Exclusive YALL Fest Interview with Marie Lu

Our very own Ellie attended YALL Fest last week and was lucky enough to discuss CHAMPION with Marie Lu!

Why did Marie choose build her world the way she did? What inspired the ending? What happened to the characters we all know and love after the epilogue? We asked it all!

Please note that the majority of the questions contain SPOILERS. The spoiler-free questions are above the cut and the spoilers are hiding under the cut. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

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Now that your final book in the trilogy is out, how do you feel about it being out there and being finished with it?

Marie Lu:
It feels really weird! I always compare it to how parents must feel when they send their kids off to college because on one end you’re really relieved, like “Oh thank God, they got out of the house and they’re off to do their own thing!” And at the same time, you’re sad because they’re out of the house and now it’s like an empty nest. I feel a little bit like that. I feel like my characters are not mine anymore and they’ve gone off to live in the real world. Wherever that is! (laughs) Wherever characters go off after stories end. And I feel like they’re not with me anymore and they’re off somewhere. They kind of belong to the public now. It’s kind of a weird, wistful feeling.

What have you learned about the whole writing process throughout the series and would you change anything if you could start over?

ML:
I’ve learned that writing changes over time, especially for someone like me who’s a pants-er. And I realize that characters change too. When I first started writing June, i didn’t identify with her at all so I had a lot of trouble getting into her head. She’s smarter than me and it’s really hard to write a character that’s smarter than yourself, so I would have to stop constantly to do research about her chapters. Towards the end of it, I kind of realized that I had been writing about myself all along. Not that I have her genius analytical side or intelligence, but that she kind of reacts to situations the same way that I do. We deal with grief and stress and panic the same way. I began putting bits and pieces of that into her and I didn’t realize until the last book when I really started to connect. At the end of it, I think June is my favorite person out of everybody because I really understood and sympathized with her. So it was like evolution for me too.

What it one thing you want readers to take away from this series?

ML: I’d like them to take away that even if you live in a very dark place, you have the potential to change that and that you can come out of it and be okay. I think that was something I really wanted Day to experience because he, more than anybody, came from a place of such hopelessness and he was so poor, but he managed to come out of that. I get a lot of reader emails from people who struggle with real life issues and I want them to know that you can make it out of anything like that.

How did you think up the social points system of Ross City?

ML: I’ve always been a gamer and I used to work in the game industry. I think a lot of that always creeps into my writing. With Antarctica, I always thought it would be really fun to have a society where everything was a game, just like The Sims. That city in particular, I think that was the only time I ever wrote a scene while on a train. I think I was on tour somewhere and that was my first time taking a train in the States. For some reason, being on the train was very inspiring and I turned out that entire sequence in one shot. On the train, it just all came to me at once. So I’m not really sure where all of it came from expect that I think gamification would be super cool for a society.

Would you want to live in a society built after a game?

ML: I think I would want to visit a society built after a game, but I’m sure that after a while, you’d be like “Okay, this is getting really stressful!” You know, with how everything counts. How do you know? How do you know if something is positive or negative points? Not everything is all good or all bad. So maybe like a vacation would be nice.

Would you rather live in a country run like The Republic, The Colonies, or Ross City?

ML: I think of the three, I would definitely chose Antarctica. It seems like the most, you know, non-dystopian of the three. Unless, of course, I was at June’s sort of level or class. Because she had a relatively cushy life and she ends up with a relatively cushy life even though she suffers through all that stuff. So if I could have that in the Republic after everything that happened and The Republic’s doing great. (laughs) That would be fine too.

Why did you choose to use Africa and Antarctica specifically in the final book?

ML: I was looking at the map I originally started with. It was a simulated map that I found online of what the world would like like if all of our freshwater ice melted and the ocean rose by 100 meters. And the two continents that really survived the flooding were Africa and Antarctica. So I figured those would be our two superpowers because in a future where our land masses have decreased by so much, whoever has the most land will have the most power. That’s huge resources. That’s how Africa and Antarctica came to be where they’re describe in book three. In terms of which superpower would help The Colonies, I went with Africa because of the vicinity. It was originally that Africa was supposed to help The Republic, but then I was like “Wait, they’d have to fly over The Colonies!” It just didn’t work. It was a bit of a logistics thing.

In the epilogue, June sees flashes of memory in Day’s eyes. How much does he remember and will he ever get his full memory of her back?

ML: That’s an interesting question, because I’m actually not sure what happens afterwards. I have some ideas, but like I said, they don’t really feel like they belong to me anymore and I’m not sure of what their future lives are like. I would hope that he remembers and I think that at the end, there’s a hint of that and June mentions that this feels like something that’s meant to be. So it ends that note of hopefully, they can figure it out.

Why ten years?

ML: Ten years is a very specific choice because of the age of Metias, and I kind wanted to bring it full circle since Metias was 27 when he died. I wanted June to have that as her age when everything comes back together again. Sort of a symbolic gesture of honoring her brother and also leaving him behind to move on with her life.

Did Tess and Anden get happily ever afters of their own?

ML: I think they will, I think they will. I think Tess sort of found her happily ever after in the long run because she found her place in society. Now, she’s working as a doctor in a hospital, which is what I think she always was good at. And Anden, I’m sure, will find a lovely lady of his own.

Almost like June, but not June?

ML: But not June! I have a funny feeling he’ll probably end up with someone who looks like June. Or maybe (LOOK UP NAME), the girl who was escorting Day to the ball. Who knows? I’m sure he’ll find somebody lovely.

Did you ever consider having Day or June die? Because there were definitely opportunities for both of them.

ML: Definitely. When I was trying to figure out the ending for the third book, I sat down and wrote out five possible scenarios. This is the only time when I outlined in the series at all. So I wrote out five possible endgame scenarios and I gave them to my fiance and went “Which one do you like? Which one makes you happy?” And he’s like “Nope. Nope. Maybe. Nope. Yeah.” So that was how I did it, but everything was in consideration.

Were there any characters that changed from the outcome you had originally planned for them?

ML: Oh yeah! Specifically in Legend, there were two characters that were supposed to have cameos but ended up staying much longer: Thomas and Kaede. It was supposed to be walk-ons. Thomas was only supposed to be a friend who gave June a ride in the beginning and Kaede was only supposed to be a bartender that gives Day a clue in the beginning of Legend and then disappears, never to show up again. But she just kept showing up! Thomas kept showing up! So I said “I guess they need to be in the story!”

Do you think Day and June could have ever truly have been happy if Day had not lost his memory?

ML: No. I don’t think that would have been possible at all. I think that would have haunted him forever and he would have never have had time to heal because every time he sees her, it just opens up his wounds all over again. I think they needed to grow up separately to really, really come to understand each other.

What’s next for you?

ML: I’m working on a new series now. It’s a fantasy series and it’s called THE YOUNG ELITES. For now. I think it might change in the future. It’s sort of like a cross between X-Men and Assassin’s Creed, set in like this fantasy Renaissance Italy world where young people who have survived the equivalent of the Black Death come out of it with certain superpowers. It stars this girl named Adelina, who is a bad, bad girl. She’s missing an eye. She’s very bitter and angry, as a person. She’s sort of like a female, teenage Darth Vader. At first book is kind of about her downfall into darkness. Ideally, that’s what I’d like it to be.

How many books are in that series?

ML: I think it’ll be a series. I’m not sure how many books yet, but definitely more than one.

Ellie and Marie

Ellie and Marie

Thank you, Marie!

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