Marie Lu entered the YA scene with Legend, first in a dystopian trilogy, and now, seven years later, Lu is celebrating the publication of her 10th novel, Wildcard, sequel to last year’s Warcross. The new book returns readers to a futuristic world steeped in advanced virtual reality and augmented reality, where Emika Chen must face off against dangerous foes to preserve the future of humanity. PW caught up with Lu to ask about writing a duology, her background in the video game industry, and her upcoming novel, which takes Lu in a new direction.
Why do you feel stories like Warcross and Wildcard, which explore the consequences of technology and innovation, resonate so deeply with readers?
I think young people today are growing up in a time where they’ve never been without this type of technology. I remember going to a middle school where I was giving a talk, and making some gesture, trying to make a phone against my face. You know how you extend your thumb and pinky? I realized that they didn’t know what I was doing because they had never seen a phone like that—they’ve only ever known a flat iPhone. Moments like that take me aback; I have to remind myself that these kids are growing up during a time of such rapid change. It’s not that we don’t all live through change, but the pace has grown faster and faster, which is both fascinating and really terrifying. Speculating on what that might mean for the future, even just 10 years down the road, really appeals and is unsettling for a lot of people.
How did your background as an art designer for the video game industry impact the writing of this novel? Is any of the futuristic technology based in reality?
It had a huge influence. Because I had been working in that industry, I always knew I wanted to write a story set in a very near future where worldbuilding revolved around a game that took over the world. A lot of the moments and experiences in Warcross were inspired by specific moments that I remember as an intern working at Disney or having fun with my coworkers. A lot of it is very anecdotal.
I’d wanted to explore technology ever since I was writing the Legend series, which I did somewhat in the last book of the series, but I never got to expand on it the way that I wanted to.
I did have to do a lot of research on what was current because things change on an hour-by-hour basis when it comes to virtual reality and augmented reality innovation. I read a lot of Wired magazine and followed a lot of tech blogs. It was kind of eerie actually: after I had finished Warcross, but before it had gone to print, my editor sent me an article about Elon Musk talking about building something called a neuro-link, which is a chip that goes in your brain, making you a brain-computer interface. It was so on the nose that it gave me chills to know that not all of the technology in the book is science fiction—this is happening now.
Did you know from the beginning of this project that Emika’s story would be told in two books? How does writing either a duology or a trilogy affect your writing process?
This is the first time that I knew for sure how many books would be in the series. Maybe in the future I’ll explore other areas in the world, but I knew Emika’s story would be a two-book arc.
I had an erroneous idea that writing a duology would be simpler than writing a trilogy because I would get to cut out the middle book. It turns out it was actually harder because Wildcard became this combination of having to write a book two and three at the same time.
I’m not much of an outliner in general. I tend to wing my way through all my drafts, which means writing a series is a very chaotic and panic-inducing experience. I’ll be writing the third book in a series and think, oh I really wish I’d put that in book two. I just feel my way through. In a duology, all of the threads that you unravel in the first half of the second book, need to be closed by the end of the book.
You shift seamlessly between different genres for young adult audiences, from dystopian to fantasy to science fiction. Where do you plan to go next? Have you ever considered writing for older or younger audiences?
I’ve definitely considered it. Fantasy and science fiction are my comfort spot. The next book I have coming out though, The Kingdom of Back, in spring 2020, is standalone historical fiction, which is different from what I’m used to and has been an intimidating experience. It’s a book about Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Nannerl. Not a lot of people know about Nannerl, but she was a very accomplished pianist and composer and toured with Wolfgang. The book is about their adventures when they were younger, with some fantasy elements. It’s a huge departure for me and has required a heavier amount of research than past books.
I also have another series I’m starting that will still fall into fantasy and science fiction.
Wildcard by Marie Lu. Putnam, $18.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-399-54799-7