Saturday, May 25, 2013

An interview with Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba, author of This Could Have Been Our Song!

After I read This Could Have Been Our Song!, I had a huge grin on my face. Lucia Mpobo-Riddell is fun, strong, multi-talented and sexy, and I found myself seeking out information about Toronto. I also loved that this was a story that featured Central African, English, Canadian and even American influences. I'm very excited that Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba agreed to answer some questions for me about her character and the world she created.

It seems like you’re almost as well-traveled as Lucia. What made you decide to set your characters in Toronto?

Before moving to London in 2012, Toronto was the only place I had ever lived as an adult and I loved every minute of it. It is the most multicultural city in the world (so I’ve been told many times there). Toronto is on television everyday passing itself as an American city (mostly New York, DC or Boston). I wanted to showcase my wonderful Canadian city in a Chick lit novel. Also my favorite Chick lit (Fishbowl by Sarah Mlynowski) was set in Toronto and that book made me fall in love with the genre.

After I’d finished your novel, I was surprised to read that you’re French. What made you decide to make Lucia and family British?

The short answer is, I didn’t want them to be French as they already were Central African. Too cliché! The longer answer is, my never-ending and ever-growing obsession with London and everything British. I thought it would be fun and different to make them British and Central African. But you would be surprised by the number of Lucia’s look-alikes I’ve met since I’ve moved to London. It may have been different to have them in a book but still a bit of a cliché in London.

It seems like some agents/editors/publishers have a pretty strict definition of what makes a novel “multicultural”. Is that how you’d describe your story? How important is that aspect to the story?

I don’t know. In book one only two cultures are being showcased, the Canadian one and the British one. But yes, the characters are from different ethnicities; for me, that’s just Toronto and London. It’s not important but it matters. I never really thought about it until I had to write a query letter and synopsis.

Lucia is a quadruple threat: dancer, musician, singer- and really great cook. How much of that is you?

But she can’t act and I can’t play an instrument! LOL

I’m addicted to the Food Network and I love cooking. I started to take dance classes when I was four but stopped at fourteen. As for singing, I really kick ass on karaoke nights.

Lucia was born wealthy, but she also works very hard at a couple of different jobs and has her own money. How important is money in her story?

It’s not clearly stated in book one but in book two and three, we find out that all the Riddells have a trust fund but it is only being paid out to them on their 31st birthday. Until then, they all need to work and they all do. The Mpobo-Riddell sisters’ situation is a bit different because of the life insurance money they received for their father. But Lucia refuses to use that money just yet. Noor opened her school with hers and Axelle used her share to raise her sisters with.

As I said in my review, Lucia’s my new hero. But no hero is worth reading unless he or she has a few flaws. What is Lucia’s greatest failing?

Answering this would be a huge spoiler for book two but Alex Sanders is her greatest failing…to date. Book one simply scratches the surface with the song he wrote for her. We get to meet the very famous Alex Sanders in book two and discover another side of Lucia.

You’ve created this sprawling universe of family and friends. Are any of them going to get their own story?

Yes and not only because I like the challenge. Book two will be about Greg and Lucia’s relationship but it will also be about baby boomers and an unexpected new romance…

Who were some of the inspirations for these characters?

Lucia is a mix of myself and my best friend Dima. Lucia’s an Aries like us and her birthday is right between March 23rd and April 2nd. But all the best stories start with Noor, so I split Lucia in two and there was Nooradine her evil older twin sister! They more alike than people might think.

What about your inspirations for the other characters? In other words, where can the rest of Toronto find a hot music producer and a gorgeous choreographer?

I saw a few Gregs in Toronto at the gym and in the clubs, It wasn’t a stretch at all. But with Marcus, I had to completely make him up. I knew exactly how I wanted him to be and look like but I still haven’t found him.  And I’ve been to St John’s Wood, the RAM and Marylebone.

By the way, I loved the homage to all things Korean. What made you decide to incorporate that into your book?

Thank you. Even though one of my best friends is Chinese-Canadian, we’re all in agreement: Koreans are better looking, taller and the food is better! My reasons were purely selfish ones. My friends and I speak in both French and English and we tend to switch the language in the middle of the sentence or a conversation. I thought it would be fun to do the same with Korean and English.

[Interviewer's note: As a Korean-American, I'm flattered, but I should note that I've met plenty of gorgeous and tall Chinese men and women!]

Not to give anything away, but the story starts out with one coupling but by the end she’s moved on. Speaking for myself, I moved on with her. Should we? Or should we still be lingering over Marcus?

I love Marcus but he didn’t get to shine in the first book at all. We didn’t get to see him act when he’s in love. We didn’t meet the real Marcus…yet. In the beginning book two, Marcus and Patrick lose their dad something Lucia and her sisters know a lot about. How will this sudden loss affect him? Also, we know from book one that Marcus is too proud and too stubborn to walk just away from Lucia.

Then you have Greg, almost perfect in every way in book one. But is he really?

When is the sequel? Will we find out there who Lucia chooses?

I’m almost finished with book two This Would Have Been Our Song! Catchy Tunes and Dancers Tales but I want to wait until next spring to release it. Lucia will make her choice but there’s no guarantee that she will stick to it in book three.

Whomever she chooses, he'd better be worthy!