In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with J. Elle about her YA contemporary fantasy, House of Marionne. Also discussed: throwing off the pressure to write what you think you should write and writing books for yourself, expansive worldbuilding with depth and breadth to support a trilogy - even including appendices, creating complicated, flawed love interests, adding an additional POV that shows a different side of the world the main characters live in, and so much more.The Happy Writer at Bookshop.org
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[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you so much for joining me. Just a quick FYI if you were eagerly anticipating my conversation with Aisha Saeed. As was mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we've had some scheduling conflicts come up and I think there's also been some sickness involved. And so as of this recording, I'm still waiting to hear back from her publicist, but hopefully we can get that rescheduled soon. In other news, I am still recovering from seeing Heartless the Musical four times this weekend and honestly, the fact that it's over. I know this is the part of the podcast where I'm supposed to talk about what makes me happy, but I'm kind of really sad that it's over. I have been very emotional about it the last couple of days. This show was spectacular. These teens who produced and performed in it, they have just wowed me, impressed me. They have stolen my heart. I adore them so much and I am super grateful to them for making this production and to everyone who came to Provo to see and support the show. It was a truly magical weekend and I hope with everything in me that this is not the last that we will be seeing of Heartless the Musical. I know that the core group have dreams and plans to continue it at some point in the future. So fingers crossed because it is truly one of the greatest things in my life. I just love it so much. Okay, but that's all, like, super bittersweet. So the thing that's actually making me happy in the midst of my enormous heartless hangover is that in a couple of days, we are going to be taking my two nephews on a mini camping trip to Go Rock Hounding, which I have never done before. But I have one nephew who is really into rocks and minerals and fossils. And so we've researched a couple of places in our area that supposedly you can find onyx and Amethyst and I don't know, hopefully some really cool stuff. So we're going to head on out into the wilderness with our hammers and chisels and see what we can find. So fingers crossed that we find some cool stuff. I really, really would like to, I don't know, discover something. See, we'll see how it goes. I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. She is The New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels Wings of Ebony and Ashes of Gold, as well as the middle grade novel A Taste of Magic. Her newest contemporary fantasy, House of Marion, comes out tomorrow on August 29. Please welcome JL Hi. Hello. How are you?
[03:26] J. Elle: Good, how are you?
[03:28] Marissa: I am fantastic. So here we are. As of this recording, it's a couple of weeks before your book launches and comes out in the world. I am so excited because I thought it was a gorgeous, gorgeous book and just a super fun read. How are you feeling?
[03:46] J. Elle: Thank you so much. I'm excited. This is my fifth book and I feel like at some point you would just kind of be over the feeling of the nerves around your book coming out. But no, each one is special and nauseating in their own right, and so I'm super excited. I'm at the point I'm so close to it, though, that I'm at the point where I'm like, I'm just ready for it to be here. So I'm super thrilled to be going on tour. I'm excited to meet readers all over. As a pandemic debut author, I didn't have the opportunity to do that. So just in general, this is a very special just season and opportunity, and this is my favorite book that I've written yet, so I'm excited.
[04:28] Marissa: I love that. It's not very often that an author will admit to having favorites.
[04:33] J. Elle: I might deny this one day. Okay.
[04:39] Marissa: As of right now, it's the favorite. Well, congratulations. And congratulations on going on your first book. Exciting.
[04:48] J. Elle: It is. It is. I am thrilled to hopefully enjoy some cooler temperatures when we go to the Northeast because, goodness, we are still in triple digits, probably well into the end of September where I live. So I am very much looking forward to some of the Northeastern states because I also just haven't traveled there much in general. So I think it'll just be fun. I've met these booksellers online with my other books and we would like mail book plates and that kind of thing, but it's going to be super cathartic to be able to meet these people in person and see readers all over.
[05:25] Marissa: Absolutely. No, it's really special. It never gets old. I love going on book tour. I know some authors find it exhausting and it is like you're putting out a lot of energy, but it's also really magical to meet readers and surround yourself with book lovers and yeah, I adore it.
