Happy official “print book” release day for Katja Millay!! One of my favorite books of all time, The Sea of Tranquility, has just been released in paperback today, and Katja is here with us today to give us a “Behind the Book” look.
Check out my review and see how deeply it impacted me (and SOOOOO many readers) and you’ll know. If you haven’t read this one yet, it’s a MUST-READ, forever 5-star favorite!
Then… come back and read this interview and excerpt from the book (below). It’s one of my favorite scenes. AND!! Comment below to enter for your chance to win a signed copy (with a quote from my favorite scene, handwritten in the book by Katja, herself)!
Hi Katja!!! Congratulations on your big release day (and welcome to my humble abode).
Maryse: I LOVED The Sea of Tranquility. This is one of the most eloquent, beautifully detailed, fulfilling stories that I have ever read. It took me everywhere. From moments of harrowing darkness to basking in it’s warm comforting glow (and sometimes… back again). Yet, it left me beaming. Elated. And What. An. Ending! I was smiling through tears, clutching my iPad to my chest.
Katja: Thank you! I think one of the greatest things a writer can hear is that their work was truly felt by someone – whatever that feeling was – anger, fear, joy, despair. It’s always gratifying to me to hear that the book evoked an emotional response from a reader.
Maryse: Is this really your first book? The quality of your writing, and your storytelling… to me… is second to none. Tell me about your creative past. Did you always know you wanted to write? Had you written anything before TSoT?
Katja: I went to film school at NYU with the intention of writing for film & television. Screenplays and novels are very different animals, but the understanding of story elements, character development, structure, etc. cross over format divisions and are lessons that I’ve carried with me. I can say with certainty that I always knew I wanted to write, I just never really pursued it. I’ve always been fairly antisocial and prefer to spend too much time inside my own head; so I end up making up a lot of stories. I just never actually wrote any of them down before. Not counting the screenplays I wrote in college, the only things I had put on paper before TSoT were a few random scenes from a few random stories that I never followed through on.
Maryse: Oh… maybe you need to revisit those! How long had this amazing story been brewing in your head before you decided to tell it.
Katja: That’s hard to say. I had been daydreaming about Nastya for a little while. I was fascinated by this very childlike girl who became this very angry girl and finding out why she was angry and how she became that way. Little by little her backstory developed and she started taking shape in my head. Then Josh gradually came into the picture and he was this lonely, stoic kid and again I wanted to figure out why and what was underneath the image that everyone else saw. That’s the point when I started to write things down – one scene here and another scene there until I had all of these pieces of a story.
I didn’t realize in the beginning that I was writing a book. I just wanted to know where the story was going for these two people and I got to the point where I was so invested that I needed to see how it would end.
Maryse: Stoic. YES!! THAT is the perfect description of Josh. I love that it seems as if you were writing this just for yourself. Maybe that’s why it came out so perfectly. You lived it with them just to find out more.
This book took so many of us by storm. Fast and furious, it was all anyone could talk about, and the 5-star reviews just kept coming. Tell me about your decision and your experience “self-publishing” it. Were you surprised at the enthusiastic reader response?
Katja: I was floored at how quickly everything happened. Obviously when you create something and you send it out into the world, you do that because you believe in it. You hope that others will see what you do, but you can never truly predict how it will be received. I wrote a book that I wanted to read. I don’t think I was at all prepared for how affected readers would be by the story. All of sudden I started hearing from people and the messages were amazing. There was an overwhelming personal reaction that was so humbling for me as a writer. To know that the words resonated with people like they have has been immensely rewarding.
As far as the publishing went, it wasn’t something I planned to do at the beginning. I made that decision when I was further along and I had invested so much of myself in it that I figured I would take the chance and put it out there and maybe a few people would read it. So when I started revising and editing, I also started researching how to self-publish. I was utterly lost. I didn’t do any real marketing for it. I sent out a total of maybe four or five review requests and never considered setting up a blog tour because I wouldn’t have even known where to begin. I didn’t even have a Twitter account or a Facebook page until about a month before I released the book when I realized I should probably have them. In retrospect, as far as marketing and promotion are concerned, I probably did everything wrong. I was very naive. And yet somehow the planets aligned.
