03 February 2015

Flashback February: The Legend and The Young Elite, Marie Lu, in Manila (Q&A + Giveaway)

What's up, nerds? It's day 2 of Flashback February and this time around, I'm taking you back to November of 2014! In case you missed day 1, I featured the recently concluded James Frey book signing tour

DAY 2! 
Cue the dancing Stormtroopers! 
Because. Darth Vader. Marie Lu.... nevermind, keep reading and you'll see. ;-)

On November 23rd, 2014 Marie Lu came to the Philippines to meet fans in Manila and in Cebu for a book signing tour with National Bookstore. (yay!) I knew lots of readers were very excited to meet the talented writer behind the Legend series and her newest book/series -- The Young Elites. I know I was! I put off reading Legend for months before I decided it was 'time'. And I quickly regret procrastinating! I instantly became a fan of Marie Lu's brilliant writing. 

So yeah... "excited" is an understatement. I just knew I had to meet her no matter what!


Today, I'm sharing with you the Q&A with Marie Lu. Like day 1, I'm also giving away a SIGNED copy of her book so be sure to read on! (I know you'll probably just scroll to the very end but... hey, thanks for dropping by! Hah!)

Photo from: National Bookstore

What made you decide to write books for young adults? 

I actually didn't know that I was writing books for young adults until I was writing Legend and gave it to my agent. I pitched Legend to my agent as just science fiction. And it was my agent who was the one who told me, this actually fits into a category called young adult. And I have never really heard of young adult until that point. So I kind of fell into it by accident because my writing style apparently fit it really well. But looking back I'm not surprised because, you know, when I was in highschool I read almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction. And a lot of those books, even though they're categorized as adult fiction tend to have teenage protagonists so I've always kind of thought of stories in that way, with teenage characters at the center of it. I think the process of growing up, you know, the bildungsroman story line falls within really well with fantasy and science fiction because you're growing up! and also, the world's ending! Which just makes everything more extreme. And I think that's what makes it fun for me to write about. And I love reading young adult now. I read almost exclusively young adult. 

You are now a bestselling author. Do you have other goals, you think, you have yet to accomplish? 

Yeah! I hope so! *laughs* There's still things I wanna do. I would love to do a picture book someday. Before I was a full-time writer, I was an artist in the game industry and I would love to be able to do something again that involves artwork of some kind. I would love to do something with video games again, if I could. 

This is for your Legend series. What or who inspired the personalities and names of your characters, June and Day.

Uh.. for June and Day, let's see. Day's street name was inspired by his personality. I wanted to find a name that symbolize his very optimistic view of life. His motto is to walk in the light. He is somebody who is always seeking the truth and is looking for the positive so I thought that the name Day fit him really well. June was named after the month of June because I thought her personality fits that of a Gemini's. Geminis are kind of known for being intelligent and ambitious and logical, and I felt like that fit June really well. So that's why she's named that.
June's personality was inspired by Sherlock Homes, so she's kind of like a teen girl Sherlock Holmes. She and I probably have the least in common out of all my characters because she's so left-brained and I am not left-brained at all. Day's personality was inspired by a combination of characters that I've always loved -- you know, the thief with a heart of gold. You know, Han Solo and Robin Hood. That type of character. I've always had a soft spot for characters like that so I think that's where it came from for Day.
Was the plot for Legend inspired by social issues we're experiencing today?

That's a great question. It actually was inspired very much by the social climate. Especially back in 2009 of the United States because that's when I was writing Legend. Back in 2009, that was right after Obama had been elected and in the States, our two main political parties absolutely hated each other. They don't usually like each other but they really did not like each other in 2009. To the point where it was a little bit unsettling to watch. And so that was an inspiration behind splitting the US into two countries physically and assigning characteristics of the two political parties to each country and pushing them both to their absolute extremes. I don't think extreme anything is good. So that was my little token to what was happening in the States at that time. So yeah it was very much inspired by that -- the world of Legend is all inspired by real life dystopias. So I read a lot about North Korea, and the holocaust and... just things that happen in our history. The Japanese internment camps in the US that I could put into this made up dystopia. 

Since [you draw] some of the art for The Young Elites I was just wondering, does your idea for the story comes first from the sketches or images? Is it easier to write the plot when you have the visual images in mind? 