[05:44] J. Elle: Yeah, that's what I think. I mean, I am an extrovert and I just love people, so I do. I think I'll be exhausted, but I'm exhausted all the time anyway. I'm a mom of three kids, so I'm just perpetually exhausted. So this will be like exhausted with a sprinkle of magic. Yeah.
[06:00] Marissa: No, I get that. I feel like because duties and responsibilities on BookTour are so completely different from my day to day life, there's part of me that actually finds it almost relaxing. Like, every day, what do I have to do? I spend the first 8 hours of the day on an airplane and in a hotel room and reading a book, have children who need to be fed or dishes that need to be done. It's just a very different way.
[06:33] J. Elle: Super nice.
[06:36] Marissa: Well, congratulations. So the first thing that I really would like to know is your origin story. How did you become a writer?
[06:46] J. Elle: Sure. The short answer is Twitter, that place that we authors are trying to slowly joined. So I watched an authortube channel. I don't remember even how I stumbled upon this because it wasn't a habit of mine at all. I had always been a reader. I never really thought of myself as a writer. And so I stumbled upon this author Tube video where someone was saying, if you are looking to consider writing and traditionally publishing, and you're trying to pick a social media platform to engage in, twitter is the one to use. And so I said, okay. I didn't know who this person was, but they seemed very official. So I literally created a Twitter account that day, did not know how Twitter worked, and was never really super into social media. I piddled on Instagram because of another company that I used to run, but Twitter was an anomaly to me. And so anyway, I joined, and I just kind of scrolled through to kind of get the lay of the land. I started looking at hashtags and trying to understand and orient myself. And I saw these people sort of having a conversation through multiple threads and replies. And they would tag like, I don't know, 15 people. And then there was just a series of replies, and it was like an entire conversation. And so me being the awkward extrovert that I am, I just jumped right in there and was like, hi. And they were so sweet and welcoming. And they're like, we're going to do a sprint. And I was like, okay, what's that? And they explained it, and I was like, oh, okay. I've never written anything before, but I had again, piddled with writing, but not in this way. In my mind at that point, I was like, I want to try to write a book for real. And so I didn't know what that meant, but they welcomed me. And two months it's goodness. That was in June of 2018. And so a few months later, one of the people in this group was like, are you going to enter Pitch Wars? And I was like, what's that? And they explained that it's a mentorship competition that has like a showcase. And literary agents will comb through the showcase examples of pitches and writing samples, and they will sometimes request pages and then offer representation. And so I said, I'll try. And so I decided to get ready for pitch wars. And that did not pan out. But what ended up happening is a story came to me just sort of out of the blue in September of 2018. And at that point, I had sort of realized how to write a chapter. I make no claims of how good it was, but I knew how to at least compose a scene. And so I said, I'm going to try to write the story that popped in my head. And I didn't have much of it. I just had an image of a girl who was very sad and very just heavily burdened as she stood over a bleeding body. And I didn't know who the person was. I didn't know where she was. I didn't know much. I just knew she was very sad, and she felt very powerless. And I do remember the way she carried herself in the environment. Like, the setting in this image reminded me of home, and I wasn't living at home at the time, but it reminded me of the inner city community where I grew up. And so I said, I want to write a story that's going to put power in that girl's hands. And so I just furiously wrote. It was a mess. I mean, a mess, but I furiously wrote for 30 ish days, maybe 35 days, and then I had a first draft of what became my debut novel. I ended up pitching it on Twitter in a pitch contest. It was not pitch wars. It was a different one called DV Pit, where you just put a one sentence little summary of your story. And it's a particular day where publishing professionals go on Twitter to find pitches, and if they like them, they'll ask to see pages. Once you have an, you know, agents do the same thing. And so that ended up I ended up with multiple offers of rep and tons of rejections. I always mention that, tons of rejections, but I did get a few offers of rep. And so I signed with my agent in, I think it was October of 2018. So I joined Twitter in June to figure out how to write, and then I signed with my agent in October of 2018, and my book sold. My debut novel sold in June of 2019. So we did lots of revising, and that was sort of how it began.
[11:08] Marissa: Holy cow. That is a very unusual origin story.
[11:15] J. Elle: Very strange.
