Veronica Roth attended Book Expo America this past weekend in New York, and many of our friends were able to attend! Unfortunately, I was on the other coast of the country this weekend, but here is a roundup of what happened thanks to those who attended:
Day 1 of Divergent at BEA started out with an Allegiant themed stunt in the morning. It was reported that around 50 people were wearing ALLEGIANT shirts, lined up by the entrance and shouted the faction names! After that, fans were able to get ALLEGIANT tote bags and get a number to meet Veronica Roth, where they got a shiny ALLEGIANT poster signed by her! Check out the pictures below, courtesy of PagetoPremiere and RedCarpetEndings:
(Image courtesy: Divergent Examiner)
Day 2 (which was today) consisted of Veronica speaking at the Children’s Breakfast this morning. You could stream it online so I woke up early to watch it, and let me tell you it was such a moving and inspiring speech; Veronica really has a way with words. In case you missed it, Amanda from DivergentExaminer transcribed the whole speech so check it out:
When I talk about reading humility, I’m not talking about turning off your critical brain. I’m talking about the way you read. Reading like someone who is there to learn means assuming at the outset that a book is valuable and searching it for that value. If, at the end of that search, you don’t come up with anything, it’s important to be able to figure out why. But it’s that starting place, that willingness to love things, that I most admire about young readers.
My readers have helped me to end my reading drought because I love how they read. I love how they remember every detail and ask me about the characters and what will happen to them and what they meant when they said what they said on Page 45 or what I meant by making them say that horrible thing they said on Page 45.
They care about the story. The story is real for them because they’re able to immerse themselves completely, and they want to tell you about all the things they like, whether it’s a comic book or Ernest Hemingway or whatever lies between. The more like them I become, the more I’m able to say I’m here to learn and I want to love this book and see the value in it, the more I’m able to reclaim my love of reading and the more different kinds of books I’m able to appreciate.
This attitude of ‘I’m here to learn’ isn’t just valuable in reading, it’s essential to writing. One of my formative experiences as a writer was when I first started the writing program as an undergrad at Northwestern University.
When I read the first round of stories for workshop I realized, with the sort of horror a person always feels when they sense their impending doom, that I was about to get ripped to shreds. You see, my story was a melodramatic disaster involving cancer and infidelity and conveniently timed car crashes, so yeah, my classmates tore my story apart limb from limb. It was a word bloodbath. I went home with a giant stack of notes and burst into tears in my dormroom. I was upset for days, and then when I couldn’t put it off any longer, I realized it was time to make a decision. I could stubbornly and arrogantly refuse to listen to the criticism that my talented classmates had given me or I could get over it, see the wisdom in their comments and get to work.
The remarkable thing was, somewhere in the humility of someone who has been shattered by their first round of real criticism, I found my voice. It was not the overwrought prose of a writer trying way too hard to sound poetic … It was clear and straight forward and it was better, and it was mine. I never got so upset at workshop again, and it was because I learned that people critiquing my work had something to teach me, something I wanted to learn.
Years later, when the book reviews started flooding in, I found myself facing the same choice I had before. I could either arrogantly insist on my own superiority, dismissing my reviewers’ comments as jealousy or foolishness. I could be swallowed by bitterness or I could get over it. See the wisdom in their comments and get to work. Critique is the key to improving as a writer, the only thing that will make you better.
Critique helps you see your work with new eyes and shape it into what you always wanted it to be, only you weren’t able to get it there on your own.
People say that writing is an isolated activity, but good writing requires company. Company that you ultimately love and cherish and value, and this perspective towards criticism, ultimate improvement requires humility. This writing humility is never more essential than when we try to capture an experience outside of our own.
A few months after my first book came out, several book bloggers in the Young Adult blog-o-sphere made me aware of something. There’s a trend in Young Adult books in which a sexual assault is used as a plot device, either to illustrate just how bad an antagonist is or to heighten the suspense, which is harmful for many reasons. Chiefly, that it doesn’t engage with the issue of sexual assault with care and respect. The aforementioned bloggers indicated to me that a scene in ‘Divergent’ participated in this trend.
For months, I tried to squirm out of the indictment of my word in my mind, offering defenses and excuses. It didn’t work, though, because while we can argue all day about what’s actually on the page, I know what was going on in my mind when I wrote that scene, and it was exactly what I said earlier. It was an attempt to illustrate how bad an antagonist was and to heighten suspense. From an author, who had taken ownership over another person’s experience without handling it with care.
One day it became clear to me that what I needed to do was exactly what I had to do in workshop: I needed to get over my pride and fear of failure. I needed to recognize the wisdom of what I had heard, and I needed to get to work.
I couldn’t change what I had written, but I could change the way I reacted to it. So, I talked about it on my blog, and it was humbling. That act of humility, painful and uninviting though it was, it was a gift. I realized that if I wanted to write a character whose experience was different than mine, humility could drive me to dilligent research, careful depiction, thoughtful revision and openness to critique. It could make me free to say, ‘I’m here to learn’ instead of ‘I already know.’ And if and when I failed I could be free to say, ‘Maybe you have a point, and I can do better next time’ instead of ‘your critiques are not valid.’
And the thing is, when you adopt that attitude, ‘I’m here to learn,’ the world becomes a fascinating, beautiful place. I’m the author of the ‘Divergent’ series, and that means I am here to learn, specifically about knock-out mice and genetic engineering, gunshot wounds, exposure therapy, Chicago architecture, zip-lining, aquaponics and post-traumatic stress disorder — all things I researched while writing my series.
Every writer I know is also here to learn — about spaceships and fall-out shelters and international abduction and horitculture and language and everything. Everything else, everything that makes this world strange and rich and mysterious and ugly and beautiful. Humility in reading and in writing really means freedom, freedom to love things with unbridled enthusiasm. Freedom to critique things thoughtfully, freedom to write about topics you aren’t that familiar with, freedom to admit to your mistakes and learn from them. Humility is freedom.
If you would like to read the rest of the speech, head over to DivergentExaminer. Did you go to BEA this year? Send us your thoughts or reactions, hopefully I can join the fun next year!