26 August 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW with MALLA DUNCAN




Malla Duncan
This morning on The Perfect Plot, it gives me great pleasure to welcome, Malla Duncan, author of the comedy, mystery thriller, FAT CHANCE.
Good morning, Malla.  Thank you for being here with us today.
MALLA: Thank you, Jill, for inviting me on your wonderful blog. I’m honoured and excited to be here! 
 










Malla, before we get into talking about books and writing, I thought you might like to tell us something about your beautiful home city of Cape Town in South Africa.
Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain
MALLA: Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful cities because of our iconic mountain right in the middle. I have lived in its shadow all my life and it still takes my breath away. We’re also lucky to have wonderful, world-famous beaches around Cape Town and rolling vineyards in surrounding valleys, producing a notable range of good wines. The climate is temperate – with winter/summer temperatures rarely below 10C or above 30C.   

This is the east face of Table Mountain near where I live





It's breathtaking scenery, Malla.  Wonderful beaches, fine wines and not too hot or too cold.
 













Malla, you’re a prolific writer not only of adult mystery and suspense, but you also write fantasy for children and a series called Miki. Your most recently released book is FAT CHANCE.  Please tell us about it.
 MALLA: ‘Fat Chance’ came about because I had begun to wonder if I needed a new genre to spark up my writing but also to give me a new challenge. Originally, it was supposed to have pudding recipes to go with each dead body but as the book progressed it took on a different tone and I found the murder mystery becoming more intriguing than the food aspect. I suspect being more of a thriller writer than a cook played a part in this.



Fat Chance transports the reader to the beautiful Italian coast of Amalfi.  I’ve never been there, but as I read Fat Chance, your description was so good that I now feel that I have.  What made you choose this setting?
MALLA: It’s an interesting question because I have no idea why I chose that setting. Perhaps because it was so unlikely as a backdrop to serial killing. Everything in ‘Fat Chance’ is colourful and a little off-centre, from the larger than life characters to the murder weapon – all designed to fit with the humorous slant on a rather serious murder mystery. I visited the Amalfi coast some years ago and the impressions never left me. So vivid memories were the catalyst, supported by some backup research on Internet.

Your main character is Marsha.  Can you tell us about her?
MALLA: I think for writers, explaining how their characters come about is difficult. It’s an instinctive thing. From the moment I envisaged Marsha, she was whole and complete. I knew her name immediately, saw her clearly as dark-haired, large, beautiful, late 40’s – a strong character but with all those human weaknesses that make up the intricate pattern of real life. Through all the crazy, frightening, hilarious things that take place in ‘Fat Chance’ Marsha remains the most connected element to reality. She is insecure, over-anxious, slightly neurotic – but also passionate, honest, loyal and a true friend.

Marsha is everything you describe.  She's a wonderful character.
Is there a message in Fat Chance that you want your readers to grasp?
Yes, there is a message. I deliberately made my main female characters fat not to ridicule them, but to celebrate their femininity, individuality and strength of character despite not fitting to society’s expectations of what is supposed to be attractive in the female form. We are obsessed with thinness, glorifying appearance above all the other extraordinary things that women are and can be. I’m heartily sick of society’s judgments on how women should look – from corsets to our modern diet-hypnotised society.  Against this, I made Marsha (the stronger character) the weaker in regard to self-confidence, and Milly the more assured, without any qualms about her size. Of the two, notably, Milly is the happier person.
 