[11:17] Marissa: I love it, though. Okay, so I have to ask, over the course of your life, fairly recently, has this writing thing come up? And it sounds like it was just an absolute whirlwind. I mean, to go from zero to published or at least with a book deal in a year is so unusual. And I'm really curious now, kind of in hindsight, when you look back to your childhood or the years before Twitter became your thing, do you see hints of the writer inside the like, do you think that it has, I don't know, more of a history that you just weren't more aware of?
[12:06] J. Elle: It totally does. I believe that writing is sort of my thing, and it's been like my doorman to magic, and it's just been in my body forever, but I just wasn't very conscious of it. I mean, I was always a reader. I grew up I mean, my mom and I would take the public bus because we did not have a library or a bookstore in our neighborhood. And so we would take the public bus to the downtown library on the weekday days, usually two to three times a week. And we would stay until they literally the security guard was like, I'm sorry, you have to go. He knew us by name because we always closed the library down. And so I grew up loving books. I would skip lunches in middle school instead of playing volleyball or doing some of the things, or just, like, gossiping with my friends. I was like, let's go to the library and see what other books they have. So I have always loved stories. And then when I went to college, part of the pressure of going to college, I was the first in my family to go to college. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. And so I just remember when they asked me wanted to study, the idea that I could choose something I loved didn't even cross my mind. It was like, what is going to be practical and pay a lot of money so that I can help my family in this impoverished community? And so I picked medicine. And then I got to organic chemistry, and I was like, well, I can be the first college dropout in my family, or I can switch my major. And so I sat down with the dean, and she was like, I noticed you're a premed major, but all your extracurriculars involve writing. Because I was a journalist at my university, and it was a very large university. So we actually had a news station that broadcasts out to the city in Austin, Texas. And so there was a news anchor, and there was a radio program that actually went out to the city in Austin. And so I was a part of a lot of volunteer organizations that did journalism, whether it was photojournalism or print journalism or broadcast journalism. I just loved meeting people and telling their stories. It was my favorite thing ever. And then my minor was in PR, but then I also double minored in rhetoric and writing because it was just fun. I took one as an elective, and I was like, I want to take all of your classes. But again, it never clicked, ever. Even when I graduated, I decided, well, I'm not going to be a doctor, so I have to be a lawyer. So I began to prepare to go to law school. I kid you not. My brain was just one of these two. And so I founded a nonprofit for students who were interested in pursuing law at my university. And that became my focus. And again, in any spare time I had, I was going on dates to used bookstores with my now husband, then boyfriend, and just feeding my love of story. So I think, really, I had to realize that I could be a writer before that even entered my brain, because in hindsight, I see that my obsession with stories in all different mediums has always been there.
[15:22] Marissa: Yeah. Well, anyone who can utter the words, you know, rhetoric is really fun. Like, clearly there's a writer in there. All right, so here we are. Now, gosh, just five years after you decided that you would give this a shot, and you have just released your fifth book, would you please tell listeners what is House of Marion about?
[15:49] J. Elle: Sure. Give me 2 seconds. I have a little thing I read. Okay. Because I don't have it committed to memory yet. I need to work on that before. Okay, so House of Marion follows Kel, who's been on the run from a secret society because of a forbidden dark magic that she has. But when she's almost caught by an assassin hunting her, she runs to one of the training schools for proper magic. She intends to master this proper form of magic in order to bury her dark magic forever. Only her dark magic is determined to not be snuffed out. And to make matters worse, she's falling in love with an assassin in training from a rival house. It's sort of Game of Thrones meets succession with tiaras and pretty dresses. Or my favorite lately is Fourth Wing Meets Bridgerton.
[16:39] Marissa: Very apropos, for sure. All right, so I want to go back to when you said that this is your favorite book that you have written so far. Why? Why do you think that is?
