Book Nerd Interview
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Becky Wicks is one of my best friends and we’ve had each other’s backs and been each other’s cheerleader for years. She will always tell me to keep on keeping on and she’s so relentlessly positive all the time it’s infectious. We’ve both had successes but we’ve also both had a lot of failures and I think having someone else constantly helping you get back on your feet and reminding you to keep striving when you hit a pothole in the road has made all the difference between quitting and not quitting.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Do you follow Humans of New York on Facebook? This guy takes random portraits of strangers in New York and manages to always coax the most wonderful stories and wisdom out of his subjects. It shows that every single person on the planet has a unique and incredible story. The project for me is all about empathy.
To a degree Pantsuit Nation the FB group that began just before the election is striving to do similar; To use the power of story telling to inspire. Anything that helps create empathy between people, that makes us realize that we are all more similar than we are different, that empowers people to know they are not alone and to question themselves and the judgements they make, is a powerful tool, and especially in this day and age where the media and those in power seek to divide, anything that brings people together and makes them more empathetic to others, is a great thing.
Love, grief, loss, tragedy, pain, betrayal, trust – these are constant themes in stories and they help us understand ourselves better. Stories teach, inspire and can even give us clarity on who we are (or who we want to be) and also give us courage to be that person.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
That’s an impossible question to answer. I have so many favorite books. The book that has had the most profound impact on me was ‘If This Is A Man’ by Primo Levi. This year I also devoured A Little Life.
In your book; COME BACK TO ME, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
Come Back to Me is about a girl called Jessa who is in love with her brother’s friend Kit but both Kit and her brother are Marines. Home on leave Jessa and Kit start a relationship and fall in love. They have to keep it secret from Jessa’s Colonel Father who suffers from PTSD and who, for some reason, hates Kit.
We know from the very start that either Jessa’s brother or Kit has died and then we flash backwards. The story catches up with itself about two thirds of the way through and the final third is very heartbreaking but is about Jessa coming to terms with her grief and finding a way to live her life the way she wants and to follow her dreams.
I’ve written ten books (I write under Mila Gray and also as Sarah Alderson) and this book has hands down been the bestseller. I think people really connect with the heartbreak and the intensity of the love. It’s a rollercoaster ride! I’m also good at writing steamy sex I’ve been told. That might have something to do with the word of mouth reviews!
For those who are unfamiliar with Kit, how would you introduce him?
He’s gorgeous, sweet, sensitive, daring, courageous and, as the younger brother of three older sisters, he’s been well trained in how to treat women. He’s also a phenomenal cook. With an amazing body. Dream man anybody?
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Jessa to Lila from my Hunting Lila series. Both books are set in Southern California where I live and both characters are in love with their brother’s best friend. But Lila (apart from having mind control powers) is much more impulsive and follows her heart with no regard for consequences. She would teach Jessa to be bolder and braver about going after what she wants!
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Jessa?
I did a lot of research into PTSD and what it was like to be a child of someone who is in the military. It’s incredibly hard and very stressful and I don’t think people outside of that world often get an insight into what it is like to live with that level of fear and worry every day. The impact of war and disability and death is huge and terrible and not something we should ever forget.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
A couple of hours ago someone drove into my car. It would have been worse but I managed to steer myself out of the way so it wasn’t a head on collision, just a prang. But after that I went home and called my dad in the UK.
Otherwise I call my girlfriends and tell them it’s wine o’clock. I have lived in London, Bali and California and am so fortunate that in each place I have a posse of friends I can reach out to for love and laughter when I need. I didn’t make great girlfriends until I was in my twenties, but I’ve been making up for it since!
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I nannied in Nantucket when I was 17. It was AMAZING. I stayed in a beautiful house. I biked around the island and went to parties on the beach and met a cute boy or two, and generally did more socializing than actual babysitting. I didn’t know it at the time but 17 years later I would use the experience as the basis for my book THE SOUND.
That book, about an English nanny in Nantucket, who gets caught up in a conspiracy between a local bad boy and the rich private school kids who summer there, is in development as a TV show. It’s a cross between The Killing and Gossip Girl.
Tell me about your first kiss
Urgh. It was awful. Awful. Awful. I’d rather not think about it.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Neither really. I’m very loving. I’m always telling my friends I love them. But I’m also famed for my honesty and bluntness so I wouldn’t feel bad telling someone I don’t love them back. But I’ve been married forever so it’s not something I have to think about any more.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I’m quite a fan of the 90s which is when I was a teenager. We didn’t have the internet so life was so much easier in respect of social media and online bullying but I think we tend to look back with rose tinted glasses. Heroin Chic and Grunge... I’d rather forget that.
There is still inequality between genders, and if you are LGBTQ+ or a person of color, then there’s even greater inequality to deal with on a daily basis. We still have so much progress to make, but I also believe that it is better than it was, so you know, maybe I’d choose to be a teenager now.
Teenagers today seem so much more empathetic and switched on to global issues, and way less selfish. They are also far more accepting of others and of difference. That gives me hope because I think my generation and the generation above have royally screwed things up and we should just hand over to the next generation now and let them take over.
What is the one, single food that you would never give up?
Where can readers stalk you?
When a Marine Chaplain knocks on her door, Jessa’s heart breaks—someone she loves is dead. Killed in action, but is it Riley or Kit? Her brother or her boyfriend…
Three months earlier, Marine Kit Ryan finds himself back home on leave and dangerously drawn to his best friend Riley’s sister, Jessa—the one girl he can’t have. Exhausted from fighting his feelings, Kit finally gives in, and Jessa isn’t strong enough to resist diving headfirst into a passionate relationship.
