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An interview with author Marie Lu

If you’re a fan of dystopian YA books, chances are you’re familiar with Marie Lu, the writer behind the best-selling Legend trilogy, which has been picked up for adaptation by CBS Films. Last October, she debuted her new fantasy series The Young Elites with a book of the same title. This story follows Adelina Amouteru, a girl who emerged from the blood fever with strange markings and a dark, mysterious power. She falls in with the Young Elites, a society of other teens with magical capabilities, who are hunted by the Inquisition Axis. As her control over her powers grows, so does the call of the darkness within her. I’ve already passed the halfway mark of this book, and I can say that it’s a dark, compelling read that’s mostly narrated by an unexpected main character—a budding villain.

Last week, National Book Store delighted readers by bringing Marie to Cebu and Manila for a signing tour. I was supposed to interview her for a website that I’m writing for, but since there was a last-minute scheduling conflict, I thought of doing it for my blog instead. Thankfully, the lovely folks at NBS accommodated me. This opportunity came at the right time too, since we’re currently on the final stretch of NaNoWriMo 2014.

Marie talked about The Young Elites and her writing process—and she even offered her advice for finishing NaNoWriMo, saying that she’s tried it before. Read on to get the scoop and to discover interesting trivia about this multitalented woman (’cause she doesn’t just pen great stories, she’s an amazing artist too!)



Behind the story of The Young Elites

The idea stemmed from me liking superheroes and super-villains. I’ve always been a fan of Darth Vader and Loki and Magneto, those types of characters, and I wanted to create a book from the point of view of the villain. I felt like it was interesting to explore, because everyone thinks that they’re the hero. You know, Loki and Magneto think that they’re doing the right thing. So I wondered what it was like, the story from somebody like that. When they’re what they think is the good guy. How do they see everything around them? And that was the original theme of The Young Elites.

I really enjoy the video game Assassin’s Creed 2, and that’s set in Renaissance Italy. So that was I think the original inspiration [for the setting]. The other part of it is that I knew in this world that these young people were going to come out of some terrible plague with powers of some kind. So I was looking through history at the main times that happened, and it was either the 1918 Spanish flu or the Black Death. I actually started off writing it in the 1920s era, tried to feel it out, see how that felt. And I wasn’t feeling it that well. So I switched over to the Renaissance era right after the Black Death, and I really enjoyed writing about that time period.

It’ll be a trilogy, and the main arc that I’m going for is in the first book, Adelina doesn’t start off totally bad. She has her reasons for doing what she does. But in the first book, it’s all about Adelina being treated badly and falling to the dark side. The second book will be, Adelina gets revenge. She comes into her own in that one. And the third one is like, can you be forgiven for being a bad person? Is there redemption and hope for a villain? 

It was very hard to write from [Adelina’s] point of view… She thinks very twisted things sometimes. I had to say it in her voice, and so it was unsettling to write that out and pretend that I actually believe those things. So they were times after I finished writing her chapters where I just had to stop and, like, I need to go eat some cookies or something, because this is dark. Being inside her head. She’s so vengeful and bitter. It’s unsettling to try and force myself to think like her all the time for months on end.

Photo of Venice taken by my brother during our Eurotrip back in 2009

Photo taken by my brother during our Eurotrip back in 2009

{WANDER} A sneak peek inside the world of The Young Elites

[The geography] was sort of just all made up. I took as much as I wanted to from history, and then the rest is just pure fantasy. Skylands are very cold. I picture Northern Europe, so Scandinavia and where the Vikings were, or like Northern UK. Way up there. So I picture these vast planes of like tundra almost, mountains, that kind of feel. Wide open spaces. The Sealands are—they’re called jewels of commerce in this world. So they’re a lot of little islands. Very very close to the Sunlands. They are kind of like Southern Europe, so the warm, sunny Mediterranean type full of canals and gondolas. Venice. And the Sunlands are a little bit like the Middle East and lower. So if you keep going down, there’s countries that are similar to Asia. The Tamourans are very Persian, Iranian in nature. Those places I picture as more desert-like. So dry heat with the occasional oases, palm trees, that stuff. Very Egyptian in nature, I guess.

{WRITE} Wise words for aspiring authorsDSC09188

My advice, especially during NaNoWriMo, is to keep writing no matter how bad it is. The goal is to get the word count down, and I think that’s a good exercise in any month for aspiring writers. I think it’s helpful to have the entire book length thing in front of you, because then you have something to work with. You can tear stuff out and put stuff in and move things around, but it’s hard to do that if you don’t have the words in front of you. So I always tell people, don’t worry about making it perfect. It’s okay, don’t edit it. Even if you have those days where you don’t want to write, which I have all the time, I just force myself to put something down. Even if you’ll throw it all away later, at least it’s something. 

 5 cool facts about Marie Lu

DSC091851. Before I ever start drafting a story, I have to draw my characters in order to get myself into their mind space. I realized that I actually cannot get a handle on who they are unless I’m able to physically see them on paper. So that’s my very first step, actually.

2. My friend actually calls me a headlights writer, which is somebody who will outline like three chapters and then write those three chapters and then outline another three chapters. So I can only outline as far as the headlights show the road.

3. My favorite part of any writing process is always the super early stage where I’m not even writing yet, I’m just making up stuff. Building my characters and collecting bits and pieces of interesting information to put in the world. That’s when the story is perfect in my head.

4. I really dislike doing the first draft, because I’m afraid of the blank page. I don’t like that feeling, especially since I’m a pantser. I’m like, I don’t know what happens next. I have to make this up completely from scratch, and that’s terrifying to me.

5. I would love to write something that has to do with video games. So something with more gaming elements. I think I would enjoy that. (She also said that she’d love to do a children’s picture book someday—all with her own illustrations!)

If you’ve finished reading The Young Elites already, you’ll be happy to know that Marie is about to go into edits for the sequel. Don’t have your copy yet? Grab one from the National Book Store branch nearest you for P499 (trade paperback) or P729 (hardcover). And be sure to pick up Legend, Prodigy, and Champion, each sold for P399, before the movie craze hits!


Book covers courtesy of National Book Store



  1. heyitsmo says

    I find it interesting that she draws her characters to get herself into their minds

    • So sorry for the late reply! I completely agree with you—it’s such an amazing thing to bring to the table. If only we could all be as multi-talented as she is!

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