Seeing Marie Lu for Warcross was a sure thing and I forced Michelle to buy a ticket so she would come with me.
I got down to the store earlier than normal and there was a local author meet and greet happening. I ended up going behind the counter and talking all things RuPaul’s Drag Race with a few of the MG employees while the event was finishing up. And then of course when Michelle showed up, there was some mild running amok before the event.
Marie and Kiersten came out right at 6pm and were introduced by Maryelizabeth. Kiersten started talking about how much she loved Warcross and adored Marie, and then asked Marie how it started.
M: Warcross came about because I was in the middle of TYE and it was very intense. Adelina is practically Darth Vader and TRS is the darkest book I’ve ever written. I was weighted down and I started working on Warcross as a palate cleanser.
K: How did you go about envisioning something that feels plausible, but not immediate?
M: I read a lot of Wired magazine and talked to friends in the tech industry. I wanted to write about how I feel about technology and put a fictional spin on it. Tech is moving so fast. Half of it is awesome and some is unsettling. Technology does a lot of cool things and when it’s at its best, it changes our lives for the better. Innovation is always two steps away from “should we be doing that?” and I wanted to explore those questions.
K: How did your gaming background help?
M: A huge part is inspired by working on games. Back when I was writing Legend, I was working as an intern and it was a lot of fun to work there. There are a lot of little anecdotes throughout the story. A lot of the memory of how fun the time was is reflected in the story. I knew I was going to write a game story because it was in my past.
K: Video games were such a fringe thing when I was little. If you played them it was because you didn’t have friends. Now my son plays and hangs out with his friends who all play Minecraft.
M to K: We should talk about your middle grade.
K: It took me a long time to find my middle grade voice. It’s so much harder to write MG and this story came from twitter. I said something about Disney princesses being serial killers and then started talking to an editor from Scholastic about it and we decided on fairy tales. Plus fairy tales are horrifying. For Beanstalker, I wanted them to be funny or scary.
It was a really joyful experience. I didn’t pitch it. It was just a lot of fun. I would work on it after researching things like how much wood you would need to impale and bury 20k bodies.
K: Who is your favorite MC to write?
M: Because it’s still recent in my head, it’s Emika. She’s partially inspired by my mom. I put all of that and my wish fulfillment in Emika. Plus I put in some of my quirks, like I’m super awkward at the romance part. When I like someone, I say weird things.
M: And we were just talking about how the sweetest, nicest people write the darkest characters. Who was your favorite?
K: I usually love side characters. They just come into the scene and say something clever and then leave. The plot doesn’t depend on them. I identify with Radu in this series. I think you feel connected to whoever you’re working with. I just finished editing book 3 and I started crying at one part and it was the dorkiest thing ever.
M: Did you do that for every series?
K: This was the most emotional series I’ve worked on and when I got to the end, it felt more like, oh, we did it. This has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
K: You just finished the sequel to Warcross. How was it different to write a duology?
M: I wanted to do it because I thought it would be easier since there was no middle book. It’s basically like the second book is two books in one. Before I could take my time and deal with things in the third book, but with this I couldn’t. I needed to wrap up all of the threads.
M: How are stand alones?
K: They’re amazing because then they’re done. When you hit the end of the where the character needed to be, it’s over. Chaos of Stars was going to be a series and I had plot points to start the next book. But when it came to write the second book, it wasn’t there. And my editor said that it felt like a stand alone and everything worked. For me, it’s the journey of the character, I leave them at the gate of adulthood.
K: What is next? You have Batman coming up.
M: I wanted to talk about writing characters who aren’t ours. It was really weird and intimidating. They left it really open. They said it had to be about 18 year old Bruce Wayne and that’s all. And Batman is a character that we don’t know anything about, it’s just a black hole. You have 8 year old Bruce who loses his parents and adult Bruce who is already established as Batman. I felt unsure about tackling that gap. What was it like for him getting the trust fund? What was high school like? Did people only like him for the money?
M: What was the Buffy experience like?
K: it was sort of similar. My agent emailed me out of the blue. I can’t say too much about it yet, but it was very open. They told me I could write a Slayer. My homework was watching the show and reading the graphic novels. There was a particular part of the Buffyverse that I wanted to do and they let me do it. And then I wrote a book and it was all wrong.
Because it was not my character and my world, they could come back and tell me it wasn’t what they wanted. That’s not exactly what they said, but my edits showed that I could do better.
M: It’s different because there’s so many people who love this world. I’m terrified of that comic con line where people ask me if I’ve read a specific issue of a specific comic.
M: Would there be another IP that you would do?
K: I want Jessica Jones. I would love to write a novel, but it would have to be adult. What about you?
M: I could write a book about Lada. It’s hard for me to think about writing IP, it would be different. Maybe Firefly?
K: If you could be a writer for something else, what would it be? I would love to work on children’s cartoon series along the lines of Gravity Falls.
M: You would write an amazing cartoon series. I think it would be fun to work on a video game. They’re so cinematic. It would be like writing a choose your own adventure games.
K: If you could choose an adaptation for Warcross, what would you choose?
M: I would love any adaptation.
K: Like a play? Imagine them on stage with glasses and you can’t see what they’re doing. It’s just a green screen and the audience has to imagine everything.
M: I want that now. I guess a video game would be cool, even if it would be a bajillion dollars.
K: I would love a Netflix series.
Did you have techniques that helped you find your voice?
K: The best for me was allowing myself to have a voice. I let myself write as stupid and funny I wanted and that’s what people responded to. Give yourself a chance to be yourself on the page. If you love them, the other people probably will to.
M: I realized that if I was bored as the writer, that the reader would be bored too. People can tell.
If you want to be a writer, do you need a degree in writing?
K: Get a degree in history or science that interests you and then take a few writing courses. You don’t have to get a degree in that. You can learn to write by writing and reading critically and failing miserably and writing even more.
M: I agree with that. A lot of author friends I have did something else before they became writers. Leigh Bardugo used to work in Hollywood doing make-up.
From there, it was time for the signing. I was number one and headed over to the line. I got up to Marie and we chatted for a minute about how things were going and it being the last night of the tour. And she graciously signed the store display that I took.
While I waited for Michelle, I chatted with Kiersten for a minute before making the rounds saying goodbye.
As always, Marie and Kiersten are delightful and even more so when they’re together. Especially because they gush all over each other and the adoration is clear. If you’re not reading their books, you need to fix that asap.