Writing a villain was harder than Marie Lu thought it was going to be.
The author had initially conceived “The Young Elites” series from the point of view of a hero but realized the villain story would be way more interesting.
“I went in naively thinking that it wasn’t going to be difficult to be in the headspace of someone who is going to be a teen Darth Vader,” she said. “I just thought ‘Oh, it’ll be so fun to write a story from Darth Vader’s point of view.’ Turns out it’s actually kind of difficult.”
The finale of Lu’s “Young Elites” series, “The Midnight Star,” will be released in October and will conclude villainess-in-the-making Adelina Amouteru’s journey. In a series featuring a roster of diverse, super-powered teens, Adelina’s path to darkness is the most fascinating as she struggles to control her powers and assert herself in a world often cruel to women like her.
Lu, who’s also written the best-selling “Legend” series, spoke with The Washington Post in a video chat about how to cope with negative emotions and the predominance of white characters in the fantasy genre.
This interview is part of “It’s Lit,” a digital Q&A series about women who write books. It has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
When you’re writing your books, what parts of the genre do you enjoy the most?
I’m a fan of the angst that comes from being young and all the new things that happened to you, the extremes of the first everything. I also like love triangles, I think they’re great. I’m a big fan of the trope of “the poor boy meets the wealthy girl.” I like the idea of this boy from the other side of the tracks who doesn’t have a lot but he’ll give that little bit that he has to you.
Do you see yourself in Adelina? I found her angst and spite really relatable.
When I was young I couldn’t process emotions well. I’m one of those people that if I’m sad or depressed I don’t talk to people about it. I bottle it in. I have this feeling of inferiority like, who is going to be interested in hearing my problems? It made me lash out in my early 20s.
Do you have advice for people who also might have trouble opening up? A coping mechanism?
The thing that saved me in the end is writing. If people who are having the same issues write down how they’re feeling and have a conversation with themselves on that page, just the fact of getting that out is like talking to somebody. Short of seeing a therapist . . . I think writing is very, very therapeutic. I still do that when I’m having a bad day.
Given your primarily teenage audience, do you feel a responsibility to try and represent different types of people in your books?
Yes. I don’t think I thought about it as much as I should have when my first book came out because I just didn’t know any better. When I grew up, I was reading almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction and at the time, the books coming out were completely uniform: White male heroes as far as the eye could see, so that’s what I wrote because I didn’t think that was weird. I just thought this is what this genre has, so my early manuscripts were completely whitewashed and it wasn’t until I started reading a couple of books that weren’t like that in college that I started shifting, and I realized I had written myself out of my own book.
It’s something I worry a lot about. I want to make sure that I’m not adding harm to the world with something that I’m doing incorrectly when I’m including others and it’s something I try to tell myself to be brave about. The chance of making a mistake is still better than not doing it at all.
Were there things you did in the “Legend” series that you course-corrected for the “Young Elites” series? One thing that stood out to me is the story arc of Metias, who is the only gay character in that universe.
You brought up the one I was thinking of. If I could go back I think I would go back and do a better job with the relationship between Metias and Thomas; that was a relationship I didn’t think all the way through when I was writing the first book. It’s hard when you don’t have a lot of gay characters in a story because then those one or two gay characters must now represent everyone who is gay. Everyone who is gay is going to try to see themselves in that character and not see themselves.
There’s a huge benefit to adding more diverse characters: You can now put different things onto each person. In “Young Elites,” Queen Maeve and Lucent are gay characters with their own agendas and own personalities, and also Raffaele, who is also gay and is a completely different character.
White people get to be whatever they want because there’s a bunch of them in a story, but when you have one Asian character, then it can become a trope.
Everdeen Mason is an audience editor at The Washington Post and Book World contributor. You can follow her on Twitter @EvMason.
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