An introduction to Veronica Rossi, author of the YA trilogy Under the Never Sky, Through the Ever Night, and Into the Still Blue (HarperCollins, 2014). This interview was done with the Rakestraw Books PG-14 Teen Advisory Board, whose thoughtful and fun questions spoke to the heart of Rossi’s work and delved into what life is like for a writer.
When asked about drawing from mythology or other stories and sources, Rossi made a great point about how things can be connected but still unique: “If you’re really writing something that your heart is in, and you’re working hard to be honest in your writing and not copying other ideas, then no one else can write that. It’s okay to borrow ideas, but borrow them and make them your own.”
Quick Facts on Veronica Rossi
- Website: www.veronicarossi.com
- Home: San Francisco East Bay Area
- Comfort food: Cheese! Bread! And I absolutely love a great fish taco.
- Top reads: Jane Austen, Melina Marchetta, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Robin Hobb
- Current reads: I read many books at once! I’m currently reading The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, Poison Princess by Kresley Cole, The Trident by Jason Redman, and Redeployment by Phil Klay
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t know until about 12 years ago. I was a painter. I would work on huge canvases and get really obsessed with my work. When I had my first son, I couldn’t do that with a baby. So, I started writing, and from the first day, I thought where has this been all of my life? I’ve also always been an avid reader.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many. It’s hard to choose. I read all over the place—nonfiction, classic fantasy, contemporary books. Growing up, the books that I really loved were by JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Judy Blume. They didn’t have YA when I was growing up, so I actually read a lot of Stephen King when I was a teenager. Lately, what I’ve read and loved has included A Falcon’s Apprentice by Robin Hall, Fan Girl, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent.
Where did the idea for the Under the Never Sky trilogy come from?
I had a fuzzy idea at the beginning and then I kept adding to it. I knew I wanted to have a a character from a really primitive society and a character from a really advanced world. I wanted to throw those people together and see what would happen. Once I had that in place, I had to think about why those two cultures would be so divided. And then I needed a reason for why the primitive society would have remained primitive, and I kept going from there.
When writing a trilogy, what were some challenges you faced in keeping your storylines straight?
Just holding all the different ideas in my mind. I wanted each of the primary and secondary characters to have an arc—they’re learning or growing in some way throughout the story so they aren’t in the same place at the end of the book. I had five or six main characters and a lot of secondary characters, and I had a hard time keeping my secondary characters in the wings while still giving them their own story. With series or speculative fiction, there’s a lot of world-building that happens. A lot of writers will keep a “series bible” with all of the details in it to track their notes and plan ahead.
Did you know from the start that Under the Never Sky would be the first book in a series?
I wanted it to be four books, but I was told that a trilogy was the way to go. So I went with it.
How do you create your characters?
“When I create characters,
I think about what is the one thing
that they are always looking for.”
I definitely don’t write about people I know. I have to be able to be pretty ruthless with characters sometimes, and I think I would have a hard time writing in that way if it was about people who felt familiar. When I create characters, I think about what is the one thing that they are always looking for. For instance, throughout the trilogy, Aria is looking for home again, not just a physical home, but what home means—comfort, safety, peace. Once I know what they’re looking for, the personality traits kind of spring off from that.
How do you decide on character names?
I have a baby names book that I use sometimes. Some names come right to me, and others I have to fight for.
Would you say you’ve struggled more with not having enough ideas to sustain a story or having too many?
Every time I sit down to write a book, I hope I can get enough pages. As a writer, you work in word counts. A typical book for YA is between 75,000 and 90,000 words. So when I get to about 74,000 words it’s such a relief. I think I have an intuitive sense now for when I’ve got enough material to tell a big enough story, a novel-sized story.
Do you find that you write to a page number or to a completeness of story?
This comes down to writing process for me. When I’m working on a first draft, I write 1,000 words a day, or about 5 or 6 pages double-spaced. I do that until I’ve finished the story, so I write to the storyline. I write what I know, and then I go back and think and write more. I admit I will definitely go on tangents because I’m afraid I won’t make the word count, but later I often go back and cut out sections that don’t flow or fit with the story anymore. I’m totally unafraid of throwing out pages now, but there was a time when it felt really hard. If an editor wants me to lose a chapter or redo sections, now I say bring it, I can write more.
