Interview | Marie Lu
a. What surprised you most about going to Europeon book tour?
The fact that my book is actually published in different languages, and is out there in European readers’ hands! Once I met the fans, this realization blew my mind. Amazing.
b. Do you have a favorite moment?
Yes–one of the best moments was a small, intimate reading I did at a small German town outside of Berlin. It was a beautiful, quaint autumn evening, and we were inside a lovely house lit by candles. It was all quite magical.
c. What are some tips and tricks for a book tour abroad?
Make sure you set up your phone for international needs, i.e. calls, Internet access, etc! Trust me, there will be situations when you’ll need to send a last-minute email to the U.S.from the middle of a small German town outside of Berlin!
2. You were there to promote your book Legend and it’s sequel. But let’s start with Legend first. It’s a story that really pulls no punches. You make your main characters go through hell and you aren’t afraid of killing off who needs killed off! Your writing is brave, your style is straight forward. Can you talk about the genesis of your voice and style?
Thank you! I honestly think the voice for Legend has been bubbling since my high school years, because I first came up with the main boy protagonist, Day, back when I was sixteen. His voice has been in my head ever since. As for June, I drew on old Sherlock Holmes stories. A great deal was trial and error, writing a chapter and then rereading it to see how it sounded.
3. Legend takes place in the future. You’ve said in several interviews that the idea came to you when you were watching the movie version of Les Miserables (and btw, how excited are you to see the Hugh Jackman version?!?!) and when you saw a map of the US if the fresh water ice caps melted. That US map must have been perfect to help you world build during the initial drafting of the story. What else helped you create the very frightening universe of Legend?
I am SO excited to see the new Les Miserables–it’s going to be amazing! As for Legend’s world, I didn’t have to venture far to find inspiration: I drew much of the world directly from our own, pulling from what I read of North Korea’s regime, of the early 1900s’ eugenics movement, and of today’s toxic American political climate. In many disturbing ways, the world of Legend already exists in various forms around the world.
4. Day is the hero in Legend and is one of my favorite characters in any book I’ve read….ever. He’s charismatic, incredibly well-drawn and rounded, and seems to have great spirit. (Is it strange he kinda reminds me of Jack Dawson from Titanic? Anyone else feel that way? Anyone??? Anyone???) He’s lived in your head for years though, having first appeared in a story called Glass Sonata. So, another multi-pronged question:
a. What’s your advice on writing really complex, great characters?
I’m so thrilled that you like Day! For me, I tend to write long character profiles before I ever start outlining a story. I try to dig as deep as I can–what frightens them most, what do they want most, and how can I make those two things collide? I even knew Day’s blood type (he’s Type O), and why (Type Os can give blood to anyone but can only receive blood from other Type Os….representative of Day’s lot in life, giving but never receiving).
b. Did you have to rewrite Day in any huge way once you decided for him to make the leap of Glass Sonata to Legend? If so, can you tell us a bit about the earlier version of Day and how he’s changed?
Surprisingly, Day from my high school writing did not have to change much in order to fit his role in Legend–it was everything around him that had to change. The Day from The Glass Sonata (my high school manuscript) was, however, a bit angrier of a character, a littler darker and more cold-hearted than he is in Legend. He had no qualms back then about killing to make a point. The violent Patriot rebels in Legend are sort of an extension of Day’s old personality.
c. In Legend, there is a scene between June and Day where June compliments Day’s looks. Day pretty much totally agrees with how handsome he is. Did you have someone specific in mind when you were writing him?
Don’t mind him–he’s such an arrogant player sometimes! I don’t think I created his arrogance based on anyone in particular, although I have a feeling his cockiness was inspired by one of my all-time favorite characters: Peter Pan.
5. Your book flies! I read it in one three hour sitting. I couldn’t turn those pages fast enough! Talk to me about pacing!
Wow, thank you–I’m always thrilled when a reader finishes it in one sitting! I told myself going into this story that I wanted no moment where the tension could let up. Any time where there wasn’t some threat of danger was a moment that had to go.
