you? Find your people, that kind of thing.

Valerie

Yeah, for sure.

 And so are you currently writing the second book in the Carve the Mark series, whatever that’s going to be called?

Veronica

I am.

Valerie

Have you finished?

Veronica

Oh no. I wish. No, I’m like halfway through. So…

Valerie

Right, OK. So, I know some authors actually write multiple books at the same time, or have a couple of books going at the same time. Are you focusing mainly on this, or have you already thought out the one after that?

Veronica

Well, I kind of play with ideas so I don’t forget them. So, I’ll write out, like, outlines or little paragraphs about something that I thought of that is interesting. But, I really only work on one thing at a time. So, I really admire those people who can work on more than one thing and I’m super-jealous of them because I think that would be a great skill to have. But, I need to be like fully immersed, otherwise I get lost.

Valerie
Yep, sure.

So Divergent is set kind of like in a dystopian Chicago, but it is still on Earth, Chicago, and as we’ve mentioned Carve the Mark is these whole other worlds. Like I said, I got taken into this other world, which strangely enough was really realistic because of the little things, because of the flowers or the potions or the customs or whatever that you described.

And I actually sat there sometimes thinking, “Wow, how did she even think of that?” What inspired all of these little things that made up the world? I guess I don’t have that kind of imagination. What was behind it for you?

Veronica

Well, I think when I think about the Divergent, and what I would change if I did it again, that’s one of the things that I think about. Just the detail of world-building and thinking those things through beforehand. It was something that I kind of wish I had known how to do better. And really the only way that you can learn how to do it is by doing it, which is horrible. You know, there’s no, like, guidebook to building a universe. There’s a couple of helpful guides I would say, like on the internet and stuff.

So, I was just determined to do it, I think. And then I married someone who is very detail-oriented. So, he’s constantly pointing things out in the world around us. Like, especially with kitchen supplies, for some reason.

Valerie

Kitchen supplies?

Veronica

Yeah, he’s got a passion for glassware. I don’t understand where it comes from, but it’s really great. So, over the —

Valerie

There are a couple of scenes in the kitchen in the book.

Veronica

I know!

But, for the five years that we’ve been married he’s kind of taught me how to see things in a new way. And he finds, like, ugly things beautiful and he helps me to rediscover the world around me.

Valerie

Yeah, right.

Veronica

I don’t want to get, like, sappy, but that’s the truth.

So, when I was thinking about world-building in this I would just like force myself to slow down and kind of look around and try to think, “Don’t take anything for granted.” Like, “Why do they have to…” like, “Why do we eat on plates?” Like, “Why do we use forks?” “Why do we shape our vehicle the way we shape…” like, what if there was a world where they didn’t have these things that we take for granted as like the way things inevitably turn out? You know?

I’m sorry, I feel like I’m not expressing this very well.

Valerie
No, no, you are. It’s good.

Veronica

But, I think technology forms partly because of a person’s priorities or culture of priorities. So, if you have a culture with a different set of priorities, then technology will change.

Valerie
Yes.

Veronica

And, I learned that partly when we were living in Romania. Right after we got married we lived there for five months. And, because of like resources in the country and because of just, like, limited availability of certain things they’ve had to get really creative with the way that they do security systems and heating. Like, there’s a big hot water heater in the apartment where we lived, and it did both the heat for the apartment and also for the sinks and stuff. So, it’s like a little system and they made it smaller and smaller, but I’ve never seen something like that in the States.

Valerie

Yeah.

Veronica

So it got me thinking, I guess, about these cultures and what they value the most and where they would focus their priorities.

Valerie

Why were you living in Romania?

Veronica

Adventure, mostly. My husband’s aunt and uncle have lived there for 15 years working in the arts and theatre community in Cluj in Transylvania. So, we went to go be with them for a while.

Valerie
OK, wow.

Veronica

Yeah, go on an adventure.

Valerie

When you are immersed in this world and also a story that you’re writing, as you are now with the second book, I know that a lot of authors literally live and breathe it until the end, until it’s out and then potentially they kind of miss it. But, do you live and breathe it? Are you able to switch off? Do you have time to relax and not even think about the book that you’re writing?

