This has been Milena McKay’s year with the release of her first book, “The Delicate Things We Make”, a novella “The Perfect Match” and her second novel “The Headmistress”. I was certain that Delicate was my book of the year until I read The Headmistress. Milena writes books that are thought provoking, romantic and have some of the most memorable characters in recent memory. She has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Milena was kind enough to chat with me and I couldn’t be more excited to have her as my first interview!
Milena, you started out writing fanfiction. What made now the right time for you to publish your work?
In all honesty, the plan was always to publish novels, however, I had very little faith in my ability to be disciplined and to write stories that spanned tens of thousands of words. Hence I began in the welcoming world of fanfiction, where there was no pressure.
I self-imposed a pace of a chapter per week and kept at it, wrapping up two multi- chapter stories in under six months. This endeavor taught me a lot about myself, that I did in fact have some discipline, that I did have ideas and that I could finish what I started. But also about the importance of a support network and how, even with all my discipline and fountain of ideas, I could never have published fanfiction, not to mention, fiction, without the help and tremendous support of my friends.
I read The Delicate Things We Make after reading KJ’s review, which was so beautiful. The two of you seem to have forged a friendship. What has KJ meant to you as a fellow writer and friend?
KJ was a blessing. I don’t have any other words to describe the impact this woman had on me as a person and on my writing career.
I have to say that this community of ours is full of the most amazing people who supported me, were kind to me, a total unknown, and who thus surprised me very much with this generosity of theirs. KJ, Jude In The Stars, The Lesbian Review crew – Sheena, Victoria, and the wonderful TLR reviewers, Rach and Sarah from Les Reveur and so many others. People who were strangers and became friends.
I was a relative unknown in the wlw fiction world, despite having published four fanfiction stories by January 2021. So when I released The Delicate Things We Make, I counted heavily on luck and on the book being of high enough quality to attract a few readers. I didn’t count on anyone actually taking any kind of interest in it. I sent the book to several review sites, but absolutely did not expect anyone to read it, not to mention review it.
And then miracles started to happen. Quinn Ivins tweeted that she read and loved the book about a week after it was released. And KJ replied that she was going to buy the book, now that Quinn had recommended it.
The rest is history. KJ’s essay on The Delicate Things We Make is a work of art. It’s beautiful. It delves very deeply into the fabric of the book. It takes the book apart and puts it back together like a Rubik’s cube. And of course, KJ was perhaps the first person to notice the chapter titles. She even wrote 300 words on those alone. I was in tears. Happy tears, of course.
This kindness, this overwhelming support, this unflinching belief in her fellow author, could only be KJ.
(A special Thank You to Quinn Ivins for taking a chance on a total unknown and for tweeting about it!)
You can only keep three lesfic books. What three books are you keeping?
Gaaaaah, really? This is torture. My Kindle library is at over 300 right now, that is not including over 100 fanfiction favorites.
Finding Jessica Lambert by Clare Ashton. The book is a marvel. From the love story to the character development… I can talk about this book for hours. Scratch that, I have talked about this book for hours. Also, Ms. Ashton has such an amazing talent, it’s very difficult to choose just one of her books. Poppy Jenkins is surely upset with me for choosing Jessica over her, but Anna Mayhew just has my heart.
Breaking Character by Lee Winter. It may shock people that I find Ice Queens appealing (sarcasm font). Lee Winter writes Ice Queens like nobody else. She was also the author who inadvertently “pushed” me to make the jump from reading only wlw fanfiction to giving wlw fiction a chance. I loved her Brutal Truth when it was a fanfic and followed her to the great unknown that was the lesfic world back in 2018. I will forever be grateful to Ms. Winter for this.
Separate Like Stars by Diana Kane. This is the book that made it possible for me to even put words onto paper. I’d never written anything before 2020. But I read Separate Like Stars, loved it so much, connected with Ms. Kane and the rest is history. She encouraged me to start writing and supported me when I finally began my fanfiction stories. So Separate Like Stars is not just an amazing book, it was also the book that started it all.
Who is your favorite character from one of your books and why?
