Day 1 of the Texas Library Association annual conference in Fort Worth. Today was a slow day with only 2 panels for me. The exhibit booths (read: magical land of arcs) aren't open until tomorrow, as is the author area, so not much interaction going on yet.
My first panel was Teen Book Festivals 101, which was a behind-the-scenes look at how to plan and execute festivals. Since it was only an hour long, there wasn't much time for nitty gritty details, but the panelists did have lots of great advice for details that should be kept in mind. I'm not necessarily going to set up my own festival as they do take a lot of time and money, but it was cool to see jist how mich work goes into them. Also, it got me really excited for the big book festivals in Texas that are coming up soon.
My second panel was a replacement panel as my first choice was cancelled as the moderator is busy planning for the presidents' (all five of them) visit to Dallas tomorrow. So instead of going to a panel about blogging, I went to a HIGH-larious panel called Middle School is Epic: Sagas, Heroes and More featuring authors Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, Gennifer Choldenko, John Stevens, Clete Smith, Chris Rylander, Peter Lerangis, and Jacqueline Davies. Basically, this panel reaffirmed that authors are not only the most creative people, but also the funniest. Sure, singers can sing, athletes are fit, actors are gorgeous, and comedians are funny (also usually pretty obscene), but authors are so thoughtful and funny in that awesome nerdy bookish way. The moderator kicked the whole thing off by reading ridiculously silly bios for each author and having them give a small blurb about upcoming books or most famous work or something else notable. Comments about fainting goats, immortal goats, Canada, and my-kid-asked-me-to-write-her/him-this-book reigned supreme.
Next the authors discussed their favorite childhood books, which included every single notable book you can think of: anne of green gables, little women, little house on the prairie, goosebumps, nancy drew, hardy boys, etc. Then they all listed the books they wish they'd had growing up like Harry Potter (duh), Eoin Colfer, Philip Pullman, etc.
Finally, the authors discussed school visits and advice to young writers.
Bonus! Last week, while shopping in anticipation for the conference, I discovered that Marie Lu was coming into town for a signing. She also is coming to TLA, but this was an event just for her at my local Half-Price Books.
The first thing Marie said was how excited she was to do an event in Texas since she was raised in Houston (Texas, represent!). She said she got her start writing because her mother had her find five words a day to translate so she could learn English, but that she always found really hard, specific words that can't be found in the dictionary (I missed where she said she went to find the words, but it was out and about). She enjoyed the writing process so much that she began to write little stories to herself and doodled them on the sides of her notebooks and her homework. She never considered writing as a career because apparently (she totally cracked up saying this) she believed books were created by robots in factories until high school. Yeah. That's hilarious. She realized that "real people wrote books" when she read an article about a 14-year old girl who had just gotten her first book deal.
After that, Marie began setting her alarm clock for 2 AM each night. She would stuff a towel or bathrobe against the crack under her door so her parents wouldn't see and would write for about 2 hours. She said she was constantly sleep deprived throughout high school. Her first manuscript, in her words, was terrible and she knew it (she said it was a Lord of the Rings ripoff). She still has it saved on her computer because she can't fathom ever deleting something that took so much time and effort and came from her. She went on to write three more manuscripts during high school. She did query agents and publishers but was turned down.
After college, she became an artist in the gaming industry but eventually got an agent. Her first queried novel Kingdom of God was rejected by publishers. Then, while watching the older Les Miserables, she got the idea for Legend. She wondered what it would be like to have a teenage criminal and a teenage detective trying to catch him. Then she read an article about global warming. The article contained a map of what the world would look like if all the fresh water ice melted. Europe was completely under water and the US was gone from Florida to Virginia, with a giant chung missing, and there was a lake from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco. Sound familiar? She said that LA is its own kind of dystopia so she wanted to make it more so and said, "Oh cool, let's destroy my town!"
Legend was her fastest manuscript so far as it only took 5-6 months to complete and went through two rounds of big revisions. Now that the series is almost over, she said the feeling is bittersweet, but a good bittersweet, and that she feels like an empty nester.
Q/A session (she requested no spoiler questions):
side note: She was so happy with all the questions. Seriously, she thanked everyone for each question, and gave everything a thoughtful and complete answer. Seriously, she is a dynamic speaker.
Q. What's the main plot for Champion?
A. There will be more romance, more explostions and a happyish ending, sorta.
Q. (my question) Will there be more novellas like "Life Before Legend"?
A. "I would love to write more novellas! I have more stories from before Legend." So sounds like that is a definite maybe!
Q. Is there a gaming influence on your writing?
A. She thinks very visually and must see the characters before she can write them. The fighting scenes were straight up Street Fighter.
