Imagine a small grey car careening up the side of the mountain. Two humans and a dog are in it, the dog the only one cowering as they dodge dump trucks on a curvy road that is improbably an interstate. One human is cackling maniacally, the other is reading a book, Warcross. Who might these people be? Em and Ro, of course. And where were we heading on this ridiculous road? To see…
Marie Lu at Malaprops
Despite our driving shenanigans and careful planning, we ended up at Malaprops ten minutes late. Besides one detour and one near-death experience on the way up to Asheville, we’d had to drop Em’s dog off with Em’s grandmother (who had offered to let us stay the night, and thus made this trip possible). Then we’d rushed downtown, dodged a very hippie street festival, paid out the nose for parking, and made one final mad dash up the hill to Malaprops. Really, I’m impressed we were only ten minutes late. That being said, we did miss the introduction.
Not that Marie Lu needed an introduction to us. We’d both seen her at least once, and had all of her books but our copies of Warcross signed. But still, we were excited. Who wouldn’t be excited to see Marie Lu?
We caught the last minute of her introduction as we found seats, and then she opened things up for a Q&A. With this being the first book of her third series, there was a lot of material people wanted to talk about. Warcross took center stage, naturally, but there were also plenty of tidbits about Legend, The Young Elites, and her forthcoming book Batman: Nightwalker.
It was clear from the outset that Warcross was the book that was closest, both to Marie’s heart and her past experiences. She talked about working in the video game industry, and how that had informed her approach to Warcross. But she also talked about small details that had slipped in, like the obligatory evening Mario Kart tournament (apparently she’d honed her skills playing against an internationally-ranked player, rather like Emika). She also talked about how Warcross had been her ‘just for fun’ book, the one she wrote when she needed a break from the darkness of writing her Young Elite novels. But when asked about her dystopian/futuristic tendencies in writing, she laughed ruefully and said she didn’t feel like she was writing about the future anymore (cue sighs about the state of the U.S. today). But then she brightened and explained that Warcross was looking forward to the ‘next wave of tech’, and her belief that we only needed one innovation to get to a similar place. But she then mentioned that she didn’t see technology as good or evil, merely a tool for both.
Someone then asked about her writing process, and Marie Lu revealed that she was a pantser who, despite writing an outline for every single book, never could actually stick to it. But she did share that she made extensive character profiles, wrote out ‘white room’ scenarios to figure out the dynamics of different characters, and often drew characters and scenes when she had writer’s block. That being said, she added, writer’s block was (for her) when she subconsciously knew the story was wrong but didn’t know how to fix it, and the way to solve that was to take a break until she could fix it (usually by watching TV). Marie also told us that she couldn’t write more than one story at a time–when she had to (she apparently was writing Warcross and Batman at the same time), she took a day or two break to transition from one to the other. She also admitted that she hated writing first drafts, and far preferred editing a finished product (she said the second Warcross book, coming out in 2018, was possibly the hardest draft she’d ever written).
Someone asked about inspiration, and Marie Lu immediately said the Redwall series by Brian Jacques had been her first, momentous jump into Science Fiction/Fantasy (I was bouncing up and down in my chair to the extent that she pointed me out as a fellow fan). But then she also said that her fellow YA authors inspire her every single day, which I found heartwarming. She pointed to Leigh Bardugo and her new Wonder Woman (companion to Batman: Nightwalker), Angie Thomas, and then gave a special call-out to Stephanie Perkins, who was in the audience. I knew that the YA community was a supportive and close-knit one, but every time I’m reminded of that, I get the warm fuzzies.
Then someone asked what the editing process was like, and Marie launched into a detailed explanation (to the delight of all of us who were aspiring writers). She said she wrote a draft and handed it in to her editor, who would then glance over it and write a letter back–this would go on for ⅔ rounds, usually at the end of which only ⅓ of the original draft was recognizable as such. She also laughed that she preferred to get longer more detailed letters from her editor, rather than shorter ones–the shorter the letter, the bigger the issue.
When asked about her favorite setting, Marie said Antarctica from Legend or the world of Warcross (both of which are rather similar). And when someone else asked about the origins of her books, we had a good chuckle. Having already explained Warcross, she traced Legend back to a book by fifteen-year-old Marie Lu, of which Day was the only recognizable remnant. And she told a particularly humorous story about turning in a Young-Elites-esque fantasy, with a bland protagonist and a villain Adelina, and getting a call from her editor asking ‘when you gave this to me, did you actually think this was good?’ But after our collective wince, we agreed that Adelina the twisted protagonist was something we wouldn’t want to give up. That being said, Marie Lu then said she tossed out almost the entire draft of The Midnight Star, because she didn’t want Adelina to end as a villain should, and had to cobble together a redemption arc for her.
The discussion of Adelina led into a very detailed question, about the deep psychological nature of Marie Lu’s characters and her tendency to write characters who are many shades of grey. She attributed this to a belief that everyone is the hero of their own story, a belief easy to see in Adelina and other characters. She also attributed this to her pre-law background, telling a story of classes where you had to play the devil’s advocate, and an eventual understanding that everyone, no matter their actions, has a belief that they were justified.
And finally, to round everything off, someone asked about possible screen adaptations for any of her books. Marie Lu admitted that the rights to Legend had been sold, and that something *might* be in the works, but that Hollywood was a fickle creature and that nothing was ever completely certain.
on that vague yet hopeful note, we ended the Q&A and got ready for the signing line. At this point, Em and I move like a well-oiled machine: I went to snag a place in line, she made a beeline for the swag. And let me just say that her bounty was magnificent–two keychains, an armful of colored hair chalk, and two cupcakes (these were promptly devoured, since we hadn’t had dinner yet). And the signing line was quick, too–we got our copies of Warcross signed, plus one extra (keep an eye out for giveaways, or take a peek at the one happening now), got pictures with Marie Lu, and then gave each other high-fives like the nerds we are.