6. Okay, let’s switch gears and talk Legend. There is an excerpt available online. I won’t reveal any spoilers but wow, like I said in a previous question, you’re not afraid of killing off who you need to
kill off! Are you ever worried that such drastic story choices might one day paint you into a corner you can’t get out of?
Oh, I worry about that all the time! I’m such a pantser of a writer–I outline a little bit, but much of my plotting comes to me as I go. There’s a twist that happens halfway through Legend that I didn’t know was going to happen until the instant I had to type it out. That moment ruined my outline for the entire second half of the book! So yes, I do worry that I might paint myself into a corner, but I think overall it can net some interesting story results. 🙂
7. How was the writing of Prodigy different from the writing of Legend? Give us the good, bad and ugly. 🙂
Oh God. Prodigy nearly killed me. Legend came fairly smoothly, since there was no pressure and I had no expectations to meet except for my own. When I started Prodigy, I had an official deadline, a publisher to please, and fans to satisfy. That pressure took me off-guard. Drafting Prodigy was so difficult as a result!
8. I read on your FB that you just turned in the third book in the Legend series to your agent, the great Kristin Nelson. (She was one of my very first interviews; I adore that woman!) So, first, are you absolutely sure this story will only be a trilogy???? I don’t want to quit reading about Day and June! But also, to the many masses that want to query/work with Ms. Nelson (or Sara Megibow or Anita Mumm) what should they do and not do?
Yes, I’m absolutely sure that Legend’s story will be a trilogy! I think Day and June’s story will fit pretty neatly into a 3-act arc. I’m so happy that you’ll miss them, though!
Agent Kristin is amazing, and her blog (pubrants.blogspot.com) has a wealth of fantastic information on what they are looking for as well as how to conduct oneself as a writer. Aside from improving one’s writing as a whole, I absolutely recommend interested queriers to familiarize themselves with the agents they are interested in, and read up on proper submission etiquette.
9. You’ve met some incredible people in your career: Tavis Smiley, Ally Condie, Jackson Pearce, George RR Martin and more. Out of all these successful people, what are some things you’ve learned from them?
That they are all self-made, honing their talents and climbing up to their positions of success on the back of hard work. They’re also all friendly, compassionate people, easy to talk to and willing to give back. They’re all amazing role models.
10. Alright, another subject switch but I have to bring it up. I’m a huge animal lover and activist and I adore that you have animals in your life! Your corgis are adorable! I also love that you seem very aware of environmental issues too. On your great blog, you have a (very upsetting) post about polar bears and their habitats. And of course, seeing that simulated map of the US factored huge in your writing. Has exploring that world in your writing- where pretty much all of the west coast is wiped out and extreme poverty reigns – made you even more aware of these issues?
I do think it’s helped me think about how these environmental issues can seep into our political and social lives, and how intertwined all of these problems really are. Writing is a great way to explore thoughts like this, and most importantly, to see it from as many different angles as possible.
11. And my last question: give us some advice. But not just any advice. Give us advice for the writers out there who are trying to navigate the changing landscape of publishing, who aren’t sure if they want to pursue e-books or go the traditional route or who want to do print-on-demand stuff or any of the other myriad ways to get a story into the hands of readers. Give advice to the authors with a story that’s done and just aren’t sure what to do next???
You know, the publishing landscape is changing so quickly from day to day that I don’t think I can give advice that fits everybody! It really depends on what your preferences are, and I think both traditional publishing and self-publishing can fit in certain circumstances. Self-publishing is great, I think, for anyone who wants absolute control over every aspect of the business, from the formatting of the book to the marketing and cover design. I know several authors who have gone this route and done very well for themselves. It can, from what I hear, be very labor-intensive, so writers should be prepared for it. I personally have enjoyed the publishing process with Putnam; the team is really supportive and the collaboration as well as the contract terms have worked well for me. It all depends on what you prefer, and what kind of contract you’re looking for.