F R E Q U E N T L Y . A S K E D . Q U E S T I O N S

How did you come up with LEGEND?

One of the main characters in LEGEND, the boy criminal Day, has been in my imagination since I was 15. He started out as a teen rebel character in a fantasy novel I wrote in high school. I always had trouble thinking of a good rival or enemy for Day, though. I wanted someone who could match him.

Then, one day in 2009, I was lying on the carpet in my living room (this is how I daydream), and the movie version of Les Miserables was on. The Jean Valjean vs. Javert concept started me thinking about Day, and the central idea for LEGEND came almost right away: Day vs. an equally sharp detective agent. I was so glad that I could bring Day back to life, because he's a character very close to my heart.

When is the sequel to LEGEND coming out?

Legend is the first book of a trilogy. The second book is titled Prodigy, and comes out on Jan. 29, 2013!

When did you start writing?

I remember writing as early as 4 or 5 years old. When I was 5, I wrote a "book" (i.e. 10 sheets of notebook paper stapled together) about farm animals. I was always stapling together books of all shapes and sizes. Another time, when I was 7 or 8, I wrote out a bunch of short fairy tales about unicorns and cats, and stapled those together as well. I wrote my first "novel" (80 handwritten pages) when I was 11, a fantasy heavily influenced by Brian Jacques. I remember thinking about how to mass-produce that and bring it to the public. Little did I know there were publishers who did that .... somehow I thought every book at the library was magically distributed and printed by each individual author and delivered directly to the library. I started writing seriously at 14 when I finished my first official manuscript.

I hear that June started out as a boy! How would the story have been different if that were the case?

Yes, initially June started out as a boy because I was basing it off the ValJean/Javert relationship in Les Miserables, so that was the first thing that came to me. :) However, when I pitched this to my boyfriend, he immediately frowned and said, "You know, it'd be so much more interesting if the teen detective was a girl." And all I could think was, "omg, that fits SO much better." A lot of elements would probably have been the same--there still could've been a romance between the two leads either way, still the same action and the same emotional arc....but I think making June a girl added a strong female presence that was lacking from my original idea. I think she really helped round out the girls present in the story.

How can Day possibly be half-Asian and half-Caucasian when he has blonde hair and blue eyes?

I've gotten this question so much over the last few months (sometimes in quite a hostile tone!) that it really merits its own section. So anyway, to explain...

Day's mother comes from a Russian lineage, while his father is of Mongolian descent. Since dark hair phenotype is dominant over blonde hair phenotype (and ditto with brown versus blue eyes), shouldnít Day have dark hair and dark eyes even though his mother has blonde hair and blue eyes? A great question! And the answer is this photo:

This is a young Mongolian girl with naturally blonde hair and blue eyes. I canít remember how I first ran across this photo, but I could not stop thinking about her afterward. Because Iím of Mongolian/Chinese heritage myself, this unique mix of physical characteristics was especially interesting to me. Since Mongolia and Russia share a border, and their people have a look somewhere between Caucasian and standard Chinese/Korean/northern-Asian, it made sense that the colors of their hair and eyes would be a mix as well. I realized that Dayís Mongolian father likely carried a blonde/blue-eyed gene, and if crossed with the blonde/blue genes of Dayís Russian mother, there was a very reasonable chance of having a blonde-haired/blue-eyed son of half-Asian and half-Caucasian descent. And so, Dayís somewhat unusual look was born. Of course, Day looks more mixed than the above girl would, given his heritage, but I hope this sheds some light on the question of his appearance!

What were your favorite books as a kid?

Oh, so many to list here! The first ones to come instantly to mind are Brian Jacques's Redwall books. Specifically, Mattimeo, Martin the Warrior, Mossflower, and Redwall. Those were the early ones, I think, and still very dear to my heart. Also, I was absolutely obsessed with horse novels. (I was a total tomboy, but in this aspect, I was a complete girly girl.) I loved Black Beauty, the Black Stallion series, Misty of Chincoteague, Black Gold, etc. If it had a horse in it, I read it. Another favorite was (and is) Richard Adams's Watership Down.

As a teen, when I first started seriously trying to get published, I read lots of epic fantasy (David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and Terry Brooks). I loved Wheel of Time up until Book 4 (it kind of tapered off for me after that), loved the Belgariad and Mallorean series. Most of all, I loved Harry Potter. I discovered Harry Potter when Goblet of Fire came out, around when I was 15. Since then I've yet to find another full series as spectacular as it, and J.K. Rowling is forever my hero. I admit I didn't read much outside the fantasy genre except for things I read for school. :) Out of those, I loved 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Poisonwood Bible, Lord of the Flies, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. And, of course, Lois Lowry's The Giver. I mean, I loved 1984, but I remember The Giver more vividly. Especially the Christmas scene.

What are your favorite books now?

Most recently, Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, Susan Dennard's Something Strange & Deadly, Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass (and the novellas), and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow & Bone. I also love Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker, Neal Shusterman's Unwind, Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Where She Went, and Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry. (Okay, I could seriously list books all day...)

In adult fiction, I love Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart, Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and moreso Ender's Shadow (is this adult fiction? it was when I first read them but now I guess they're YA), Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.

Who would you like to meet, and why?

