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!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This Could Have Been Our Song: A coulda woulda shoulda ballad... by Danielle-Claude Ngontang Mba

Disclaimer: I know the author, but I am not receiving anything in exchange for this honest review

This novel made me wish I could live in Toronto, dance, produce music, play guitar and bake mouth-watering pastries in under an hour while surrounded by the coolest multi-ethnic cast I have ever read about. In other words, Lucia Mpobo-Riddell is my newest hero.

When we meet Lucia- Luce/Lucita/Lulu- she’s just embarked on what’s going to be a stormy relationship with London-based producer Marcus Grant. Taken together, they’re an interesting study in human potential: Lucia lost both of her parents when she was very young, but she’s taken her grief and channeled it into all of her creative outlets. Marcus, born with an equal amount of talent but blessed with loving parents, has achieved respect in his chosen profession but is still thisclose to being great. The reader quickly understands that it’s Marcus who can’t get out of his own way, but like Lucia- and his family and friends- we’re rooting for him to do the right thing.

Like Lucia’s sisters, I alternated between wanting to punch Marcus, wanting him to make Lucia happy, and wanting him to walk away because he just wasn’t good enough and he’d had his chance. Just when those feelings peaked, in walked the equally compelling (and more accomplished) Greg McMullen. He’s “all that”, and he treats Lucia like gold. But even though I’m squarely on Team Greg, I can understand why Lucia still isn’t entirely done with Marcus. (But here’s hoping she comes to her senses in the sequel!)

As much as I enjoyed Lucia, Marcus and Greg, I also appreciated the large supporting cast, particularly the close knit family members that are like best friends and the best friends who are so close that they're like family. But not everyone is milk and honey: the sins of Lucia's mother and grandmother loom large over the lives of their family members, and it's heartbreaking how much Lucia and especially her sister Noor still pine for their parents' love. While the tone of the novel is mostly adventurous and fun, these reminders ground the piece.

Plenty of humor here, but the funniest line is “I’m taller, my eyes are green and I too speak fluent Korean.” So take that!

Highly recommended.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Art and Success don't have to be either or

When I read Kendall Grey’s blog post (since deleted, but here’s a screenshot), I was aghast. Once again, I don’t want to go too much into the business side of things on this blog, but I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that part of my business strategy is to be gracious and grateful in public for any and all readers I have. My concern about my readers isn’t that they aren’t good enough for me but that they won’t think I’m good enough for them.

Maybe part of this is that I have the opposite problem: for years I tortured myself trying to write something “deep” and “worthy”. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I wanted to write a romance and chick lit novel, but once I did I wrote as if it were, um, my job. (Actually, one of my deepest fears now is that people won’t consider it romantic or chick lit enough.) I didn’t write in these genres because I was trying to make money; I write here because I want to. Hell, a lot of times I want to kick my creative subconscious because it doesn’t want to do erotica, paranormal or YA- you know, the stuff the bookstores are filled with these days. But it doesn’t, and I can’t make it.

And... I am just completely baffled that someone would get upset that they didn’t have any success with three novels that they had out for a year. Really? Because as I understood, the advantage of indie e-publishing is that our stuff is out there forever; we don’t have to hit in a couple of months. We have the luxury of being able to keep writing new things- which is what writers want to do (!)- while we continue to plug our backlist. As with any small business, it’s foolish to expect instant success; if we turn a profit before three years, let’s consider ourselves fortunate.

The other part of what gets under my skin about this attitude- and it’s not just hers- is the denigration of any particular genre. This is just the latest example of someone seeming to believe that if something isn’t “respectable” it can’t be “art” and if something isn’t “high art” it’s not worth considering. Some of the best writers ever take elements from low and high culture and mix them in a way that says something unique about the time they live in.