Mmm.  Milly is happy.  She just goes with the flow, as they say.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
MALLA: The most challenging thing about writing a novel is finishing it. There are few writers out there who are so clean-cut that they do not have some unfinished work lying in a drawer. I have many unfinished novels that I nose over from time to time and then promptly start something new. Writing is a solitary occupation and the first difficulty is always finding the time. The second difficulty is giving up the time that could be spent with family and friends and just plain being ‘normal’. Writing can make you a little weird, a little ‘disconnected’ and you have to remember that not everyone is having as much fun in their heads as you are.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
MALLA: Writer’s block is common. And the solutions are as individual as there are writers. It can cause depression but often stems from depression. Writers as a group are generally prone to depression because we are always looking for something – that intangible little perfection that is never quite with us but almost, almost within sight. It’s very frustrating. For me, trying to force my way through writer’s block doesn’t work. I usually need a change of scene – maybe a walk or a drive to the sea. Take a notebook and jot down thoughts – that can help. But most often I find not thinking about it is best. Then, from nowhere – while you’re standing mournfully in a supermarket queue or the shower – the answer arrives. And it’s usually so clear, you can’t figure out why you never thought of it before.  

   
 What is your work in progress WIP?
MALLA: If you like history, mystery, madness and a touch of horror and the paranormal, keep an eye out for ‘Midnight Gods’. No promises on deadline. 
 
Do you feel you write mysteries that appeal more to men or women?
MALLA: I usually term my thrillers as ‘women’s thrillers’ but they can just as easily be read by men. I don’t dwell too much on romance but rather the mystery. But the story is always told from a woman’s point of view: how she feels and how she would react. I find you can do so much more with fear from a woman’s perspective. For instance, if a man is alone in a dark house and hears a noise he’s much more likely to get up and march around importantly brandishing a gun. A woman may not have gun – but regardless, she will be more stealthy, hiding, disguising, searching for escape or possible weapons, locks and keys, all while the threat creeps closer. It’s much more frightening and way more interesting.

 Where do you get your ideas for your plots and does it require much research?
MALLA: Ideas come from anywhere – it’s inexplicable really because you might not be thinking of writing at all when a comment or a setting will flicker in your mind and suddenly you sense you are with other people. Then of course, you need to find out who they are. I’m a pantser writer – I write from the seat of my pants. I have no idea sometimes of exactly how a story will develop. Sometimes I have introduced a character and have no idea why – only to find that he or she is ultimately vital to the resolution of the plot. For me, writing is a journey, an adventure filled with possibility and a range of creative outcomes.
 
Do you have any suggestions or writing tips for those who want to venture into writing fiction?
MALLA: Tenacity, patience and unfailing optimism. Read the writers you admire, study their style and structure, get a feel for how they do it. Then write. Always write. It’s a craft like any other and improves with practice. If you have the persistence in you, you will find no other occupation has quite the same compulsion or satisfaction. 
 
Do you feel book blogs play an important role in marketing your books?
MALLA: I would say that in this new ebook age, blogs play a role like any other social media. They are another tool for people to note your name and your work. Are they crucial to success? I have no idea. There are some good bloggers out there who are entertaining and build a following, but do we know for sure that this translates into book sales? Guess the jury is still out on that.
 
Printed books versus e-books… which format do you prefer to read?
MALLA: Both. I still love the feel of a paper book in my hands, to run my hand over the cover and smell that paper! But ebooks are also fabulous – a touch of a button et voila! Without moving from your chair. Definitely the pattern of a technological future.

 What one how-to write book is a must on your bookshelf? Why?
MALLA: Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. No question.
 
The publishing world has undergone a tremendous change in recent times.  What one thing about the self-publishing process surprised you the most?
MALLA: The tidal wave of writers that it has unleashed, the new hope it has given to writers who may never have opened that publishing door, no matter how good their work. And the fact that readers at last are making the choices of what they’d like to read – and the results of that have rocked the publishing world to the core. 

Malla, it's been marvellous having you here with us today.  Thank you.  Where can readers learn more about you and find your books on the web?
MALLA: Thank you, Jill. I’ve so enjoyed this interview. Thank you for such interesting questions. I would be delighted to meet more readers and writers – and you can find me in all the usual places. My books are on all major sites: Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Apple and Sony.

