Author interview: Veronica Rossi

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(Regular reader numbering in the Ones, if you haven’t noticed it yet, my blog went through a snafu that resulted in all the posts from October 2013 onwards to vanish into the ether. So I’m just uploading all of these transcripts without any garnishing because I barely remember what I wrote back then.)

RONREADS (RR): I just want to say that you had me tearing up around page 299 of “Into the Still Blue”.

VERONICA ROSSI (VR): I like to hear that (laughs). I’m sorry you were tearing up, but… (laughs) That means I did my job.

RR: Is this your first time in the country?

VR: Yes. First time here. It won’t be the last, thought, I’ll definitely come back.

RR: Could you talk about how this visit came about?

VR: I believe the folks in my publisher’s international division worked with National Book Store and they coordinated together and they reached out to me and asked if I wanted to come. It was an easy decision. My friend Tahereh, she had been here and she told me it was terrific.

RR: What was the reaction on Twitter among your followers?

VR: They were excited, they were excited. I’m just blown away. The support is so fantastic. That’s why I wanted to come. My Filipino fans are so outspoken and supportive, it’s wonderful.

RR: Did you come from a family of writers, or are you the first one in the family to pursue it?

VR: I’m the first writer, definitely. I have creative people in my family. My dad’s whole side of his family is all architects, so creativity is in the family. My dad paints, and I was a painter before I became a writer. The creativity is there, but I’m definitely the first writer.

RR: What made you venture into writing, rather than sticking with the painting?

VR: The real answer is that I had my son, who is now 11. Painting, for me, I paint with really large canvases. I paint all day, sometimes 48 hours, two days straight, barely stopping. And then when I had my son, babies are not good for that!

RR: (Laughs)

VR: (laughs) So I stopped painting and I got really frustrated creatively, and what I realized about myself is that I always have to be doing something creative, so I started writing. But back in high school, I would keep sketchbooks, and they were filled with poetry. I would write short stories. So I was always writing, but painting was kind of the predominant thing. Once my son was born, it switched. Now I write a lot and don’t paint very much. I just don’t have the time.

RR: Did the idea for “Under the Never Sky” arrive during that time when you had your son, or did it come much later?

VR: Later. I wrote for about six or seven years with other projects before I started “Under the Never Sky”. It wasn’t my first manuscript. It was my third. I have two manuscripts that are in a drawer.

RR: Is there any chance of them seeing the light of day?

VR: It’s funny you say that because I just this week took the first one out and I was just reading it and it’s been five years or longer since I’ve looked at it. I was telling my husband that this is actually pretty good and there’s something here. Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll see. It’ll be a lot of work to fix it up and I don’t know if I would rather do that or start something new.

RR: How did “Under the Never Sky” come about?

VR: I knew I wanted to tell a certain kind of story, a survival story. And I knew I wanted to play with opposites. For a little while, I thought that I maybe would write a time travel story because I really wanted to take a character and throw him or her – I thought it was going to be a her from the beginning – throw her in a totally alien environment. I thought time travel would be the way to do it, except that I hate time travel. I get so confused. If you switch the past, the future changes. I don’t have a mind for that.

So what I decided to do was really to create societies that are inhabiting the same place, pretty much, but they’re totally separate. One’s in an enclosed city, and one’s pretty much right outside, but there’s no contact. You can have this situation, like when Aria’s cast out, it’s like she’s entered another world, even though it’s right there. That was really appealing to me, that idea of playing with opposites. Her being really advanced, futuristic, safety, virtual, and then him, where everything is danger, completely opposite from her life. Everything’s real and tactile and imperfect, and her world is the exact opposite of that.

RR: Was that the first time you were exploring that theme, or did you find them in the first two manuscripts you had written before?

VR: I think it’s something that I do in every book. I’m working on something new right now, and my husband’s like all that is just like “Under the Never Sky” and I’m like “What?” But then he’s right. I love when there’s a romance, but I also love a group of friends. I really love when all those relationships are rich and you have a little bit of everything. You have a little bit of a family relationship, you have a great friendship between either girls or boys and then you have a romance. That is true for my first two manuscripts as well. There’s this similar mix of characters. Not that the relationships are the same; they’re different, and the characters are different, but I think I tend to like putting together four or five kid or teenage characters together and see what happens.

