I met Marie Lu on a sunny Monday afternoon at the Writer’s bar (Raffles Hotel) and was pleasantly surprised by her simplicity and no-nonsense demeanor. When I was rearranging some chairs and tables for the interview, she quickly helped me move them, sat down and waited patiently as I was getting my gadgets ready to record her answers. She has the loveliest laugh and the sweetest smile. And though I knew that she was tired from her whirlwind book signing tour which took her to two major cities in 2 short days, she was more than ready to meet more people.
It takes guts for an author to make the heroine of her novel bad because the possibility of turning off fans is Huge. But then again if you have the creativity and smooth story telling skills of Ms. Lu, it wouldn’t be a problem. Her latest novel, The Young Elites, is headed by a character who is not only turning evil, she is also scarred, an anti-thesis of beautiful heroines proliferating YA books nowadays.
So let’s get to know the person behind this unusual book and the bestselling Legend series.
Here is Marie Lu
Lyn: Hi Marie, welcome to the Philippines. Just out of curiosity, what does your Chinese name Xi Wei Lu mean?
Marie: My parents named me after Chinese words that mean Hope and Future. If you would write it out it would literally mean hope for the future.
L: Maybe that’s why you like futuristic book
M: Maybe. I was also born in 1984 so that may have something to do with it too.
L: you just finished your two day book tour in the philippines. How was it?
M: It was amazing
L: I heard it was crazy
M: Thank you. I had a wonderful time. The readers were amazing in Cebu and Manila. It's so nice to be around that kind of energy. It’s very infectious.
L: You first went to Cebu but before the signing you had one whole day of rest. How did you spend it?
M: Yeah. I went diving for the first time. I’ve never done scuba diving before. It was amazing. It was intimidating at first but I had a lot of fun
M: I live near the beach in LA. I live in Santa Monica so I love the beach. And I don’t think I can ever live away from a beach
L: That’s a nice place to relax. Okay before coming here were you warned by fellow authors how enthusiastic readers here can be?
M: I wasn’t warned but I was told to be ready for the best signing you're ever gonna have which is true! It was absolutely an experience of a lifetime
L: What was the best moment in those two days for you?
M: It's all a blur, it's hard to say….there’s one I can think of. For the manila signing, there was a girl who showed up and waited at the bookstore starting at 9:30 in the morning the day before the signing and I thought that was incredible. I couldn’t believe that she was there for me. That was just an amazing feeling
L: She camped out for you
M: Yeah and so during the event we had her come up on stage and give her a shirt and she was just so excited…. It's moments like that when I remember why I do what I do. it's so nice to be able to connect with my readers and to have them enjoy it.
L: The Young Elites is your latest book after the very successful Legend series. in a nutshell, what is it about?
M: The young elites is set in the alternate universe of renaissance italy so it’s a high fantasy novel and it centers around a girl named Adelina who is essentially the teen girl version of Darth Vader. She is going to be a villain in the story going forward and the first book is about her downfall into the dark side and why she chooses to become a villain. In that world there is the equivalent of a black death and it sweeps through and kills off a third of the population. Some of the people who survived came out of it with superpowers. Adelina happens to be one of these people and her power’s a very dark one. so yeah I am excited to hear what readers think of it.
L: Where did the idea of Malfettos come from?
M: I’ve always been drawn to physical markings on people and I feel like it would be nice if those markings aren’t always seen as a sign of weakness and that they could instead be a source of power. There is a thing called port wine birthmarks which are these purple patches, I've seen it on faces and arms. I thought what if a marking like that meant that you had power of some kind, I felt like the two would be connected in some way. so that was probably the origin of creating the malfettos
L: Normally heroines are supposed to beautiful but Adelina is scarred with one eye missing. Why did you make Adeline so imperfect as opposed to her sister Violetta who is flawless?
M: I think it was a part of her character that I wanted to explore. I wanted to show it on her face visually. I thought it would be kind of a powerful statement and it’s fun for me to play with physical appearances. I am a very visual thinker. And when I first drew her, I didn’t know anything about her. I just drew her with a mask over a scarred face. And I thought what would have happened in her past to have given her that scar and does she own it? Is she okay with this marking on her? this is who she is as a person and that’s something fun for me to explore in this series as well.
L: Adelina is both a hero and an anti hero and I was vacillating between liking her, having sympathy for her and being mad at her especially with what she did to Dante. I have never read anyone like her. Did you really want people to not know if they love her or hate her?