Veronica

I’m working on that. I think that is probably an important skill for mental health and the good of everyone around you.

Valerie

Yes, yes.

Veronica

But, I’m not so good at it. No, I’m definitely more of a live and breathe it kind of person.

Valerie

Wow. OK, do you do things to relax?

Veronica

I try.

Valerie

Do you have hobbies?

Veronica

I do. I run a lot, I cycle and I did kick boxing for a while, although I had to stop because of my shoulder. So, there’s that, that part of things.

But, it — what else do I do?

Valerie

There’s a bit of a combat theme in your writing as well.

Veronica

I know. I’m clearly obsessed with it. Yeah.

So, I finally did kick boxing, because I was like, “You’ve loved this your whole life, you should go try it.” And it was awesome. I hope to get back to it once I figure out the shoulder problem. But, it was great.

I think probably the combat stuff in Carve the Mark is more realistic than Divergent because I had learned a lot more at that point.

Valerie

What’s the most rewarding thing about writing?

Veronica

Oh my. I kind of have two answers to this. To me, the most rewarding part is the process of it. Like, I love revising. I’m not a big first drafter, because then you have got to make a lot of mistakes and just move on, and that’s hard for me. But, I love finding the character, finding the story that you’re really meant to tell and that you’ve built as you’ve went along without realising it and helping it to come out more clearly and more compellingly than you did the first time.

So, to me, that’s the whole reason to do it.

But, I also have discovered something that I didn’t know that I would love so much, which is seeing the way that young people connect to the story. So, I think this is why I’m so determinedly writing for young adults, because this is such a valuable part of the process for me.

It’s not getting their acclaim for it, or their praise for it. It’s seeing what they pull out of the story as important, what they care about the most, and the things they realize about their own lives that are sparked by, like, the reading. So, I get letters from them and I talk to them in person and it’s such a huge part of what makes it rewarding for me.

I’m a little bit socially anxious. I didn’t know that I would like that as much as I do.

Valerie

Wow. Have some of the things that they’ve pulled out of it been surprising to you?

Veronica

Sometimes, yeah. I can’t think of a specific example. But, I guess I got a really heartbreaking letter once from someone who had experienced like a similar kind of abuse to what Tobias experiences in Divergent. And this person was just telling how helpful it was to see a young man go through that and still be presented as like a strong person. I mean I just like sobbed over this letter, because I hadn’t thought about it — when I thought about it, it was like, “Oh god, I hope this is doing justice to this really difficult experience and not treating it flippantly.” So that was my only goal really.

But, to hear that it resonated with that one person was incredibly meaningful and it was surprising because I was sure that I had failed in some way. I don’t know… yeah.

Valerie

Wow. That’s very moving.

What is one of the most challenging things about writing? What do you find one of the most challenging things about writing?

Veronica

Oh man, just letting go of that voice that’s like, “You’re messing it up, don’t do that…” Like, “This isn’t working…” “It’s never going to be good enough…” You know?

Valerie

Sure, of course. Yes, we all go through that.

Veronica

I know, that internal editor, because they are terrible. 

Valerie

Yes.

Finally, what’s your advice for aspiring writers who hope to be in a position where you are one day with successful books? Some of them, maybe, made into films, but certainly published.

Veronica

Well, I think it’s all about having this tension of humility and like self-advocacy. So, you have to believe in your story, but you also have to believe that it can be better. And it’s a weird balancing act, I think. But, if you’re in love with the process of writing and you’re committed to being a better writer with each story that you write, but you’re also, like, aware of your strengths, then you can advocate for your book without being stubborn.

And, it’s a nice little trial and error. Like, I bounce back and forth like a pendulum all the time, still.

But, I do believe in my work. I also believe in myself and my capacity to get better. So, I try to listen to feedback, but if it doesn’t resonate then I let it go.

Valerie

Wonderful. Well, you’re obviously doing something right, Veronica. On that note, thank you so much for your time today.

Veronica

Thanks — thanks for having me.


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