RR: How long did it take you to finish that first draft of “Under the Never Sky”?

VR: Gosh, it was long ago (laughs). It took me a while. I think it took me eight months. It took me about eight or nine months and then I revised for another year. 

RR: Did it have to go through another revision once you got an agent and a publisher?

VR: Oh yeah. A lot. It went through a lot of revision. Al though that book I revised the least. It was pretty ready. “Through the Ever Night” I revised the most. I had to write that book from top to bottom, over and over and over and over. That was the hardest one (lauighs).

RR: Could you talk about the publication journey, from finishing that first draft and finally getting an agent and getting published?

VR: It’s different for everybody. For me it was pretty fast. In fact, what happened was I went to a writers conference, and as part of the conference you can submit 30 pages to have it critiqued, and they can assign you with an editor or an agent. They kind of pick and choose who they put who with. I was assigned to an editor, and when I sat down with her, right away she said “I love this.” She started asking me all these questions and then she gave me her business card and said that she wanted to see this. From that moment, it was pretty hot and fast. I was able to get an agent and I was able to sell it within a month of that. That’s kind of unusual.

RR: You hear so many stories of authors getting so many rejections, so did it scare you a little that it was happening so fast for you?

VR: Oh yeah. It terrified me. I was so terrified. It was pretty exciting because I sold a lot of foreign rights, too, so for a while there I was like “What is going on? Whose life have I stepped into?” I’ve been writing for eight years before that point, pretty seriously. I wasn’t going to give up, I was going to keep going for as long as it took, but I didn’t expect for it to be that fast when it happened.

RR: But when you writing that first draft, did you already get that feeling that people would relate to it? Or was it all a surprise to you, having that response to your work?

VR:  It was surprising. I knew that I loved it, and I knew it was worth it just because I wanted to read it. That’s how I know when I’m working on the right thing. This is the story that I want to read. I always set out to write the book that I wish I could read. As for what other people would think of it, I had a critique group, and they were giving me good signs and good indications, but I was pretty surprised. I was surprised, for sure, by the reception.

RR: Did you always plan for it to be a trilogy? Because when you finish “Under the Never Sky”, it’s an ambiguous ending, but it can still work as a standalone novel. Was it always going to be a trilogy or did that happen afterwards?

VR: That happened when I got an agent and he said this should be a trilogy and I said okay (laughs).

RR: (Laughs)

VR: I wanted it to be four books. I wanted to change points of view. It was going to be Perry and Aria, Roar and Liv, and Cinder and Williow, and then Talon and Clara.

RR: I don’t think I would have survived the Cinder parts.

VR: I know. I would have loved to have done it though. That was my plan, but that changed (laughs).

RR: Where were you when you first got into the New York Times bestseller list? How did you find out?

VR: My editor called. In the writing community, you know that Wednesday afternoon is when the list comes out. I had zero expectations. When the phone rang, it happened to be 3:30. My kids had just gotten home, my husband had gotten home early from work, and my mom and dad were in town, so they were in the house. My phone rang and it was my editor and she told me. The clearest thing in my mind was that I looked around and my kids were running around the house and my parents were talking to my husband and I just remember looking around and thinking how lucky I was that all the people that I care about the most were right there by coincidence to share that moment. It was pretty special.

RR: I loved how quickly events happened in the book, like how you didn’t draw out the reveal that Talon was being used as leverage in the second book. How much of that was you and how much of it was you working with your editor?

VR: I think it’s a little bit of both. It would be hard for me to say how much is what. I think part of it is that every writer likes to write certain things, and I like writing relationships, for sure. I like writing action, and I don’t spend a lot of time on things that aren’t that. That’s a big part of it too.

The other thing is that was my first book. Even though you have an editor, you’re still learning. You learn with every book. I might have done it a little differently if I were to do it again. I might have spent a little more time with it. It’s hard to say, but I think I did what I could at the time, made it the best that I could at the time.

RR: One thing I also liked is how as the story progresses in the three books, all the characters’ decisions seemed organic and not out of character.

