Maura Milan is the author of Ignite the Stars (available September 4th, so close!). She is also the dog mom of a very adorable schipperke named Thor (yes, he has his own Instagram account!), a k-pop lover, and cinematographer. Chatting with Maura was tons of fun. Maura was amazingly approachable and I ended up sending her a bunch of k-pop memes and art through Instagram before we even got to the interview questions.
In our interview we chat about how her background in film affected her writing, the best money she spent as a writer and the best money she thought she would spend, and of course IGNITE THE STARS.
What drove you to write your first book?
Ignite the Stars isn’t really my first book. My first YA novel was actually a portal fantasy that I abandoned because it just wasn’t working, although I do still LOVE the female friendship storyline in it. A lot of writing that book actually helped me with Ignite the Stars. I realized what style of writing I like and don’t like from writing that previous book. The fantasy had long very lyrical sentences, which I grew very tired of. And that’s why Ignite the Stars has a lot of very short sentences. I think it’s good to experiment with different styles of writing with each project you do. That’s how you can really grow as a writer.
Everyone in the known universe fears the name Ia Cōcha. Killer, outlaw, terrorist. They’ve seen his poster. Wanted: Ia Cōcha. Reward: 898 billion NøN. Unfortunately for anyone seeking the bounty, the poster doesn’t include a photo, just a crude illustration of the helmet he wears. No one knows that he is not a he at all and that the notorious Ia Cōcha is actually a 17-year-old girl.
So when Ia is finally captured by the Olympus Commonwealth, the truth comes out, spurring interest from Commonwealth leaders eager to turn one of their most powerful enemies into an asset. They sentence Ia to correctional rehabilitation at Aphelion Academy, a training ground for the Commonwealth’s elite Star Force.
At Aphelion, the cadets would love nothing more than to see Ia pay for her crimes, but the hatred goes both ways. After years of defending her home territory from Commonwealth raids, Ia has seen how heartless her captors can be. In order to survive her first semester, Ia forms unlikely alliances with Brinn Tarver, a cadet with a heavily guarded family secret, and Knives Adams, a young flight instructor with his own set of grudges against the Olympus Commonwealth. As weeks go by, her bond with her new friends deepens, leaving Ia confused about her loyalties, and when Aphelion comes under attack, she must finally make a choice. Does she escape? Or does she stand with her fellow cadets and fight?
Fantasy is hot right now, but we are seeing an uptick in science fiction. What inspired you to write sci-fi?
I’ve always loved science fiction. I’m an 80’s kid, so I grew up in the era of Star Wars. I really love thinking about future tech and how that will change the way we communicate with each other. The universe is infinitely large and always expanding, but if you think about it, there’s an infinite amount of stories that can happen because of that.
As an 80’s baby, have you felt the pressure to publish before you reach a certain age?
Oh yes, of course…but this was before I turned 30. After that, I did things at my own pace and for my own enjoyment. Writing is a HUGE time commitment, and if you can’t enjoy the process, then I think it shows through in your work. Also, it’s important to note, that you can be any age to publish your first book. Keep working at it, and don’t give up.
I see a tab for film on your website. What do you do in film? Do you feel as though it has affected your writing?
I’m kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to film. I’ve worked as a cinematographer, video editor, and have directed and produced short films that have been in film festivals all over the country. And yes, all of this has really influenced the way I write. Specifically with Ignite, I’ve used everything I’ve learned in film making to really help set the geography in the action sequences. I really wanted the fight scenes to read as quickly and as intensely as watching a fight scene in an action movie.
Do you have any advice for readers looking to write action scenes?
Shorter sentences! I like to make the structure of the sentences mimic the intensity and rapid-fire pace of the fight.
What part about writing most energizes you? What most exhausts you?
I love when a scene starts to really click, and your fingers can’t stop typing because of it. The exhausting part is when a scene is NOT clicking, or when you’re typing so much that you start to get wrist pain. Solution: ergonomic everything.
What part of you do you feel leaked into your books?
I think my sense of humor is always a part of my books, and I used to be an emo kid, so there’s a lot of feelings in there as well. It’s a good mix.
Does your family support your writing and the subject matter?
Yes, they do. Although my mom still wishes I had a job with health insurance benefits, but she’s very proud that Ignite the Stars exists.
What was the publication process like for you?
It wasn’t a quick one. There was a lot of waiting involved, but we sold in one round of submissions to my amazing editor Eliza Swift. It really is all about timing, about the right editor wanting a specific type of project at the same exact time you’re submitting. So, if you ever find yourself in this submission stage, please don’t beat yourself up over the length of time you’ve been on sub. Your book deserves to find the right editor who’ll help you make it the best it can be, and if that means waiting, then pull up a chair and eat some candy…brush your teeth a lot, so you don’t get cavities.
For those currently querying their first books, what is one piece of advice you could offer writers seeking agents?
Work on your next book. It really helps distract you from all the waiting if you’re immersed in the world of your next project. Don’t wait around for publishing to notice you; publishing has to catch up to you.
Best money ever spent as a writer?
Oh wow. I always planned on answering this with “a roomba.” But I never bought one, so I’m going to have to say many, many green tea lattes.
Okay, I’m relatively new to K-pop. If I were to listen to anyone, who would it be?
I’d have to say Block B. This is a deep cut, because they’re an older group. But they are my favorite! I’m such a huge fan that when I went to Japan, I spent like eight hours waiting in line just so I could see them perform at an amusement park. I also think people should really listen to Red Velvet. It’s amazing synth-pop that anyone would like.
I think I’ve come across Red Velvet, but not Block B. I’ll have to check them out!
They are amazing, and if you watch their behind the scenes videos, you can tell that they’re all really good buds.
If you could tell your teen self one thing, what would it be?
Embrace your love for action movies.
Which action movies are your favorite?
So many! Speed is a classic. Terminator 2 is sci-fi storytelling at its best. And I still punch the sky at seeing Emily Blunt be badass in Edge of Tomorrow, one of the best action movies of the past five years.
Your favorite, under appreciated novel?
All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
I hope you are as pumped for IGNITE THE STARS as I am now! You can pre-order Maura’s debut novel anywhere you can purchase books. She does have some cool pre-order goodies lined up such as these cool enamel pins! For information on the book, the pins, or Maura’s amazing Ia cosplay, visit the book’s website: IgnitetheStars.com.