Yeah. Actually it's a huge part of my writing process. I actually cannot start writing a story until I've drawn my characters physically out by hand. So before I even start drafting a story, like with Legend or The Young Elites, I draw my main characters to figure out who they are and what their personalities are, and I will sketch the world to get a sense of what that place is like. I find that I have trouble connecting with my characters if I don't actually know what they look like. And a lot of personalities are drawn from what I end up coming up with in their sketches. The two are pretty much inseparable for me. And as I write, there are times where I will get lazy or have writer's block or something and I'll stop writing and turn to the drawing to help get my inspiration back. 

From writing a dystopian series, you transitioned into writing fantasy. What sparked your decision to switch things up?

A part of it is because when I was growing it, I read nothing but fantasy and science fiction. So now that I had a science fiction series done, I knew that I wanted to do a fantasy series. It was something that I didn't even question. I knew that was going to be the next genre that I would tackle. I'm not sure that I would ever be able to move out of those two genres because I love them so much. What's funny is when I was writing The Young Elites, I turned in an original hundred pages to my agent that is nothing like what's published now and my agent hated it. She was... she said to me, verbatim, by email, I don't think you're cut out to write fantasy. And I had to actually call her back and say like, no, no, no -- you have to give me a second chance. I cannot live in a world where I am not allowed to write a fantasy series. That was a little bit of a struggle for me at first. But I always knew that I wanted to make a fantasy.

Definitely you have a lot of fans in the Legend series. Was there any part of the sequels, Prodigy and Champion that was sort of influenced by a fan wish or speculation after reading Legend?

I think there's anything in the Legend series that was inspired by a fan reaction. Part of the reason is because everything is staggered out by a year. So by the time I start hearing fan reactions to a book, I already finished writing the next book. So it's already too late to put in that stuff. I could just sort of watch helplessly as fans react to certain things. And I'm like, oh god I don't even know what's coming in the next book. So no, I don't think there's anything specifically that was influenced by a fan.

In your last book, Champion, how did you feel after writing the finale? Do you think it did some justice to your book or do you regret doing it?

Champion was by far the hardest book of the Legend series for me to write. I had a lot of late nights eating chocolates, just feeling very angsty about that book. I was very concerned about how people would react to the ending. I have a tendency to like bittersweet endings in books that I read and movies that I watch. I have the tendency to put all of that into my stuff. But I felt like there was no other good way of ending it. That was the one that I... that was the ending that I've always wanted to have for the series. And I wrote it and I turned it in to my editor and she kind of... she wrote back. She's like, this is great. I don't know how your fans are gonna react. And I was like, I know, this is gonna be a trip where I just... brace ourselves and see what happens. I've been very luck that most emails that I've gotten from readers seem to be positive. But you know, it's something that I just have to do for the characters and for the storyline, if it fits, and try to not consider what might happen outside of that. For me it was the ending that I wanted and I was satisfied with how it ended. And hopefully most readers do as well.

Do you have any ritual or something odd that you do before or while you're writing.

Odd rituals. Let's see. I... well... I do have to listen to music while I write. I cannot write in total silence. But I also cannot listen to anything with lyrics because the words distract me. So I can only listen to just soundtracks or ambient noise like rain or water sounds. Or I can listen to songs with lyrics that are in a language that I don't understand. Then I'm okay 'cause I don't know what they're saying. That's probably the strangest ritual that I have. My favorite place to write is on a train. I have only done it once in my life but I can see why J.K. Rowling enjoyed coming up with stuff while on a train. There's something about the movement of a train that is very conducive to me writing. So if I ever get a chance to be on a train again, I will try to write.

Who is more like you, Day or June?

Who is more like me, Day or June... uh.... you know, if I answer that question in the beginning of the series, I would say Day. And if I've said it at the end of the series, I would say June. I start off writing June as a character that I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with. She is incredibly left-brained and she's also... smarter than I am, which is very hard to write a character that is smarter than you are because I would constantly have to stop and research stuff for her that she just knows off the top of her head and I don't know anything about. In Prodigy, there's a scene where she starts going off about paperclips. You know, they're made out of titanium alloys and all this stuff. And I don't know that stuff about paperclips so I had to stop and go online and go to Wikipedia and read the history of paperclips for like an hour just to write this one line of dialogue for June. So it was very difficult to write about her. She is very logical and I'm not logical at all. She is incredibly practical and I'm not terribly practical. So I guess I related more to Day in the beginning. Because Day... he wears his heart on his sleeve. He's very emotionally driven. He is a little bit paranoid sometimes. He's very much June's opposite. But as I was writing the series, I started to notice bits and pieces of June's personality that was drawn from my own. Like, we deal with certain things in the same way. We deal with, like, panic in the same way. And, like, grief in the same way. And romance in the same way. And that she sucks in dealing with romance. I started noticing those bits and pieces of myself in her. So by the end of the series I came to identify more with June and I think there's a little bit of me in both those characters.

