Title: The Luckiest
Author Name: Mila McWarren
Publication Date & Length: July 7, 2015 – 256 pgs
When New York-based memoirist Aaron Wilkinson gathers with his high school friends to marry off two of their own, he is forced to spend a week with Nik, the boy who broke his heart.
As they settle into the Texas beach house where the nuptials will be performed, Nik quickly makes his intentions clear: he wants Aaron back. “He’s coming hard, baby,” a friend warns, setting the tone for a week of transition where Aaron and Nik must decide if they are playing for keeps.
Oh – I loved this. A group of high-school friends gathers after their college graduations to celebrate the group’s first marriage. Together for a week before the wedding, they catch-up with each-other, sharing successes, failures, hopes and dreams.
Aaron is our narrator. And he is perfect. Obsessed with seeing his high-school boyfriend again, he is plagued with insecurities. He loves his friends passionately, he competes with them fiercely and he wishes them well.
This is so much more than a gay romance. It is a story of growing up, growing apart and loving the people you have.
Aaron describes his friends as a United Nations at one point, and they are a jumbled mix of gender, race and religions. The diversity and fluid acceptance of his group of friends feels much more modern than so many books pushed into the m/m genre.
I loved the characters, loved the house party atmosphere of the story and I wish I’d been a wedding guest.
Aaron finishes the song and Stephanie snatches the mic out of his hand, crooks her finger at Nik and launches them into a reprise of their performance of “Dancing on My Own” from the homecoming weekend they all spent here at the house back in senior year. Stephanie still has questionable rhythm and tragic pitch—she loves to sing, which is why they have a karaoke machine in this house, but it’s one thing she will admit she doesn’t have much of a gift for—but there’s a reason Nik majored in music at The University of Texas, and his voice has come a long way.
Somehow, this deliberate throwback to a memory that was never anything but happy seems different than what Aaron has just done. He sits on the sofa, flanked by Alex and Jasmine, hating them both a little for participating in it even while he smiles. Nik dances—how can you not, with this song—but he still watches Aaron, gives him a little head-tilt during the chorus, and it’s charming and devastating and infuriating.
Jasmine leans to murmur, “Oh, I see how it is.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“You might not be desperate, but I’m not sure about him. He’s coming hard, baby.”
1) Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
I have a few. Sometimes I write in my office at work, because it’s a place built for focus. Sometimes I write in my bedroom, which is far too cluttered by the detritus of every day, but it’s where I always tend to end up. Sometimes I’m in my guest room/office, which is a great place to call an office because it has a bed and a TV, and sometimes you need to just take a break so you can tune out and take a nap to an episode of Law and Order. And then there’s where I am right now: outside a closed Starbucks, in the middle of the city, giving directions to tourists who can’t find the Metro stop that is right across the street. There’s a lot of good people-watching, anyway.
The one consistent element: my 13″ Macbook Pro (with its teal case) and a can of Diet Caffeine Free Dr. Pepper. (see #10) Everything else is sort of catch-as-catch-can.
2) Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
Well, they’re all a little bit my baby, aren’t they?
Let’s take the main crew of The Luckiest. Aaron grew up with a mother determined to do everything she could to make the life she wanted, and turned out very similar – hellbent for leather to get the hell out of there. (Check.) Nik stayed for family and for money, and took longer to grow into his ability to make shit happen for himself than he might have liked. (Check.) Stephanie is such a perfectionist that sometimes all she can see are her own flaws. (So much check.) Alex is an ardent feminist who is crazy in love and who also has no idea what it means to be marrying so young. (I’m starting to depress myself.) Jasmine just wants to be happy, and doesn’t think too much about what it will take to get there, just following along from thing to thing and waiting for something to happen…. And actually, okay, that’s nothing like me. What a relief. (Well. That might be my sister. Damn.)
3) If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
Oh, man, I am never giving up my day job! I’m a social scientist for a living, and I LOVE what I do! The line between social scientist and author is pretty thin, anyway, I think; we’re all interested in what makes people tick, and interested in crafting a story that explains what everyday people do when faced with difficult situations. I use more numbers in my day job, and there’s so much less sex (alas), but they’re not all that different. I’m really lucky.
4) Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
Hmmm. This book began with a goal: write a love story that somehow maintains romantic tension without throwing up major external obstacles for the protagonists. I wanted a long, slow, slide into something like inevitability; I wanted a love story that didn’t try to pretend that there was a chance these two wouldn’t end up together, and then just took its joy and pleasure from watching the ride. I knew that would be really hard to execute, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. It’s probably better that I didn’t know that before I started, really.
(I also really wish I had known that Blue Bell Ice Cream wasn’t going to be available on store shelves during the summer of 2015. I wouldn’t have deliberately name-checked the brand as a thing that makes Aaron a little glad to be home, and also I definitely would have stocked my freezer to cash in on the black market ice cream after-sales.)
5) Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
Oh god; I honestly try not to think about it because that way lies madness. The problem is that by the time I’ve finished a manuscript, I know it far too well; I’ve engineered anything that was surprising or breath-taking or beautiful so that I can achieve maximum breathtakingness and so it’s hard for me not to see the seams. My general feeling about this is one I learned from my studies: the best book is the done book, and I can’t look back. I have to just keep looking forward, or else I will stew in regrets and second looks forever. Ask me again in a year or two, because maybe then the editing will be far enough behind me that I can think about this a little more objectively.
6) How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
I like watching people, and I like visiting new places. There are so many stories out there, waiting for us to find them, and all I really have to do is open my eyes and get out of my head enough to find them, which sounds easy but is really kind of hard sometimes – my head is a very comfy place. When I was writing The Luckiest, I actually took several days away from visits home to go to places that I wanted to feature in the book, and just watched people there – how they talked, what they did, the things that made them laugh. It helped, a lot.
7) What’s next for you as a writer?
I honestly have no idea; I am catching up on work projects right now, and I’m far enough behind (and still deep enough in promoting the book) that I don’t really know what I want to try next! I’m generally a big believer in the fallow period – I need a while between big projects of the same kind, so I’m going to just let this turf sit unplowed for a few more months and then see what’s trying to poke through and grow.
8) Where do you live? Do you think this influences how or what you write?
I live in a major East Coast city that isn’t New York. It’s very much a company town and that’s frequently a bit of a problem, and you will know that it’s started creeping into my writing as soon as I write a love story stymied and complicated by capricious acts of Congress. (Which, let’s be real: there are probably a good handful to mine.)
9) What is your favorite genre outside of the one you write in? Why?
I honestly don’t think I have a favorite? Right now I’m reading Neal Stephenson’s latest book (and his work is… I don’t even know. Let’s call it science fiction, because it’s very sciencey and definitely fiction) as well as making my way through Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books. I bounce back and forth between sci-fi and murder mysteries a lot.
10) Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc?
Diet Caffeine Free Dr. Pepper. It’s the most pointless of vices because it’s stripped of all its beautiful, beautiful stimulants, and yet. AND YET. It’s a problem. My favorite problem.
Mila McWarren grew up in Texas, but has happily made her home on the East Coast for the last decade. In her day job she works as a social scientist and she has spent the last ten years developing her fiction writing online. She lives with her husband and their two kids. When she isn’t working, writing or hanging out with her family, she likes knitting and watching television, because they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, two of her other great loves.