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A version of this story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Divergent author Veronica Roth of her four-year journey from Northwestern University undergraduate to international best-selling novelist. The trilogy — Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant — has sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S. Summit snapped up film rights before the first book had even hit the shelves in April 2011. “It was pretty shocking,” says the writer. “You want to do what with this book? You don’t even know how it’s going to do!”
Born in New York but raised in Hong Kong, Germany and suburban Chicago, Roth was a 21-year-old college senior when she wrote Divergent — about a teen living in a futuristic society where people are divided based on values such as bravery, honesty and empathy — as a way of avoiding classes. Four days after her agent sent out it out, she had a book deal with HarperCollins that she celebrated by jumping into a tub filled with 42 bags of mini-marshmallows. Now 25, the 6-foot-tall author lives in Chicago with husband Nelson Fitch, a photographer.
Roth says she’s adopted a hands-off approach to the movie. “It’s a little hard for an author to hand over a book to be adapted, but I’ve learned that the second the book comes out, it stops belonging to you, it belongs to the readers.”
She did, however, visit the set of Divergent nearly every week during shooting since it was only 20 minutes from her home. “They were very welcoming,” says Roth. “They always had fruit roll-ups for me. Sometimes, if they knew I was coming, they’d put a bowl of them in the video village area.”
The books’ subject matter (dystopian society, young woman fighting for survival) and the massive fervor surrounding the upcoming films has led to plenty of comparisons to YA hits of years past, including The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter. Roth says she hopes that her films can be treated separately. “The Hunger Games did something truly remarkable. That release was insane and not what anyone expected. So I don’t really think that it’s bound to happen again.”
Unlike Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins, Roth has been relatively involved in the publicity push leading up to the release of the film. She attended Comic-Con, has done plenty of interviews and will participate in the press junkets. But Collins says that had more to do with the fact that she was also doing press for the final book, Allegiant, which was released on Oct. 22 and sold 455,000 copies on its first day — a new record for HarperCollins.
She says she hasn’t had any conversations with the producers about breaking the final book into two films, a la Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games. “Even though they’re making these plans,” she says, “I’m still holding myself in that place of like, ‘Let’s just see how this goes, guys.’ “
At this point, Roth is ready to leave the Divergent world behind after a spinoff collection of short stories from Four’s (played by Theo James in the film) perspective comes out in July. “I’ll probably take a little break to just enjoy what’s happening around me.”
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