You write in such a way that is cinematic. How do you manage this effect, especially for the action scenes?

Thank you! I think it goes back to my art background? I think I'm just, like, a very visual person. So as I'm writing I see things playing out in my head as if there was a movie. So I just try to write what I see. And yeah, I guess that's the only way I can describe it. I don't know how else to work and I have to draw everything out before I write. Everything is very very visual for me.

Why did you choose to use villains as your protagonist in your books?

In The Young Elites, for example? So going back to my story of I wrote that first hundred pages and gave it to my agent and she hated it, she didn't like it because the main character in that early version of The Young Elites was a very very bland, good-hearted, totally normal guy. Who... you know... he was perfectly fine but he was fine in a Clark Kent sort of way. He's just good about everything and just loved everyone. Nobody wants to read about people like that. So I wrote this character and my agent said that he was kinda boring and uninteresting. And I asked her if there was anything that she did like about the first hundred pages that I'd given her. And she said, well I like this character named Adelina. She's currently your villain in the original version but she's kind of interesting. Can you tell me more about her? So I told her a little about Adelina and I said that Adelina was the most interesting character for me to write because she's manipulative and cunning. She doesn't seem to care about other people's emotions or if they get hurt or whatever. And I thought that was interesting and different to explore. So my agent said, maybe you should make her the main character. And that was what got me originally thinking that I wanted to write, not a hero's story, but a villain's story. And it was interesting to explore inside the head of somebody who is essentially gonna be like Darth Vader but, you know, a female version of Darth Vader. 

Everyone thinks that they're doing the right thing. Everyone thinks they're the hero. Darth Vader and Magneto and Loki -- they all have their reasons for doing what they do. They think they're justified. And I thought it'd be interesting to write from that point of view. Like what is the world... [what does the] world look like from there and how could they think that everyone else is wrong, that goes against them. So that was part of the inspiration for writing The Young Elites the way that I did. 

This question was inspired by Les Mis because we're still reading it in school. June's part in the murder of Day's family, leads to some serious friction in their relationship. Regardless of Champion's ending, does June eventually redeem herself in Day's eyes or will he see her as his family's killer?

Yeah, that was definitely a stumbling block for their relationship. It's funny for me to talk about the ending of Champion, because I honestly don't know what happens to them after the epilogue of Champion. So I can't really say how they will eventually to react to each other's... you know, if they go back to their old problems or whatever. So all I can really say is that I have very good feelings about what happens to Day and June. So whatever it is that people think is the best case scenario for them to have, that's probably what happens. And I feel like they had a good 10 years apart... I'm sorry, I had to go into this a little bit. They had a good 10 years apart and I feel like that was crucial to their development and growing up. You know? So... I hope I'm not spoiling anyone. Sorry. Before I spoil anyone more, I will stop. But I feel very optimistic.

How hard was it to switch when writing from one character to another, in a story with alternating points of view? Do you feel biased at times with a particular character?

How hard is it to switch between points of view... for Legend it wasn't that hard only because I have been writing books in that style since I was in highschool. One of my favorite books from highschool was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. And in that book, there are four alternating first person points of view. And she does such a good job with it. It was the first book I've ever read formatted like that. So that inspired a highschool novel that I wrote to be from that alternating first person point of view perspective. It was a terrible novel but I'd been writing in that kind of style for 10 years ever since then. So I was very used to being in two different characters' heads in that way once I got to writing Legend. It was a little bit tricker with The Young Elites because The Young Elites is mostly told from Adelina's first person point of view but there like a couple of third person view points scattered throughout the book. That was a little bit weird for me to switch between. And I found myself constantly having to go back and edit it out because I would accidentally switch to first person by accident, or past tense by accident. I wanted to keep that short. And the difference is that in The Young Elites, the third person points of view are all complementing Adelina's point of view. So everything is still pointing back to Adelina. The only reason why the other points of view exist is to reinforce people's opinions of Adelina. Whereas with Legend I wanted to have their two first person points of view equal and opposite so that we could see things from across the tracks. Day is from the slums and June is from the wealthy sector, and I wanted to show both of those worlds equally. So that was the reason behind them. And they both had their challenges but I think it had helped that I had been writing like that for a very long time. 