Amazon page: http://tiny.cc/40hs0w

Smashwords page: http://tiny.cc/4jdb2w



Twitter: @MallaDuncan


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 Malla Duncan lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She writes contemporary psychological mystery suspense thrillers, comedy thrillers, fantasy for children and books aimed at African children (the Miki series) but suitable for all readers. Her background includes a BA in Psychology & Communications (UNISA), Business Management (IMM) and Counselling I (SA College of Applied Psychology). A 20-year career in copywriting in advertising sees her with a well-honed turn of phrase and a touch of madness. If you enjoy a mix of romance, murder, mystery and suspense, you will enjoy her thrillers.
  

BOOK REVIEW - by Jill Paterson

Fat Chance by Malla Duncan, is a comedy murder mystery that tells the story of two, middle-aged, English women, Marsha and Milly, as  they set out to visit Marsha’s friend Betty, who resides on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy.  Their hopes for a marvellous relaxing holiday in the sun are dashed on their arrival, however, when they find that Betty is missing, believed dead!  Is she the latest victim of a serial killer?

While Marsha reinvents herself as a sleuth in an effort to find Betty, Milly falls madly in love with an Italian chocolate maker, and so begins a rollicking mystery filled with unsuspecting twists and turns along with a diverse array of wonderful characters.

This delightful, witty story moves at a spirited pace, with Malla Duncan’s talent for description transporting the reader not only to the warmth and beauty of the Amalfi Coast, but into the middle of a great mystery.




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17 August 2013

WRITING A SYNOPSIS



If you plan to pitch your book to an agent or publisher, you will need a synopsis.  Even if you plan to self publish, I believe it’s a worthwhile exercise to write a synopsis because it will make clear in your mind, in a concise manner, your complete story.

Don’t confuse a synopsis with a‘book blurb’, because they are two different things.

A book blurb is a snapshot of your story, written to catch a potential readers eye - enticing, but not giving the story away.

A synopsis is a prĂ©cis (summary) of your complete story, written with a publisher or agent in mind.  It encompasses the main conflict, the plots twists and turns, and the final resolution.  It’s length can be anything from one to ten pages depending on the length of the book.  My own have been up to two pages in length.  Following is the first paragraph of one of them:-


JAMES WEARING, a forty-five year old archaeologist, returns to Sydney in the knowledge his brother, ALEX, an eminent professor, has been murdered.  At the same time, a Celtic dagger, gold torque and a ring are reported missing from the University of Sydney where Alex and James work.  When James finds the dagger in his office and it is later found to be the murder weapon, he becomes, CHIEF INSPECTOR FITZJOHN’S, prime suspect.  James sets about to find his brother’s killer and to prove his innocence.

A synopsis is written in the present tense, focusing on the main character while mentioning secondary characters and sub-plots in passing.  It has all relevant elements of your story without telling the whole story, but enough to enable a publisher and/or agent, to assess your work.

There are many books to be found on writing a synopsis like this one  THE DREADED SYNOPSIS by Elizabeth Sinclair.

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5 August 2013

WRITING A BOOK - Are You An Outliner or a Pantser?



I’d have to say that I’m a Pantser at heart.  I start working from an initial idea and see where it takes me.  Having said that however, and because I write murder/mysteries, I do keep a time line of all my characters so that I can see where they were when the murder(s) happened.  And because I’m writing a series, I also keep a character table to remind me of my continuing characters specific details.  It doesn’t do for their hair to change colour or suddenly lose 100 pounds between page 20 and page 184.

Being a Pantser, though, can lead to problems.  I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that, when I start out writing a book, I know the beginning of my story and I know the end BUT I haven’t got a clue what happens in the middle.

And that’s why, when I came across this web site, Easy Novel Outline, I decided to give outlining a try.  It’s also the most interesting explanation on outlining a book that I’ve found and that's why I decided to share it with you.

So, you ask, what were my results?  Well, in the end I’m now convinced that I am a Pantser, but having said that, I think there is a place for some outlining in my writing process.  I say that because after following the eight steps set out in this website, I found that it helped me to gather my thoughts that up until then had been dancing around in my brain, and put them into some coherent order, the effect being that I was able to see my way forward.

 Are you an outliner, a pantser, or a bit of both?

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