Take one of my favorite novels: minister sleeps with his married parishioner and gets her pregnant. Instead of claiming the baby, he indulges in a weird and kinky sadomasochistic relationship with the woman’s husband. That’s smut right out of today’s most prurient erotica... but it also happens to be the basic action in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He poached a lot of those plot points from some of seamiest pulp fiction of the 19th century, but the reason we don’t think of it as smut is because he used that action to pin on it themes about sin, redemption, judgment, forgiveness and, perhaps, the endurance of an individual over the regulations of a civilization. Brilliant (and also still one of the best stories I’ve ever read).

Smuttiest classic ever?

What do you want to bet that some of those pulp fiction readers also read Hawthorne’s work, and not just because they liked the implied prurience?

Publishing- even self-publishing- is a business that’s about both money and art. If we make a decision to go after one in a way that we feel is at the expense of the other, that’s something we have to make ourselves comfortable with (and not bitch about in public). But if we want both- if we want more- it’s our job to figure out how to get there. And if we’re creative enough, we will.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Smartest Girl in the Room is now available in paperback!

Aww yeah!

Now, every author is going to be excited about getting their work into paperback (well, most), but I am particularly excited because I went through four proof cycles. I just kept finding something, and while rounds two and three were minor (I'd probably be forgiven for an errant period and a couple of extra prepositions in the dedication), but they would have tormented me. Also, even though this has been through multiple beta-readers and my editor, I know someone is going to find something else. As I said in a forum last night, I have found typos in the classics, and I am betting that Euripides had some too, you know? But because I am self-published, any error of mine is magnified by a factor of one thousand and proof that we're all amateur-hack-charlatans, so I have to eliminate the most glaring ones.

So you know, some of the corrections I needed to make were also in the electronic copy, aka the one I imagine I'm going to sell more of. Those changes have already been updated electronically. If you bought before yesterday (May 15, 2013), please let me know and I will be happy to send you a clean copy.

So, without further ado, here is the link to the CreateSpace page where you can now buy my paperback. (The link to Amazon proper should be live in a few days.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to figure out how to get my book into the libraries :-)

Monday, May 6, 2013

When an author isn't promoting...

She's editing, proofing, coming up with new ideas, writing and formatting. Not necessarily in that order.

Today there was a little bit of most of that, but I'll spare you the gory details. Two pieces of news worth sharing: first, I finally went through the proof of my paperback copy and am now waiting on version two. This, I hope, is just a formality; hopefully by Friday I'll be announcing that the paperback is ready for sale- and distribution to libraries. Woot!

The second bit of news is that my editor just got the first round of changes to me for The Family You Choose. That's a big woot woot!

Never fear though: there will be more guest posts soon. AND The Smartest Girl in the Room will be available for free download this weekend. Woot woot woot!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chick Lit And Romance- it isn't either or

My latest stop on my "Careful You Don't Outsmart Yourself" blog tour is on Every Free Chance. Here I discuss why The Smartest Girl in the Room is both Chick Lit and Romance.

There's a certain group of people that sees both Romance and Chick Lit under the umbrella of Women's Fiction and won't understand why someone would make a distinction in the first place. At the other end of the spectrum are purists who will insist that any given story can be either one or the other. What I'm hoping is that most readers will fall into the category I do: genre is irrelevant as long as it's a good story.

After I decided to self-publish, I spent a long time trying to decide which genre my stories fell into. When I first started writing The Smartest Girl in the Room, I set out to write a romance. Everything in my novel is pinned onto the basic structure of one: Emily meets Mitch, Emily and Mitch come together, apart, then together again, then Emily and Mitch get their Happily Ever After (HEA). So Romance, right?
Yes, but there is a lot that happens otherwise, and that action focuses on Emily’s journey into adulthood. Not incidentally, her friends are a huge part of her story. And if she’s going to get into any trouble... let’s just say that while even arguing with her romantic rival would be beneath her, she doesn’t think twice about taking on someone who hurt one of her friends, no matter how risky. That, to me, says Chick Lit.

Please read the rest here.