I have to credit the readers for that. I think that TSoT is a testament to the power of word of mouth in its purest form. The book ended up in the hands of a few people who told their friends who told their friends who told their friends. It was surreal. I owe the readers and reviewers so much because the attention this book has received is a direct result of their belief in it. I’ve been incredibly blessed in this whole experience and it has been an education to say the least.
Maryse: I’d like to think the planets aligned because the universe knew just how amazing a story it was. I hear that you do not use a computer to write. That you actually write by hand on paper. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, but I love it!! So organic and personal. But WHY?
Katja: I think the reason I write that way is directly related to the fact that it is more personal. I found early on that what came out when I was writing by hand was more natural. The emotions were raw and more unfiltered – like writing a diary. When I sat at the computer, what came out felt like writing, not feeling. It was easier to put myself in the characters’ headspace with a notebook and a pen in my hand, as opposed to sitting in front of a screen. I’m trying to practice and train myself to write more on the computer now, and I’m getting better about it but I inevitably revert back to the pen. I’d have no issue with doing it that way if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so incredibly time consuming. It takes longer to write and then I have to go through the process of putting all of the pieces in order and transferring them into the computer and then making sure that the story thread and continuity are seamless.
This is some of the paper. The rest is packed in another box and to this day I still find scraps of paper with scenes or pieces of dialogue shoved here and there around my house. The three-ring binders on the bottom are the drafts after it was put in the computer. Every time I had a new draft, I’d print it so I could revise by hand. There are notes scribbled all over them.
Maryse: I LOVE THIS!! What a great “Behind The Books” look. Thank you for sharing that, Katja.
Because of the serious subject matter, deep introspection and growth of the characters, this YA story has a very mature feel. Both characters are experiencing a different kind of pain from the other, but both are living similar results. Isolation.
“It’s like there’s an invisible force field surrounding this space and he’s the only one inside it.”
I LOVED that, and that she wanted to know how to have that same force field.
Tell me about your personal writing experience and your own emotions, as you explored the deeper, darker aspects of their personalities.
Katja: That sense of isolation was definitely a feeling I wanted permeating the book. It was such a large part of who the characters were. I’ve always isolated myself to a degree, though obviously not to the extent that Josh and Nastya have, but I was able to draw on that to help put myself in their respective mindsets and truly allow myself to feel what they were feeling so I could convey those emotions. In all honesty, I never thought I was writing an overly dark story. I felt it was real. Matter of fact. Some people don’t get perfect lives or even normal lives. This was life for these two kids and for them high school wasn’t about football games and going to the prom; it was about surviving and they each accepted that and developed their own very different survival and defense mechanisms.
I will admit that there were definitely moments, one or two in particular, which were visceral for me. As a writer, I hope the fact that certain things sickened or upset me translates into readers being affected the same way.
Maryse: Oh it certainly affected me. I had the full-body tremors at times while I was reading it, which gave that ending that much more impact.
The tentative friendship, slowly building trust and that extra special bond must have brought you moments of relief as it did to your readers. Many wondrous moments from start to finish. Brilliant scenes and revelations that lifted my heart and carried me through the darker feelings. Any personal writing memories, or anything that stands out in your mind, as you explored their special bond?
Katja: I loved anytime Josh and Nastya were on the page together. It’s hard to pinpoint specific moments because their relationship was solidified so gradually and so quietly that it was firmly in place before they even realized it was happening. It wasn’t a huge event that threw them together but rather a series of smaller encounters – a ride home, watching television, picking up a car battery, talking about tools, washing dishes, etc. I wasn’t able to rush anything with those two. It never would have worked. Everything between them needed to be as tentative as they were and interactions that appeared small were actually momentous because even when we were just eavesdropping on mundane, everyday life, there was something much deeper at work.