[16:51] J. Elle: Oh, gosh, there's so many reasons. First of all, I love reading Kissy books. I just love light hearted books. First of all, I love magic, so my books all have magic in them. I do read a lot of contemporary, but as much as I've tried to write a contemporary, my characters end up in a scenario, and there is literally no fix but magic. And I'm like, well, now it's a fantasy, so I just can't help myself. But I do love when there's that mix of light heartedness and kissiness. I love the element of romance in storytelling. I love love. I think it's just one of those nostalgic things that so many people can get giddy over, whether it's love of a spouse or a partner or even, like, a puppy or a best friend or a parent. Like, love is just such a powerful emotion, and so I just love writing about it. And so in previous stories I'd written about characters who love their community. I also wrote the prequel to The Little Mermaid, and Disney wanted that to be all about Ariel's love for her sisters. And so it's always been love for something else other than, like, a swoony, broody love interest. And I'm like well, that's what I like to read. But to be really transparent with you, I hadn't given myself permission. Again, you're probably seeing a theme here of me in college, to me writing, I hadn't given myself permission to just write the stuff I like to read. I felt like, well, if I'm going to break into this industry, I need to have a message to say, and I have lots to say. I mean, if you read my duology debut, it is full of stuff that is just inspired by the community where I grew up and just really reflects my heart for imparvished communities where my family still lives. And I have such a heart for that area. And I wanted to write a Maddie story in that area and I wanted to say something about the kids in that area, about me, about my cousins, about my family, and so I did that. And so I think there was sort of a pressure I put on myself that I had to perform in that same vein every time I put pen to paper. And then 2020 happened and I found that I only wanted to read about stuff that made me feel good. I didn't really want to read difficult or challenging or issue books, if you call it. I just needed a brain break. I wanted to rewatch bridgerton a thousand times. I wanted the feel good stuff. And I just told myself, I said, the next book I write, I'm going to write what I want to write. And I honestly was not sure it would be publishable. I said, I'm just going to do this for me. And if my career is over because I'm not curating a cohesive brand, whatever that means, then, oh, well, at least I have a story I love. And so I wrote it and I got lost in it. I just let myself I mean, the most ridiculous ideas, tiaras, or diadems, as I call them in the book, they grow out of a person's head as a manifestation of their magic, which to me is just so beautiful and dark, and I love the juxtaposition of that. And so I wanted to play with beautiful elegance, but then this gritty, dark underbelly underneath, and I was like, is that a thing? Can I do that? And I was like, I don't care, I'm doing it. And so I think that's why I love this one so much, because I decided I'm going to write freely. And somehow that story turned into a book.
[20:18] Marissa: I love that. I think that a lot of beautiful, powerful books come out of that moment when a writer says, I don't really care if it's publishable or not, I just want to write this for me. And I think that we end up getting some of our best books from that.
[20:35] J. Elle: I think so, too. I have heard that from other people and I was like, well, surely they could I can't, though. I can't do that.
[20:43] Marissa: It's a leap of faith, for sure.
[20:45] J. Elle: Yes, it is.
[20:47] Marissa: Well, that is a perfect segue into the first kind of craft thing I want to talk about is our world building, because I love that in this book, we've got the combination of two of my personal favorite types of escapism world building. We've got, on one hand, a magical boarding school, and on the other hand, this glitz and glamour of high society with fancy balls and a cotillion and tea parties and all of this. And I just loved that we got to see both kind of interacting and swirling around each other in this world that you've created. So talk to me kind of how you thought about creating this world.
