LEGEND: Catch Me If You Can Meets The Hunger Games (Or, Vigilantes, Prodigies and Dystopia: an Interview Debut Author Marie Lu)
Early last week, I was fortunate enough to get in touch with an amiable and talented author: Marie Lu. You might have heard of her through the blogosphere, her upcoming debut LEGEND is Putnam Children's Lead Title for Fall '11, set to hit your shelves this November. Not only was Marie more than happy to send an ARC to me all the way down here in Australia, but she was also very willing to let me host an interview here, despite the length of my list of questions.
So, without further ado, I present Miss Marie Lu!
I'm really anticipating your debut novel LEGEND, the first in a trilogy it seems, and judging by its Goodreads page, I'm certain that there are quite a few others who are as well. What can we expect?
Thank you so much, Nina! I really hope you'll enjoy it when it's out. As for what you can expect from LEGEND: a rebellious boy vigilante, a super-intelligent girl prodigy, a dystopian Los Angeles, puzzles, parkour, romance, and lots of action. And hopefully a story that will entertain you. :)
You describe LEGEND as Catch Me If You Can meets THE HUNGER GAMES. What elements from these sources have you integrated into your series?
LEGEND'S core story is similar to Catch Me If You Can in that it's about a teenage criminal (Day) who spends his life staying one step ahead of the authorities. In LEGEND's case, the main girl protagonist (June) is one of these authorities. The world they play cat and mouse in, however, is a dystopian North America. That's where the HUNGER GAMES similarity comes in.
Day and June's romance is apparently loosely based on LES MISERABLES (a book I love, by the way), that being Cosette and Marius I guess. In what way did you use that story to influence your own?
Ah, Les Mis! Such love. Actually, the part Les Mis inspired for LEGEND was the relationship between Javert and ValJean, the thief vs. authority concept. I suppose Marius and Cosette's relationship could apply somewhat to LEGEND, though. Cosette (well, during her convent years) and June both live sheltered lives until they get caught up with the events swirling around them, and Marius and Day are both revolutionaries. So I guess that comparison also works!
Day is in a bit of a spot of bother, being the most wanted criminal in the country. What sort of skills has he got and what sort of crimes does he commit? Are we looking at a more How to Steal a Million, or a Neal Caffrey or Firefly? What research did you have to do?
Definitely not Firefly (one of my favourite shows, by the way), because Day is not a mercenary. He never works for hire. The best comparison would be a teenage version of Robin Hood, since Day is a boy who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Skill-wise, Day is an exceptional parkour/free-running guy. He's very smart, athletic, and nimble. I had to watch a lot of parkour videos, as well as Google topics that have probably landed me on the FBI's watch list by now.
You had a rather unique way into your world for LEGEND, it being built around a world that you created for a Facebook game! So how did you get to adapting it into a novel? Or did the novel come first; if so, did this game help you understand your world better?
The novel actually came first. After I'd finished it and was waiting for my first round of feedback from my agent, I decided to make a related Facebook game in order to take a break from writing without leaving the Legend world. The game helped me flesh out the worldbuilding and get a better idea of what certain things (i.e. fashion, money) were like.
I hear there was quite a tug-of-war around getting LEGEND pinned to one publisher and that you had some exciting phone conversations. Could you share some of the great things these industry professionals were saying about LEGEND? What were your favourite comments?
Thank you! Yes, the week when I got to talk to interested editors was one of the best weeks ever. I can't share all of the wonderful things these editors said, but I can tell you two of my favourite comments. One came from a brilliant young editor who told me that June was her favourite character in the book. The other came from Jen Besser, who is my editor now. She told me that one of the ending scenes made her tear up. I'm very proud of that. :)
A three-book deal with Penguin Group, and the Putnam Children's Lead Title for Fall 2011? You have got to be fist-pumping and driving along highways screaming at the top of your lungs. Have you got any plans, lame or not so much, for the day when your book is out there on the shelves?
There was definitely much shrieking/fist-pumping while driving! I don't think neighboring cars appreciated it. :) I'm not yet sure what to do for launch day. There will probably be a book launch party, but beyond that, I think I'll just go out to eat with friends and then drown my anxieties in a giant tub of ice cream!
Dystopian Fiction is like a bad car accident that makes you slow down and stare. It’s surreal and disturbing and to write about them you’ve really got to get immersed in the scourge of history. Undoubtedly, with a number of titles being released in the near future, there’s a growth of interest toward YA Dystopias. What freshness does LEGEND bring to the table? What past dystopian-like concepts did you look to? What made you pick this genre for a setting?
I've always been fascinated by the bleak landscapes portrayed in dystopias. For LEGEND, I wanted to write a story from two points of view--someone "inside the system" who doesn't yet realize her world's problems, and someone outside of the system who is already aware of his society's faults. I really wanted to focus on building intricate characters as much as building the world itself. My mother actually lived through China's Cultural Revolution (truly a modern dystopian period), and I was living in Beijing when the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened. Other influences came from the United States' eugenics period in the early 20th century, ancient Sparta, and North Korea's current regime. It's terrifying how easily a government can brainwash and cripple an entire generation in only a few short decades.
