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Monday, May 2, 2011

Q&A with Molly O'Neill, Editor of children's & YA books at Katherine Tegen Books

We're very excited to share with you the first half of our Featured Fiction for May!
 DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth
*Visit our DIVERGENT page for widgets and more fun goodies*

To say we love this book would be an understatement...

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

If you like books that are so good you can't eat, sleep or shower until you know how the story ends, this is your kind of book. (and we're freaking out at the news that film rights have been sold!) That's why we're extremely excited to share a Q&A we did with one of the amazing behind the scenes people responsible for bringing this book to readers, Molly O'Neill, Editor of children's & young adult books at
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books.

Thank you Molly for taking the time answer our questions
and share a piece of the Divergent world with us!
*Warning: You may get the chills reading some of her responses*

Q. We get to know all about the authors who write the books we love, but don’t often get to hear about the amazing agents and editors who make it all possible. Would you mind telling us what role an editor plays in the process?

A. The closest analogy I’ve found for an editor is that of a movie’s producer or director, in that it’s a fairly invisible-to-the-public, but quite critical, role in bringing a creative possibility into an actuality so a wide audience can appreciate it. It’s not quite a perfect comparison (for one thing, editors certainly don’t get paid like movie directors!), of course, but I think it’s a similar sort of part business/part creative career.

Basically, when working with an author, an editor’s job is to help them convey their creative vision for their book even more completely than they can do on their own. As an editor, I try to ask the right questions to get authors seeing their story in new ways, and to probe at things like character motivation and relationships and world-building that can make a story become even deeper, and richer and more complex. Sometimes I point out things that aren’t on the pages yet that perhaps should be, to spark an author’s ability to deliver the world that’s inside their head more completely onto paper, and sometimes I point out things that aren’t working fluidly or that could be cut back to make other parts of the story work more effectively. Most of all, I think my job is to have vast amounts of faith in my authors and their creative potential (and to help them believe in that for themselves, too), and to help feed them with inspiration, and also to help them find the protected, creative space that they need to escape into their imaginations and build original worlds and bring incredible characters and stories to life.

On a day-to-day basis, being an editor means I’m part talent scout, part professional reader, part English teacher, part businesswoman, part psychologist, part marketer, part book evangelist, part copywriter, part publicist, part public speaker, part filler-outer of lots of paperwork…the list goes on and on. If I’m doing my job well, it means I’m advocating for my authors and their books at every possible opportunity. That starts by getting everyone inside my publishing house excited about a book, and seeing the same possibilities that I do in it, so they can go out and help spread the word. When you boil it down, an editor’s job is all about relationships—with authors, with illustrators, with literary agents, with booksellers, with readers, with teachers, with librarians—and building any and every sort of relationship that will help my authors’ books find their future readers.

Q. DIVERGENT is all about choice. What faction would you choose?

A. I’ve been having this conversation for a year now—every time someone new reads the book, in fact—and I still find it fascinating each time! My conclusion is that I was probably born in Abnegation, and still have some tendencies toward it, but I’d have chosen Candor.

Q. What was your first impression of DIVERGENT when you read it as a submission?

A. I started reading DIVERGENT on the subway ride home on the same night that Veronica’s literary agent submitted the manuscript to me. Three pages in and twenty blocks south of my office, I was getting the kind prickles on the back of my neck that editors live for—the ones telling me, “Oh. Oh, I think this might be something good….” There’s something about the carefully controlled writing in those first few pages, where Tris’s voice perfectly matches the simple, understated, unobtrusive life she’s supposed to be leading in Abnegation, and yet it’s laced with this quietly powerful undertone of yearning for something more, and the mismatched combination of those two things wholly captivated me. It takes a talented writer to craft a dichotomy like that, especially on the very first pages where we’re meeting a character in the first place!

