Veronica Roth is the bestselling author of the Divergent novels, which were adapted into a series of popular films. She says that the story of the series’ hero, Tris Prior, was influenced by some of her favorite books.
“I was 11 when Harry Potter came out, I kind of grew up with it, so that’s the first place I saw anyone use the term Chosen One,’” Roth says in Episode 409 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I also, when I was young, read Animorphs, which is sort of a Chosen Group, and then Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the foundational Chosen One stories in science fiction.”
In Roth’s new book Chosen Ones, her first adult novel, she wanted to deconstruct the idea of a Chosen One and take a more realistic look at the aftermath of a titanic struggle.
“It made me curious about what the psychological repercussions of saving the world would be,” she says. “Because even when we get a continuation of a Chosen One story, after the main battle is finished, we don’t usually dwell on their emotional reaction to what they’ve just endured.”
Chosen Ones tells the story of five adults who once defeated an evil wizard called the Dark One. After their battle, they all began struggling with PTSD, substance abuse, celebrity, and unemployment. “What are they even trained for?” Roth says. “They haven’t gone to regular school. They’ve trained for this very particular thing that they did, and it’s not a money-making thing, saving the world.”
The book also deals with another downside of saving the world that most people probably haven’t considered—the emergence of racist trolls who defend the Dark One and complain that he’s been misrepresented by the media. “For every murderous creep that exists, there are a bunch of people who think he’s cool,” Roth says. “We find that with serial killers, we find that with everyone. So I just figured it was an inevitability of having a figure like the Dark One.”
Listen to the complete interview with Veronica Roth in Episode 409 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Veronica Roth on secret agents:
“I did a lot of research for the book in general, just for worldbuilding and building an alternate history, but the bulk of the research that I did was I just read a lot of MK-Ultra documents. MK-Ultra is the declassified government documents around this project to experiment with LSD—sometimes while people knew it was happening and sometimes while they didn’t. … In copy editing it was a bit of an adventure, because [the editors] would want to rephrase things to make them a little tighter and more efficient, but that’s not how government documents sound. They all use too many words to say something simple.”
Veronica Roth on magic:
“My family is Eastern European, so that’s where a lot of my focus was. I find those folk tales to be particularly dark and weird, and that was where I found a lot of stuff. But I also wanted to be careful, because you want to take a mythical object that doesn’t have real emotional or spiritual significance to people anymore, because otherwise it’s a sort of disrespectful appropriation of someone else’s culture. So I had to find the line between [appropriation] and ‘This is a fun myth, but it’s no longer something people practice.’”
Veronica Roth on parallel worlds:
“Genetrix is a very closely related universe that diverged from ours around the year 1969, so instead of the Space Race, my theory of their universe is that they went underwater. And in the process of exploring the Mariana Trench, they accidentally fire a missile deep in to the Earth, and it sends this natural phenomenon—which we know as ‘magic’—throughout the entire universe, which kills a bunch of people and makes everything go completely haywire, and this universe has developed in the wake of that incident. … So it feels like a modern world in a sense, but not the one that we know.”
Veronica Roth on her virtual book tour:
“I’ll be in conversation with Leigh Bardugo, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, Rita Woods, and C.A. Higgins. Each night I’ll be talking to one of them about a different theme or topic. So with Leigh Bardugo I’m talking about ‘book-to-film adaptations,’ and with Seanan McGuire it’s ‘crafting a series.’ It should be really fun and interesting, and it’s just a way to try to support independent bookstores, because going on book tour at them encourages people to go into the bookstore and to buy books—and not just my books, but any books—and unfortunately I can’t do that now.”