Bestselling Creator Veronica Roth Asks What Comes Next

In the case of the present wave of American aughts nostalgia, the authors of dystopian and paranormal young adult fiction are seizing the moment. Hunger Games creator Suzanne Collins released a prequel to her bestselling series at first of the pandemic, while Stephanie Meyer published a companion novel to her smash-hit Twilight around the identical time. A sequel series to the favored 2000s Maze Runner books also kicks off this fall — and the list goes on. But does every writer from that era need to revisit the series that made them famous? For Veronica Roth, the brain (and fingertips) behind the huge Divergent franchise and writer of Poster Girl, published on October 18, looking back is way more complicated.

Roth never got down to create a best-selling YA series. During her upbringing within the outer Chicago suburb of Barrington, Illinois, she didn’t even explicitly articulate a desire to turn into an writer, though artistic pursuits run within the family; her mother, Barbara Ross, is a painter. It wasn’t until a freshman psychology class at Carleton College that Roth got an initial inkling of writerly inspiration. “We were learning about exposure therapy, which is a technique of treating anxiety and phobias where you get repeatedly exposed to whatever stimulus provokes your fear response until your brain gets used to it,” she tells “I believed to myself, ‘What if we could use some type of technology to facilitate this?’”

On the time, her interest in how technology could help or hurt an individual’s psychology—and what it meant to face those fears—was a vague notion. It took Roth nearly 4 years to flesh out the concept and put pen to paper, which she finally did as a school senior, having transferred to Northwestern University. “I didn’t use a top level view or plan, and now I’m a fairly strict outliner,” she recalls with fun. “My approach is just quite a bit more methodical and arranged, I believe, than it was once.” All of that internal back-and-forth paid off: She sold her debut novel, eventually titled Divergent, after which the remainder of the trilogy; her first book was published in 2011 inside a yr of graduation.

Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, the series follows 16-year-old Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who lives in a society where persons are split amongst five different clear-cut personality factions. While residents resolve which faction to officially join as teenagers, their roles in society are then fixed; any type of independence or autonomy is violently quelled by an oppressive ruling class. When Tris finds out that she doesn’t quite fit into any of those pre-ordained groups, the conclusion sets her on an extended journey to dismantle the systems that keep people from having the ability to live outside the rigid system.

For a lot of authors, the road to bestseller lists can take many years, if that level of success comes in any respect. But like something out of a plot in one in every of her novels, Roth’s own story took a turn: Seemingly overnight, she had a runaway success on her hands with Divergent and its subsequent sequels. To call the trilogy a phenomenon can be an understatement: The series has sold over 32 million copies; on the time of the ultimate book’s release in 2013, it had the very best first-day sales numbers in HarperCollins history; and the novels eventually became a blockbuster Hollywood franchise, starring Shailene Woodley, that made roughly $765 million on the box office.

Roth’s three Divergent books weren’t the one dystopian YA novels to seek out massive followings within the late 2000s and early 2010s. Collins’ Hunger Games franchise was its own sensation on the time and was made right into a film series as well, starring Jennifer Lawrence. Other books just like the aforementioned Maze Runner, Matched, and The Selection were also huge hits with teen audiences.

Veronica Roth

Nelson Fitch

But this era of wildly popular dystopian YA wasn’t without its critics. As readers, reviewers, and students alike look back, many indicate that always the most well-liked series, reminiscent of The Hunger Games, centered mostly or entirely on white characters; but even when the primary novel’s film adaptation casted Black actors in two visible roles, there was a unique backlash to that too. Some books also faced criticism for using drained, unrealistic tropes (which one in every of these YA novels didn’t feature a wayward teen love triangle?) while completely ignoring larger more serious issues, like mental health. As time has gone on, questions have also surfaced around just how politically radical the books from this era really were, especially because the YA genre has turn into more diverse—each demographically and thematically—over the past five years or so.

When it got here to criticism across the Divergent series, there was a fantastic deal of anguish over Roth’s decision to (warning: major spoiler!) kill her foremost character Tris in the ultimate book. While she knew that the conclusion can be controversial since ending the lifetime of a protagonist typically is, Roth didn’t anticipate the extent of vitriol that got here from the choice, which included derision in all places on the web from Reddit to BuzzFeed. (There have been even petitions on the time campaigning for a recent ending within the movie franchise, despite the fact that she herself didn’t have control over that.)