M: Thank you! I'm so glad you had that reaction because that is exactly what I was going for. I wanted to create a character who is a little like Walter White from Breaking Bad. Someone you can see going down the wrong path and you just want them to turn around. I wanted her to be somebody that you don’t always agree with, that you could see she’s making mistakes but you still root for her, like you want the best for her and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t totally unsympathetic even when she does terrible things like what she did to dante. Because I didn’t people to go “I want her to die already. I don’t care what happens to her”. I want her to still be relatable. it was a bit of a challenege walking that line. Can I make her likable enough but still have her villainous in some ways? So I try to balance that out in the story and I'm very glad that was your reaction
L: I love Enzo. Everyone loves Enzo. And I thought that Teren would be his competition for Adelina. Since this is a series, is this even a possibility? Because I don’t know, I'm kinda waiting for Teren to fall out of love with the Queen
L: What?! NOOOOO!!!M: But we definitely have not seen the last of Teren. He is a character that I've had a lot of fun playing with. Part of him is just crazy, he’s just a crazy person. And part of him is kind of pathetic, I just feel sorry for him sometimes. So he is someone I enjoy playing and he might evolve a little bit as the series goes on. But we haven’t met all of the characters yet, there will be some new elites popping up in the next book that Adelina will interact with so we’ll see.
L: I really love Teren’s power. He’s like Wolverine.
M: He is like Wolverine
L: And that thing that he’s doing to his back is like Silas from..
M: Yeah from the Da Vinci Code
L: So it's Wolverine and Silas together. What a combination! I would want that power too.
M: Right (laughs)
L: The end really crushed me but then again the Epilogue reversed the feeling of hopelessness
M: Oh good!
L: It made me feel like oh he might just live! Can we expect more from Enzo in the next book?
M: Also can not give you spoilers……but you know Maeve was put in the story for a reason. That’s pretty much all I can say about that. She will come back in the second book so I will let that sit as whatever I can say for the second book
L: Okay. Also Tristan, in that very small part of his, he intrigues me. Could he be a possible love interest for Adelina?
M: Tristan will definitely appear again in the second book as well. I don’t wanna say anything about whether or not he will take to Adelina in that way but he is definitely not all there. He is a bit off because he was dead once and that does things to people (laughs).
L: Could you give us more clues on what to expect in the next book?
M: I could say a little bit about it
L: Please do
M: So the young elites I know will be a trilogy for sure. that’s because I know what arc I am trying to hit with it. The first book is Adelina trying to ba a good person and falling into the dark side and people treating her terribly. The second book is Adelina gets revenge on everyone so it's definitely the darkest book of the three. This is the one where she comes into her own as a villain. And that makes it even harder for me to write that line of “do we just hate her completely now or can she be redeemed?” and the third book is can you be forgiven for being a terrible person.
M: Yeah, can you find redemption even after being a villain and that’s something I wanna explore as well. So the 2nd book is going to be Adelina finding her power and kind of owning it. Finding her own tribe. She may be gathering her own people for a society of her own, the Rose Society which is hinted at the end of book 1. There are new young elites showing up, some of whom may be very interesting to Adelina and the relationship between her and her sister will also continue to evolve.
L: Is there a title already and release date for the second book?
M: We haven’t locked down a title yet but we’ve got a few that we’re tossing around. No release date yet either but I just finished the first draft of the 2nd book and we are hoping it will release next fall.
L: Looking forward to that. So, in order for fans to know you more let’s do quick questions. Favorite time of the year.
L: Favorite vacation spot
M: Paris. I had a great time in Paris.
L: For book signings where’s the farthest you’ve been?
M: The Philippines is pretty far. I've been to korea which is about the same distance I guess
L: I'm wondering have your books been translated into Chinese?
M: They have been translated in to Taiwanese
L: Your family is from Beijing right?
M: My family is from Beijing and they are very excited about the Taiwanese edition. I'm not sure if it will ever really come out in China since the books are about government revolutions so I'm not sure that would fly in China
L: Favorite TV show
M: Vikings on history channel. It's so good. I love Game of Thrones too and it's kind of along that line but not quite as graphic. It's incredible. I love everything about it
L: Favorite novel written by someone else
M: Mattimeo by Brian Jacques. It was the very first fantasy novel I ever read when I was in middle school and I credit that book in getting me into science fiction which is now all that I write. So that book is very important to me.
L: Favorite author
M: Probably Brian Jacques again. I love his entire series. he wrote this entire series called the Redwall series and he had a huge influence on me when I was a kid
L: Favorite movie of all time
M: This is so hard! Contact.
L: I didn’t expect that. Jodie Foster
M: It’s one of those movies that has a ton of problems with it but I'm okay with that because I love the overall concept of the story about making contact with aliens.
L: Favorite actor and actress
M: This is just so hard. I’m gonna go with Leonardo Di Caprio. He is so cute and I had such a crush on him when I was a teenager
L: How many times did you watch Romeo and Juliet?
M: Way too many times! Actress…let’s see….. I'm gonna go with Emma Watson because I think she has come out of the harry potter series very gracefully. I love that she is the embodiment of the gracious, graceful, intelligent girl who is beautiful and also incredibly smart and she is very comfortable with herself. I just love everything about her. She is like Hermione in real life
L: I admire her for pursuing her studies despite the fame because a lot of actresses don’t.
M: Yeah and I respect that a lot that she’s still driven herself. She doesn’t need the money.
L: Last movie that you’ve watched
M: John Wick. It just came out and it has Keanu Reeves in it.
L: Oh wait this has the karate thing in it?