Q. How long did you continue to work on video games after you became a writer/started working on Legend?
A. About 1 year because of the travel. No one wants to keep an employee who can only stick around for 2 weeks at a time.
Q. Any advice for young writers?
A. "Be brave. And when I say be brave, I mean don't be afrraid to write something bad." She held onto that first manuscript for a year longer than she should have, trying to make it work. She said authors get stuck in a "cycle of revising" and rework scenes and chapters over and over instead of letting it go and moving on to finish it. Keep pushing to the end.
Q. What books do you read and do they influence your writing?
A. In high school Marie exclusively read sci-fi/fantasy and now has gravitated to young adult. She loves Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone series (The Grisha) and recently read an arc of Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave, which is apparently amazing. There aren't really many conscious influences, but lots unconsciously. She loved Ender's Game growing up and loved the idea of a prodigy.
Q. Why a plague?
A. "I like plagues! Wait, that sounds bad." She said plagues are "fascinating in a disturbing way." She took the idea from the viruses and stronger bacteria caused by new farming methods and used newer outbreaks of bird flu in China as a kind of example.
Q. Are these the original titles and did you create them?
A. There were other titles and lots of them. Legend's working title was Republic, which her agent said made the whole thing seem like a boring history novel. She told Marie to come up with a list of 30 titles that she liked. Marie did so and they were bad. Some examples were: Daylight, Daybreakers (whichi s a movie about vampires), and The Criminal and the Prodigy (which she said sounds like a historical romance title). Her agent quickly sent back an email, frankly stating, "These all suck." Her agent came up with Legend, and the publisher decided on Prodigy (the first title was Patriot, which I actually kind of like). Champion was the only title on which Marie had any say as she had considered it for Prodigy.
Q. Which character do you see yourself as?
A. "I see myself in bits and pieces in all of them, but I am most like Tess, or she is like I was in high school. Kind of shy." Wishes she could be like Kaede (KIE-uh-die). She wanted to be a pilot, but her mom told her that she has terrible eyesight. So instead she wrote a ridiculously awesome dogfight scene with planes and said she had way too much fun with it, which is why it just kept going (she grinned gleefully talking about flying).
After she told us how to pronounce Kaede (which I always said as "Kady")....
Q. How do you pronounce your characters' names?
A. Mateus = Muh-TAY-us. (some people squealed joyously that they'd gotten it right)
Q. Why a reference to San Angelo?
A. "I just looked at a map and chose towns that were close to the cutoff on the map I saw in that article."
Q. Where did you work when you did video games?
A. Worked with Disney and D Gamer. Helped with avatar creation.
Q. How did you develop your world for Legend?
A. "I always get asked 'Do you think this dystopia could really ever happen?' and I always answer that it already has." She used the map and dystopian elements in history and today to create the world of Legend. Used North Korea, early US, and the Holocaust (research into eugenics) as source material. Did research on Sparta, where they used to leave weak infants outside at night to either strengthen them or kill them. An early draft had those who score a perfect 1500 like June labeled as Spartans.
Q. If the movie is made, who do you see as the characters?
A. The film has been optioned by CBS and the script has been completed (!!!!!!). She said Day is difficult do to his mixed ethnicity, but sees a mixed Romeo + Juliet Leonardo DiCaprio as kind of close. Haylee Steinfeld or a young Morena Baccarin (Inara from Firefly/Serenity) as close to June.
Q. Did you design the covers?
A. No, that was the publisher. She liked the idea of the symbols instead of people, though, so readers can imagine June and Day on their own without influence from a cover.
Q. How did you develop your relationnship with Kristen Nelson (her agent)?
A. Met Kristen at a conference, then they went their separate ways. After Marie wrote Kingdom of God, she sent out query letters and wrote one to Kristen as well, saying, "You may not remember me, but we met at a conference a few years ago?" Kristen is a very hands-on agent and helped with Legend's big revisions BEFORE they submitted to publishers so there werent many revisions afterward.
Q. Do you think a movie ever will be made?
A. "I hope so. I'm always surprised when any movie gets made because all the ways it can go wrong. Like everything can go right, but if one little thing breaks down, it could all go wrong, like if an actor isn't available because they've already signed on to 12 other projects."
Q. What is your work ethic like now that you don't write 2 hours at 2 AM anymore?
A. "The advantage to being an unpublished author is naivity because you don't realize how hard it is." Marie said she had no idea when writing her first manuscript that it would take her 12 full years to publish a book. She said authors are generally very optimistic as it's an unstable profession, that there's always hope for the next one (manuscript). Now that she's a full-time writer, she still only writes the same amount daily as when she worked full-tim, but she has realized there's only so much creative juice. It can be hard to get things done when deadlines are like a year away, but she considers writing to be her desk job and makes herself write.
While she was signing my books, I asked if there would be more about the trials in Champion as it definitely seems like something is "screwy" with them. She gave me a sly grin and said, "maybe."