[21:35] J. Elle: So that's a great question. And it's interesting because this book I said it was the fifth book that I'm publishing is the process for it was different from any other book I've written, and part of that was because I knew I wanted it to be a trilogy, at minimum. I wanted to create a universe that readers could just want to live in. When I think of my favorite books, they're worlds that I literally just can't get enough of. Anytime there's some offshoot companion novel in that world, I am in line to buy it first because I love the world so much. And so I knew that if I was going to create a universe like that, it had to have depth and breadth. And so I started by allowing myself to just explore my characters by writing what I like to call a zero draft. I am a pretty extensive outliner. I was not always, but I am now. And so what I did for the zero draft is I didn't fully outline. I kind of sketched some loose direction. I played with, like, well, do I want a cinnamon roll? Do I want a birdie love interest? Do I want a timid heroine, a fiery heroine? And so I played around with the voice and the world, and I didn't give myself any rules, and I just started writing. I did this for November Nano in 2020, actually, and by the end of November, I'd written 88,000 words. I did not get to the end of what I thought the story would be, but I had explored this idea of magical daggers and mind gemstones that you fold into the daggers to enhance the magic, and then you, of course, of course, plunge the dagger into the heart at Catillion. So I began to explore these elements on the page and really think about how they made me feel as a reader. Like, I would write the scene and then I would read it. And there were certain types of magic, like when a diadem emerges out of someone's head. Reading that never got old. It was just like my jaw would drop at the page. I'm like, I wrote this and I've read it ten times, and I'm still, like, shocked. So I knew that was an element I wanted to keep. So I deleted all 88,000 words and from there, I knew, okay, I have a few elements that I want to be in this world for sure. So the next step is to really outline these characters and this story. And so from there, I, with the help of my we all have our CP that we can't live without. Yes, I and my best friend, who's also a writer, sat down and I built a Wikipedia world. It's about 30, 40,000 words at this point of just history. So where did magic begin and where did it go after that? Because it's contemporary fantasy, I traced magic's origin through real history. So where was it in the time of Xerxes? Where was it in the time of Alexander the Great? Where was it during World War II? And I wrote all this down, and I created this fantastical history because then I felt like I had mythology and lore and all of these other things that I could build on. And then I sat down and I said, okay, now let me get to know the characters better. So I decided to write their past lives like before the book begins. I wrote The Grandmother, so the headmistress of House of Mary, and I wrote her, I guess, about 30,000 words of her life from when she was a little girl to when she was running House of Marion. Right up until the book begins. I wrote about 70,000 words from the love interest point of view because I really wanted to understand his childhood and how he became the person he became, how the different magics interact. I wanted to really explore their houses, which you mentioned. They're kind of like boarding schools, but there are four different houses, and magic functions differently in each of them. Their houses are very insular. They have distinct cultures, and they're very adversarial towards each other. It's a very competitive environment. So I wanted to play in each house. So I've written at this point, probably about 300,000 words of just backstory and world and history and lore, and then I sat down and outlined my book because now I've created a sandbox that I could play in, and that's essentially how it all sort of came together, or is coming together, because I'm working on book two.
[25:54] Marissa: That is an enormous amount of prep work. It is busying. But hearing that, it kind of explains why the world of this book really did feel just extremely thorough and dense and complicated, but not in a way that the reader gets lost in it. I just love the entire vibe. And I love that you included the appendices at the end of I was.
[26:27] J. Elle: So thrilled they agreed to that because I kept asking. I was like, well, can we do a map? Okay, and can we do this? Okay, and can we do this? And I was like, and what about appendices? And they were like, okay. I was like, One of these days are going to tell me? No.
[26:40] Marissa: Oh, that's funny. So talk a little bit about the appendices for people who have not yet seen the book.
[26:46] J. Elle: Sure. So in the very back, there's a section called The Houses and Their Histories. And something that I haven't actually announced publicly, but I'll tell you and now everyone listening, is that these appendices will grow over the books. And so you'll get more and more history and lore in subsequent books. There are things I specifically didn't mention in these appendices to avoid spoiling book two and three. But each of these houses, there are four of them, there were five, and the fifth house was disbanded for reasons you'll have to read the book to find out. But each of the houses, it has their sigil or their symbol, like their crest, their house crest. It has their slogan or their motto, which is in Latin, and it has their house colors the year they were founded, the territories that they cover. Because the way this world works is you go to the magical school or excuse me, you apply to the magical school in the territory that you were in, and if you are denied, then you are not allowed to grow your magic. It's very exclusive, very elite. That's the vibe. But in these appendices, you get a little snapshot of their histories and their philosophies about magic because they do believe different things about magic, which causes problems sometimes when those ideas buttheads hint, hint, wink, wink.
[28:07] Marissa: Which might happen from time to time, because I also wanted to talk about how your magic system in general is fairly complicated, but I'm gathering just from how you've talked about creating the history and figuring out the different families and all of this, it sounds like those two things grew together fairly organically. Would that be fair to say?