Your portrayal of our future is dramatic, and disturbing indeed. Does the world in LEGEND portray the future you envision? Do you think modern society could ever reach such a point where they decline to holding the values ancient societies? For instance, how the Spartans would leave a “weak” baby to die outside the city?
I hope the world of LEGEND is nothing like our actual future. I do think modern society can degenerate to that point if we aren't careful, if we let irrational fear take over our better judgment. You can see that sort of fear coming out even in the U.S.'s current political climate. There's nothing like troubling times to bring out the worst in both politicians and people. I think the world's future will be brighter than LEGEND's, though. I'm still optimistic about humanity's ability to come together to face challenges.
CBS Films bought the film rights to LEGEND. Congrats! How exciting that it’s such a major deal too. What can you tell us about that process and what role you might play in the production?
Thank you! The CBS Films deal is definitely exciting, and I can't wait to take the next step. The process is not unlike the book acquisition process; my literary agent and I worked with a film agent (Kassie Evashevski), who brought LEGEND to CBS Films. Temple Hill, the attached production company, has been fantastic so far. One of their best traits is how willing they are to work with the author during the process. It's why Stephenie Meyer was able to have so much say in the Twilight films. I will probably get to give input during the screenwriting process, and after that, I'm happy to let them guide me wherever I'm needed!
And I've got to ask: who's your dream director and dream cast?
I think everyone's dream director is Christopher Nolan, right? ;) (Right!) As for a dream cast, I haven't seen any actor that looks quite like how Day looks in my head. However, I love the idea of Hailee Steinfeld for June, and I've always pictured June's brother to be Ben Barnes. Of course, I don't have a say in any of that!
Rejection is an inevitable divergence on the path to publication for most writers. What experiences did you have with it?
Rejection and I have a long and intimiate history. I wrote a blog entry here detailing my writing journey. Some writers can hit it big on their first try, but for me, I wrote four unpublished manuscripts before LEGEND came along. It can be hard, but that's part of the reason we want it so much. If getting published were easy, it wouldn't be so rewarding when you finally get there!
How about your agent? How was it that you came to work with her?
I met Kristin Nelson five years ago, at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. She turned down my first manuscript. Then, years later, she took me on for a novel that we ultimately weren't able to sell. Then, we finally made it with LEGEND. I think that really is a testament to how amazing she is. She will stick by you through the good times and the bad, and that is priceless.
You've been writing since you were about fourteen. What's your view on teen writes? I noticed that on your website you posted the first chapter of a very old trunk novel. Like the rest of us, this first manuscript had a lot of flower, right? Do you think we should be publishing such young writers or be cultivating them a la Harper Collins on sites such as Inkpop? Or do you have your own view on how they should be treated or on how they are portrayed?
Haha - I hope you didn't read that whole thing! It was so flowery it could've filled an entire garden. I think young/teen writers should simply get the same treatment as any other writer. If the writing is good, it doesn't matter how young you are--you should be published! There are so many talented young authors today, like Kody Keplinger and Veronica Roth. The writing is always what matters most. Everything else is largely irrelevant.
Time for some rapid fire to wrap things up:
Favourite dystopian film? Blade Runner
Favourite dystopian novel? THE GIVER (Lois Lowry)
Character that you'd like to insert into your world? Captain Malcolm Reynolds
What keywords in a blurb will immediately draw you in? Vigilante, criminal or mafia
Two features of a book that are most important? Characters and endings
Best title you've heard? THE PAIN MERCHANTS by Janice Hardy. Doesn't that just suck you right in?
The book concept you always wanted to read about as a kid? A dark Peter Pan (Which, it turn out, is THE CHILD THIEF by Brom!)
Book you're dying to read this year? THE CLOCKWORK PRINCE by Cassandra Clare. I'm a Jem fan.
Favourite guilty pleasure? Tabloids. I know, I know, it's terrible. I try to limit my tabloid reading to when I'm at airports. :)
What scenes do you enjoy writing the most: action, suspense or romance? Suspense. I love romance scenes when they turn out right, but I find them the hardest to do.
Favourite superhero? Iron Man. I want to see Tony Stark take Bruce Wayne out on the town and teach him to stop being so angsty. You're rich and handsome, Batman. Smile!
Thank you so much, Marie! I look forward to reading LEGEND and seeing your career continue to blossom. Do you have any last words of wisdom for writers out there?
Thank you so much for having me here, Nina! This was really fun. Last words of wisdom for writers: Never simply brush off a bestselling novel as a bad book. Instead, pinpoint exactly what the book did right in order to gain such a huge following, and see if any of it can be applied to your own writing. Every author has a strength!
I don't know about you, but I like her. And I am psyched for when LEGEND is sitting in my hot little hands. If you're as excited as I am, you might want to check out some links:
LEGEND on Goodreads.com
Marie on Goodreads.com
Marie on Twitter
Marie on Facebook
and the LEGEND book trailer.
Get psyched guys, I know I am!