Women Plot interviews emerging writer and screenwriter Gaia Milizia

by Erica Surace

Gaia Milizia (instagram.com/stellamiaooo), is a young writer with a degree in Literature from La Sapienza University and travelling all over the world, from New York to London – where she earned a Masters' degree in Screenwriting at the London Film School – and Mongolia. She is also a screenwriter and script supervisor and works actively in the film and television industry. In 2021, she published with Edikit her first book, Ciao, Ambra, a self-discovery fantasy with an impactful young protagonist.

  1. When and how did you know your future career would be writing?

When did I know that my future career would be writing? Very late.

Even now, I’m not sure writing is “my career” or “my way”, as much as “part of me”, or something I can’t go without. As I see it, my way is wandering the world, writing is just something that’s always with me, my way to relate with and tell myself about the world around me.

As a kid I used to write a lot because I was either bored or creative or I simply had too many things in my head, too many different worlds I didn’t want to lose, so at some point I must have figured out that life was easier if I put everything down on paper. So, at the beginning writing was just a relief or a way to vent, against the boredom, against the loneliness, again the thousand voices in my head. I never thought it could be a job though. Until I was 15, I was certain my job would be studying the stars.

When I was 17, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter. By then I had so much magma inside that writing had become a need, or a way to survive the world around me. I didn’t think I could write actual books— surely not sell them— but I wanted to tell stories, and share them, and give relief to other people just as reading had given relief to me.

There’s an Eminem song I love, it says, “That’s why we sing for these kids who don’t have a thing, except for a dream and a f***in’ rap magazine (…) Or for anyone who’s ever been through s**t in their lives”. I have been one of those kids who thought she didn’t have a thing, and back in those moments the only thing that helped me was art, any form of art, be it movies, or songs, or books, or TV series.

So, before I used to write to express myself and don’t feel as lonely, then I started writing because I wanted to share my stories and I wanted to reach people who felt as I had felt. Just like some singer, or artist, or writer, had given hope and courage to me, I wanted to do the same for other people. I want to do the same for other people.

I know it’s a long and often hard path, but if in my life I’ll make even just a handful of people feel better, it will be worth it.

  1. Tell us about your first book, “Ciao, Ambra”. 

Ciao, Ambra is a YA fantasy (where YA stands for young adults) set between a fantasy word, called “The Five Kingdoms”, and New York, but pre-covid New York because nowadays it’s not a given.

The main character is Ambra, a 17-year-old princess who has to partake in a contest to save her kingdom, or be disintegrated along with it.

Together with four more contestants, each from a different kingdom, she embarks on a journey across the Five Kingdoms facing several dangers, meeting sketchy new people and exploring different places— and mostly, finding out that sometimes collaborating is more important than competing.

When Ambra thinks she’s figured out everything, and she’s finally ready to do what she must to save her kingdom, a new reality will turn her world upside down.

And this is basically all I can say without spoilers.

Naturally, this is just the plot. At its core, this is the story of Ambra looking for her identity, forced to wonder: what really makes her who she is? Is it her memories, her experiences, the mistakes from a past she’s trying to forget?

What really defines and makes a person? What makes our identity? Mostly— what really makes us “us”? And can we ever be anything but what we are?

(Spoilers: this writer doesn’t think so.)

  1. What does writing fantasy mean to you?

Writing fantasy, to me, is like using a mirror. It’s a way to talk about the present without talking about the present, without being too preachy or on the nose. The higher the fantasy, the more actual and important the message.

As an example: Game of Thrones. Let’s skip the eighth season. If you look at it in a certain way, Game of Thrones gives us a warning: while you play the game of thrones and fight over who gets to sit on the old, ugly chair, a worse threat is coming down from the North to kill us all. As I said, pretend there’s no eighth season.

This is a bit like our own situation on Earth: while we play politics, and who’s got the biggest army, the most money, the most oil, the climate is changing, the resources are ending, and our planet is basically boiling.

Fantasy books mirror the society that expresses them. In the 90s/2000s, the most popular fantasy saga was Harry Potter, which is the story of how a boy defeats evil with love, friendship, hope, etc. Back in the 90s that was what we wanted to believe, because people were happier.

Fast forward 20 years, and banks crashed, the Twin Towers were attacked, the economic crisis killed many hopes for a better future— and the most popular fantasy saga from these times is Game of Thrones. The story of how everyone dies and, in life, often the monsters win.

Of course, sometimes a fantasy is just that: a fantasy. Pure escapism. How stressful it is, to live in a boiling planet where monsters win all the time? Sometimes we just like fantasy stories because we want a break.

  1. Describe the publishing process for your book and your relationship with publishing houses.

My publishing process was actually very easy.

