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Books With Buzz: Meredith Duran Interview and Giveaway (Contest Closed)

wicked becomes youWe’ve been buzzing around AAR for some time now about Meredith Duran, one of the rising stars of historical romance.  It started with Duke of Shadows in 2008 and continued into a blockbuster 2009 with Bound By Your Touch (my favorite by the author and one of many AAR readers as well, considering the results of our 2010 Annual Reader Poll) and Written On Your Skin.  On April 27 Wicked Becomes You, her newest release, hits stores and we’re already celebrating with this short interview with the author and by offering our readers a chance to win one of five copies of the book, courtesy of the publisher.

To enter for your chance to win, just comment to this post by Thursday, April 8th at 11:59 p.m., eastern time. The five winners will be selected at random from all entries and announced here on Friday. The usual caveats apply:  This contest is designed to get early copies of the book into the hands of readers who wouldn’t otherwise have access, so if you review for another Web site or blog, please don’t enter.  Due to high postage costs, this contest is open only to readers in the U.S. and Canada.

But first, sit back, relax, and enjoy the interview.

Meredith, let’s start with the official BwB Opening Question: Would you tell our readers a bit about Wicked Becomes You?

Gwen Maudsley is the nicest girl in London — but push a nice girl one too many times, and she may just snap. When a dramatic public demonstration proves to Gwen that nice is no longer working, she decides, from sheer desperation, to try a different approach: she’ll be wicked instead.

Problem is, Gwen has spent her entire life trying to please others; she has no idea how to cut loose and live for herself. This is where our hero steps in. Alex Ramsey lives by his own rules. He has a bad reputation and nurses a total indifference to what society thinks of him. To Gwen, he seems like the perfect tutor for an experiment in independent living.

But to her surprise, Alex doesn’t prove as cooperative as she expected. Little does she know that she’s now enacting Alex’s worst nightmare. For years he has tried to avoid Gwen and his reluctant attraction to her.

Now she’s out to disown everything – rules, manners, mores, her own virtue – that he counted on to keep them apart. If she’d only stay safely in London, he could comfortably continue to ignore her. But when she sets off in search of adventure, she becomes his problem – one that he can no longer ignore.

I very much enjoyed your heroine, Gwen – a woman who has completely subjugated herself to conforming to exactly what Society expects her to be with an inner wanton just dying to get out. After all, being nice all the time is not easy. Not to even mention that women will feel instant sympathy for her…well, let’s call it public humiliation. Twice. What do you like most about her?

You know, Gwen is the first of my heroines who would be great to have on speed-dial for late-night gossip sessions. Lydia would probably feel duty-bound to chide you for gossiping, Emma would just find it tedious, and you couldn’t trust Mina not to record the conversation for her own future purposes. (Ha. Oh, Mina.) But while Gwen would never say anything unkind about someone, you could trust her to laugh at your jokes and sympathize with your predicaments. She’s just…kind. And my greatest challenge in writing her – and I think and hope I achieved it – was to create a heroine who *is* genuinely nice without being a doormat.

Also, after two heroines (in Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin) who were acutely aware of their own hang-ups, it was wildly freeing to write about a woman who has tragedies in her past, but refuses to dwell on or be defined by them – consciously, at any rate.

meredith-duranAnd let’s turn the tables a bit. What did you like most about hero Alexander?

When I was writing the book, I found an image that spoke very strongly to me of Alex: a man is reaching out toward a piece on a chessboard. His other hand is covering his eyes as he twists his face and body away from the game. This is Alex in a nutshell. Every time he steps in to fix some mess created by the people he loves, he’s caught between impatience at their stupidity and impatience at his *own* stupidity for wasting his precious time on this nonsense. If he could figure out a way to chuck his conscience and forget about emotional ties, he’d take that opportunity in a heartbeat – or so he tells himself. Family and love are too complicated, too burdensome, and they yield very few tangible rewards; from a rational standpoint, they aren’t wise investments, in his view.

So, he’s one of those classic, reluctant heroes: he really doesn’t want to be a stand-up guy. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that he is one. I found his struggle against his own better nature to be very seductive – and very interesting to write.

This book feels almost deceptively light to me because despite the fact that the story is quite a romp, it’s also emotionally intense. How difficult is that to achieve?

I think the characters dictate the feel of any narrative, and this book feels lighter because neither Alex nor Gwen are inclined to, or comfortable with, angst. In their own ways, they both demand a great deal of themselves: ruthless efficiency; serene good cheer. Failure to deliver this makes them impatient with themselves.

But because of their respective histories, the act of falling in love – that is, into real, deep, passionate, abiding love – ultimately forces them to acknowledge and confront some very old and painful issues that they’ve both been working very hard to ignore. Indeed, they continue to ignore these issues as long as they possibly can, and this effort, on both their parts, lends the narrative a breezy feel even as it becomes more and more evident that a major implosion is on the way.

In short: it wasn’t so difficult to achieve this balance between “light” and “emotionally intense” with these particular characters. However, had I tried to write another book – Lydia and Sanburne’s, say – as a breezy romp with serious undercurrents, I’d have run into major trouble.

In our interview last year you said that characters drive your stories and that you don’t really write in terms of themes or goals – but they seem to happen anyway. So, in retrospect, what’s the theme of Wicked Becomes You?

I’d say the theme of Wicked is courage. In their disparate ways, Alex and Gwen are both risk-averse. They want to calculate the odds and be assured of the reward before they take the leap. They each have good reasons for feeling this way. Ultimately, though, the most rewarding risks we take in life – like putting our hearts on the line, or making commitments that can’t be broken – come without guarantees.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about the RITAs. A lot of us were expecting to see your name in the 2010 nominations and, alas, it wasn’t there. A difficult question I know, but are you disappointed?

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be nominated for a RITA by their peers? But as always, the competition was stiff, and there are some fantastic books nominated in the historical category. I was particularly thrilled to see Not Quite a Husband on the list!

More generally speaking – books are completely subjective experiences. There’s no book ever written that someone didn’t love, and no book ever to be written that someone won’t discard with a shrug. I believe, with a gut-deep conviction, that both reactions, no matter the book, are equally correct, because the reader’s individual reaction is the only measure that matters. This is a pretty useful belief; it allows me a certain emotional distance from my books, once they’re out in the world. It’s also the reason I tend to absent myself from discussions of my books online. Sometimes, from listening to such discussions, I can learn things. But there’s an intimate relationship formed between a book and its reader in which I, the author, have no place whatsoever.

And here we go with our Official BwB Closer: What’s next for Meredith Duran?

Another historical in 2011. Probably angsty. You’ve been warned!

I am tingling with anticipation – I love angst!

Remember, to enter for your chance to win, just comment to this post by Thursday, April 8th at 11:59 p.m., eastern time. The five winners will be selected at random from all entries and announced here on Friday.

– Sandy AAR

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