Breathless Reads Tour Recap

I was recently very fortunate to attend one of the dates on the Breathless Reads tour. This was Penguin Teens awesome lineup of YA sci-fi authors Marie Lu (LEGEND) and Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), and YA fantasy authors Jessica Spotswood (BORN WICKED) and Andrea Cremer (NIGHTSHADE). I’m pretty sure you won’t find a smarter, more talented or more charming group of writers anywhere else. These ladies kept the crowd entertained and engaged as they talked about YA, writing, their inspirations, being writers, and their books. It was a great event for fans and aspiring writers alike.

It’s always interesting to hear what inspires great writers. Unsurprisingly, they all have great taste in TV — there’s a serious overlap between the breathless, fast-paced, what’s-going-to-happen-next qualities of the best YA, and the greatest TV dramas. Marie Lu singled out Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad, while Andrea Cremer & Beth Revis both gave props to Doctor Who (Harley in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is based on David Tennant), and Joss Whedon (Revis credits him with teaching her how to kill characters, while Cremer says he taught her how to write dialogue). Revis is a huge fan of Firefly and Serenity, and via Nathan Fillion, she loves Castle too. Cremer is a devotee of Buffy. Jessica Spotswood namechecked a pretty awesome mashup of Downton Abbey, Revenge, and The Vampire Diaries.

With their genre credentials firmly established, the writers talked about why they like writing in the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres. Lu and Spotswood made the great point that this kind of fiction really allows you to explore issues without coming across as preachy, while Revis and Cremer dig the fact that you can transcend the usual boundaries of “boy books” vs. “girl books”. As Revis put it, “there should be good books, and everyone should be able to read them.” Lu praised Penguin for marketing LEGEND based on its sci-fi content, rather than directing it at boys or girls.

They all take different approaches to writing:

Revis — “I laugh wickedly when I kill off my characters.”

Cremer — “I cry a lot when I write my books.”

And they all picked different “theme songs” for their books:

Lu — Europe, “The Final Countdown”

Revis — Chameleon Circuit (a Doctor Who fan band), “Everything Is Ending”

Cremer — Florence + The Machine, the entire “Lungs” album

But they all feel blessed to have the opportunity to be published:

Spotswood — “It’s amazing.”

Revis — “Even after two books it’s still shiny and new.”

Cremer — “It’s extraordinary to be able to do this… I’m still trying to keep close to how extraordinary this is.”

Revis in particular has cause to still feel enthralled about the process of being a published author: prior to writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, she’d written 10 novels over 10 years, and had nearly 1000 rejections. Her will to make this happen was a testament to believing and following your dreams. Marie Lu had a similarly long path, having received her first query rejection at the age of 15 (for “a book that was basically LORD OF THE RINGS, but not good”). Cremer was at the other end of the speed spectrum: she had her third novel published a year after she started writing her first. It seems traditional publishing has two speeds: geologically-paced slow motion, and warp factor 8. But there’s only one type of attitude for writers: unflinching dedication to the dream.

Cremer had great advice for aspiring writers: “stop chasing new ideas — pick one and finish it.” Revis’s advice was possibly more lighthearted, but no less practical: “you need a spinning chair.”

And it was Revis who gave the best description of how YA should be seen: “YA isn’t a recommended reading level, it’s a style of writing: interesting characters, interesting setting and a fast-paced plot.”

What came across from all these inspiring and talented women was the belief that good books are good books, regardless of genre or gender. Writing is about creating great stories that reach people and move them, take them to different worlds (sometimes literally), and change how they see our world.

Many thanks to Marie Lu, Beth Revis, Jessica Spotswood and Andrea Cremer for taking part in the Breathless Reads tour, and kudos to Penguin Teens for organizing it, and for bringing writers and readers together.

Marie Lu: LEGEND

Legend is one of those books. You know the kind I mean: you can’t turn the pages fast enough, but you just don’t want it to end.

Full of intrigue, thrills, darkness and high-voltage action, Legend is a great YA sci-fi debut for Marie Lu.

Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, the novel begins with Day, a 15 year old criminal on the run. No one knows who he is or what he looks like. He’s an exile, the most wanted person in the Republic. He steals to stay alive, and to help his family. He has skills, and they’ve kept him and his cousin Tess alive. But then one night, while trying to steal medical supplies for his sick brother, he gets chased down by Republic soldiers, and leaves one of them for dead.

That soldier is Metias, brother of June Iparis. June’s also 15 years old, but she’s the opposite of Day in every way: the only person in the Republic to attain a perfect score on their equivalent of SATs (with slightly higher stakes; a low score gets you banished to labor camps, or worse). She’s the prodigal daughter of the new world. Its shining star. And the most dangerous, notorious criminal in the Republic has just killed her brother. June swears revenge, and sets out to track him down.

What follows is a thrilling, shocking and adrenaline-filled ride through the darker side of the crumbling sectors of LA. The book is alternately narrated by Day & June, which makes for a fascinating back & forth as the story develops. Lu does a great job of keeping the story moving hard and fast, finding time along the way to bring us deeper into the characters’ inner worlds. She gives us two young people who are both on the edge in their own way, and getting pushed further over. Both Day & June are driven to make tougher and tougher choices, all the way to an incredibly tense, nail-biting finale.

Throughout, Lu brilliantly conveys character motivations, complex relationships, family lives, politics, and the grimy, gritty setting of her future world. She weaves all her threads into one high-velocity narrative that is gripping, raw and doesn’t let up until the very end.

And even then, it doesn’t let you go. As you finish the final page, you desperately want book two. Lu throws you into the ending at such high speed, with so much story tantalizingly ahead of you, that the idea of waiting to find out what happens next is almost impossible to handle. By all accounts, Legend 2 is finished, and Lu is already writing Legend 3. And in the meantime, it’s no surprise that CBS Films has snapped up the movie rights.

The movie and the sequels can’t get here soon enough.