[28:34] J. Elle: Yes, they did. And I think part of it is one of the challenges of writing fantasy. The original draft of book One had way more just information that wasn't entirely plot relevant, but it's just, like, exciting stuff about the magic. So in book One, it really is an introduction to the world. So you get sort of a higher level view of different magics, and you don't get the full scope of everything the world has to offer until you get further into the universe, because not all of that was entirely relevant to the immediate plot in Book One. The other part of it is book One takes place primarily in one place, not everything, but most of it takes place at House of Marion because that is where my main character is for most of the book. And so your view of magic and the culture around magic is very shaped by how are things done in House of Marion, what magic is cultivated here as a priority and what magic is not talked about or as important or permitted to be studied. Because a lot of early. Readers have really been interested in Kel's dark magic, which is the magic she's trying to get rid of. But House of Marion is not a place where exploring dark magic is going to be above board. That's not going to be okay. So any exploration of that kind of thing has to be done under the table. But if you keep reading through the series, you might learn more.
[30:06] Marissa: I don't have this sneaky feeling like you're preparing to turn some things on their heads in the next I could practically hear the wheels.
[30:17] J. Elle: I plead the fifth.
[30:21] Marissa: All right, so let's go back to the other big thing that I can't help but notice when I read this book that you've kind of touched on a little bit is the romance, because I like you. I also like a fair amount of kissing and swooning in my books. And I love that this know, it's a little bit of the star crossed lovers vibe, because we've got Kel, who's got this dark magic inside of her that she's trying to hide. And we've got Jordan, who is an assassin, like, literally being trained to hunt down and kill people like Kel. And so there's just that impossibleness of how can they possibly ever find happiness? But then you also have one of my personal favorite romantic tropes. There's a hint of that grumpy sunshine factor, which makes me really happy. So talk to me a little bit about creating these characters and creating the romance that would bloom between them.
[31:33] J. Elle: Oh, gosh. Where to start? It was a lot of fun.
[31:38] Marissa: I wrote 300,000 words of backstory. Okay.
[31:42] J. Elle: Exactly. Literally, to be really honest, I knew, okay. So when I first started writing, I was, okay, Jordan has to be hot. What else? There has to be more to it. So I really did need to kind of get to know him. So I will say I love complicated characters. There's a lot of morally grayness in this book, and there is a second point of view, which I'm assuming we'll talk about in a bit, but we'll get there. Part of my approach was I don't want anyone to feel perfect or like, I don't want anyone to be sort of a full due writer. And so I play with the complexity of that, how a person's morality can be gray and where people sort of land on that spectrum and who people point fingers at when things start to go wrong. And so some of my favorite characters are, like, Peaky Blinders tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders. Very complicated man. And yet I cannot help but love him. Or if you're a Game of Thrones fan, jon Snow super complicated. Love. Love the complexity of his tyrion. Lannister. Extremely complicated. Really, really love characters like that. And so I wanted to create a love interest that wasn't super straightforward. I wanted him to have, oh, gosh, how do I do this without spoilers? I wanted him to come from a place where he knows what the world is. He knows his place in the world. And he has built his sense of identity and self worth and morality on these things that he knows, and they are concrete. And then he meets this girl who defies every single thing that's supposed to make sense. And her grasp of even proper magic is, like, flawlessly perfect. And yet she's also a hot mess. She has no idea how to dance. She doesn't even know how to use the proper fork at dinner. She is perpetually running late everywhere she's going. She just doesn't have it together. And yet her execution, the thing that he has worked years for, is perfect. And so he's enamored by that and very drawn to it because he has made sort of perfection or the standard of his position and his identity and his role in this world, he is made attaining that sort of his life goal. And so when he finds someone else who just kind of has everything that he's worked so hard for, he can't help but be baffled by it and drawn to it. Yes, they think each other are cute, so they are immediately like they notice each other right away. But I wanted to play with these two people who should not get involved because it is very dangerous for them to get involved, number one. And then number two, I wanted to play with bringing together this guy who's devilishly handsome, duty driven, an assassin in training from a long line of assassins, a long line of heritage and history, which comes with a lot of pressure, but he has a troubled childhood that he hasn't faced. We get into that a little bit in book one, but we really get into it a lot in book two. And he finds himself torn between honoring everything he's been trained to believe or forsaking it all and allowing himself to be vulnerably in love. He wars with how that one thing that feels most right in the world is the one thing he's forbidden from having. And I feel like reading romance stakes like that is just intoxicating. I absolutely love it. And then you have Kel, who inducts into this very secret society that she spent her entire life running from. This is a girl who has been trained to be a shadow. She is not comfortable being looked at. She does not give her real name. She essentially does not exist. And she walks into this world where her last name is etched on the building, and all of a sudden, she is the granddaughter of the headmistress at this place, and all eyes are on her. And this one person's eyes who's on her happens to be very handsome and also her mentor. There is a mentor mentee kind of angle there in this book, too, but there's just something nostalgically compelling about watching my main character maneuver and scheme her way around surviving in this world. And I feel like the ending is just incredible. But I won't say any more about that.
