Friday, October 2, 2009

Interview with author G. M. Malliet

Our guest today, G. M. Malliet, is the author of DEATH OF A COZY WRITER - Agatha Award Winner; Anthony and Macavity Nominee for Best First Novel; Left Coast Crime Nominee for Best Police Procedural; David Nominee for Best Novel. IPPY Award Silver Medalist (Mystery/Suspense/ Thriller) and was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Books of 2008. It’s my pleasure to welcome Ms. Malliet and to introduce her to our Murder By 4 readers.

MS: As a mystery author myself, I know how excited you must be to share the news about DEATH OF A COZY WRITER with our readers so let's start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

GM: May I first congratulate you on being a 2009 IPPY finalist, and also congratulate the writers of your blog for being honored by Writer's Digest! That is extremely impressive, as there is so much competition out there. Not unlike trying to get published (notice that smooth segue)?

My writing journey was beset with setbacks, delays, and rejections over a period of years. Sometimes agents would reject DEATH OF A COZY WRITER twice, either because I’d forget and submit twice by accident, or because they wanted to make sure the book stayed darn well rejected, I’m not sure. However, COZY WRITER, eventually published by a small press (Midnight Ink), went on to win the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and has been nominated for several other awards, most currently the Anthony and Macavity. This is my way of saying do NOT let anyone get you down if you’ve written a book you believe, with all your heart, has an audience. If you’re delusional, that’s one thing, but loving your chosen genre is another.

MS: Thank you! So let's talk about DEATH OF A COZY WRITER. Why this book? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?

GM: I wrote the kind of book I like to read—the books from the Golden Age of mysteries, especially Agatha Christie’s. I hope to entertain readers and I really have no loftier goal than that.

MS: Please tell us a bit about your protagonist, Chief Inspector Arthur St. Just.

GM: St. Just is simply a decent, incorruptible, smart, and caring cop who wants to see justice done. He really has few quirks to speak of, apart from not suffering fools gladly.

MS: I’ve read several of the reviews posted on your website. Nearly all compare your writing to several of our favorite authors like Christie, Sayers, and Allingham to name a few. Publishers Weekly describes your writing as, “… stylish English detective work.” Another reviewer wrote, “Although G.M. Malliet has written a book reminiscent of Dame Agatha Christie’s mysteries, Death of a Cozy Writer has a decidedly modern feel to it.” How do you feel about these comparisons and what challenges do you face in maintaining your style of writing?
GM: I admire all the writers mentioned, but to be compared with Dame Agatha is more than I could ever have hoped for. I don’t think her ability to keep us guessing has ever been surpassed.

MS: Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, of your novel.

GM: The cozy writer of the title is a successful author but a horrible, selfish man who delights in tormenting his grown children, all of whom are hugely dysfunctional and/or unpleasant people as a result of his mistreatment. He especially likes to change his will, to keep them all on their toes. Then he announces he is going to remarry, and changes his will one time too often…

MS: How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?

GM: I’ve always been a fan of stately homes and castles, so research consisted largely of pawing through the household collection of coffee table books on the subject. Apart from that, as an American writing mainly about the British, I have to remember to write “mobile” rather than “cell phone”—things like that. I lived in England for several years, travel there often, and am an unapologetic Anglophile, all of which helps.

MS: What do you find the most difficult part of writing and what do you do to overcome it?

GM: You don’t really want to get me started on this subject, do you? I will seize on any distraction at all, anything whatsoever, to avoid writing. A pulled thread on my sweater, for example, might occupy me for hours until it’s repaired or the sweater destroyed. I have yet to overcome this tendency to waste time in foolish ways. I guess at some point I just get fed up even with myself and say, “For heaven’s sake, will you just write something today?” I also like to sneak up on the actual writing by writing scenes out of order—just little things or bits of action as they occur to me. If I thought of the process as starting from a blank Page One, I would completely freeze up.

MS: I had to smile at your response only because you could have written this about me or several other fellow writers. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?

GM: See the above! I promise myself I will sit at my desk for “X” hours a day, five or six days a week. How I spend my time there, as I’ve mentioned, is highly questionable. But even I get so bored that writing looks good in comparison with sitting about sharpening pencils or compulsively looking to see what’s going on over at Facebook.

MS: What impact would you say completing DEATH OF A COZY WRITER has had on you personally and on your writing?

