Lucky Nashville! We’re one of the destination cities for Veronica Roth’s book tour. The bestselling author of the Divergent series will present her new novel, Carve the Mark, at the Nashville Children’s Theatre on Friday, January 20, at 6:15 p.m., in conversation with Sarah Enni of the First Draft podcast. For this special edition of the Salon@615 series, your ticket includes a signed copy of Carve the Mark — a book so highly anticipated worldwide that it’s being released in 33 languages at once.
Meanwhile, Roth spoke with Stephanie Appell, our manager of books for young readers at Parnassus Books, about how the new novel — the first in a duology — came to be. (This interview also runs today in The Tennessean.)
You’ve mentioned that this is a story you’ve been working on for a long time, even off and on as you were writing the Divergent books. You told Entertainment Weekly, “Throughout the years, I never quite let that idea go. I’d write it as fantasy, I’d write it as sci-fi, I’d write it this way, and that way, with a girl, with a boy. I just kept bouncing around, and I finally figured out the way that it works.” If it’s not too spoilery, I’m curious to know what you figured out about the story or the characters that helped things fall into place and enabled you to move forward with the book?
VR: I’m not sure I have a great explanation for this, to be honest! I was writing it as a kind of offbeat fantasy thing, and I kept getting stuck, feeling like what I was doing just wasn’t interesting to me. So one day when I was considering some of the greater world questions (like: what about the countries that border this one, if any?), I thought about writing it as a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid instead, so I could have different planets, different climates, and most importantly, spaceships. It opened up the world in a way that excited me, and that’s really the key to finishing something: just being motivated the whole way through.
What about Carve the Mark do you hope will appeal to Divergent fans?
VR: I mean, I really just hope the book appeals to people, no matter the reason! But really, the stories have similar qualities because they come from the same person: a healthy blend of action, romance, and family drama; a lot of angst about identity; and a bunch of weird mystery substances. For Divergent readers I think the characters are what people connected to most, and hopefully it’s the same for Carve the Mark.
What about those who’ve never read your work?
VR: I hope they enjoy the world and want to live in it. When I have loved books most in my life, it’s because I wanted to kind of bury myself in them and stay, and I’d love to create that experience for other people.
It’s sort of a Done Thing now to ask authors to sort themselves or their characters into Hogwarts Houses, and I bet you’re going to get asked to sort Carve the Mark characters into their Factions a lot as you promote this new book. But I read that you grew up in a suburb of Chicago, so I have a different kind of “sorting” question for you: If Akos, Cyra, Eijeh, and Ryzek were characters in a John Hughes movie, what roles would they play?
VR: This is going to be tough, because I’m not a big Hughes aficionado! I saw Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club over a decade ago. I think Cyra has some of Bender’s bravado and “tough guy” schtick in her. Akos is probably Allison (“the basket case”), because when you get past the quiet barrier she puts up, she’s not exactly the shrinking violet you might expect. Ryzek is like a darker Andy, a bully who’s under substantial pressure from his father to succeed. And Eijeh is probably Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles: good looking and a decent guy, but you get the idea his priorities aren’t always in order.
I found the Shotet culture absolutely fascinating — the role of violence in their lives, their position within interplanetary relations, the practice of the sojourn . . . I know you did a lot of deliberate world-building for Carve the Mark, and I’d love to hear specifically about the process of creating the Shotet.
VR: My idea for the Shotet was for the reader to experience them primarily the way Akos does: at first, he sees them almost as monsters, but they aren’t, and the longer he spends with them, the more impossible that fact becomes to ignore. In order to develop all of the distinct cultures in the book, I determined their highest priorities, and for the Shotet, that priority is survival. They have been oppressed by the powerful galactic government in the past, and continue to be now, so they’ve become strong — and yes, sometimes violent — to fight for their own rights and sovereignty. They’re also resourceful, in order to survive, and know how to repurpose things other people would discard. They have a strong sense of belonging to each other, rather than to a place, because they know how easy it is to take a place away from someone. Basically, what I’m saying is — just by knowing what someone’s highest priority is, you can figure out a lot about them.
Their language was also an important element of their creation, since their language is a huge, emotional part of their culture. I decided to draw on my experience with Hungarian, from when I lived in Cluj-Napoca, Romania—where there is a large Hungarian population. To someone who has never heard it before, Hungarian sounds a little harsh, a little odd. But I was in church there, on Christmas, when we sang Hungarian Christmas songs—and they were so haunting, so beautiful. That experience was powerful for me. I wanted Shotet to sound harsh, too, to people who don’t speak it. But just because outsiders don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
To follow up on that: Cyra and her Shotet identity feel so inextricable, because so much of Cyra’s character is a reaction TO what her family have done to the Shotet way of life. In the journey of writing the book, which emerged first, Cyra’s personality or the Shotet as a people?
VR: The Shotet! Cyra wasn’t even in some of my initial part-drafts. But I needed a way to keep our antagonist, Ryzek, in the picture a little more, so I put her in the story to connect me. And then it was like she just elbowed her way in more and more until she had just as many words as Akos.
I think Carve the Mark is a fantastic title, but I always love to know whether a book had any other titles during the writing process. Were there other titles in the running?
VR: It only had one title before Carve the Mark, and it was Sojourn. It seemed fitting. Earlier drafts were more focused on journeys, whether figurative or literal. But as the story changed, I felt like a different title would suit it better. Carve the Mark was a phrase that came up in the narrative more than once, and it felt . . . I don’t know. Powerful. Emotional!
What book recommendations do you have for when readers have finished Carve the Mark, to tide them over until the second book comes out?
VR: Well if you find yourself still in a sci-fi place, you should check out Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Starglass by Phoebe North. If you want fascinating, dark world-building, you should absolutely read Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. And if you’re interested in delightfully “unlikable” women (I hate that term, but you know what I mean, hopefully!), go with How to Break A Boy by Laurie Devore, or This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers.
And finally: what do you like most about independent bookstores?
VR: I like how they feel. They’re places I want to spend time in, full of people who love and value at least one of the same things I do. When I was young my mom took me to the bookstore or the library and just let me wander around for hours, reading the backs of books to find the ones I wanted, and the closest I ever get to that feeling as an adult is when I’m in an independent bookstore. Like I have permission to just enjoy something.