Author Spotlight: Maura Milan talks Ignite the Stars
I'm so happy to be hosting Maura Milan to the blog! Maura received her BA in Film Production from USC's School of Cinema-Television and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works in video production. Her debut novel, IGNITE THE STARS, which features a seventeen-year-old girl as a notorious outlaw, released yesterday from Albert Whitman & Company.
And now, here's my chat with Maura!
Hi, Maura! Welcome and congrats on the release of Ignite the Stars. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Ignite the Stars is book 1 of a sci-fi duology. A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia Cocha has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control. Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?
There wouldn't be a story without Ia Cōcha. She popped out of my head like a force of nature. I love that she goes against all the Asian stereotypes that I grew up with and through Ignite the Stars, I wanted to show young readers who are facing those same stereotypes that they can rise past them.
Booklist says Ignite the Stars raises “questions about whether a person is truly all good or bad." From a writing standpoint, what’s the most important thing to keep in mind when crafting morally grey characters?
Morally grey characters are lot of fun to write because they don't align with strictly good or strictly bad. They drift between that line. But even though they seem like they are a bit more morally ambiguous, a lot of them adhere to a code of some sort. They have their own boundaries that they don't want to cross and for their own personal reasons, and it's all about finding out what those are. You always have to understand your character's choices, no matter how much you as person disagree with it.
There’s actually something Ia says in the book: "The only way you can live with your past is to recognize that every decision you make in your life will make you stronger." That is how she copes with the tough choices she's made and will have to make in the book.
What do you love most about Ia Cōcha?
I totally admire Ia's fearlessness and her confidence in her abilities. She's the type of person who will jump off a cliff and be completely certain that she'll survive it just by using her skill and savvy.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Ignite the Stars teach you?
Shorter sentences are sometimes even more effective than longer ones. Another fun tip is to use sentence length to control the pace of your scene.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
The hardest part for me is time management. It's easy to use up all your free time for writing. Once deadlines are there, it seems like finishing your draft or revisions is the most important thing in the world, which isn't necessarily true. I realized that I had to find a healthy balance between work, writing, time with friends and family, and also walking my dog Thor (who's gained a bit of weight because I've been neglecting his walk times due to deadlines). If there are days I needed to take a break, I took them! It helps recharge your energy and creativity by doing other things and interacting with real people.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
Right now I'm watching a BTS livestream and getting excited for their concert, which is a day after my book release. It's going to be a fun week for me!
Currently, I'm reading Joanna Hathaway's DARK OF THE WEST, which is such a beautifully written and heartbreaking portrayal of war.
I also have been really into Korean variety shows, like Master in the House and LANLife.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Publishing a book is like riding a roller coaster. There's lot of highs and lows. So find a group of writers friends who you can really trust with your journey. These are the people you can celebrate your small and big successes with and will also listen to you WITHOUT judgment when you're having a tough day in the world of publishing.
Many thanks go out to Maura for taking the time to tell us more about IGNITE THE STARS, writing morally grey characters, and finding the balance between work, writing, and everything else. Add Maura's space pirate adventure to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more, follow Maura on Twitter, and visit her author website at mauramilan.com.
And, as always,