Marie Lu: The real deal

Marie Lu

Marie Lu

Isn’t it human to feel hate after being banished from your home, or to be vengeful to the people who did you wrong? Redemption. Isn’t that something we can all relate to? Because, admit it, you’re tired of reading the same ideologies of the martyrs, the dogma of the righteous, the struggles of Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the makings of a hero.

The best-selling author of  the “Legend” trilogy has yet again built another dystopia that is darker and sexier; the kind where the hero is emptied of self-sacrifice and idiotic sympathies. Her name is Marie Lu and she recently visited the Philippines for a National Book Store book signing tour for her latest series, “The Young Elites.”

Marie has introduced to readers Adelina Amouteru of The Young Elites, a survivor of the blood fever whose hair turned silver, lashes to pale, and earned a jagged scar where her left eye once was. For once, this is someone with great power and uses it for her own reasons.

Marie came to Cebu where she dived, dined, shopped and… no, she didn’t forget to sign the books of  avid fans who eagerly waited for their favorite YA author. Before accommodating her devoted fans, she chatted with the Play! pool about herself as a writer, artist, and wife to a half-Filipino artist. A former art director in the video game industry, flash artist, and Political Science major, she writes her stories with a touch of social conflicts, political issues, and accounts of history. She sketches the characters, too!

Poised and calm, Marie lively discussed this action-packed story of danger, power, and flying jets in “The Young Elites. She also shared her interesting view of the hero and the villain, how one isn’t far different from the other. This is “X-Men” meets “Game of Thrones.” The characters are to die for. (BHQ)

How did you get bitten by the writer’s bug?
I had always been writing since I was very young. I came over from China to the US when I was five and to learn English, my mom gave me assignments to write in English paragraphs every day. After a while of doing that, I just realized I enjoyed the process of writing. So I had been pitching stories since I was very little. It wasn’t until high school when I started to write more seriously. I realized that real people wrote books! I didn’t know it was an actual job option until then. (Laughs). And once I realized that, I knew I wanted to do that at some point as a profession. So I started pitching books when I was in high school. I wrote four books before “Legend” though, but they never got published so it took a while before I got there.

Is there any way you can have them published now?
I don’t think they’re good enough to be published! (Laughs). Well, there are already a couple of things I wrote took from those books. Like the character, Day, in “Legend” was originally in a very old book that I wrote in high school. He was the only thing that survived from that book. Anything else I just threw away because I didn’t like it anymore. I took some stuff from those manuscripts but I don’t want you, guys, to read them because they’re really bad. (Laughs).

How do you decide on the names of the characters in your books?
It depends on the character but for Day and June in “Legend,” they had actual reasons for their names. Day, I named, because I was looking for a street name that symbolize his personality. He’s like a very optimistic person. His motto is to walk in the light, to seek the truth. I thought Day was a good nickname for him. June was named after the month of June because of the zodiac. Geminis are kind of June, I think. The description for Gemini is that you are very intelligent and ambitious and logical, and I thought that matched June really well.

The Young Elites and others
For “The Young Elites,” some of the names sound Filipino …
Well, “The Young Elites” is set in a country that’s heavily Italian based which sounds really Filipino as well. I was looking for an Italian feel,  for Italian names and Adelina means noble in Italian, which
I thought was ironic for her character.

How do you blend the facts with your imagination for you to come up with a fantasy world that has a realistic feel?
There’s definitely a lot of research involved. I feel like it’s impossible to make a realistic world unless you based it off something that’s real, even the most outlandish fantasy stuff.

What sort of research?
With the “Legend” series, I did all kinds of research that I think would probably land me on the US government blacklist because of things I search online! (Laughs). Like, can you survived a four-story fall out of the window, or what are the top assassinations in history and how do you carry those out, or how do you make a bomb out of clay. I looked up at things like that. I read about real-life dystopias, watching documentaries about North Korea and reading the history of it. And I was a Political Science major and even though I didn’t become a lawyer, I really enjoyed my classes. I still ended up putting in a lot of politics without realizing it. Also, I was writing “Legend” at the time when the US politics was really extreme. This was right after Obama had been elected and our two political parties just hated each other to the point where it was getting a little bit unsettling. That made me think it would be interesting if I physically put the US down the middle between these two parties and just their ideologies to the extreme on both sides. So that’s where the idea of the Republic and the Colonies came from.