[35:55] Marissa: No, there was definitely some things that I did not see coming.
[36:00] J. Elle: Good.
[36:04] Marissa: As a romance in a whole. I feel like what I'm hearing you say is give them every possible reason to not get together.
[36:13] J. Elle: Yes. So my favorite part is probably the fact that they are drawn together. I remember when I was trying to figure out how to write this, what kind of trope I wanted in this book. I thought I could play with a few different things and why I landed on this sort of they have this very electric attraction when they first meet each other. And the reason I wanted to do that is because I was thinking back to my own teenage college days and what it's like when you see someone, you're like, oh, my gosh, they're looking at me. And it's like, oh, my gosh, they're cute. And you start to get butterflies every time they're around. And it doesn't make sense. Technically, they're a stranger, but there's something about their interest that makes me giddy. And so I wanted to take readers back to that, and I wanted to really help readers just get lost and escape in the euphoria of falling in love for the first time and how it doesn't always make sense and how it's risky.
[37:06] Marissa: Yeah, I love that. I love it so much. You mentioned the other point of view. So we do have a handful of chapters told from the perspective of a different assassin character. So the villain one of the villains. I feel like we're still trying to figure out exactly how many villains we're up against.
[37:34] J. Elle: Good luck.
[37:35] Marissa: Good luck. So tell me, what was the catalyst for including scenes from Yagrin's perspective?
[37:44] J. Elle: So Yagrin came to me first. I had just finished reading Darker Shade of Magic, and I just knew that I wanted a third person point of view character. And I wanted him to be very complicated, morally. Gray is, like, the theme of the book. And so I wanted to be in the head of an assassin who doesn't really like killing. I thought that would be a fun way to show the underbelly of this world, because in my main character's perspective, you get to see the glamour and the glitz and her entering this world from her perspective, which is very like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing. And so I wanted, again, the juxtaposition of beauty and darkness. And I thought that his point of view really underscored that not everything is as it meets the eye in this gorgeous world. So you want to keep your dagger sharp. And he's one of my favorite characters. He's incredibly complex. I was very inspired by some of those shows that I mentioned. Succession, game of Thrones. Really complicated characters. Jamie Lannister, Tyrion Lannister. Characters that you want to hate, but then there are times you're like, gosh, I feel for you, or, Gosh, I see where you're coming from. And I'm just always trying to puppet master and play with my reader's emotions. That's, like, my goal. So I thought Yagrin provided a great avenue for showing a different side of this world alongside the vantage point that Kel has.
[39:08] Marissa: Yeah, no, I think that's so clever because on one hand, it really helped kind of build up the suspense, just knowing that he's out there and he's searching for Kel, and kind of as we see him getting closer, like, you just have that suspense that comes in with that. And at the same time, you've taken what could have know from Kel's perspective, a fairly cut and dry. Like, he is the bad guy, he is the villain, and yet being able to see these scenes from his point of view just humanizes him in a way that, as the reader, you're like, well, darn it, now I can't fully despise you like I want.
