By Isabel Schwartz
On October 20th, authors Garth Nix and Veronica Roth spoke to a crowd of roughly 200 people as part of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row series at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago. Although both are best-selling authors with a primary audience of young adults, at first glance the pairing is an odd one. Veronica Roth, barely four years out of Northwestern University, is the author of the ubiquitous and massively popular dystopian Divergent series. Garth Nix is a prolific fantasy writer with a career spanning 20 years and is perhaps best known for writing the Old Kingdom series.
Despite a marked difference in style and content, the two authors entertained and delighted the audience for over an hour as they responded to questions posed by Jenniffer Weigel of the Chicago Tribune as they promoted their new books. Nix and Roth maintained a great rapport throughout the panel as they offered advice about writing and insight into their work and writing process, all the while making jokes and comments that kept the mood lighthearted and fun.
They share a background steeped in fantasy—for Roth, her inspiration includes Nix’s work— albeit of different kinds. Roth grew up a huge fan of Harry Potter and Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and cites Lois Lowry’s The Giver as her introduction to dystopian fiction. Roth wrote her first draft of Divergent as a student at Northwestern as she took a class on the coming of age novel and read books by Marilyn Robinson. Nix considers J.R.R Tolkien to be a major influence on his writing and identifies with the idea of characters having to assume roles that are beyond them.
The authors discussed their individual processes for writing as well: Roth started to write Divergent in any spare time she had during her busy life as a Northwestern student, while Nix wrote while working as an editor at HarperCollins. The authors offered concrete advice for a crowd of fans and aspiring authors, and talked about the good and the bad parts of writing with equal care.
Although both authors write books that are action-packed and occasionally quite dark, Nix and Roth were engaging speakers and kept the audience riveted with adept and surprising wit. Nix recounted funny stories about his first deal, including how he celebrated by banging his head against the bookshelf in his office in a semi-drunken state because he “wanted to be close to the books”. Roth joked about the origins of the name of the main character in Divergent, Tris, who was apparently named after her brother’s dog.
When a young fan asked a bold question at the end of the panel and revealed the fate of Divergent’s heroine to the horror of the audience, Nix and Roth handled the moment with tact and carefully defused the collective outrage of hundreds of fans and many of their parents. It was an odd and memorable end to the talk, handled with the characteristic care and good nature of the two speakers.