For “The Young Elites,” it was a lot of reading the Renaissance period and what life was like back then and the politics as well. This was between 1350 and 1400’s, right after the Dark Ages when the plague get swept through and killed off a third of the population of Europe. After that, the Renaissance began and really it was only affecting a very tiny portion of the population. The wealthy class experienced this revival of art and science. The poor were still being treated the same way. I put that very heavily and inspired the world in The Young Elites.

I have always read fantasies and sci-fi’s so I tend to think in that way when writing my own stories. I’ve always enjoyed the process of world-building. I did pull a lot of it from real life. Legend is heavily based on reality, real life dystopias. Pulled from like North Korea, or from the Holocaust, and ancient Sparta and all these different things. I don’t think I will ever write a full historical fiction because I like throw in the fun parts like, wait, there’s flying things in the sky! Or you have magical powers! (Laughs). It’s more fun that way.

Adelina wasn’t originally the “hero” in “The Young Elites.” What triggered the change?
When I first wrote “The Young Elites,” Adelina was the villain. She was the side character. She was not supposed to be the main character and I had this other boy who was very bland, not interesting, good-hearted boy who found out that he had super powers, and fell in with a bunch of people who had super powers, and they fought the villain that was Adelina. I wrote this like a hundred pages and I didn’t particularly like it. I thought it was okay but I sent it to my agent and she was the one who said she didn’t really like it. I asked her, “Was there anything in the story that you did like?” And she said she liked Adelina. That was when I realized she probably should be the one to star the whole story. So I had to throw away a hundred pages I had written and start over again, but this time from Adelina’s point of view.

With this major shift, how do you reconcile your stance on  hero and a villain?
I think it is a very subjective line about who is a hero and who is a villain. It really depends on whose point of view you’re looking at. Everyone thinks he’s the hero or wants to think he’s the hero. We want to believe we’re the good guys and the other person who’s not like us is not the good guy. It’s kind of like history, you know. It’s written by whoever wins. In that sense, heroes and villains are very similar. If you were to get down the nitty-gritty of it, I think heroes are people who recognize their weakness and can get rise above it. Whereas villains are people who succumb to that and embrace their darkness. But a lot of heroes and villains started off the same way. If you look at Superman who is very goody-goody boring guy, he has a pretty similar past to Darth Vader. They both lost their parents. They had dark things happened to them. Anakin Skywalker just fell on to the dark side.

Is “The Young Elites” the most challenging you’ve written so far?
”The Young Elites” is by far the most difficult book I’ve ever had drawing. “Legend” was fairly easy but “The Young Elites” was really hard.

Was it difficult to shift the reasoning with each of the characters’ own different thoughts and ideologies?
It wasn’t that hard mostly since I have been writing like that since high school. I had a book I wrote in this exact same way. I had been writing like that for a very long time so I was used to it. Having said that, June was very difficult to write. I didn’t have trouble with Day so much because he was the character that had been in my head for 10 years. I was very used to hearing his voice but June was difficult. She is smarter than I am. It’s hard to writer a character that is smart than you are! (Laughs). I would constantly do research for her sections because I didn’t know the stuff that she knew. She is so left brain and logical and that’s not how Day is at all.

But is there something about June that reflects your character?
Yeah! I didn’t think we had anything in common when I first started writing it, but towards the time I started writing “Champion,” I sort of realized I was putting bits and pieces of my personality to June without realizing it. She and I deal with grief in the same way and like romance in the same way which is we’re just really awkward with it. We’re not very good at it. (Laughs). I realized I was putting bits and pieces of myself into her personality. So as the series ended, I really came to identify with June.

