Katja Millay’s debut novel, The Sea of Tranquility, is a moving tale of loss, love, and second chances. It tells the story of Nastya, a teenage girl, looking to hide her tragic past, and Josh, a boy who has experienced tragedies of his own, both trying to cope with the hand life has dealt them. The relationship that develops between them is one of the most realistic feeling love stories I have experienced in a long time (read my review). The Sea of Tranquility left me anxious to ask the author all about the creation of this wonderful story and luckily Ms. Millay was kind enough to indulge my curoristy in an interview for The Daily Quirk.
Read on for the Interview!
The Daily Quirk: Could you please tell the readers a little about yourself?
Katja Millay: I grew up in Florida. I graduated from film school at NYU and worked as a television producer for a while. After that, I taught film and television production and screenwriting classes.
TDQ: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
KM: When I’m not writing, I love to read. My TBR pile gets bigger by the day. I’m an addict. My problem is that I am doomed to never get to the bottom of it because there simply isn’t enough time. It’s depressing to look at so many unread books!
TDQ: What inspired you to write The Sea of Tranquility?
KM: I’m not sure I can pinpoint one specific inspiration for the story. I can tell you that I had been meaning to sit down for years to write something, anything and always managed to come up with excuses not to follow through. I was going through a difficult time this past year and writing the book was a way to step away for a while. It allowed me to get out of my own head and live in someone else’s.
TDQ: Did you know from the start that you wanted the point of view to switch back and forth between Nastya and Josh? What made you choose the dual first person points of view?
KM: I did know that I wanted both perspectives from the start, though I wasn’t initially certain that I would actually write it that way. I toyed briefly with the idea of writing it solely from Nastya’s POV but I knew almost immediately that it would be lacking. I don’t think it was a choice I consciously sat down and made. The story and the characters dictated the necessity for the dual point of view. When you have two characters that are so guarded and so reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings, inner monologues are vital to understanding them.
TDQ: The individual voices of Nastya and Josh were so distinct that I did not even need to pay attention to the headings to know who was speaking. Was it difficult writing from both characters points of view?
KM: It was certainly more of a challenge than it would have been to stay in one character’s voice the entire time, but I felt that I had gotten a grasp on Josh and Nastya and truly knew each of them well enough that I was able to shift into each of their heads as I needed to. I did know going in that I wouldn’t and couldn’t adhere to the structure of alternating character voice by chapter. My rule was that when the character had something to say he or she would be allowed to say it. Sometimes that meant three chapters in a row from Nastya’s perspective. Sometimes it meant changing perspective in the middle of a chapter. I followed the characters and let them determine when the perspective needed to shift.
TDQ: Where did the idea of Nastya’s obsession with names and baking come from? How about Josh’s wood working skills? Were either inspired by traits of real life individuals?
KM: Nastya’s obsession with names was inspired by the character herself. Identity and how we define it is a recurring theme in the book and her interest in names is a vehicle by which to develop that theme. I could go more in depth on this but I’d have to get spoilery. 🙂
Baking is intriguing to me because it’s as much of a science as it is an art. The baking wasn’t just a quirk of Nastya’s or something for her to do to pass the time; it was a necessity for her. She was trying desperately to fill the hole in her life that was created when the piano was lost to her.
Both baking and woodworking are forms of art, and through them, Josh and Nastya are able to satisfy the human instinct to create. Nastya is grasping at any means by which she can fulfill that unquenchable need she has to create and she does that through baking and eventually through working with Josh as well. She sees in Josh, something that she’s lost. It’s an innate understanding and helps form the initial unspoken bond between them. For Josh, furniture is something solid and tangible. He builds it. It stays. I knew from the moment I conceived Josh as a character that he would be a carpenter of sorts. It was just who he was.
TDQ: The relationship between Nastya and Josh develops with beautiful subtlety over the course of the book and may be one of the most real and heart wrenching I have ever experienced in a young adult / contemporary romance. Was it difficult keeping them from acknowledging their relationship (in the story) for so long?
KM: Thank you so much. That is a huge compliment. And the answer is yes! Yes! I wanted them together. I wanted them to admit it. But what I wanted more was to tell a realistic story. And realistically, when dealing with two individuals who are so afraid of their feelings, I had to be as tentative as they were. We have a girl who doesn’t want to be loved and a boy who never wants to love anyone again. But they still hang onto this thread of hope even as they deny that it’s there. So it is a very tenuous dance of sorts that they do with each other over the course of the book. Testing the waters. Little by agonizing little, adjusting and accepting and allowing this relationship to form. It was so important to me that I do their relationship justice and I knew going in that doing that would take time and patience but that hopefully in the end it would be far more powerful because of that build up. I hoped that when readers got to the end of the book they would feel that they had watched two people fall in love and they would be able to understand exactly why and how that had happened.
TDQ: Is there a certain scene in The Sea of Tranquility that you especially enjoyed (or particularly struggled with) writing?
KM: Although it isn’t a single specific scene, one thing that was difficult for me was allowing Nastya to continually make choices that were self-destructive. I had to allow her to behave in a way that was true to her character. She was traumatized and young and her behavior was a reflection of that. She didn’t always make mature, balanced decisions. I had to be true to that aspect of her character even though at times it was difficult to watch.
I really enjoyed writing the two confrontations that occur between Josh and Nastya in the last third of the book. There was so much pent up emotion and frustration in those scenes that was waiting to come out and it was a relief to be able to finally release it and let them loose on each other even as they still struggled to control it. They were both still holding so much back from each other verbally that seeing them finally get to the point where the words had to be said was liberating. Those scenes were so full of emotion that although it was difficult to experience, it was very satisfying to write.
I also enjoyed writing Drew. He was fun for me because he didn’t have much of a filter and he was so unabashedly arrogant and yet loyal and protective.
TDQ: Forgiveness seems to play a big part in the story, whether it be the characters forgiving each other or themselves. Was this an intentional choice from the start, or did the theme develop with the book?
KM: I knew that forgiveness would play a part in the story from the start, especially in terms of Nastya’s character. The concept of forgiveness was absolutely necessary for her arc. And by the end she comes to conclusions about who and what she can forgive and about who and what she can’t and she accepts that. That acceptance is vital to her character being able to decide to move on with her life.
TDQ: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
KM: I’m in the process of writing a second book but I’m keeping the subject matter quiet for the moment until I get further along.
We would like to thank Katja Millay for taking the time to to talk to us! You can find out more about Katja Millay and The Sea of Tranquility at Simon & Schuster.