But what was just supposed to be a summer romance develops into something far greater than either of them expected. Jessa’s finally found the man of her dreams and Kit’s finally discovered there’s someone he’d sacrifice everything for.
When it’s time for Kit to redeploy, neither one is ready to say goodbye. Jessa vows to wait for him and Kit promises to come home to her. No matter what.
But as Jessa stands waiting for the Marine Chaplain to break her heart, she can’t help but feel that Kit has broken his promise…
Riley or Kit? Kit or Riley? Her brother or her boyfriend? Who’s coming home to her?
A whorl in the glass distorts the picture, like a thumbprint smear over a lens. I’m halfway down the stairs, gathering my hair into a ponytail, thoughts a million miles away, when a blur outside the window pulls me up short.
I take another step, the view clears, and when I realize what I’m seeing, who I’m seeing, my stomach plummets and the air leaves my lungs like a final exhalation. My arms fall slowly to my sides. My body’s instinct is to turn and run back upstairs, to tear into the bathroom and lock the door, but I’m frozen. This is the moment you have nightmares about, play over in your mind, the darkest of daydreams, furnished by movies and by real-life stories you’ve overheard your whole life.
You imagine over and over how you’ll cope, what you’ll say, how you’ll act when you open the door and find them standing there. You pray to every god you can dream up that this moment won’t ever happen. You make bargains, promises, desperate barters. And you live each day with the murmur of those prayers playing on a loop in the background of your mind, an endless chant. And then the moment happens and you realize it was all for nothing. The prayers went unheard. There was no bargain to make. Was it your fault? Did you fail to keep your promise?
Time seems to have slowed. Kit’s father hasn’t moved. He’s standing at the end of the driveway staring up at the house, squinting against the early morning glare. He’s wearing his Dress Blues. It’s that fact which registered before all else, which told me all I needed to know. That and the fact that he’s here at all. Kit’s father has never once been to the house. There is only one reason why he would ever come.
He hasn’t taken a step, and I will him not to. I will him to turn around and get back into the dark sedan sitting at the curb. A shadowy figure in uniform sits at the wheel. Please. Get back in and drive away. I start making futile bargains with some nameless god. If he gets back in the car and drives away, I’ll do anything. But he doesn’t. He takes a step down the driveway toward the house, and that’s when I know for certain that either Riley or Kit is dead.
A scream, or maybe a sob, tries to struggle up my throat, but it’s blocked by a solid wave of nausea. I grab for the banister to stay upright. Who? Which one? My brother or my boyfriend? Oh God. Oh God. My legs are shaking. I watch Kit’s father walk slowly up the drive, head bowed.
Memories, images, words, flicker through my mind like scratched fragments of film: Kit’s arms around my waist drawing me closer, our first kiss under the cover of darkness just by the back door, the smile on his face the first time we slept together, the blue of his eyes lit up by the sparks from a Chinese lantern, the fierceness in his voice when he told me he was going to love me forever.
Come back to me. That was the very last thing I said to him. Come back to me.
Always. The very last thing he said to me.
Then I see Riley as a kid throwing a toy train down the stairs, dive-bombing into the pool, holding my hand at our grandfather’s funeral, grinning and high-fiving Kit after they’d enlisted. The snapshot of him in his uniform on graduation day. The circles under his eyes the last time I saw him.
The door buzzes. I jump. But I stay where I am, frozen halfway up the stairs. If I don’t answer the door, maybe he’ll go away. Maybe this won’t be happening. But the doorbell sounds again. And then I hear footsteps on the landing above me. My mother’s voice, sleepy and confused. “Jessa? Who is it? Why are you just standing there?”
Then she sees. She peers through the window, and I hear the intake of air, the ragged “no” she utters in response. She too knows that a military car parked outside the house at seven a.m. can signify only one thing.
I turn to her. Her hand is pressed to her mouth. Standing in her nightdress, her hair unbrushed, the blood rushing from her face, she looks like she’s seen a ghost. No. That’s wrong. She looks like she is a ghost.
The bell buzzes for a third time.
“Get the door, Jessa,” my mother says in a strange voice I don’t recognize. It startles me enough that I start to walk down the stairs. I feel calmer all of a sudden, like I’m floating outside my body. This can’t be happening. It’s not real. It’s just a dream.
I find myself standing somehow in front of the door. I unlock it. I open it. Kit. Riley. Kit. Riley. Their names circle my mind like birds of prey in a cloudless blue sky. Kit. Riley. Which is it? Is Kit’s father here in his Dress Blues with his chaplain insignia to tell us that my brother has been killed in action or that his son—my boyfriend—has been killed in action? He would come either way. He would want to be the one to tell me. He would want to be the one to tell my mom.
Kit’s father blinks at me. He’s been crying. His eyes are red, his cheeks wet. He’s still crying, in fact. I watch the tears slide down his face and realize that I’ve never seen him cry before. It automatically makes me want to comfort him, but even if I could find the words, my throat is so dry I couldn’t speak them.
“Jessa,” Kit’s father says in a husky voice.
I hold on to the doorframe, keeping my back straight. I’m aware that my mother has followed me down the stairs and is standing right behind me. Kit’s father glances at her over my shoulder. He takes a deep breath, lifts his chin, and removes his hat before his eyes flicker back to me.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Who?” I hear myself ask. “Who is it?”
Excerpt Taken at Amazon HERE.