Yesterday was Veronica Roth’s 25th birthday. Veronica talked Divergent, her own coming of age story and more with Elle Magazine in their September issue. Check out the interview below:
ELLE: There is a long tradition of literature that is geared toward a younger generation being picked up by an adult audience—from the works of C.S. Lewis, to Madeleine L’Engle. And recently authors like J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Stephanie Meyer heralded a renaissance of adults reading Young Adult. But you’re much closer in age to your readers than those authors. Does the Divergent series mirror your own coming of age in any way?
Veronica Roth: I wrote these books at a point when I was growing up. Senior year in college, about to do what Tris [the protagonist] does, she’s making decisions about what she’s going to do with the rest of her life, and Tris’s decisions are comparable to maybe choosing a college, but also to choosing a life path.
ELLE: You’re a bit of a wunderkind in that you got this book deal for a trilogy with Harper Collins while still in your senior year at Northwestern University. Did that change everything for you?
VR: I had applied for a graduate school program and I was wondering how I was going to get loans, and I was planning on moving back in with my parents. Then this happened, and it was like, ‘Oh, you can’t go to grad school because it’s going be a little bit too busy for a while.’ I was going for a Master’s of Arts in biblical studies; it’s sort of like a Master of Divinities but without learning Hebrew or Latin. I was, at that point, really interested in theology and scholarly inquiry about religious issues. I don’t know what I was thinking, because I landed on this path that I’m so happy with now— I mean how could I have thought that was going to be my life?
ELLE: You address religion in Divergent and Insurgent through your character Tris, who is constantly questioning her values. Where in your own experience does that come from?
VR: I think what bleeds into the writing is mostly an awareness that religious questions are essential to our growth and development. Even if you question yourself and you come to a decision that you don’t believe in anything, I think those questions are important. As far as the books go, it’s important to me not to send any kind of [religious] message—subtle or overt or anything. I don’t even want to do a moral preaching. I mean, obviously, your beliefs about the world inform your writing. It’s important to me to have Tris always asking questions—she is never really sure what she believes, but she inches towards revelations throughout the series, then sort of backs away from them.
ELLE: Is the first love relationship between Four and Tris based on your own experience? You seem to have such affection for Four.
VR: He’s definitely not based on anyone. I don’t think I would date someone with so many secrets, [laughs] so he’s not my ideal partner or anything like that. The beauty of him is that he’s a mystery, and Tris slowly discovers him. But it was important to me to have their relationship feel real, and one of the reasons why I didn’t introduce a secondary love interest or a love triangle was because I wanted to explore how relationships are challenged over time, so the best way to do that is over the course of the series.
ELLE: It’s nice that you keep Tris independent. I think that women can get a little lost in big romances, sometimes.
VR: I think the dynamic enforces that too. The word I would come up with for how Four feels about Tris is primarily “respect.” He respects her so much that sometimes he thinks that she’s invulnerable. I think he creates that independence in her as much as she does.
ELLE: You’re in your 20s, and suddenly you’re in the spotlight—on tour, doing TV interviews, etc. Has being in the public eye affected the way you dress?
VR: I have recently developed a sense of style that I didn’t used to have. I wore an endless series of band t-shirts when I was in high school, because I had this phase where I listened to heavy metal. My high school boyfriend was the lead singer of a band, so I got involved in the scene that way. I was a little bit of a poseur. I was into it, but not independently, only as a part of that social system. But I wore the clothes. Right now I’m wearing black flats, black jeans, and a big blouse-y polka dot shirt. I own two pairs of Doc Martins, and some Creepers…you know the flatform shoe that’s becoming more popular? They have this weird sole—the goth kids in high school wore them a lot. I’m into the clunky shoe thing. Actually wearing flats is pretty rare for me.
ELLE: Everyone wants to know: What’s next for you?
VR: I am going to take a little break. I’m still planning on writing for the same core audience, but I’m thinking it might take me a while to find the next project that feels similar to Divergent. I don’t want to go for something smaller. I want it to feel the same way that first book did.
ELLE: What is your dream project?
VR: Man, if I were a mature writer, I would want to set a book in 1980s communist Romania. Because my husband and I lived there for five months, right after we got married. My husband’s uncle and aunt live there, and have for like, 14 years, and they’re working with the art and theatre community there. We met a lot of people there, and heard a lot of stories, and it was so interesting, but I think that’s a project that I’ll put away for a while, because I need to grow into it a little bit.