VR: That’s very important to me because I write for character. That’s what I love. There’s writers that write for plot, and I really, really love characters and relationships. That’s where the fun is for me, watching things happen between people and within characters. That’s what I love. I can’t stand it when characters suddenly act out of character, it drives me crazy!

RR: Was redemption always going to be a part of some of the characters like Soren and Hess? I didn’t expect that Soren would take the journey that he did within the three books.

VR: Soren was a surprise. I knew when I left him in the first book that he was going to come back. I had some ideas about how he was going to come back. When I said I wrote the second book over and over, I tried some different things and it didn’t necessarily work. And then I found Soren, and he all of a sudden really grew in importance, and the story started to work. I needed somebody on the inside. I always knew what I wanted. I knew that I wanted him to be human and not just a monster. But I didn’t realize how important he was going to be until the second book.

RR: A lot of authors are on social media. How do you prevent it from eating into your writing time?

VR: I don’t know (laughs)! I have no answer to that. I’m trying to get better about it. What helps me a lot is that I leave the house to write. I work at home, usually, but I find that when I go somewhere…. I think, sometimes, when you go on social media, you’re a little bored or when there’s something you don’t want to do. It’s so easy to just go on Twitter, right? So when I’m somewhere where I feel inspired and I feel like working, and I’m excited to work, then I don’t go on social media as much. Getting out of the house is good for me.

RR: So is that your writing process? Do you need to be out of the house?

VR: Lately, it is. It changes for me. It changes every couple of months or a year, whatever. I just do what’s working. Sometimes I’m pretty rigid about what it is, and then there are times where I can’t be. There’s so much travel for me this year. I like a schedule, I do like it, but I just can’t have a schedule this year. I just can’t, because I’m here, then I’m home for a week, and then I’m in New Orleans for a week, and then I’m in Nevada. It would drive me crazy to put myself on a schedule. There’s just no way to do it. I’m just kind of trying to flow with it and see how it’s going to work right now. When my schedule slows down, then maybe I’ll put myself on a more rigid timeline.

RR: Did you listen to any music when you were writing the books? Music is part of the books, especially when it comes to characters like Roar and Aria.

VR: I listened to a ton of music. I have a playlist for every book. The one I’m working on right now has a playlist too.

RR: Can you talk about the one you’re working on right now?

VR: Yeah, I can tell you a little bit about it. It is the same, but different. It’s more fantasy, and it’s a male point-of-view, but probably also a female. I’m trying to decide. There’s romance in it and a ton of action. It’s very action, but it might be skewing a little bit more boy. Maybe because I have two sons, I don’t know (laughs). They asked me to write a book but with less kissing.

RR: (Laughs)

VR: (Laughs) So I wrote a book with more action, but not less kissing, so I’m trying to make it work, you know.

RR: What’s the most gratifying reaction you’ve gotten from a fan?

VR: I love when people say “You kept me up ‘til 3 a.m.” I love when people get really sucked into the world. Any expression of that I think it fantastic. It’s so hard for me to say because I’ve had really, really beautiful, heartfelt connections with people over these books, and I just had one a few days ago where a woman emailed me and said that she’s an avid reader, and her husband’s an avid reader, but they’ve never found a book that they both like, except for my books. She said they both read the trilogy, they both love the books, and she said that she wanted to thank me for giving them something they could share. She said “I know it sounds like a small thing, but it actually really isn’t. We really enjoyed being able to share these books together.” I thought that was so neat. I really loved that. Those kinds of reactions are just fantastic.

RR: Does it surprise you how the books have reached beyond it’s audience? It’s marketed as a YA book but it’s gone beyond that.

VR: Absolutely. My neighbor’s dad comes to visit from Canada once a year and he’s this elderly gentleman probably in his 80s. He walks over, knocks on my door, every year for three years, asking if there’s a new book yet. I give him a book and we talk about it. I really love that it appeals to all ages. I have fans that are 10 all the way to 85. I love that and I think it’s because even if the characters may be teenagers, and that a lot of the things they go through may be real for that stage in life, a lot of what they’re going through is also true for every stage of life. When you have friends who are dealing with grief, or friends who are out of their comfort zone and have to all of a sudden adapt to something. Perry takes on this role of a leader and he’s in over his head, and I think we all know what that feels like. I think we all have those experiences and that’s why it works for all those ages.