GM: In terms of making me realize that I can complete a book, it has helped only a little: I am still afraid every time. It has affected people around me when they’re told I’m a published author, though. They sort of look at me expectantly, as if I’m going to whip out a notebook right there and then and scribble out a poem by way of demonstration, or quote Cicero at them. Because I write purportedly humorous books, I think there is also an expectation I might launch into some sort of comic standup routine. But the truth is any “funny bits” generally arrive only after hours of thinking and shifting words around on a page. We are in a very strange business in terms of people’s perceptions.

MS: I couldn't agree with you more on people's perceptions. Who then has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?

GM: My high school and college teachers. God bless them all—too many to name.

MS: With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?

GM: I imagine a few characters, and from their quirks, attitudes, and fears comes the plot. I don’t tend to write the first sentence or chapter first, or even until I’m a good way into writing other parts of the story. As I’ve mentioned, I approach writing in a sideways, crab-like fashion, trying to kid myself that I’m not actually writing, just making notes.

MS: What are you working on now? What's next?

GM: The second St. Just book came out in July (DEATH AND THE LIT CHICK), and the third will be out in January 2010 (DEATH AT THE ALMA MATER). I am working on a new series set in England that features an amateur sleuth.

MS: Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

GM: Just the bit about not giving up. If I had been younger, I think I might have given up on St. Just after a few rejections—not just because rejection feels bad, but because you start thinking this whole business is just too hard and frustrating to deal with. But I’d read enough mysteries and had participated in enough industry events, Listserves, and so on, to believe strongly that my type of traditional mystery had a fairly large audience—those readers were out there somewhere, enough of them to make publishing a “Golden Age”-type mystery worth a publisher’s while. It helps to be stubborn, but it really helps to know the books you yourself love to read.

About the author:

G.M. Malliet is a former journalist and copywriter. Winner of the Agatha Award for DEATH OF A COZY WRITER, which initially won the Malice Domestic grant, Malliet attended Oxford University and holds a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, the setting for the St. Just mysteries. The Agatha Award honors books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.Death of a Cozy Writer was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Books of 2008. It has been nominated for the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award (best first novel), the 2009 Left Coast Crime/Hawaii Five-O Award (best police procedural), and has been awarded a Silver Medal IPPY (best mystery/suspense/thriller). It has also been nominated for a David Award for Best Mystery Novel.The second book in the St. Just series is DEATH AND THE LIT CHICK (April 2009), which received a starred review from both Publishers Weekly and the American Library Association's Booklist. Malliet and her husband live in Virginia.


Marta Stephens said...

Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you for Murder By 4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your responses and getting a bit of insight into your writing life.
You mentioned people's perception of what it’s like to be a writer. I’ve talked to several groups of readers and they’re always amazed at the struggle I encounter with my writing. They’re even more surprised to know that I do the grocery shopping and laundry too. LOL

I love this quote: “… the truth is any “funny bits” generally arrive only after hours of thinking and shifting words around on a page.” I spoke to a book club this week and was thrilled when one of the women in the group interrupted me to read her favorite line from one of my books. I ate it up with a spoon—can’t pay for that type of “advertising,” but … if she only knew how long it took to get that line right.

s.w. vaughn said...

Great interview! And your book sounds really fun. I'll have to check it out!

Kim Smith said...

Thank you for being with us on Mb4 today and for your wonderful words of encouragement. Rejection stinks but it helps to know that there is a life for a book after such. And my! Your book sounds awesome. It is now on my to-be-bought list :)

P.W. Dowdy said...

Sitting on the sidelines whle two wonderful writers chatted was such fun for me. And you both inspired me to click away at my keyboard...more earnestly.

Thanks MB4!

Marta Stephens said...

Hey, PW! Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed meeting our guest. :)

G.M. Malliet said...

Marta - is it not a strange experience to have someone quote your words back at you? I find it eerie, especially since I've by that time long forgotten I ever wrote whatever it is.

s.w. and Kim - thank you so much!

P.W. - It made my day to know I might have inspired someone to keep at it. Best of luck!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

GM - sorry I'm here late, been babysitting my little granddaughter. ;o) I, too, grew up on Agatha and her peers. It's wonderful to learn about your books, I will definitely check them out! Thanks for guest blogging with us today, and come back soon!