Maryse: YES!! All of the little moments were so monumental to building… “them”. Let’s talk about Drew. We loved him!! He was the “typical guy”. The one we envision when we think of the average teenage experience. He brought us (and your characters) moments of “normal”. He was the comic relief, but also, surprisingly… the logical head. The “other” perspective, when they got lost in their own memories and fears.
Tell me about him. How someone seemingly so “typical teen” could connect to, and be best friends with, these two very troubled (but beautiful) souls.
Katja: Thank you! I’m so glad you connected with him. Drew is such a mixture of immaturity and arrogance and loyalty and love. He possesses a self-knowledge and acceptance of what he is, coupled with an almost childlike desire to be something better. I think the success of his relationships with both Josh and Nastya can be credited to the fact that he is so unlike the two of them. Drew has had a very sheltered, pampered upbringing. Life has been easy for him and he’s never had to experience the uglier aspects of the world that Nastya has experienced and he doesn’t shoulder the responsibilities that Josh does. Drew gets to live for Drew. He’s very much the teenager he should be but there’s a depth to him as well. For all his debauchery and irreverence, there’s an innocence and naïveté to Drew that counterbalances the jaded, world-weariness of Josh & Nastya. His character, like those of Josh and Nastya, is dichotomous – there’s the persona that people see and accept at face value and there’s a kid underneath struggling with whether or not to fight the image he himself has painstakingly constructed. I really enjoyed getting to see that part of him emerge over the course of the book.
Maryse: One of my favorite scenes was the chair scene. So symbolic. Watching Josh build something that was slowly taking shape. A chair. But so much more, with all that meaning behind it. *sigh*
Another one of my favorite parts of course, was a certain “reveal” that made me gasp in realization. Perfectly weaved in… just so. Fantastic, Katja!! Any favorite scenes that you’d like to share? Anything that moved you, or that had you struggling but that holds a special place in your heart?
Katja: My favorite is the scene where he tells her to sit with him on the bench in the courtyard. It’s very short and simple but it’s so symbolic for the characters. That gesture – him offering her that sanctuary and her accepting it publicly – was a statement that was more powerful for me than any words could have been in that situation.
Maryse: Agreed. Another unforgettable moment that meant so much.
Dream cast of characters? If you could cast anyone to play Josh, Nastya and Drew, who would they be?
Katja: I can never answer this one! I have no clue. I have yet to find anyone who truly embodies Josh, Nastya or Drew. I lived with the three of them in my head for so many months that they live and breathe so vividly in my imagination. Plus, I think even if I found someone who was absolutely perfect I’d be reluctant to share it because I wouldn’t want to step on the images readers have formed in their own minds. I’m afraid that my saying “Look here! This is Josh!” would take away some of the joy of getting to create the picture for themselves.
Maryse: Do we have more to look forward to from you?
Katja: Hopefully sometime in the near future. I’ve been working on something for the past few months. I had started another story and needed to put it on hold for a while to get some perspective. So now I’m definitely writing and well into the book but that’s about all I can say. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel comfortable talking publicly about what I’m writing while I’m in the process of writing it.
Well I can’t wait to see what’s next!! Thank you so much for coming, Katja.
And guess what, guys? Katja has an excerpt from The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel:
By Friday night, I can’t help it. I don’t even know if he’ll be home, but my feet take me there anyway. I wonder if he missed me, too. I slow myself down before I reach the driveway. He’s in the back, adjusting one of his saws, and he’s turned away from me. I look around for someplace to climb up on the counter, but there isn’t one. Every inch of space on the workbench is occupied. Piles of wood scraps, random tools and boxes covering the whole thing. It’s never this overrun in here. Josh is meticulous, which means this is on purpose, and I wonder if it’s a message. Maybe he realized how much he enjoyed not having me all over his space. He got reacquainted with his solitude and found that he’d missed it.
