Best-selling author living the dream
By Lou Fancher Correspondent San Jose Mercury News
The past five years of best-selling author Veronica Rossi's life, told from a present-day perspective, read like a joy ride on a Ferris wheel.
The Danville mother of two elementary school-age boys had the idea for her award-winning young adult trilogy -- "Under the Never Sky," "Through the Ever Night" and "Into the Still Blue" -- in early 2009.
"I didn't work on a book proposal," she said blithely in an interview. "I just submitted the first 30 pages for a critique at a conference."
Within months, Rossi had lined up an agent, Josh Adams of Adams Literary, and had two publishers bidding against each other at a fall 2010 auction. Signing with HarperCollins Children's Books, her original plan for a four-book package telling the coming-of-age stories of two teenagers leaving the nest, falling in love and coming into their own, was trimmed to three, post-apocalyptical Young Adult novels. With a draft of the first book in hand, and one-sheet proposals for the second and third installments, Rossi said the project "took off."
Writing consistently, with a system of drafting 1,000 words per day, then one chapter per day when revising, Rossi said, "I'm a happy reviser: I hate drafting," then added, "You don't choose how easy or hard it is to write each book." Shadowed by doubt during book two ("Is there enough richness in the characters?" she recalls wondering), she said the most recent release was written quickly, like riding the downward inclines on a roller-coaster.
Even so, popping out completed manuscripts annually (the books published in January 2012, 2013 and this month), the character-driven stories have barely kept up with reader and the industry interest. The first book was optioned by Warner Brothers for feature adaptation, and sales of foreign rights in more than 20 markets set the trilogy on a rocket-like trajectory. The series' second book grabbed a spot on The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, while the international publishers' number blossomed to more than 30. "It's the coolest things that my books are in countries where I may never go," said Rossi.
Travel is a major theme of the futuristic stories. Written in third person and playing with opposites, like a technology-heavy society versus a primitive one, or a female protagonist contrasting a countering male character's point of view, the result is a well-rounded narrative. Pod-dwelling Aria and Perry (Peregrine), an "Outsider," battle their initial dislike for each other, the violence inherent in their once-separate cultures, and their individual desires -- her, to find her scientist mother; him, to rescue a captured nephew. High-tech devices and gadgets allowing privileged capabilities blend with the characters' supernormal sensory skills, like "scenting" true emotions, but Rossi's focus never wavers from her original motivation.
In one 24-hour period, she had seen the face of her screen-magnetized son, lit blue by the computer's glow, shift to burnished gold while later cooking s'mores by firelight. "The idea of a blue, inner world and a warm, outer world was the nutshell," she says.
As a young reader, Rossi loved "Lord of the Rings," C.S. Lewis, Stephen King and "anything big and escapist," she says. Turning to visual art, she attended UCLA as an undergraduate and studied fine art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Witnessing a world increasingly linked to devices, she says, "Words are our paints: you have to know how to use them to express yourself."
With her wide fan base (an approximate 50-50 split between teenagers and adults, according to Rossi), she says the dwindling appetite for dystopian sci-fi means readers "won't gorge on it anymore," but doesn't think it will ever disappear.
She hears occasional whispers from Warner and admits, "It's largely Neverland. Once you hand it in, you have to let it be others' property. The ball is in their court."
In the meantime, a series she remains secretive about, revealing only that it will be upper YA with an epic scope, has her "smitten." When not on the current book tour, Rossi says she can be found at her desk at 5 a.m., drafting and revising and "feeling fortunate every single day that this is my job."