Interview with author M.J. Duncan

Who or what inspired your latest novel Heist?

 

A tumblr post, actually. There was an article in Smithsonian Magazineabout a wealthy collector known as “The Astronomer” who hired thieves to break into a London warehouse to steal rare books for them. My Muse took that idea and added, “Let’s add lesbians!” so yeah. That was how it all started.

 

Who or what inspired you to start writing?

 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Mostly short stories, like most kids who dabble with words, but I wrote my first novel when I was still in high school. It was a totally cringe-worthy attempt at becoming the next Patricia Cornwell—whose stuff I was obsessedwith at the time—but it was words on the screen of a brick of a laptop and I was quite proud of it at the time. I then went on to become a Creative Writing major in college, which meant I got to write a lot of words and learn a lot of B.S. theories about what makes “good” writing that I completely ignored. Then life happened and writing kind of took a back seat for a while, and I eventually fell back into it with fanfiction. That was great because I was playing in someone else’s sandbox and could just refocus on finding my voice again, and then I eventually thought “why not?” and started working on Second Chances.

 

Who is your favorite character from your books and why?

 

God, that’s like asking me which child I love the most! I love all of my characters for different reasons, but I’m definitely the most attached to Bryn Nakamura from Spectrum.Her whole path-to-self-acceptance/awareness very much mirrors my own, so I feel very protective of her in a way that I don’t with my other characters who all start their stories knowing that very important part of themselves.

 

How do you approach writing a new storyline?

 

Most start with an idea for a particular scene. For Heist, it was that first robbery in Paris. Characters are next, because my stories are all very character-driven. I’m not a fan of drama, I avoid confrontation like the plague in real life, and to me the “real” story is the two characters falling in love—everything else is just shit that happens to them in the course of that journey. Anyway, once I have the characters, I come up with a very, very rough idea for the arc of a story that feeds into/incorporates that scene I mentioned above, and then I start researching the shit out of everything about the world/careers/lives of my characters that I don’t know. Honestly, this is my favorite part of the process. I love learning new things and putting them to use to make my stories (hopefully) more believable, but then when the story is done I can move onto something new. Once I feel like I have a working-knowledge of everything important, I cobble together something that looks like at least the skeleton of actual story arc in Scrivener and start hacking away at it all.

 

 

Where do your inspirations for characters and their lives come from?

 

I know I said my characters drive my stories, but the story also dictates what I will need from each character to make the whole thing work. In Heist, for example, I needed Parker to have a reason to know the less-than-honorable skills that she knows, as well as a reason to have to use them. The key points in Sheridan’s personality were born of the same need—she had to have a reason to resist falling for Parker. Everything else, all the little details and quirks that make them real, flow from there as the story progresses.

 

Where is your favorite place to write?

 

I have a great little office in the basement, but I do pretty much all my writing at the kitchen island because my dog Hunter doesn’t like going downstairs (he’s a big dude, 140 pounds, so he’s not exactly built to manage stairs). Every time I do try to go downstairs to work, he’ll grudgingly follow me down there, rest his head on the desk so he’s staring at me, and cry until I give up and go back to the kitchen. At this point, I’ve basically given up on using the office, but maybe someday I’ll get back to it. Or maybe not. It really is convenient working right next to the kettle and snacks.

 

What is your writing process?

 

Besides what I said already? It’s pretty much: open Scrivener, look at where I left off the day before, and try like hell to hit my word count goal for the day. Oh!, and try to not get distracted with shiny new ideas. Some people can have multiple projects working, but I’ve found that I work best focusing on one story at a time.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

 

I’m definitely getting better at plotting chapters for the story. I went at Second Chanceswithout any kind of a plan besides getting Mac and Charlie together and pretty much just winged the whole thing, but I’ve learned to see the helpfulness of actually planning further ahead. Switching from Word to Scrivener helped with this, too.

 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

 

Definitely Scrivener. It’s seriously the best large-project writing program I’ve ever come across.

 

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?

 

I honestly treasure every nice comment anyone has ever said about my work. But the messages I treasure the most are the ones where people reach out to tell me that a particular character touched them in some way. Writing is a very solitary process for the most part, so whenever I get a message like that it’s like, “Okay, I’ve done something good.”

 

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

 

I don’t know if there is one book that has really influenced my life. Or, at least, there isn’t one that immediately comes to mind that I can point to and say, “Yes, that one.”

 

Do you have any new books coming out? If so, what are they about?

 

Eventually, yes. I am still working on finishing up my latest story, Pas de Deux, but my goal is to have it out in March. It’s another LONG one, though, so we’ll see if I can swing it. *sighs* I really need to learn how to write shorter stories. Anyway, it’s a kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Symphony in Blue.Kinda-sorta in that it’s in the same universe, but not-really because this time the story is about Mallory moving past everything that went down in Symphonyand finding her happily ever after. There are two people in every failed relationship and two different stories about how the relationship got to that point, and while she was painted as the necessary villain in Gwen’s story, she wasn’t in her own and I hated leaving her where I did.

 

How do you take your coffee?

 

Like Maeve Dylan, I prefer my coffee to not taste anything like coffee. Usually a splash of flavored creamer (it’s peppermint mocha season!) and milk is enough, but I’ve also done the hot chocolate mix thing that I gave to Maeve.

Author: melzie88

Secondary education major specializing in English, book blogger, puppy mom.

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