M: Yeah. It was very good. I don’t know if I’ll watch it again though because there’s an animal that gets hurt and I just can’t deal
L: But it’s Keanu
M: Yeah it’s Keanu! I was like yah it’s nice to see yourface again in a movie
L: I know he is so gorgeous… okay so, do you prefer chocolate or cupcakes?
L: Sunrise or sunset
L: Orange juice, milk or coffee
M: I’ll go with orange juice
L: Library or bedroom
L: TV show or movies
M: That’s tough. Both
L: I always try to read books authors recommend. Would you care to recommend some?
M: Sure! I can pick some recent ones for people. I’ve been reading a lot of young adult now. One of my favorite series is called Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. That’s the first book, it’s a trilogy. It’s a fantasy series set in an alternate Russia during the czarist era. It’s amazing, it’s so fun and brutal at the same time.
Ready Player One is another favorite of mine, it’s by Ernest Cline. It is a science fiction novel that involves video games. It’s fun and fast paced.
I’m a big fan of Jacqueline Carey. She writes fantasy novels as well. They’re very lush, beautiful, fantasy series. My favorite book from her is called Kushiel’s Dart and I think it’s a really great one. It’s an adult novel though.
There’s one coming out next spring it’s called An Ember In The Ashes by a newcomer named Sabaa Tahir. It takes place in a Romanesque era but it’s also like a totalitarian regime and it was so good I missed a flight because I was reading it. I had 20 pages left and it was glued to my face, I didn’t see all those people going to the gate. I didn’t realize it until I looked up and the gate was closed. But it’s totally worth it, it’s a great book.
There’s a book called Proxy by Alex London. I love his series. It’s so good, it’s great science fiction. Just a great story in general.
I just recently finished reading a historical fantasy by Robin Lafevers called Grave Mercy and it’s set in like the 14th century with assassin nuns. It’s so cool, it’s a wonderful series, really great.
There’s an author named Jandy Nelson who writes YA contemporary novels. I don’t read a ton of contemporary but I fell in love with her books. My favorite with her is called The Sky Is Everywhere. It’s just beautiful, so romantic, really really sweet.
I’m not a huge romance readers but if I find one that I love I just latch onto it with claws. The sky is everywhere is one of those.
The Fault in our Stars is amazing (by John Green).
There is a book coming out by Amie Kaufman and a guy named Jay Kristoff. It’s so good I blew my mind when I read it. It’s called Illuminae and it is unlike any YA book I’ve ever seen in my life in terms of the formatting. It’s very unusual. It’s science fiction. I don’t even know how to describe it, you just have to see it when it comes out. It’s fantastic, it’s so good. I’m sure when the book hits people are gonna go crazy for it.
L: So I heard that legend series has already been optioned by CBS Films. So what part of the movie process is it in now?
M: The producers behind it (CBS Films) are the same people behind Maze Runner and The Fault in our Stars so they’re wonderful, they got a screenplay ready. I’ve seen it and it’s great. They’re looking for a director right now but in Hollywood nothing is ever 100% until the day your movie comes out.
L: Did you take part in writing the screenplay?
M: Not really because I don’t have any experience with screenplays. They were very good about contacting me and emailing me when they need details about the world and the characters so that was nice
L: What book-turned-movie is your favorite?
M: I think The Lord of the Rings was translated really well, maybe even better than the books. I thought it was just done so perfectly.
L: What books do you wish were movies?
M: I would love to see Leigh’s series Shadow and Bone as a film and I know it’s been optioned by Dreamworks I believe and I’m hoping they move forward on that one. I would love to see Proxy as a film. I hope that happens as well.
L: Are there leads for who will play June and Day?
M: No casting yet.
L: Okay but who are your dream June and Day?
M: I’m so bad at answering that! I always end up picking people who are too old. I always say Leonardo Di Caprio would be perfect if he was still a teenager to play Day. Hailee Steinfeld has a really good look for June. Elle Fanning doesn’t look anything like June but she has the demeanor that could potentially work with June.
L: Fans have their own favorites to play the characters. Who do your fans most push for?
M: A lot of people push for Hailee Steinfeld for June. It’s hard for Day because of his ethnicity. It’s difficult because it’s hard to find someone Asian who also has blond hair and blue eyes. But I’ve heard the name Bryan Potter being floated around, I’m not sure but I think he’s kind of a newcomer. Those are probably the two main ones.
L: What more can we expect from Marie Lu?
M: I’m working on the rest of the young elites series for now then after that I have a couple more ideas that I have in my head, they’re so rough that I can’t talk too much about them but I would love to do a book that has a lot to do with video games. I’d love to play around with that, something action packed with a lot of game elements. Maybe a little more fun and lighthearted than The Young Elites since that’s so dark
L: I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. Thank you so much Marie.
M: Thank you Lyn.
Marie Lu’s novels: The Young Elites, Legend, Prodigy and Champion are all available at The National Book Store.
A special thanks Mr. Miguel Ramos, Mr. JB Roperos and Mr. Chad Dee of The National Book Store.