What do you do when you get stuck or blocked on something you’re writing?
That happened to me recently. I started by printing it out. I just can’t figure out what angle to take with the end. I’m afraid of it. I’m going to work on rewriting other parts of it until it all falls into place. I try to keep working where I can, and trust that my subconscious is working on the other pieces.
How does the book pitch work?
For me, I had the first book written, and I had to submit synopses for the next two. I had to put that together really quickly once a publisher was interested. It was hard, but I did it, and they actually ended up being remarkably close to what how the books turned out.
Do you think that helped your creative process?
I think that you can try to outline and plan stuff, but there’s no comparison to getting there and doing the work. Things don’t always turn out the way you think they will on the page. I follow character more than plot outline. I need to stumble around in the dark a bit to figure out the right way to go.
“I need to stumble around in the dark a bit
to figure out the right way to go.”
How much do you map out the story before writing it?
I have an idea, and then I hope I’m right. For instance, I just printed out the manuscript that I’ve been working, and I’m very sad to discover that there’s so much I want to rewrite in it. I’ve been making notes like “cut this chapter out, rewrite this scene, character isn’t driving this interaction”—but that’s writing. Writing is revising. Sometimes I’m right though; sometimes I write it, and I know that’s what needs to happen in the story.
What’s the revision process like with an editor?
I actually love revising. The first book I wrote, I revised for about a year and a half on my own, and then for another year with an editor. The second one I revised a lot more intensively, and the third book was really a pretty clean copy. I wrote it, had two revisions of it, and then I was done. Some books are tougher than others, and each editor has their own process for how they work with a writer.
Have you ever come into conflict with your editor over something you didn’t want to change?
I really trusted my editor, but it has happened. At the end of the day, the books are copyright to my name, but you also want to play ball because they’re selling the book. You have to just meet in the middle somewhere.
How heavily do your fans influence what you do with the story?
As a reader, there’s always another book. As a writer, that’s my book. It’s going to be with me for the rest of my life, so I want it to be what I want it to be. I would regret it forever if I made it what other people wanted it to be.
How do you choose the covers of the book?
You don’t get to choose. That’s really done by the publisher. For my books, they showed me the cover and said, “You like it, right?”
How has your background with art influenced your writing?
As a painter, I thought a lot about balance and composition, and I also think about that as a writer. I like to have a balance between character, action, plot, world-building. As an artist, I’m really conscious of making sure to paint pictures on the page for readers. I like to be able to really visualize what I’m reading.
“As an artist, I’m really conscious
of making sure to paint pictures
on the page for readers.”
Would you ever go back to painting?
Yeah, I would. Right now I’m really rusty, so I’d probably drive myself crazy if I tried to paint. I also have so much writing to do right now. But I miss it, and I crave it. I’ll get it around to it, but I need to make some time for it.
How does music influence your writing? What do you listen to when you work?
When I hear music that I’ve chosen for the project, it just puts me right in the mindset for what’s going on. Each book has it’s own playlist, and when I listen to the playlists they take me back to the scene or tone of the book based on the song. Music really helps me get into the world of the story.
What do you wish people would ask you about more often?
I like talking about favorite books or other influences. Part of being a creative person for me is making sure that you keep your tank full. How do you refill the creative well? It’s so important to stay excited as a creative person.
What inspires you?
Music, drawing, anything artistic.
About Veronica Rossi
Veronica Rossi is the author of post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults. Her debut novel, Under the Never Sky, is the first in a trilogy, followed by Through the Ever Night and Into the Still Blue. Foreign rights to the Under the Never Sky trilogy have sold in over twenty-five territories to date and film rights have been optioned by Warner Bros.Rossi completed undergraduate studies at UCLA and then went on to study fine art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two sons. When not writing, she enjoys reading, painting, and counting down the minutes until she can get back to making up stories about imaginary people.
[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Veronica Rossi.” Words With Writers (June 14, 2014), https://wordswithwriters.com/2014/06/14/veronica-rossi.]