Almost a decade after the ultimate book’s publication though, Roth stands by how she selected to finish her series. “I at all times feel like I made the most effective selection I could within the moment with the extent of skill that I had,” she reflects. Not every writer may very well be as cerebral about facing such large-scale criticism, but Roth credits a key component of Northwestern’s creative writing program for her attitude years later: Students weren’t allowed to make clear their work as the category read and critiqued it. She believes this structure has made her more open to feedback and introspection, even over a decade after graduating. “That was my default mindset after the books got here out. It’s at all times [about] attempting to receive what persons are saying and the way they’re reacting without becoming defensive and overly justifying yourself. I attempted to reflect on things,” she says. “After all, that makes you doubt [yourself], like ‘Perhaps I didn’t set this up well. Or possibly it wasn’t being read in the identical way that I meant it.’ I don’t regret it. But I even have thought quite a bit about it.”

At that time though, Roth was already considering her next move. She was in her late twenties because the Divergent era got here to an end, and she or he had a “good” problem on her hands: She’d already checked off practically all of the massive profession boxes that took authors many years to realize, including making a bestselling series and seeing her work made into a big movie franchise. What comes next?

After a time of great soul searching, she decided the reply was to challenge herself creatively as much as possible. Throughout the remainder of the 2010s, she wrote one other YA series called Carve the Mark (for which she faced criticism for its racial politics and disability representation) and wrote two short story collections. But she made her biggest change in 2020 by publishing Chosen Ones, her first work of adult fiction. Chosen Ones tells the story of Sloane, one in every of five then-teenagers who defeated an evil force often called the Dark One a decade before the book begins. But even with all the fame and celebrity that comes with being a “hero,” she and her compatriots are still coping with the trauma and pain they endured in adolescence.

This fall, Roth is back with a recent standalone adult novel called Poster Girl, which centers on Sonya, a young woman who’s incarcerated for being one in every of the propagandized “poster children” of a violent and now-overthrown regime. After 10 years in prison, she strikes a deal to seek out a missing child with a view to earn her freedom, but her journey eventually forces her to confront many painful truths about each her past and the current.

Much of the dystopian YA world that Divergent thrived in a decade ago was focused on the fight for a greater world and all the sacrifices needed to get it. While they aren’t a part of the series, Chosen Ones and Poster Girl look even further into the longer term, specializing in the aftermath of what happens after “good” wins and “evil” is defeated. Roth’s hypothesis? That neat storyline isn’t at all times as rosy and simple because it seems; as a substitute, recovery and progress are sometimes messy, painful, and complex. Roth’s adult novels are entirely separate franchises, however the two books almost act as inverse reflections of this concept, with Chosen Ones tackling what members of the “winning” side undergo after a conflict versus Poster Girl tackling what happens to members of the “losing” one. There are also lingering themes around surveillance and monitoring, which Roth jokes made her need to throw away her phone eternally after writing.

Roth points out that this central theme in each of her adult fiction books mirrors her own meta struggles after Divergent. “That is something that adults understand [better than teens]: How do I navigate the world after these big milestones have been hit?” she explains. “While I obviously wasn’t recovering from a trauma, I did feel like I used to be channeling a few of those thoughts specifically into Chosen Ones first and now Poster Girl: ‘What happens next? What happens now?’” And while it wasn’t necessarily her intention to take her original adolescent Divergent readers along with her, a lot of her now-adult fans may relate to the obstacles and questions that these recent, older characters are working through.

She says the move to adult fiction has also been a welcome change for her creatively, noting that the breakneck pace of the storylines in her earlier YA books left her wanting to try a unique style where her writing had more room to breathe. “It was nice to essentially let myself live on the planet for a bit longer before getting the plot began with Chosen Ones and now [Poster Girl],” she says.

As for what she has coming up after Poster Girl, there’s plenty to sit up for. Particularly, she’s publishing a novella-sized retelling of the Greek tragedy Antigone called Arch-Conspirator in February 2023, and she or he has several other novellas within the works. Like many authors though, the plans she had prior to the pandemic have shifted, and she or he foresees just a few other changes coming. Chosen Ones, for example, got here out in April 2020, and she or he was originally slated to get the second book in that series out the door soon after. As an alternative, she switched gears to put in writing Poster Girl, and now she’s undecided that the originally intended Chosen Ones sequel will ever see the sunshine of day as her own creative aspirations have shifted.

But while a few of her contemporaries are revisiting old worlds from past works, Roth is desirous about recent horizons that’ll push her into unexplored realms of sci-fi. She has just a few tricks up her sleeve. “Who knows?” she says with a smile. “I’ll keep writing. That’s my plan.”

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Lily is a author, editor, and digital strategist. Her work has been featured on Bustle, Shondaland, Allure, and Teen Vogue. You may follow Lily on Twitter.

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