Is there anyone else in the family who’s also into writing?
I don’t really have anyone in the family who’s interested in writing. Well, my dad’s side, his brother which is my only uncle, enjoys documentary style of writing, the non-fiction type. My grandfather on my dad’s side wrote some calligraphy and poetry back when he was younger, but that’s pretty much it. My mom is like June, very left brain. She’s a programmer, not really a writer or anything.

Who are the other young adult authors that you are very close to?
There’s quite a few. The Young Adult community is really close, which is very unusual. The Adult Writing community doesn’t really interact; they don’t go on tour with each other; they’re not friends. And Young Adult authors are like all friends! Everyone knows everyone else. We all go to the same events; we panel together. So there’s quite a few, yes. There are a lot of YA authors in LA (Los Angeles) which is where I live. I live three minutes from Margaret Stohl’s house, and like three minutes from Tahereh (Mafi) and Ransom’s (Riggs) house. Yeah, we are all in this little area. It’s really cool. It’s nice to have that community of writers. There’s a whole bunch that lives in New York, in Utah, and all over.

Marie Lu

Marie Lu

How did your career as a Flash artist begin?
I fell into it by accident. Just like writing, I always enjoyed artwork. I was learning Flash just for my own hobby and drawing and animating stuff online. I didn’t know that you could do that as a job. At the time, I was in college studying Political Science because I thought I was going to be a lawyer which I would have been terrible at! (Laughs). I realized that when I was in my senior year, when I got into Law school; I was looking at the welcome packet. I didn’t want to send in the acceptance yet. I just couldn’t picture myself working as a lawyer. So I was wandering around campus and I stopped at this kiosk and they had this bulletin on from Disney Interactive Studios which is the video game division of Disney. It basically sells like “Do you like to draw?” and “Do you like video games?”
I like both of those things. I applied for this internship where they were looking for eight people whom they bring on and all you’re going to do for six months is come up with new video games idea. That was the job description and I just remembered thinking like that was the most fun job ever. I applied to that and I got in, and then, I sort of fell into becoming as Flash artist for Disney for a few years. It was really fun. If I had a chance to work again in video games, I would. If I could do that and writing at the same time. It’s just that I had to pick one because of all the travels that get involved with writing.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing  professionally?
In a different world where I was good at everything (laughs), I would have loved to be a fighter pilot. Yeah. There’s a reason why the character, Kaede is the way she is in “Legend.” She’s my wish for film character and I’ve always wished that I could be like her—to fly jets for a living. I remember when I was nine years old and I was talking to my mom about my very stable career choices. (Laughs).

Well, I want to be a fighter pilot and my mom was like, well, you have really terrible eyesight! You can do anything but not that! Thanks, mom, very encouraging. As a result, I tend to write about characters who are fighter pilots instead. (Laughs).

When you are not writing or drawing, what do you do?
I love taking photos. That’s a hobby I picked up recently. I like the usual things like going to the movies or shopping. Most creative things, I like. I play piano when I was a kid and kind of every now and then. I love to travel.

How’s the home of two artists living together?
We have kind of weird little house full of random knick-knacks and artwork and stuff. We spend a lot of time talking about art and stories. Now and then, we do little art retreats together. That’s really fun thing to do. We’re both absent-minded; our heads in the sky. We have three dogs—two of them are Corgis and one is a Chihuahua. If we’re both at home working, our two tables in the office are side by side. We’re just both quiet, but at times, he’s like… hey, check this out, or look at this!

We heard he’s half-Filipino. How did you meet?
We were in college. We went into the same internship. That was like eight years ago. He left the Philippines when he was three but he goes back to visit every now and then. The last time he visited was 10 years ago. He cooks me adobo and sinigang. He has an eight-to-five job. He was really bummed. He wanted to come here. (Laughs).

TAGS: author, champion, Legend, Marie Lu, Prodigy, The Young Elites, Young Adult
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