If the world in the legend trilogy was real, which country would you choose to live in: the republic or the colonies, and why? 

I hope that never happens. I think both the Republic and Colonies kind of suck for different reasons. And they have their good points for different reasons, too. I don't know what I would pick, I mean honestly I would rather live in New Antartica. That was like my favorite thing to write in champion; exploring this society where everything is literally a video game. And I know that's probably a dystopia in some sense. It's not probably the greatest society. But I think it would be a more fun society to be in. At least everything is super colorful. That's always a plus.

Who is the bigger rebel: Day or June? And what does rebellion mean for both of them?

That's a great and difficult question. I think Day is the more obvious rebel because of what he does and he's like America's most wanted criminal. But I think I'm gonna go with June being the greater rebel because she had to absolutely change her entire life 180 degrees starting from legend. I think that's pretty difficult to do especially in  her position where everything was great. She could've done nothing and lived a great life. She was in the wealthy sector. She had everything going for her. So in that sense I think she was by far the bigger rebel of the two of them. 

In Legend, Day and June were basically each other's antagonists and in The Young Elites, Adelina is quite the evil character. What's the experience like in writing in a point of view of a villain? And how different is it from writing from Adelina's point of view compared to writing Day and June's?

That's a great question. The biggest difference is in Legend... Legend is a very dark world. Day and June are surrounded by darkness and but evil. But Day and June as characters, even if they were antagonists to each other, they were always good people at heart. They grew up with good families. They had good mothers and fathers and siblings to take care and guide them. So it was never a problem for me to be in their head space. Because they knew what was wrong. They can look at something evil and say that's messed up. You should not do that. 

It was not the case with Adelina. She has a very twisted view in life and what she thinks is justified is kind of crazy sometimes. And it was very difficult for me to sit down and force myself into a first person point of view for that where I had to force myself to write things that I would never think in real life. But even more unsettling when I wrote something that I thought okay, I could kind of see where she's coming from and then I would have a moment where I'm like, woah that's not cool! I should think like that. I just like draw from those moments in life where you know... we all have those little moments of, like, villainy in us. I always think, 'cause I live in L.A. so my first thought is always traffic. So if I'm stuck in traffic for, like, 8 hours and someone in front of me -- cuts in front of me -- and I just want to see Godzilla come out from the sky, and step on their car, and destroy them. I'm like, I don't care if you have a family, or kids to take care of. I want you to die right now. So thank God I don't have super powers because I feel like if I was Adelina, and I have the power to do something terrible to somebody that really made me angry, I would do a lot of things that I would regret later. 

So I would draw on those kinds of thoughts when I'm writing Adelina. It was very, very disturbing to be inside that head space sometimes for months on end, to the point where I would finish one of her chapters and I had to stop and go pet my dogs to remind myself that I'm not actually Darth Vader -- that I am a normal human being who does not normally think like this. So it was a very different experience writing from her point of view, but also a very interesting sort of challenge to explore that head space. 

A message from Marie Lu!

I'm giving away one SIGNED copy of The Young Elites to one entrant residing in the Philippines. (If you're abroad and know someone who lives here and is willing to take your book for you, go right ahead!) I will notify the winner via email and Twitter/Facebook. The winner will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.

Good luck!

Thank you, National Bookstore! As always! :-)

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  1. I loved Legend as much as you did, and yes, Marie Lu is an amazing artist. Thanks for the giveaway!
    Is it okay that I followed you through Bloglovin instead? Because I get an error when I try to follow via GFC. :/

  2. God I'm sorry I don't live in the Philippines!!
    Anyway, that was a great review! I read the whole Legend series and the ending of Champion.. well, that was actually pretty hard to digest. But I had so many questions about the characters and so on and thanks to you I got some answers! Also I still haven't read The Young Elites but now I feel pretty eager to read about Adelina!!

  3. I love The Legend trilogy. I got hooked! :)