RR: I also like how ruthless you are with your characters. If they’re going to die, they’re going to die.

VR: (Laughs) Yeah. Between the second and third books, I had so many people saying “Tell me Liv’s not dead!” I was like “Sorry, can’t do that.” (Lauhgs).

RR: When you broke into the bestseller list, where you still writing the second book or were you finished?

VR: It was finished.

RR: But moving forward and writing the third book, did being on that list  have any effect on how you wrote?

VR: No. It was always my dream to write a book and have it published, and I did that three times, and I have a couple of other books coming out that I’m writing with a friend. I have the new YA stuff that I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I have written books, and I’m very, very, very fortunate that it was successful enough that I made the New York Times bestseller list. For me, I love all of that and I feel so lucky. But I’m always more focused on how do I make the best story. How do I stay true to the art? What am I trying to do? What am I trying to say? What’s on the page is so much more important to me. That’s what I really love. I love getting lost in the book and that’s why I write. I don’t write to be a New York Times bestseller. I’ve been lucky that it’s worked out that way, but I write because I like to write.

Q: Did you consult any experts when it came to writing about the Aether?

VR: I didn’t. I did do some research. I did a lot of research on technology. I did research on closed cities like the one Aria lives in. There’s actually a biodome in Arizona where you can go visit where people lived for like a year. I did a lot of research on that. I took archery lessons so I could learn how to do that and be able to write how it really feels like to shoot a bow. It’s so much harder than you think it is. It takes so much arm strength to do it. I have two bows and arrows in my office.

Q: How does painting help you to write?

VR: I write like a painter, I think. I very much need to see everything. I think writers like different kinds of things. I have a friend who likes dialogue. She’s an ex-actress. She was a stage actress, and she goes to see Shakespeare once every year when there’s a festival, so her books are like dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and occasionally it’s “The room lights dim.” Visual for her isn’t really big. It’s the sound of the voices and the dialogue. For me, I like a good balance, but I like being able to see what I’m reading. I like being able to see it. I think that’s the artist in me, very visual.

Q: Who’s your favorite character?

VR: That’s an impossible question to answer. It’s really hard to answer. I really, really, really have enjoyed writing every single one of them. Even the random ones, like the Six. I love those guys. I want to write books about each one of them. I fall in love with every character, whether they’re good or bad or even if they’re marginal characters. I just become fascinated.

RR: How do you know when you’ve done enough research, because just like social media, it’s so easy to get lost in research. How  do you know that you know enough to write what you need to write?

VR: It’s funny that you should say that, because this new book that I’m writing, I’m getting totally lost in the research. I think at a certain point, you just have to make it up and go back, because what you don’t want to do is research for five years. You could, but I just can’t wait that long between books. What I’ve done every time is research, research, research, then I’ll start writing, then I sort of still research while I write. I’ll have research books on my bedside and I’ll just pick them up. I’m a big proponent of having books all over your house that you just pick up here and there. I have books in my bathtub, all over my house. I visit with them. For the new book that I’m working on now, I have all my research books all over the place. I have a book on symbols that sits on my coffee table. I’ll just pick it up, and sometimes just reading a page or two will jog an idea or a parallel that you didn’t see. With this one that I’m working on now, what I’m going to have to do is get the manuscript to some subject matter experts. This is a weird book because I have a character who has a little bit of a military background, and I want to make sure that I do that right.

RR: What advice would you give to your fans who may want to take the same path that you did? 

VR: I would say read a lot, read different things, not just YA, because you want to educate yourself about different styles of writing. Write a lot, write a lot. Don’t get frustrated if it’s not easy because we all write and revise and revise and revise. Every single one of us. I had an email from someone just yesterday who said that she’s getting frustrated because she’s working so hard and her manuscript doesn’t look like yours. It doesn’t look like a finished book. And the answer is that my book didn’t look like a finished book until the last minute. “Under the Never Sky”, we were changing, fiddling with it, fussing with it, a week before it went to print. And we had help! We had editors, copy editors! Just work hard and don’t worry because you can do it. It looks like a difficult thing to do and it looks so far away, but it’s just work, work, work. Don’t give up and just keep at it

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