[39:52] J. Elle: Yeah. And that's the goal. Literally, my goal is to write a character that you don't like in the beginning that you're like at the end. You're like, okay, what are you doing next? I might be interested.
[40:06] Marissa: This might be spoilery, but will we get more and more perspectives added into the series as we go, do you think?
[40:13] J. Elle: Yes. So the perspectives you do get other perspectives, which is one of the reasons why we did one of the considerations for not doing characters on the COVID because the POVs do change in book two, as it is now. Now, granted, it's not fully edited, so anything could change, but currently you have yagrin is no longer a POV character. Yagrin is in the story, but not a POV character. You have the love interest, actually is a POV character in book two. Oh, I'm excited. He gets to be in Jordan's Head and then Kel, and then a surprise third POV that I cannot mention because the very presence of it is a spoiler, literally. Book two opens with a plot twist, so I'm excited about it.
[41:01] Marissa: That's funny, because book one ended with a plot twist.
[41:04] J. Elle: Yes, it did.
[41:05] Marissa: And they're just keep throwing them at us.
[41:08] J. Elle: Yes, I'm excited about it. I'm excited about it. The plot twist at the beginning of book two used to be at the end of book one, and we decided to pull it because it makes a nice when you start books, you sit up and go, oh, my gosh, you were ready, but now you're like, oh, okay, now I'm really ready.
[41:27] Marissa: Awesome. I look forward to it. Are you ready for our bonus round?
[41:33] J. Elle: I think I am. Hopefully.
[41:36] Marissa: What book makes you happy?
[41:39] J. Elle: Oh, gosh, so many. I would say one that I'm currently loving. I'm looking at my books as we speak. One I'm currently this is so hard because the one that comes to mind is actually not a published book yet, but is that okay? Maybe I can mention it. Anyway, so one of the books that makes me super happy is called behind the Crimson Curtain, and it is not technically a book yet, but hopefully more on that soon, if you follow my drift. But it is by far one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. And it follows a girl it's adult adult fantasy. It follows a girl who was raised to be a con artist by her father, and she decides as an adult, she doesn't want to do that anymore. And so it's her trying to navigate her life and sort of shed the ghosts of her past. And the person she falls in love with is sort of tangled between her past and her future. So it's a lot of similar themes to mine, but it's absolutely beautiful, and it takes place in sort of a Victorian esque fantasy world.
[42:46] Marissa: Oh, cool. Do you know what the release date is for it?
[42:51] J. Elle: No, we're not sure. But if you want more information, you can follow Emily Golden writes on Instagram. She's the author.
[43:01] Marissa: Okay, what are you working on next? And I know you've already told us a little bit about book two. Is there anything else in the works, or is there anything else that you can tell us about book two?
[43:16] J. Elle: So I'm working on book two and actually on tour. I'm not planning to write on tour, but I am planning to do some thinking work about book three as well. So I would say I'm working on book two and book three kind of because it is planned to be a trilogy. And then beyond that, I don't think I can say what my editor and I are discussing cooking up. But I think it'll be fine. I think it'll be fine. Book two in terms of saying more, let's see, we have three points of view. I will say that book two takes place primarily in a different house. Not the entire book, but a large chunk of it. So for readers who are interested in seeing inside some of the other houses, you will get to do that. And for those of you who thought you loved House of Marion, or that's where you plant your flag. That's the house you want to know. Reserve judgment. There's three other ones out there and a dead one that could potentially rise again.
[44:13] Marissa: Lastly, where can people find you?
[44:16] J. Elle: I am at author JL on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, and also Threads, if we're still doing that. It's A-U-T-H-O-R-J-E-L-L-E.
[44:29] Marissa: Awesome. JL thank you so much for joining me.
[44:32] J. Elle: Thank you for having me, readers.
[44:34] Marissa: I hope you will check out House of Marion. It comes out tomorrow. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore, but if you don't have one, you can check out our affiliate email@example.com slash shop slash marissa meyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise on Etsy, instagram and tpublic. You can find the links in our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be chatting with Rachel Lippencott about her contemporary Jane Austen retelling pride and Prejudice and Pittsburgh. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing, and whatever life throws at you today, I do hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier. Our.