Last week Kayla and a few other book reviewers had the opportunity to interview Marie Lu about her new novel Prodigy. Below is the entire transcript of the interview! Prodigy is the sequel to the amazing Legend. If you don’t believe me, read Kayla’s reviews for Legend and Prodigy! Prodigy will be released next Tuesday, January 29th. Click here to read an excerpt from Prodigy.
At the end of this post, we will be giving away a signed copy of Prodigy, thanks to the wonderful people at Penguin Group!
Marie Lu writes young adult novels, and has a special love for dystopian books. She likes food, fighter jets, afternoon tea, happy people, electronics, the interwebz, cupcakes, pianos, bright colors, rain, Christmas lights, sketches, animation, dogs, farmers’ markets, video games, and of course, books.
She left Beijing for the States in 1989 and went off to college at the University of Southern California. In her past life, she was an art director in the video game industry, but now she writes full-time.
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Group Interview with Marie Lu
January 22, 2013
Ms. Marie Lu: Hi, my name is Marie, and I’m super glad to be on the phone call with you guys. My voice is a little bit shaky today, so if you need me to repeat anything, just let me know.
A quick recap of Prodigy is it continues right where Legend left off, and Day and June are forced by circumstance to join the Patriot rebels, who want them to help assassinate the new Elector of the Republic. But, of course, not everything is at it seems, and when June starts to wonder if killing the Elector might only make things worse, she and Day come into direct conflict.
They also explore a lot more locations in the Republic as well as uncover the truth of what happened so many decades ago.
Amy: So, after the success of Legend, how do you feel having the second book come out, and the pressure that comes with it and the early reader reaction to it?
Ms. Marie Lu: The pressure is definitely different. I had a really hard time writing the second book, pretty much like every other writer I’ve ever talked to. With the first book, I wrote it and nobody knew that I was writing it and I was really in the vacuum of my own deadlines and schedules.
And with the second one, it was due on June 1st, I have to turn it in, there are readers who are expecting certain things and I can’t help seeing some things online where people are asking for certain things to happen and certain things not to happen.
So the pressure was definitely different. And I kind of had to learn how to go back to writing in a vacuum. There were many nights where I was crying and eating chocolates over this book.
Rachel: Hi, Marie. When you first began to write, what spurred you to create your fantasies that may not have been quite publishing ready, but they were still yours? And is it the same thing now?
Ms. Marie Lu: I lost a little bit of your question halfway through. Would you mind repeating it one more time? Sorry.
Rachel: Sure. When you first began to write, what spurred you to create your fantasies? Sort of like what inspired you? And is it the same thing that inspires you now?
Ms. Marie Lu: I first started writing when I was really, really young. I think the first “story” that I wrote, which is like those stapled together papers, was when I was five. I think the inspirations are still pretty much the same though.
Back then, I was inspired by a lot of my favorite stories. I remember reading Brian Jacques’ Redwall series back in middle school and loving it so much that I wrote a whole series of my own spin off Redwall stories in these 80 page bound journal books. And I did that sort of thing all throughout high school, just getting really inspired by other people’s writing and by people in general as well as books, movies and games. And they all sort of combine into one.
Legend in particular was inspired partly by Les Miserables.
Michelle: Did you have a story arc already planned when you started writing Legend, or did the story develop as you wrote? Like, for example, did you know what would happen to Kaede in Prodigy already?
Ms. Marie Lu: I didn’t really know exactly what was going to happen to Kaede. I sort of write by the seat of my pants. I have a very basic outline, and I try to follow it. But I’m really, really bad at following my outlines.
The characters really get away from me, and they kind of take on a life of their own.
For example, Kaede was supposed to be a walk on character in book one. She was supposed to appear in that bar scene, and that was it. That was supposed to be her only scene. But, somehow, she managed to worm her way into two of the three books.
So I definitely don’t always know what’s going to happen. That can cause me quite a few panic attacks along the way, but it’s sort of more fun that way in hindsight.
Anna: My question is what’s been the toughest criticism given to you as an author, and what has been the best compliment?
Ms. Marie Lu: I would say the best compliment I’ve ever gotten is from actually, at that time, young seventh graders or eighth graders who have never finished a book before, very reluctant readers. I actually just got an email a couple of weeks ago from a little boy who had never finished a book before. He belonged to a remedial reading class. His teacher recommended Legend to him, and he ended up finishing it in two days, and he was really proud of himself. And I was so proud of him.
It’s the stories like that really get to me. And I find those the best compliments.
As for the toughest criticism, negative reviews are always difficult to read, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything that was extremely hurtful. I tend to read all of my negative reviews just in case there’s something really valuable mentioned somewhere in them.
