In its review, PW described Veronica Roth’s novel, Carve the Mark, as “a gripping space opera” set in another galaxy about two young people from warring nations during a time of extreme political unrest. It is, as Roth told PW last year, a story about a friendship that develops “against all the odds, and a love story that is part of that.” Roth is also the author of the Divergent trilogy, which launched in 2011, when she was 23. There are more than 35 million copies of Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant in print, and the first of four planned movie adaptations was released in 2014. Carve the Mark, the first in a duology, will be released worldwide in 33 languages on January 17.
You have said that you have written and rewritten this tale since you were 12 years old. What inspired you then and later?
It was so long ago, it’s hard to remember exactly what sparked it. I do know that the very basic outline, the kernel of the story, remained essentially consistent [a boy who is kidnapped by an enemy nation and realizes he has more affinity for that country’s culture than his own]. Now that I look back on the world-building and some of the inspiration points, I can trace that it all came together after my husband and I lived in Romania for five months after we got married five years ago. We went on a little adventure for no specific reason, made a lot of friends, and had a wonderful experience there.
Why did you entitle this novel Carve the Mark?
Carve the Mark was called Sojourn for a long time –that was my working title for it. And then I just didn’t feel that really reflected the themes of the story once it was done. As I revised, it became less about the journey and more about the ordeal. Carve the Mark was a phrase repeated throughout the story [signifying] the powerful moments of character transformation, [characters] dealing with the effects of what they have done, and taking responsibility for those things. It felt like it resonated in a way that the other title didn’t.
The Divergent series was set in an obviously futuristic Chicago, while you have created entire new worlds in Carve the Mark, with their peoples, histories, languages, flora and fauna. What was the impetus and what was the process like?
It was hard, that’s what I discovered. It was a little bit of a reaction to writing dystopian for a while. When you write dystopian, you have to at least find a foundation in our world. You have to accept the things we value, like our history. All those things have to make sense. That was a lot of pressure. That part was not my strong suit.
To start from scratch is freeing in a way, because you really just go for it. In another way, it is horrible: I can’t use our units of measurement, for example. But Kristin Cashore, who wrote Graceling, has some really helpful blogs about world-building and fantasy worlds, and I’ve used a lot of them. She kind of goes through the thinking and the things you need to decide early on even if you don’t think you do because otherwise you’ll get yourself into trouble later. It’s really helpful.
For the language, I hooked up a constructed language generator. There’s a whole community of people out there who make fake languages. They have all these tools and guides in doing it.
I read a lot. It was a weird journey. It took a lot of research, a lot of reading, and a lot of exploring.
Who were your literary or other influences in the writing of Carve the Mark?
The big one is Dune. That book, I read it when I was young. It’s so amazing in a lot of ways, and it’s really problematic in other ways. That was my first introduction to that kind of science fiction, the expansive science fiction. And I looked at people who do fantasy worlds really well, like Leigh Bardugo and Catherine Fisher and Kristin Cashore. There are fantasy worlds that were put together really well, and they are fascinating. That is kind of the goal, making a world and feeling that it exists outside of you, that you’re not walking into it brand-new, you’re walking into somebody else’s world that’s already been there.
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. HarperCollins/Tegen, $22.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-06-234863-0