Marjorie Liu: Lawrence grad now a successful author

Peter Gillette

After Marjorie Liu, ’00, graduated from law school, she decided it was time to be a writer. And so she did what many writers do: she lived off of saved money and the support of her parents and simply wrote.
Liu soon began what would become her first novel, “Tiger Eye.” She finished it in a month and submitted it to various editors, expecting it end up in their slush piles – the stacks of unsolicited manuscripts where literary submissions go to die.
Then last summer, on the day before her twenty-sixth7@ived a call from Dorchester Publishing. They wanted to talk.
Liu was in Appleton last weekend signing “Tiger Eye” at Conkey’s and visiting Lawrence. She is in the homestretch of her four-book contract, which includes “Tiger Eye,” “A Taste of Crimson” (to be released in August), a sequel to “Tiger Eye,” and an X-Men novel called “The Outcast Empire.” If all goes according to plan, Liu will write the fourth book before she turns 27.
Perhaps Liu can thank her determination and skill for her recent accomplishment, but one can’t help thinking that chemistry may have had something to do with it. Liu was at the University of Washington around the time Clinton and Dole squared off for the presidency. Liu found Lawrence while flipping through a book about the best small schools and came here expecting to go to medical school afterwards.
“I went to my first day of chemistry, sat there for an hour, and decided that it wasn’t for me,” Liu recalled.
Liu, already a writer, had published poetry in the journal Cicada and won an award from C-SPAN for an essay about the 1996 presidential election. At Lawrence, Liu didn’t take many English classes, other than several with now-retired professor Peter Fritzell. Liu cites him as her most influential and important professor, one “who taught me how to look at the written word.”
Liu ended up majoring in East Asian studies and biomedical ethics. While going to law school at UW-Madison, she worked in biotechnology law at the U.S. embassy in China. There she fell even more in love with China, the setting for “Tiger Eye.”
“I feel like a lot of what people see of China is skewed by politics, and there isn’t a lot you see about its diversity,” Liu said, calling it a “big, beautiful country.” While at Lawrence, Liu fell in love with Chinese literature, especially the epic “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which opened her eyes to the power of the story across cultures.
The story of “Tiger Eye” is a good old-fashioned blend of romance, mystery, and magic. It tells the story of a woman blacksmith with psychic powers who buys a riddle box which contains what Liu describes as “a shape-shifting stud,” big and strapping with a propensity for weapon-making. A spell has been cast on him and the woman sets out to break it. Everyone else goes after the man and the woman, and a yarn ensues.
Among her other books this year, the X-Men novel has been a particular challenge since the book, aimed at the movie audience, must not be “too steeped in comic-book lore,” but maintain a novelistic voice.
With all this hubbub, Liu doesn’t have much time to look back. “I have to write between 3,000-6,000 words per day to avoid falling behind,” she said, adding that some writing days begin at 6 a.m. and end at 3 a.m. with breaks somewhere in there. While Liu is certainly aware that she is writing for an audience, she tries not to let it affect her choices too much. “I just try to write the stories that I’d like to read,” Liu said.
Liu is optimistic about the possibility of future work for Dorchester and is also considering young adult fiction, science fiction, and nonfiction, for example travel writing about China, as possible writing projects for the future.
Just five years out of Lawrence, with a law degree and four books soon to be under her belt, Liu seems to look forward to her twenty-seventh birthday with an amused sense of accomplishment: “A lot can happen in a year, let me tell you…