I've only been asked this twice, but it's a fun question so I thought I'd post it. :) This list changes constantly...

1) J.K. Rowling. Oddly enough, my favorite piece of writing from Ms. Rowling is not the Harry Potter series, but her Harvard commencement speech. As mentioned before, she's forever my hero and I'd love to have a relaxing afternoon tea with her, talk about books and writing and politics, about England (I am very partial to England), and whatever else she'd like to discuss. :)

2) Ellen DeGeneres. She cracks me up, and the fact that she's managed to stay strong and kind and cheerful through all of the ups and downs in her life is extremely admirable. Plus, she has cool hair.

3) Suzanne Collins. Who better to talk about dystopian worlds with? I'd love to sit with her and gush about how amazing her books are, and cling to her feet and squee like a fangirl.

4) President Obama. A heartfelt plea to the Secret Service--if any of you see this message, please to be passing the message on to President Obama that meeting him would be one of the most epic highlights of my life!

5) Al Gore. I really, really, really want to meet this man. I want to ask him so many questions and get his opinion on so many issues. Mr. Gore, if you ever see this, please email me and let's set up a lunch date!

6) Ben Barnes. He's Prince Caspian and Dorian Gray. Also, he's British. A winning combination for any conversation, I'd say.

What's your official job when you're not writing?

Now I'm a full-time writer, but before that, I was an art director for a video game company (specifically, making Facebook games). Before that, I spent about 2 years after college working at Disney on their video games.

What are your favorite video games?

Anyone who thinks video games are just mindless entertainment that eats your brains and corrupts our youth, has obviously never played video games. They're not all Grand Theft Auto. But before this gets me up on a soapbox to rant about the virtues of video games, I'll stop myself and answer the question. :) My all-time favs: Assassin's Creed EVERYTHING (god this franchise, I love it so much it hurts--Brotherhood being the best one so far), Sonic 2 and 3 (ah, the 16-bit Sega Genesis days!), Flower, Journey, Mario Kart DS (when I worked at Disney Interactive Studios, my co-workers made this game the most epic thing of all time), and Kingdom Hearts 2. I also like a smattering of Facebook/iPhone apps, like Bejeweled, Plants vs Zombies, Ravenwood Fair, Ravenskye City, Tetris Battle, Ruby Blast, and Bubble Witch Saga.

If you were not a writer or an artist, what would your dream job be?

Fighter Pilot. (Or an astronomer.) I'm obsessed with jets. It's the only thing about the military that really fascinates me. (Favs include: F-14, F-15, F-22, and the Sukhoi-47.) I wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid but sadly my eyesight sucks too much for that. Then there's the fact that I have no sense of direction and would crash my jet before I even took off. But I think fighter pilots are the sexiest people in the world (aside from nerds). I also have a fascination with astronomy. I interned for NASA while I was in college, working on public release photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. That summer in Baltimore was one of the best summers of my life! 24-hour live telecast of NASA's channel, reading up on galaxies all day....it was pretty cool.

But honestly, being a professional writer and artist is the most incredible job EVER. I mean, I'm getting paid to make up stuff and put it down on a Word doc (or blank canvas). Unreal.

Can you show my book to your literary agent? Or, can you read my manuscript?

Sorry, but I can't read any unpublished manuscripts. I'm not allowed to--it opens up all sorts of nasty legal issues that I'd prefer not to get tangled in.

Speaking of agents .... who is your literary agent?

My literary agent is Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency). She represents powerhouse authors like Ally Carter, Jamie Ford, and Sarah Rees Brennan. She can shoot lasers from her eyes and pick up large objects with her brain. She is so good at what she does that she will leave you in a constant dream state of "WTF you are epic!!". She is extremely loyal and will stick by you through the good and the bad. Also, she is one heck of a negotiator and if I saw her sprinting angrily down the street, I would advise getting out of the way because she will PWN you.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I got this question a lot even when I was still an aspiring writer. :) But I think I do have some universal advice even though I consider myself inexperienced:

1) Be brave. Don't be afraid to write a bad/unpublishable book, or even 4. Or 10. Have faith that you can get published someday, but be brave enough to learn how to write better each time you try. When agents and editors reject your manuscript, 98% of the time the fault can be found in your manuscript. Don't blame the market or the publishers. Just be brave enough to write a better manuscript.

2) Keep working on your writing and storytelling skills. Creating a good plot/premise is a lot harder than it looks. I highly recommend the following books on writing: Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass), The Fire in Fiction (Donald Maass), The First Five Pages (Noah Lukeman), and The Forest for the Trees (Betsy Lerner).

3) Read. Always. You don't have to be capable of reading 250 novels every year like some amazing folks are. (I'll admit that I'm a very slow reader and am probably only capable of really digesting about 25 books a year.) But you have to love to read. You have to constantly keep updated on what other authors are producing in your genre as well as outside of it. Know your industry. And most importantly, you have to read because you have a duty as a writer to support your fellow writers.

Will Legend ever be a movie or TV show?

I hope so! Currently CBS Films holds the film rights, with Temple Hill (Twilight) producing. I think it would make a cool movie--but then, I'm a little biased. :) I also think it'd make a great cartoon show along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Teen Titans, something for the 8-12 age group, about Day's adventures as a boy fugitive before the events of LEGEND.

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