I’m not ready to walk out yet. If I’m going to be rejected, I’d like it to come complete with humiliation. I’m hoping he’ll come out from behind that stupid saw and say something to me. Out of the corner of my eye, in front of the side door where the workbench ends, is the chair I’d seen him working on last week. I recognize the legs on it, the design he had painstakingly routed on all four of them. It’s exquisite, and every time I see something he’s made, I hate him a little more for it. My jealousy is a living thing. Shifting, changing, growing. Like my rage and my mother’s regret. I run my hands along the arc of the backrest and kneel down to examine the legs. The armrests are wide and curved to match the lines of the back. I wonder if he’s started another one yet, because it should be part of a matching set. My fingers are still tracing their way down the other side, and before I’ve thought better of it, I slide into the seat, and that’s when the perfection of it strikes me. Because this chair should not be comfortable, but I may never want to leave it. My arms are resting on the sides and I lean back and look up to find Josh watching me. It’s unnerving the way he’s staring, no matter how much I may have gotten used to him.
The expression on his face is almost anxious, but there’s something like mischief in it as well. It’s the same look Clay had when he showed me the picture he’d drawn of me. He’s waiting for a reaction, for approval. I look down at the chair I’m sitting in and then back up at him, but he’s not looking at me anymore. He’s gone back to adjusting the saw as if everything has returned to the way it should be, and that’s when it hits me. He made sure there was no place for me to sit on the counter so I’d be forced to notice it. Because the chair was meant for me.
The realization is enough to propel my ass straight up and out of that chair. He looks up, jarred by the sudden movement, and for a moment we just stare at one other. I must look like a crazed animal, ready to bolt like the first night I walked in here. I can say what I’m thinking, but I don’t need to. He already knows.
“It’s only a chair.” He’s talking me down off a ledge.
“I can’t take it.” I try to make it sound like he’s the unreasonable one for giving it to me.
“You should sell it.”
“I don’t need to.”
“I won’t take it. Give it to someone else.”
“You need someplace to sit. I’m tired of you moving everything around and getting in my way whenever I’m working. Now you have a place to sit. So sit.” He motions me down into the chair with a tilt of his head and I sit, and it feels more perfect than it did a few moments ago. He leans over me and places his hands on top of mine on the armrests and looks straight into my eyes, which flays me a little.
“It’s a chair. Stop overanalyzing it. I’m not selling it and I’m not giving it to someone else. I made it for you. It’s yours.” He pulls away and stands up straight. When his hands are gone from mine, I realize that it’s the first time he’s ever really touched me, and I wish he’d put them back. “Besides, it already has your name on it.”
“Look underneath. I was going to put it on the back where you could actually see it, but it didn’t work.” I slide down out of the chair and get as low as I can to the ground so I can twist my head around and see what he’s talking about. And I do and it’s unmistakable. There, on the underside of the seat, is an engraving of the sun.
I know at that moment what he’s given me and it’s not a chair. It’s an invitation, a welcome, the knowledge that I am accepted here. He hasn’t given me a place to sit. He’s given me a place to belong.
Okay time for the giveaway!!
A lucky commenter here will get THIS signed copy. This is a “galley” (a rare, uncorrected, not-for-sale proof), and it is my last one to giveaway. Oh yah!! And a cool matching (signed!!) bookmark, too!
How to enter for a chance to win it? Just leave a comment below, and tomorrow night (Wednesday June 5th, 2013) by 10pm EST, I will randomly select one winner.
The winner will be contacted and will have 48hrs to respond with a mailing address, so if you are picked, do not delay or you will lose your chance. Sorry for my international readers, this is a open to U.S. residents only (but you’re welcome to comment and join in any time!!).
OH AND!!! —-> Many of you have been asking how to receive a notice each time my blog is updated. Just use this link right here:
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