For example, one of my first negative reviews commented on how June in the advanced copy of Legend tells time in civilian mode instead of military time, using the 24 hour clock. And I thought that was like a great comment. I hadn’t even thought of that. So that got changed for the final version.
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything that was so tough that it broke my heart. So far all of it has been actually pretty constructive and helpful in its own way.
Kayla: What other project are you working on that you would like to tell us about?
Ms. Marie Lu: I just finished up the first few drafts of Legend 3, so I am working on some new stuff now.
I am working on a new fantasy series. Fantasy is sort of my first love. It’s the first genre that I really fell in love with back in middle school, so I kind of want to go back to that.
The new story is set in an alternate fantasy version of Renaissance Italy. And that’s hopefully what will be my next series. So we’ll see what happens.
Amy: So, since Legend was inspired by Les Miserables, have you seen the new movie version, and how did you feel about it?
Ms. Marie Lu: I have seen it, and I really loved it maybe with the exception of Russell Crowe, who I just felt so sorry for. I thought he was gonna pop a vocal cord. But, other than that, I thought the movie was really, really good.
I loved Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and it was just really cool seeing the big screen version of the musical paying homage to the musical. I’d seen like the old Les Mis movies, but they were movie movies and not so much the musical. So I thought it was really, really fun.
Rachel: In the book Legend, you created a contrast between the poor citizens and an elite military group. Will the readers of Prodigy be able to look for another contrast as extreme?
Ms. Marie Lu: In Prodigy, the contrast is a little bit different. I think in Prodigy, a lot of the contrast comes from what one person thinks of the Republic and what the other person thinks of the Republic and also with the areas outside of the Republic that are very different from the Republic itself.
Pamela: What was the hardest scene that you had to write in either Legend or Prodigy?
Ms. Marie Lu: I find June incredibly hard to write. Every time one of her chapters comes up, I kind of have to stop and do random research for her lines because she just knows random things. For example, in Prodigy, there’s an early scene where she starts listing off the metal composition of a paper clip. So I had to stop and go online and read about the history of paper clips and just really random things like that.
So June’s chapters definitely are slow going for me, and they’re very challenging.
And a particularly difficult scene in Prodigy was when Day and June have a really drawn-out dramatic verbal fight. That took me 10 or 20 different tries to get their dialogue the way that I wanted to. It was definitely a challenging scene.
Michelle: If you could spend a day with any of the characters in Prodigy, who would it be and what will you do with that character during your day together?
Ms. Marie Lu: That’s an interesting question. I would really love to spend a day with Anden, actually. I think it would be really fun to see from his point of view what it’s like to run the Republic from the inside. I would probably like to tell him all of the things that people are conspiring to do against him.
And he seems like he would be a fun person to hang around because he’s very elegant and might take me to a really nice restaurant.
Anna: My question is what made you choose to write about a young adult instead of more of an adult?
Ms. Marie Lu: I actually went into this story not knowing that I had written a young adult. I think I had always been writing young adult without realizing it, ever since high school.
When I took Legend to my agent, I just gave it to her as science fiction, and she was the one who told me that it actually fit really well into the young adult dystopian section.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was writing, but now that I know about young adult, I really find the genre fascinating, and pretty much everything I read these days is young adult.
In the future, I might write something for adults. But right now, I’m having a pretty good time with the young adult category.
Kayla: In an animated version of Legend or Prodigy, who would you want the voice of June or Day?
Ms. Marie Lu: I would love an animated version.
Oh, gosh, I don’t even know. I think it would be really fun if Day’s voice was Leonardo DiCaprio because when I was a little girl, I was totally a fan of Leo DiCaprio, and his Romeo and Juliette personality probably inspired Day just a little bit. So I think it would be fun if he was voicing Day.
For June, I’m not entirely sure. But I really like the voices of the girls in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I really loved the voice actresses in Airbender and in Korra. So I think it’d be fun if she was voiced like Korra or Katara.
Pamela: While you were writing Legend, it says in your biography that you were an art director at a game design company. What did you like about game design, and were you a gamer growing up?
Ms. Marie Lu: I definitely was a gamer growing up. My first game was Sonic Hedgehog II on my Sega Genesis, and I’ve been a gamer ever since.
I find games to be so fascinating because it’s just another creative media. All creative media inspire me, and they’re sort of interchangeable for me.
Playing games a lot and working in games definitely influences my writing. When I’m writing, I tend to see in my head either a game sequence or some sort of movie sequence that’s kind of related to my former art director job.
In Legend, the seen where June and Kaede have their street fight, that was solely inspired by Street Fighter. So in my head, I kind of picture it like a game scene.
And I just find it really fun. Sometimes if I have writer’s block, I do like to put the writing aside and go play some games or watch some movies or something, get my creative juices flowing in a different sort of media.
Kayla: What is your definition of a bad writing day, and how do you deal with those days?
