SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Veronica Roth wrote her first best-seller when she was 21 years old. "Divergent" for young adults was instantly and wildly popular. It was a best-selling trilogy and made into popular films. Veronica Roth has now written her first new series since "Divergent," and this first novel in that series is called "Carve The Mark." Veronica Roth joins us now from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.
VERONICA ROTH: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: Tell us about this world where "Carve The Mark" takes place.
ROTH: Well, it's a galaxy far, far away (laughter) and it's about a young man who's kidnapped with his brother and he's taken to this enemy country. And when he's there, he meets, like, the sister of the dictator there. And she's got plenty of struggles of her own. And they are trying to figure out if they can help each other or if their kind of culturally predisposed enmity, like, prohibits any friendship between them.
SIMON: Yeah. Akos and Seera (ph) - am I pronouncing that correctly?
ROTH: Cyra, yeah.
SIMON: I beg your pardon. Akos...
ROTH: It's OK.
SIMON: ...And Cyra, their families are kind of like the Capulets and Montagues.
ROTH: A little bit.
SIMON: What's - what is the conflict that ultimately divides them?
ROTH: Well, I think it's complex. So Akos is raised to believe that Cyra's people, the Shotet, are these kind of brutal people who are just, like, coming after Akos' people. And she was raised to believe that his people have a history of oppressing the Shotet and that they want to fight for their country's sovereignty.
SIMON: In this world you've laid out, everyone comes into a gift when they reach adolescence. Tell us about Cyra's.
ROTH: Well, Cyra's is that she experiences constant pain, and she can also give that pain to other people. So the theory is that the current, which is this kind of energy that is present in the galaxy, that it flows through each person and their personality is like a mold that shapes how it comes out. And for her, it would take a lot of psychoanalysis to figure out why she thinks that she's worthy of pain and that others are worthy of pain but - so she's basically experiencing, like, a supernatural form of chronic pain.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, I was struck by the - and maybe I'm getting carried away with the metaphor, but I - to me it meant that chronic pain I guess can be a gift. It makes us sensitive about the world despite our pain or because of it.
ROTH: Right. And for me, the importance of it came from I had several friends who experienced chronic pain over, you know, like, a decade and were - had their pain underestimated by doctors, which statistically is more likely if you're a woman by, like, a drastic degree. And they were eventually diagnosed with endometriosis. This is like a couple of people just in my immediate social circle. So I thought about them a lot, about how pain takes over your life and limits your potential and how difficult it can be to find someone who'll take it seriously. That's kind of Cyra's struggles. Her pain is being underestimated by the people around her, and she still finds a way to act in spite of it, which is a credit to her strength.
SIMON: I was struck by a line you have in the acknowledgments where you thank all the women you know who suffer from chronic pain.
ROTH: Yeah. I don't know, she - Cyra didn't start out as a really important character in the story, but she felt urgent to me and I think that's partly because of those women who have been such powerful examples in my life.
SIMON: Yeah. I'm pretty sure you know you have a blessed life, but...
SIMON: ...Are there drawbacks or at least surprises that come with enormous success such as you've enjoyed?
ROTH: Well, you know, there are certainly new challenges, as with any job. One of them is that I have an anxiety disorder, so it's particularly provoked by social interaction (laughter) and I have to do a lot of that these days. I can't just hole up, which is what I would like to do. So I - it became particularly urgent when the "Divergent" series became popular to seek help for that. And I've done a lot of work to make my job doable for me, but it continues to be difficult.
SIMON: I didn't know that. When you say make your - continue to do your job, you don't mean the writing part. You mean the public relations part.
ROTH: Yeah. But, you know, the one kind of affects the other, so the awareness that people are going to read your work inevitably affects how you work and I try to create a safe space for myself to take risks, but it's difficult - more difficult than it used to be.
SIMON: So it's one thing if you think just a few people are reading your works and another when you know 30 million people are.
ROTH: (Laughter) Or might, yeah. Well, I mean, I never used to show my work to anyone, so it went from zero to a lot more than that very quickly (laughter).
SIMON: Why do you write about other worlds as opposed to what you see on Lincoln Avenue?
ROTH: Well, there was a couple of reasons. The first is I like the escape of it. I've always loved science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid, and I never had much interest in more realistic fiction, even, you know, when I was, like, 5 years old. But then I also think it's a kind of safe way to encounter challenging ideas without feeling overly stressed by them because, you know, you're in this fantasy world and so there's a layer of separation between you and whatever the issues are that are being discussed or explored through exaggeration. And you can encounter them in a new way, in a safe way, and that can be really important, especially in times like these, you know, where it's pretty terrifying out there. But it's a little bit easier to think about what you believe and what you want done and, you know, what you want to do to improve the world around you when you're kind of, like, living in space (laughter).
SIMON: Veronica Roth - her new book, "Carve The Mark." Thanks so much for being with us.
ROTH: Thank you. Thanks for having me.