Marie Lu Imagines A Teenage, Dystopian ‘Les Miserables’ In ‘Legend’

Talk about fighting words! When our friends at the blog Page to Premiere caught up with “Twilight” producer Wyck Godfrey recently, he insisted that his upcoming project, the big-screen adaptation of Marie Lu’s dystopian tale “Legend,” would “[blow] the socks off of ’Hunger Games.'” In the interest of not getting pelted with rotten loaves of Peeta bread, we won’t be taking sides in this debate, but we will say that “Legend” (out today) is one of our favorite YA reads this year (check out The FABlife’s review!).

The novel takes place in a near-future Los Angeles and centers on two very different teens: military-brass-in-training June and notorious criminal Day. When June’s older brother Metias is murdered (presumably by Day), June is tasked with hunting him down and bringing him to justice. But the two soon discover that much greater (and sinister) powers are at work.

Hollywood Crush had the pleasure of hopping on the phone with Marie recently to get the scoop on her buzzy novel’s inspiration, her thoughts on being part of the dystopian trend and a progress report on the movie adaptation.

Hollywood Crush: How did you come up with the idea for “Legend”?
Marie Lu: I was watching “Les Mis,” the movie version, on TV one afternoon and just thought it would be really interesting to create a teenage version of Jean Valjean and Javert facing off against each other. And it’s interesting that in the original version of “Legend” that I first started, June was actually a boy, which much more closely matched “Les Mis.” But she changed to a girl after my boyfriend and I had a conversation in the car, and he was like, “It’d be much more interesting if she was a girl.” So now I run everything by him. [Laughs]

Then the dystopian part of the world building came about when I saw this map online; it’s a simulation of the world, what it would look like if all the ice melted and the oceans rose by 100 meters. And it was a really fascinating look at the world because of how the geography had changed and how the southeast was completely underwater and there was a huge lake that went all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. And that was my original inspiration for creating Los Angeles the way it is in “Legend.”

The design of the novel, specifically the use of different typefaces for June and Day, really stood out to me. How much were you involved in that process?
The change in typeface was an idea from the Penguin marketing team because they thought it would be really cool to have Day and June contrast. It would be cool to use a gold font—a more emotional, so to speak, or flamboyant text for him because his character is more emotional. And then June’s typeface is more practical, logical type. The first time I saw it I was really excited. For the cover design, I did get a little bit of input on that.

Did you intend from the very beginning for the series to be a trilogy?
I always knew it was going to be a series when I started writing it because I knew it was something I couldn’t fit into one book. But I don’t think I realized it could be a trilogy until halfway through book two.

So you’ve already begun work on the sequel?
We’re in the final states of line edits for the second one, so it’s almost done. It’s about to go into copy edits. I’m really nervous and excited about that one. I want to see how readers will react to it. It’s pretty much there. I’ve started working a little bit on book three.

Do you have a title for the second book?
Not yet. They’re thinking some things out, and I haven’t seen the cover yet.

What do you think about being part of this dystopian trend in YA?
It’s sort of a double-edged sword. On the one side, it’s so nice to be able to catch the advantages of being part of a trend like that. I’m a huge fan of “The Hunger Games,” and I love the series, so it’s definitely a privilege to be part of it, but on the other hand, we kind of do sort of get the whole, “Oh, it’s another dystopian,” so everyone thinks it’s a certain type of book. So in general, I’m a little bit fearful of trends because once they happen, I can never really let it out of my head anymore. So I’m always aware that I’m writing to a trend or not to a trend, and it kind of changes how organically a story develops. So I try really hard not to let myself know about trends because I’m really afraid of thinking about it at all, and I just want the stories to develop the way they are without any of that influencing it.

Of course, we have to talk about the movie adaptation! How are things coming along?
I’ve had dinner with the producers, so I’ve met everybody. They’re all really excited and passionate about it. I’m really excited about working with CBS Films. They’ve taken an interest in “Legend.” I know right now that they’re drafting up the screenplay. The screenwriters [Andrew Barrer and Gabe Ferrari] have been good about coming to me with questions about the characters or questions about the world building. They just seem to have a really great sense of the two characters, the protagonists, and their story arcs.

Do you have any dream castings in mind?
Right now I sort of have a general look in my head. I see them in a particular way in my head, and I can’t think of anyone at the moment. I’m sure whoever they pick will be someone who matches up well. It will be exciting to see who they pick.

Will you be buying a copy of “Legend”? Tell us in the comments and on Twitter!