Veronica Roth, NYT bestselling author of Divergent (2011), has released book two of the trilogy, Insurgent (2012). In the midst of release and book-touring chaos, I caught her in a moment of generosity. She kindly agreed to an interview, which should be inspiring and helpful to the Lucky 13s (and anyone else) working on their second book, whether by contract, under option, or with crossed fingers. - Liz Coley
(1) Veronica, you mentioned at your signing in Cincinnati that at times you were concerned about who you’d killed off and who you’d left alive at the end of Divergent. How much of Insurgent’s story arc and/or details were worked out ahead of time as you conceived the trilogy?
Well, I had to construct a book two outline and a considerably less detailed book three summary before I ever got the book contract. So I've had the (VERY) general arc planned out from the very beginning. But for me, the best thing I can do with an outline is figure out how to mentally ditch that outline if necessary. So I try to allow everything the freedom to change as it needs to, which means that I both know what's going to happen and have no freaking idea what's going to happen. Does that make sense? I hope so.
(2) Considering the process of bringing Divergent to publication (final revisions, copy edits, page passes, ARCs, and launch) in conjunction with the process of writing a new novel, how did you divide your energies and schedule? Was there significant overlap in time and attention spent on each book?
I basically bounced back and forth. There are some authors who are able to work on two things simultaneously, but I am not one of them. If I was touring, or editing book one, I couldn't even think about book two. But when I was waiting to get edits back, or not traveling for awhile, I tried to get as much of Insurgent done as possible. It didn't work that well, to be honest. I have trouble flipping the switch on and off so rapidly. I got most of Insurgent done when my book tour was over and I had a long stretch—maybe six months—just to work.
(3) It is said that book and movie trilogies can suffer from The Empire Strikes Back-itis. Having read Insurgent, I can attest that’s not the true in your case. Book two packs as much wallop as book one and keeps the happy reader up all night. What was the easiest thing about writing a second book? What was the hardest?
Well, thank you! (Although, wait, are you suggesting that Empire Strikes Back is a saggy middle movie? Because it's my favorite one! Darth Vader revelations, anyone? No?) The hardest part about writing book two was that reviews for book one were coming out at around the same time, and that created a lot of internal pressure for me to improve on the things I hadn't done well in the first book and also to avoid saggy middle book syndrome and also to create something that was consistent with Divergent yet different enough to stand on its own—piece of cake, right? Holy bananas.
It's hard enough for us, as writers, to ignore that little Inner Editor, but when you start to read reviews, every single one becomes another Inner Editor voice that you have to ignore in order to work. It was very difficult for me to do that. If I can give a little unsolicited advice, I recommend that after you read a few reviews just to get over the excitement of it, do yourself a favor and stop reading them. Trust me—they will find you anyway, so it's not like you'll be completely ignorant about what people are saying. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop seeking them out early on.
The easiest part of writing book two was that I felt like I had learned a lot from the editing process of book 1—I had learned what I was willing to change and what I was not willing to change, I had a very clear vision for how I wanted the book to be, and I felt confident enough in myself to stand by that vision when I had to. That made revising a lot easier—I was able to take in feedback from my agent and my editor, of course, but also to say “no, that's not how I want it to be” to some things, which I was less willing to do with book one.
(4) Can you give us, the aspirants, a sense of what it is like to have a fan base avidly awaiting your next product? (FYI y’all, the book signing crowd for Insurgent looked to exceed fire code!)
Is there a word that means both “incredible” and “terrifying”? Incredifying? Yes, that sounds about right. The “incredible” part is knowing that there are people out there who actually connected with your work, people to whom the characters feel real and the story, significant. That keeps me motivated on some of my off days. The “terrifying” part is that there are people out there who actually connected with your work—so you better not screw it up the next time around! And that's something that's tricky to deal with. You always know you're going to disappoint something with this plot development or that ending or this character death. You have to just accept that before you even start writing, and I mean really accept it.
(5) So, I have to ask about book three in this book two interview. Having come so far in your tale, is it “writing itself” or is each book unique in its plotting and pacing challenges?
I'm sorry, I just almost choked on my tea at the notion of this book “writing itself.” IF ONLY. Each book is different. The first one, the rough draft almost wrote itself. The second one, I just had to write draft after draft after draft until I found the right one. The third one looks like it might be my first “outline book”—I'm not naturally a plotter, but I've found it so difficult to wrap my head around everything that's going on that an outline seems like it might help. The trick is to stay open with your writing process. Don't just figure out what works for you and stick with it—I mean, certainly do that for as long as it keeps working. But also, remember that “what works for you” will change with every book, or even halfway through whatever book you're working on. The only trick to writing is to do whatever it takes to keep yourself writing, I think.
(6-bonus question) Have you looked beyond book three to your next project?
No, I try to just look at what's right in front of me. I have a few projects in the background that I'm working on just for fun, but who knows if they'll end up being anything? I'll find out when I have time to finish them, I think.
(Lucky 7) Do you have any quirky life or writing superstitions you’d be willing to share with our lucky readers?
Though I am certainly a strange person, my writing life is oddly vanilla, so let me just get all scientific up in here: studies suggest that when a person is confronted with a difficult problem (like a plot hole that you just can't resolve!), he or she will continue to think about it on some level even as she does different things. So if you're struggling with something, put the computer or the pen down and occupy your mind with something else. The answer to your problem may just strike you randomly in the middle of washing your dishes or something. I recently got an intense plot revelation in the middle of a doctor's appointment. Who knew?
Thanks, VERONICA, for sharing your hard earned perspective and wisdom.
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Liz Coley writes young adult novels and science fiction/fantasy short stories for anthologies and magazines.
Her novel Pretty Girl-13 from HarperCollins Katherine Tegen Books will be debuting in March, 2013 in the US and abroad. Now available for pre-order on Amazon and Amazon UK.
There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.
For more about Liz and her work, visit lizcoley.com and LCTeen.com or follow her on Twitter at LizColeyBooks.