The afternoon keynote panel of this year’s YallWest was led by Veronica Roth and Sabaa Tahir, I say panel but it was more like a Q&A which was just as interesting as any keynote panel of previous years.
They began their panel by asking each other what their all time favorite Star Wars character is, to which (unsurprisingly) Veronica Roth responded that Leia was her favorite. Sabaa Tahir confessed that out of all the Star Wars movies, her favorite was The Empire Strikes Back. Naturally the conversation then went into the Harry Potter fandom with the question of who is their least favorite Harry Potter character. Pretty much everyone agreed that Umbridge is the worst character in Harry Potter. Veronica Roth said that while she doesn’t really have a least favorite character, the lamest character is Colin Creevey, almost cringing every tipme she read his name upon the page. Sabaa Tahir said that for her, her least favorite character is Lockhart. “He’s such an annoying villain. I mean, I don’t know how all the other teachers at Hogwarts put up with him.”
Horror Movies: Yay or Nay?
Veronica Roth: Eh…what I’m not okay with is the horror movies that pop up when you’re on Hulu or YouTube and you can’t skip them!
Sabaa Tahir: [is a self proclaimed wimp.] When I was in high school, I wrote for the schoole paper and I had been assigned to write a review on The Exorcist. After the first like, 15 minutes, I couldn’t watch anymore, so I called my best friend (who is afraid of nothing!) and asked her to come over and watch it for me so I could do my review. So she came over, and I was in the other room and when I would ask what was happening in the movie, my best friend would yell out “Oh! She’s throwing up now…Now her head’s spinning…” or whatever it was.
Veronica Roth: So did you pass it off like you actually watched the movie?
Sabaa Tahir: (laughs) Oh no! I was completely honest. I was like, “I watch the first 15 minutes, couldn’t watch anymore than that so my best friend helped me so everything after that is based on hearsay.”
Opinion on Marvel movies:
Veronica Roth: I like them, I eenjoyed them.
Sabaa Tahir: I have to say that I wasn’t too big on the Marvel movies lately by Black Panther rekindled my love for Marvel movies.
Would you rather have Teka’s power [the ability to control electrical objects] or Isae’s [the ability to view other people’s memories] power?
Veronica Roth: I think I would rather see other people’s memories.
Sabaa Tahir: I would rather be able to communicate with my technology. Like with my Roomba, I’d be like “Hey, you missed a spot, gotta go back and clean it up.”
Space travel or Time travel:
Veronica Roth: Space travel, mainly because that’s kind of what my latest series is about but also because I have issues with time travel. That whole thing about “Oh I’m from the future and I know all of this but–oh! I don’t know how to do this very basic task in this past time setting.”
Sabaa Tahir: Definitely space travel, because as a woman of color, I would not fare very well in the past.
Robots or Aliens:
Veronica Roth: I’m going to with aliens but I also like AI (Artificial Intelligence) stories and how they will eventually turn against humanity.
Sabaa Tahir: Definitely aliens.
Vampires or witches:
Veronica Roth: Witches, although I feel like vampires are making somewhat of a comeback…
Sabaa Tahir: I’m going to go with vampires, but like early Anne Rice vampires, maybe even some dystopian, bada** vampires.
Other the the Harry Potter Universe, what YA world would you like to live in the most and the least?
Veronica Roth: I don’t know because I feel like I would die in most dystopian YA worlds, like in An Ember in the Ashes.
Sabaa Tahir: Probably in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and defintely not in the Outlander world, for reasons which we just discussed.
What draws you to scifi:
Veronica Roth: When my mom would read to us at night, she would dedicate half an hour to each child, so when she was reading to my brother, I would eavesdrop outside his door while my mom read The Animorphs to him. I like that as a writer, I can build a fantasy-feeling which while working with space travel trappings and making a new culture that although is set in the future, it doesn’t feel futuristic. So I would say that my favorite genre is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy.
Why did you decide to write sci-fi?
Sabaa Tahir: As a kid, I wasn’t exactlyso happy with my childhood, so I used it as an escape. I like that there is no limit within fantasy, so long as it’s still with human mores. I also like the fact that in fantasy the idea of hope is offered.
Does the current state of the world affect your writing?
Veronica Roth: There’s no real way to avoid it, so it’s not too off base to assume it’s affected the author’s writing. For Carve the Mark, I did a lot of research of what life was like under dictatorships. My grandfather was a Polish soldier in WWII, so that also interested me in finding out how people were controlled during the Soviet era (language, propaganda, etc.) In The Fates Divide I also explored women in power and how they deal with the power they have and what they do (or don’t do) with said power.
Sabaa Tahir: Most of my books are inspired by real world events. [She briefly touched on how before writing she was a journalist and would read about child soldiers, Syrian prisons, civil conflicts, etc.] This all seeps into my writing as a way to address what’s happening to people of color and what they’re going through.
Why do you think you write about violence?
Veronica Roth: In Divergent, there was a lot of gun violence. It was around the time I was writing Insurgent, that a mass shooting occurred and afterwards I felt uncomfortable and anxious writing about it. After that, I felt that I was careless in writing the [first] book at the beginning with all the gun violence because at the end of the day the characters in the [Divergent] book were teenagers. This did influence how I wrote Carve the Mark, because if you take notice there are no weapons that in anyway similar to a gun, there are no guns.
Sabaa Tahir: In Embers, I had to think about the violence between the group and who is complicit between the oppressed and the oppressors. She used to think that writing a death scene was a big deal. It wasn’t until I read in Harry Potter, killing someone destroys a piece of your soul, that it affected her writing.
Both Carve the Mark and The Fates Divide touch on mental issues, not overtly, which is great that it’s not all in your face, but did that come organically or was it planned?
Veronica Roth: In The Fates Divide it was more purposeful with Akos dealing with depression. I did do research but I also talked to different people I know who suffer from depression, because not all who suffer depression are affected in the same way and because I haven’t experienced such deep grief like Akos did in the book.