‘Divergent’ Veronica Roth: A young adult novelist actually under 30

By Jessica Herdon
AP Film Writer

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This photo released by Summit Entertainment shows, second left, Shailene Woodley, in the film "Divergent." The movie releases on Friday, March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Jaap Buitendijk)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.: “Divergent,” the latest young adult novel poised to become a blockbuster movie, meets all the criteria for the YA genre: It’s adapted from a best-seller; the story is rooted in sci-fi; and the cast consists of hot, young stars-to-be. But unlike the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series, this one was actually written by someone under 30.

In 201, writer Veronica Roth was just 22 years old when her book hit shelves. Based on a future dystopian society where people are segregated by their values, her debut landed on the New York Times children’s best-seller list, where it remained for 11 weeks. She followed it up with the sequel “Insurgent” and completed her trilogy with “Allegiant.” Her books have sold over 11 million copies.

Summit Entertainment, the same studio behind the “Twilight” franchise, acquired the film rights before the first copy of “Divergent” was sold. “It’s been surreal,” Roth said during a recent interview. “When I found out Summit wanted to make a movie, I was like, ‘They want to do what?’ I was really nervous, but I was relieved when it started doing well. That they were interested was really encouraging.”

Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet, the film opens Friday.

During an interview with The Associated Press, Roth talked about letting the studio take her book and run with it, the inevitable comparisons with “The Hunger Games” and how she’s grown as a writer:

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AP: The first time you saw the film adaptation of “Divergent,” did it look the way you’d envisioned it?

Roth: Not until I saw the shot of the Sears Tower (now Chicago’s Willis Tower) and the characters going into the choosing ceremony did I really go, ‘Oh that’s really it.’ I got really emotional. And I was happy because I didn’t want any sleek or super polished future and it does look kind of destroyed. You can’t micromanage the movie adaptation of your book. First of all, they won’t let you. Second of all, I didn’t want to.

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AP: Your stories have been compared to writer Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series. Both focus on heroines in dystopian societies. Feel any pressure to match the box-office numbers of those adaptations?

Roth: I think it’s a double-edged sword. I try not to think about it, but I don’t succeed most of the time. “The Hunger Games” did something remarkable. So in that sense, it’s a flattering comparison. But you can’t hope to replicate that experience. It was unique.

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AP: What are your thoughts on the casting choices of Shailene Woodley as the character Tris and Theo James as Four?

Roth: (Shailene and Theo) transported me right away. They had great chemistry. That is what I was most concerned about because that has to carry the story.

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AP: What was the inspiration for the story?

Roth: My freshman year of college I learned about exposure therapy, which is a method of treating anxiety and phobia. Someone is repeatedly exposed to the thing that makes them afraid, so they become habituated to it. I wanted to use it in a sci-fi context.

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AP: Writer Stephenie Meyer was 31 when her first book from the “Twilight” collection came out. Suzanne Collins was 46 when the first novel from her “The Hunger Games” trilogy released. How does it feel to be a young adult generating young adult material?

Roth: I feel acutely aware of how young I am. In a way that is good. It’s productive. It makes me realize that I should be growing as a writer and a person.

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AP: How have you grown as a writer?

Roth: I take things that I am putting on the page more seriously now. In the subsequent books I thought more about violence and young people. It’s very serious. That doesn’t mean I’m limiting the content. I just handle it different. In terms of writing skill, I think more detail and less repetition.

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AP: Does the pressure to produce a good follow-up weigh on you?

Roth: It depends on the day. The only time I’m able to write is when I can let that go. It’s been helpful to have a series finished and think that whatever I do next just gets to exist between me and my screen for as long as I want it to. It’s a way of coaching myself into relaxing.

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AP: Have you finished your next book?

Roth: I wrote a collection of short stories that’s coming out in July. (The collection is told from Four’s perspective.) It’s kind of a prequel to “Divergent.” I’m just finishing them now.


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