This month at the Inkpot, we've talked about science fiction and fantasy and how the two don't seem really all that far apart. And these days, with the Hunger Games movie anticipation reaching feverish heights, we can't forget about dystopia. So in continuing this theme, I have the great pleasure of sharing with you an interview with Marie Lu, who's debut novel Legend is our very first dystopian/sci fi novel highlighted on this blog.
As soon as I heard about Legend, I knew that I absolutely had to read this book. Just read this caption and you’ll know exactly what I mean:
‘Legend’ is set some time in the future, when the United States has split into two warring nations–the western Republic and the eastern Colonies. 15 year-old Day is the Republic’s most wanted boy criminal, while 15 year-old June is the Republic’s most famous girl prodigy. When June is hired to hunt Day down, the two begin a dangerous game of cat and mouse that ultimately reveals the dark secrets that their country is hiding from them.
When I received the ARC, I devoured it in one sitting and then immediately emailed Marie asking her when I could get the second book. Yes, it was that good. For me what really worked was how much I loved the kickass heroine June is. I adore strong heroines, and June is one of the best of the lot. She’s strong with a hint of vulnerability. I loved her. She’s not Katniss, she’s (I dare say) even better.
Ello - Hi Marie! Thanks for stopping by the Inkpot during our November science fiction/dystopian celebration month. Since this is when Inkies are focusing on science fiction and dystopia, can you tell us about why you were drawn to writing a dystopia book?
ML – Thank you so much, Ello! It’s such an honor to be here at the Inkpot this month. You know, it’s odd; when I first started writing Legend, I hadn’t really realized it was ‘dystopian’. I’d first come up with the basic storyline when watching Les Miserables on TV one afternoon, and decided I wanted to write about essentially a teenage ValJean character versus a teenage Javert character. The sci-fi setting came about after I saw a map online of what the world would look like if all our freshwater ice melted and the oceans rose 100 meters. The simulation was so fascinating that I decided to set my story in that world.
Ello - That is the coolest explanation of how a writer came up with their book idea! I love it! And I can totally see the Les Mis theme in it! Now why do you think teens like to read dystopia?
ML – I think we all tend to have a dark fascination for how things can go horribly wrong, and whether we can do something to prevent it. This applies right now more than ever, being the pre-2012 and post-9/11 years. The end of the world is lingering in the back of all our minds. For the teen generation in particular, characters in dystopia tend to be surrounded by an extremely oppressive environment that teenagers probably empathize with. It’s a genre that has a lot of parallels with the teen years. I also think it’s heartening to see the characters in these dystopian worlds rising above the oppression to take control of their lives and their societies.
Ello - Yep, I remember feeling terribly oppressed by my parents when I was a teen. And now I am the oppressor of my children! ha ha.
Ello - I find dystopia world building can be similar to fantasy world building because you are essentially creating everything an entirely new world from scratch. You’re the creator setting the rules that your society will abide by. And just like in fantasy books, world building is incredibly important in dystopia. I think you do an excellent job in Legend. Unlike other recent dystopian books, I felt your world was very clearly articulated. I understood it. Not everything was explained, but it didn’t need to be. Tell me about your world building. How did you go about it? What research did you use?
ML – Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I really wanted to create a futuristic United States that felt like it could actually happen. Many of the dystopian elements in Legend are drawn from real-world dystopian events and societies. I researched the eugenics movement that happened in the early 20th century, for example. Such a horrifying and fascinating school of thought. Eugenics became the inspiration behind the Trials that children have to take in Legend’s world. I also researched North Korea’s regime, ancient Sparta, and China’s Cultural Revolution. Speaking of China, I was five years old and living in Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and I can still remember the tanks in the streets. There’s a scene in Legend created directly from that experience.
Ello - I can't even imagine what that must have been like - and yet I can in some way because I've read your book.
Ello - You have two great main characters and you switch POVs with every chapter. Was this difficult to do? Did you intend to do this when you started?
ML – Back in high school, I wrote a high fantasy story with two alternating, first-person POVs. Day (Legend’s boy protagonist) first appeared in that story. But I always wanted him to have a rival who could be an equally strong match for him, and that didn’t happen until I finally came up with the idea for Legend’s June character. So, I suppose I did always want to write a book with two main characters and two POVs! Writing Day felt pretty natural because he’s been in my head for so long. June was a completely different story. She was extremely hard to write because she and I have very, very little in common. It made for a fun challenge, though!