Willoughby! Of course, Willoughby. He’s named after one of Jane Austen’s most dastardly rascals. He’s ginger, he’s fluffy, he has a big round head, he’s lazy, he’s fiercely independent and he is loyal to a fault once he finds his soulmate. He’s perfect.
If I was to forgo the feline characters, I’d have to say that my favorite character is the one I’m writing right now. Her name is Neve Blackthorne and she is an Ice Queen to end all Ice Queens. In fact, the book’s tagline could be “What makes an Ice Queen?” and Neve shows the reader which ingredients go into the melting pot that creates the strong, cold, ruthless, occasionally cruel, ultimate survivor in the big bad male world. I can’t wait to share her story with the readers. Abrasive, selfish, authoritative, even mean, her mind is—as beautiful as it is, at times, frightening. And yet, she also has a gorgeous heart that is deeply buried behind her life-long erected walls. And we all get to go on quite a ride to see that wonderful heart break down some of those walls.
What are you working on currently?
Well, since I couldn’t help myself and blabbed about Neve in the answer above, I might as well go all the way and confess. I am reworking an earlier story of mine and setting it in the glitzy, shallow, cruel, and magical world of Hollywood. We will see Tinseltown at its best and its worst, through the eyes of the One Ice Queen To Rule Them All – Neve Blackthorne.
The story is the first in a planned (read: fully plotted and pushing its way from that back burner) duo of books set in Hollywood. The first one is focused on the events and circumstances, the trials and tribulations that make an Ice Queen, and the second book revolves around a second chance at life and fame for an actress who once shone brighter than any star and then was completely forgotten. The books are stand-alone, although the characters pop up in both of them. Oh and as always, there will be some Easter eggs from my previous books. I miss Vivian DeVor.
Who are your favorite lesfic writers?
Clare Ashton (see my raving and rambling about her above),
KJ (Ignis, Ignis, Ignis, and I just think she’s the kindest human to ever human),
Diana Kane (once she gets over her writing block, it’s over!),
EJ Noyes (Gold is a masterpiece),
AL Brooks (The Long Shot is just so so delicious, love her style),
Jae (one of the most talented and utterly graceful humans in our business, plus her impact on our community is amazing – she does so much, her endeavors, her initiatives!),
Lee Winter (again, for my ravings on how awesome Ms. Winter is, see above),
Monica McCallan (talk about talent, discipline and work ethic, love her books! Also love her occasional forays into various pop culture trends on Twitter that introduce me to so many new things, if you don’t follow her yet – you should!),
Tracey Richardson (Thursday Afternoons is a book I re-read often),
Anna Burke (I don’t have the eloquence to describe her work, but the word ‘gravitas’ comes to mind. Her talent is astonishing),
Robin Alexander (legitimately the funniest).
What was your inspiration for The Headmistress? Magdalene Nox is such an exquisite character and Sam is her perfect match.
The inspiration for both Magdalene and Sam came from me reading about the national gold reserves. Yes, nerd status achieved.
Threadneedle Street is where The Bank of England is located and where the Brits kept their gold, and Fort Knox is where we Americans keep ours. The story and who the characters ultimately became stemmed from these two names, two fortresses, two guardians. Having that as their core quality, their individual stories flowed from there. One guarded and haunted by a lifetime of deceit and one wearing her heart on her sleeve.
Sometimes the smallest things you never take into account predetermine the most important aspect of the book. I had the characters. I had the bones of the story, but when I found the image that became the wonderful cover–under the most talented hands of the amazing Em Schreiber–it was fated that Magdalene Nox would not just be THE MAIN character of the book. She would be CENTRAL, she would reign over the school as the image reigns over the book. It also determined her personality, her actions, and her decisions.
And because Magdalene is larger than life, she needed a partner that would withstand that power, without shrinking, without losing herself in Magdalene’s splendor. But also one who would see how deeply wounded Magdalene really is and who would protect her and cherish her after years of heartbreak.
You appear to be obsessed with both Cate Blanchett and pastries. If you could eat one pastry off of Cate’s stomach what would it be?
I plead the 5th…