Ms. Marie Lu: I do get bad writing days quite frequently. Usually, my best solution is to stop writing and to start drawing. I notice that I can usually break a writer’s block if I stop and just start drawing my characters or the scene that I’m trying to write or some sort of landscape. I notice that switching the creative media will usually help me break that.
And sometimes reading books helps a lot. I can usually like go and read something and then get inspiration from that.
Rachel: What was the most personally related event or thing or concept or maybe even a lesson you learned that you incorporated into your new book Prodigy that you really want your readers to digest and think about?
Ms. Marie Lu: One thing that I really wanted to emphasize in Prodigy was the fact that everything is sort of gray. There’s no black and white to anything. The Republic is not completely evil. The people who live in the Republic are not all evil. And the world outside of the Republic is not always good.
I really wanted to reflect some of the reality of our real world. A lot of the political elements in Prodigy were inspired directly by the state of American politics right at the beginning of our Great Recession, which was around the time I had started to work on Prodigy and on Legend.
I think that that’s something that I really hope that readers will pick up on and be aware of – that dystopia is relative and it really depends on who tries it on and how you see it. It’s something that I saw when I was living in China, and I see it in America, too. So that’s definitely something that I wanted to come across.
Pamela: I’m representing Surviving College, a site about surviving college life. Do you have any advice for college students who are looking to break into a creative industry like gaming or writing?
Ms. Marie Lu: There’s definitely certain majors that you can pursue that will help you. If I could go back to college, I probably would have majored in creative writing or game design. I was a political science major, which is mainly because I was kind of afraid to take that jump.
I really hope that college students who are interested in the creative industry won’t be afraid to pursue those industries because I know they can be very challenging to get a foothold in, but your best bet is to try to steer your major towards what you want to do and start searching for internships.
If you’re looking to go into the arts – gaming or movies or any sort of art design – just know that your portfolio is king. Even if you don’t have a major in art, you can actually get a job if your portfolio is strong enough.
Definitely do your research and go online and find certain people that you can look up to. A lot of the great creative artists are online, and they have art blogs. A game designer has game design blogs. And you can probably get informational interviews with them to just ask them about how their industry works.
In the creative industry, like all industries, it’s all about who you know. So building those early connections really helps a lot.
And as far as writing goes, there are a ton of resources online for aspiring writers and great writer communities. Twitter is a great tool to follow established writers and see what they say and what advice they have to give.
I think the biggest thing is just don’t be afraid to pursue it. I was afraid for a long time because I thought I would be a starving artist. But I think anyone can make it in the creative industry if they’re passionate about it and they have the talent.
Anna: Where do you like to go to write, whether it be at your house or your local Starbucks?
Ms. Marie Lu: I’ve sort of gotten in the habit of writing anywhere. I used to not be able to do that. I used to just write exclusively at home. But I did a lot of traveling this past year, so now I kind of like writing in coffee shops more and writing on trains–I’m not sure why, but trains seem to be a fun place to do writing, for whatever reason. And I do still enjoy writing at home, too, since it’s the most convenient spot.
Amy: What are you most excited for readers to discover in Prodigy?
Ms. Marie Lu: I would really love to see readers meet Anden and see what they think of him. I had a lot of fun writing Anden. A fun little piece of trivia is that he and Day were actually both in an old manuscript that I wrote back in high school, and they were best friends in that one.
So he was a character that I revised from the old one, although his personality iss a little bit different in this one.
I’m excited to see what readers think of him. I’m excited to see readers meet Kaede again and see the role that she plays.
And I just hope people like the new direction that Prodigy goes in and the new characters that sort of take the reigns.
Michelle: What was your inspiration for the colonies?
Ms. Marie Lu: For the colonies? It was definitely part of the whole feeding off of American politics during the Great Recession. It was just sort of disturbing and baffling to see how extreme our two political parties had to go in order to face off against each other during dire circumstances.
I feel like, in the Legend world, since it’s very dystopian and there are a lot of crises, that was why the two countries became such polar opposites. So that was definitely an inspiration, the whole American politics that we know for the last four years.
Chelsy: Thank you all so much for being here. Marie, thank you for your time and your patience and your willingness to go through a couple of different workarounds. And all of you guys who were able to participate, as well, thank you.
Ms. Marie Lu: Thank you! I had a great time talking with you guys.
This giveaway is provided by Penguin Group
One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Prodigy by Marie Lu
Available January 29, 2013 from Putnam Juvenile/Penguin
About this Book:
Prodigy is the long-awaited sequel to Legend, the must-read dystopian novel for all YA fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth. A brilliant re-imagining of Les Miserables, the series is set to be a global film sensation as CBS films have acquired rights to the trilogy.
June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—-June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.
It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.
But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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