Veronica Roth: Strong women key to her ‘Divergent’ saga

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Crafting strong female characters for her “Divergent” trilogy is something “very important” to Chicagoan Veronica Roth, the author said during a recent chat about both her books and the new film “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” based on the second novel.

As the Ravenswood neighborhood resident sees it, young girls form important self-images based on both how they see women portrayed both in the media and in literature.

“How you see yourself and how you perceive how the world values you can be a strong influence on how you eventually can drive your own story,” said Roth.

For example, the writer pointed out that “if you only read about the damsel in distress, you wonder, ‘Is that the fate that awaits me? Is that all I can do in this world?’

“I’m hoping that I can contribute to some popular fiction that will provide girls and young women with strong role models that they can emulate to some degree.”

Roth’s life was changed forever by the amazing success of her first published fiction, and the “Divergent” books are being turned into what eventually will be four films, expected to continue as huge blockbusters. Yet, she is already moving on to a new book franchise she describes as a “duology — just two books this time.” The series is still untitled and, she explained, will be “kind of ‘Star Wars’-esque. It is set in space. It’s about a young man who goes after his enemy in order to get revenge. It’s a bit of a different vibe for me, but I’m really enjoying doing it.”

Release of the first book is expected in 2017.

Roth’s story — going from an unknown recent Northwestern University grad to international bestselling novelist — surely has inspired a lot of young, aspiring authors.

“When I first started writing, I was reading a lot of children’s books,” she said. “I guess they would be considered YA, or young-adult books, now, but that category didn’t really exist as much when I was young.

“My plan was always to write for that age group, because that was when I engaged with reading the most. I was so enthusiastic about it back then. So, that was always part of my plan for me as a writer. As for the writers who inspired me, I have to say they were the ones who I was exposed to when I was young. So it was people like Judy Blume, who was so excellent — especially writing about young women.

“Of course, also J.K. Rowling, because ‘Harry Potter’ was such a thing when I was growing up. Another inspiration was Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry — all of her books are beautiful and so heartbreaking.”

Very important to Roth is making the point that children need to have good memories of reading when they are relatively young.

“If you have fond memories of reading then, around 9 or 10, it sets you up for reading for life. You will continue to do it, and that’s so important for developing you as a human being and having empathy.”

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