Fast-forward to about half an hour later, when I was getting off the subway, and cancelling my evening dinner plans, because I knew I had to keep reading. I sat in a wine bar in Brooklyn reading until last call, and then I went home and read some more—until 3:30 AM, in fact! Friday morning, I pretty much went straight into my boss’s office and started a sleep-deprived ramble about the amazing manuscript I’d just read. (Publishing may be the only business in the world where admitting that you stayed up crazy-late reading a story is considered a good reason to make a corporate investment!) Happily, when my boss Katherine Tegen read the manuscript, she was as compelled as I was. And though I’m told there were a lot of other editors and publishing houses who also wanted to publish Veronica’s books, the rest, as they say, is history!

Q. DIVERGENT delivers some pretty powerful moral lessons. Were you surprised to learn the author was in her early twenties?

A. I was surprised, but even more, I was excited! If Veronica was able to tackle such fascinating questions as a writer with such tremendous results while she was still in college, I can only imagine how many great stories will be unfolding inside her mind in the years ahead. And while young, she’d also done so much impressive, active work to prepare herself to be a professional writer—she has a degree in creative writing, so she understands the craft and discipline of writing, and she’d already been attending writers’ conferences and learning about the business too—all before she even sat down to write DIVERGENT. All I can say is that I think we’re lucky, as a world of readers, that Veronica’s willing to take the ideas and questions that she’s thinking and pondering about and turn them into stories so that the rest of us can think about them, too.

Q. What’s your favorite scene or line from the book?

A. Oh, good question! And I’m going to hope that by “favorite,” what you actually meant was “top three.”

I’m still stunned by power of the final line of Chapter Five, “I am selfish. I am brave.” It just gives me chills. Other writers might have tried to write whole paragraphs about that critical moment, but Veronica captured everything about it in a mere six words. I think reading that line for the first time was the moment when, as an editor, I decided I might actually die if I didn’t get to work with this author named Veronica Roth on her books!

On a much lighter note, my second favorite line is from Chapter Sixteen, because it’s just such an entirely authentic, human moment and it 100% makes me believe in the characters as real people. Tris and Will have just experienced something awful, and have analyzed the situation as much as they can, and so the ever-logical Will concludes that there’s only one thing left that they can do: “Let’s go to the cafeteria,” Will says, “and eat cake.”

And thirdly, I’ve been seeing readers pick up this line and listing it among their favorite quotes on their blogs, and on Goodreads, etc., and it makes me immensely happy to see people—teen readers, especially—claiming it as a truth and an ideal that they aspire to: I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.

Oh, and one more! Scene-wise, I love-love-love the Ferris Wheel scene. Veronica actually wrote that in the early stages of revision, and I remember sitting at my desk reading it right after she emailed it to me, and being blown away that the book was becoming even better than the amazing version I’d first fallen in love with.

Q. Favorite character?

A. I have vast love Tris and Four, of course, but my favorite character of all is Al! I think I have the pity and empathy for him that Tris doesn’t ever quite manage—I see him trying so hard to become a stronger person, and yet it’s so believable that he can’t quite achieve ever it, and my heart just aches for him. I think we’ve all known people like that, where the distance between who they actually are and who they want to be is just too wide to cross. Basically, I just want to reach into the pages of DIVERGENT and give Al a hug!
(And yes, while I’m hugging Al, everyone else can go fight over Four.)

Q. Any juicy tidbits you can share with us about the next book?

A. Nope! My lips are wholly sealed. But I do promise that it will be worth the wait….

Oh man, we will defnitely be waiting impatiently for the story to continue!
Stay tuned for details on our DIVERGENT giveaway.
We have 5 beautiful copies to giveaway this week.
(yes, even for International fans!)

Check out the incredible book trailer that was just released today here


Remilda Graystone said...

Great interview! I'm even more excited now to read the book!

I Read Banned Books said...

Love the description about what an editor really does and the role they play. Thx!

Jen @ I Read Banned Books

Mindy fangedmom said...

I cant wait to read this book. I have been told it is NOW THE BOOk to read. SO EXCITING! Thanks for the chance to win!