Ello - June is a great kickass female character. I loved how tough she was and yet she had some vulnerability. Day is warm and sweet and heroic. You can’t help but root for them to beat the odds. But I have a favorite, and you know who it is. I have to ask if you have a favorite. Did you go into this book thinking it was Day’s story or June’s? Or are you the proud Mom who loves all her children equally? If you were forced to tell this story from only one POV, whose would it be and why?
ML – I do know your preference! It’s so funny—I went into the story convinced that it was Day’s story. He’s the character I’m most familiar with, after all, and I was all prepared to wrap the novel around him. But when June came onto the scene, she just took over. She’s that sort of person, I guess. Legend does have two main characters, but I’d say June is the protagonist because she grows and changes the most out of the two. If there were only one POV, it’d probably be hers. I love her because she has a lot of characteristics that I wish I had in myself. She’s also not easy to like. Day is more easily likable, I think, having been dealt a harder set of cards in the game of life. But is it possible to love June in spite of all her high class snobbery and occasional rudeness? That’s something I loved exploring. Having said that, Day has a very special place in my heart. He’s been with me since high school, after all. I can’t decide—I do love them both equally!
Ello - Well, mothers aren't supposed to have favorites so don't worry about it! I remember hearing the news that CBS Films was making the Legend movie and just being so thrilled. Can you tell us what that process has been like? How is it different from finding out about your book deal? Is there anything you can share with us about the movie development?
ML – The process has been wonderful so far! With the book deal, it was a goal that I at least knew to dream about and work toward. On the other hand, the movie deal was a complete surprise (in the best way possible). So far, Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) is attached as the director, and the screenwriters, Gabe Ferrari and Andrew Barrer, are currently working on the first draft of the screenplay.
Ello - What’s after the Legend trilogy? Do you have any ideas for future books? If yes, what genre?
ML – I do have an idea in mind for post-Legend! I can’t say much about it yet, but I can say that it’s not set in the future. J I’m really excited about it.
Ello - I'm always fascinated by authors who are also illustrators because I don't have that artistic side and I envy it so much. When you were writing Legend, did you illustrate anything for it? And if yes, at what stage? Before, during, after, all of the above? I would just love to know how the artistic side of you coexists with the writing side. Does your art help you with your writing and vice versa?
ML – Yes, I did! Before I started writing Legend, I sketched out Day and June as well as a couple of the side characters. I tend to do this for most of my stories because I like to be able to picture my characters properly before I start writing about them. I also sketched things whenever I had trouble writing Legend or was suffering some writer’s block. It’s a way for me to get my creative juices flowing without actually putting words down. Usually it helps my writing to start up again, too.
Ello - And thank you for sharing some of your illustrations here on the Inkpot. I just love your art!
ML - The top two are Day and June. The bottom is of Day and Tess.
Ello - I love getting to see how you pictured them as you wrote this book! Ok some last questions. What were your favorite books to read growing up? What book or books would you say most influenced who you are and how you write?
ML – Brian Jacques’s Redwall series was my very first introduction into fantasy (and ultimately SF). I would have to say that those books were my childhood favorites and really defined my current reading tastes. Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow were two other favorites. I also read a lot of horse books as a kid—Marguerite Henry’s Chincoteague books, the Black Stallion series, Black Beauty, and so on. If it had a horse in it, I probably read it!
Ello - Last question. I’ve decided I’m going to ask all my authors this one because it always amuses me. So you are on a deserted island and meet a genie who can’t get you off the island but can fill one suitcase with 10 of your favorite things. Assuming that food (not including sweets and luxury items) and clothing (loin cloth at the very least) is already taken care of, what would that suitcase contain?
ML - Ooooh. Here’s my list (in no particular order):
1. Glasses (I’m blind without my contacts)
2. A knife
3. A photo of my boyfriend, mom, and dogs
4. Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
5. A radio with lots of extra batteries
6. Lots of paper
7. Colorful pens and pencils
8. Flaming Hot Cheetos
9. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
10. A flare gun (you know, to signal boats and stuff….and for entertainment when bored)
Ello - Thank you Marie for being here at the Inkpot with us today and congratulations on your book release! Legend is out in stores November 29th. For a chance to win an ARC of Marie's fabulous debut book, go here!