I started writing Ciao, Ambra when I was 15 because I was terribly bored in school. Back then it wasn’t called Ciao, Ambra and it was at least twice as long, so it was awful. I knew nothing about publishing, so as a joke I sent it to one of those contests where they offer to publish first-timers. Not even a week later the news came— I won! Now they were offering me a contract saying the book would be immediately published (no editing needed!), if I would only pay something like 3000 €.

I don’t think I need to specify how I feel about vanity presses, I’ll just say that that experience dissuaded me from trying again until at least six years later, when I found the file from Ciao, Ambra again and I decided to give it another try.

So, for the following two or three years, Ciao, Ambra and I had an on-again, off-again relationship, until finally in 2020 I decided it was time to “send it out”.

The reasoning was as follows: all writers receive rejections the first time they try to publish. I had just gotten back from my amazing life in London, we were in lockdown, covid, anxiety, the constant fear, the ambulances, plus I had just lost one of my best friends. In short, an awful period. Since I’ve always felt it’s better to gather all bad things together and deal with them at once (don’t try this at home), I decided to send Ciao, Ambra out, thinking that a rejection wouldn’t much change my situation.

So, I researched publishing houses that accepted fantasy and YA and I got down to work with cover letters, queries, synopsis, chapters etc., without really expecting much.

Instead, I received three offers for publications— which I immediately refused because, after all, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to publish a book. Writing a book is an extremely personal matter: like everyone can suddenly read inside your head. Did I really wanted all those people reading inside my head?

As I pondered over the answer, I received three more positive answers. Thus, I decided that after all, yes, fine, I really wanted to publish this book, and I chose what looked like the best publishing house for me: Editing Edikit.

I must say, I’ve chosen the right one. They’ve been extremely kind all the time, and attentive, and patient with my thousands of first-time-writer questions. The worse part of the whole process was the first time I received notes— they were 4500. I had to roll up my sleeves, complain only with my friends, swallow my pride and correct about 4000 of them, fighting only for what I thought was pivotal.

I’ve been lucky: my publishing house has been extremely kind and attentive, so my experience is actually very positive. Though I’m looking to publish my second book now, so I might have a different story to relate in a short time.

  1. Who are your favorite writers? Who inspired you?

The list of the books I read is very eclectic, and lately I read more non-fiction than else, mostly biographies and screenwriting manuals. At this very moment I’m reading The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford— and everyone who knows me must be laughing here, because they’ve all given up about my obsession with Mongolia.

Since I was a kid though I’ve read a lot of fiction, and there are some books I love so much, I always bring them along with me, or writers I admire, and I’d like to learn from.

Some of the first books I’ve read have been written by Bianca Pitzorno and Eva Ibbotson, and especially Ascolta il Mio Cuore and Journey To The River Sea. As far as children books go, they both have a clear, simple, amusing style that I think children can appreciate greatly.

A saga I’m deeply attached to (and one I’ve always wanted to write a TV series from) is Fairy Oak, written by Elisabetta Gnone. I know perfectly well I’m more than 10 years over the reading age, but Fairy Oak is one of my “feel good” sagas, that always leaves me smiling and at peace, a universe I love going back to because it makes me feel at home.

When it comes to fantasy, my favorite writer is Diana Wynne Jones, the author of Howl’s Moving Castle, which is not only an amazing movie, but the first book of a wonderful trilogy. I love how she creates unforgettable characters, and smart plots: her books are like puzzles, sewn with clues, that give a colorful picture when they come together in the end.

Speaking of books set in reality, I’ve got three cornerstones: Tracy Quan, Christiane F. and Vittorio Zucconi.

Tracy Quan has written the Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl trilogy, with a style and a verve I admire so much, I keep re-reading her books trying to assimilate.

Christiane F instead is the main character of We The Children From Bahnhof Zoo, a book so vivid, so gritty, so realistic, and especially the way it talks about Christiane’s life, that I admire and I wish I could imitate.

From Vittorio Zucconi I especially love Gli Spiriti Non Dimenticano: I wish I could learn from him how to make people feel what I’m describing, make it vivid, make my readers feel like they were inside my books, too.

And finally, if we talk of my favorite writers, no list would be finished without Agatha Christie (I’m a huge Poirot fan). Agatha Christie, I find, always inspires me greatly, even if I’m not writing mysteries yet, because her books help me think outside the box and look for an unexpected, but satisfactory, solution.

Ps. It goes without saying that I owe a huge debt to J. K. Rowling, too. I am part of the generation that learnt to read with Harry Potter.

We also had the pleasure of interviewing and getting to know Gaia better for a feature on our Instagram profile (instagram.com/womenplot), coming out in the next few days on our IGTV