The Wayback on Wednesday: An Interview with Meredith Duran

published on June 9th, 2009

Three of AAR’s publishers are buzzing – literally – about Bound by Your Touch, Meredith Duran’s new historical novel to be released at the end of June.

Here’s what Blythe had to say:  “For me, it’s all about the hero – he was completely delicious. The book is just plain encouraging; sometimes it’s easy to think all the really good books have been written already, and there’s nothing else out there.”

Here’s what I (Sandy) say:  I devoured this novel in a  kind of giddy frenzy. The hero is one of the sexiest and most seductive I’ve ever come across and the heroine forthright, likable, sympathetic, and believably damaged.  Bound by Your Touch is one of the best – the very best – historical romances I’ve ever read.

As for Rachel…well, you’ll just have to wait for her upcoming review.  But I think it’s fair to say that she liked it!  She really liked it!

What makes this universal buzz (Lynn hasn’t yet had a chance to read the book) unusual is that we’re all very different readers with very different tastes. I simply can’t recall the last time we’ve had this kind of consensus. Which means, I think, that we have a remarkable book on our hands.

And, to make the good news even better, the incredible Bound by Your Touch will be followed with another release in August, Written on Your Skin.

The talented and time-challenged Meredith Duran (she was also preparing for the oral defense of her dissertation at the time we were putting this together) patiently answered a few of my questions.

We’re very excited about this one.  I hope after reading this interview, you will be, too.

Sandy: First of all Meredith, confession time: I loved Bound by Your Touch so very much that I haven’t yet read Written on Your Skin. (What can I say? It’s a weird “I don’t want it to be over thing” I sometimes have.) So, confession behind me, let’s get started with the official Books with Buzz Opening Question: Could you tell us a bit about Bound by Your Touch? And, without giving too much away, what readers can expect from your August release, Written on Your Skin?

Meredith: I’d been toying for a while with writing the tale of a cynical Prince Charming who falls in love with the Ugly Duckling. What resulted was Bound by Your Touch. James Durham, Viscount Sanburne, seems to live in a golden world. Always at the center of the crowd, widely adored despite his own best efforts to scandalize, he can do as he pleases and face no consequences for it. London will still adore him in the morning.

Lydia, on the other hand, is the proverbial outsider—an acknowledged spinster, overshadowed completely by her two beautiful sisters.She clings to the rules that James delights in breaking, if only because they seem to offer her safety. And, as she so often and sternly tells herself, she values mind over matter.Pretty looks and popularity hold no meaning for her.

When a certain fraudulent antiquity sets these two onto a collision course, Lydia is horrified to discover that she might be wrong about herself, because James—flashy and bottomless as a butterfly—is nevertheless frighteningly attractive to her. James, meanwhile, is thoroughly amused by how much the spinster intrigues him. Is this some strange new perversity that’s surfacing in him, that leads him to fixate on a stiff-necked, over-educated bluestocking? Ever hopeful, he decides to explore the question by pursuing her.

What neither can predict is the strange empathy that springs up between them. James has spent the last few years deliberately attempting to wreck his own life; Lydia has spent these years focusing all her passion into her scholarly work. But the roles they play have begun to suffocate them. In each other, they come face to face, for the first time, with someone who sees them as they truly are. This is not a comfortable experience for either of them. But it certainly makes for steam and fireworks!

Written on Your Skin marks a shift in tone—from spinster to femme fatale, and from reckless libertine to cool-tempered spy.The story opens in Hong Kong.Mina, who has mastered the art of hiding desperation behind batting lashes and a pretty smile, discovers that her stepfather’s houseguest is not who he says he is.In fact, Phin Granville secretly works for the British government.Dragged against his will into an international game of espionage, he has long since given up on prospect of freedom. But to his surprise, he can’t quite give up on the will to survive.

One momentous night, he makes a very grave mistake, and Mina risks her life to save his own. In exchange, Phin promises to help her if ever he is able. What he doesn’t anticipate is that she’ll choose to collect on that promise at the exact moment he finally wins his freedom – or that his salvation from a very dark past might lie in the arms of a woman who’s even better at deception than he is.

Sandy: I’ll be honest once again. Bound by Your Touch will set firmly on my virtual keeper shelf. It features my favorite combination of heroine and hero: The somewhat stuffy stick in the mud and the charming, dissolute rake who is unerringly gifted at de-stuffing. James is also glamorous and sexy and flawed and broken and one of the hottest heroes I’ve come across in a while. (Would you be insulted if I told you I thought James was a bit Nardi-esque – only without the vomit?) But, clearly, this is your own voice and your own style and your own story. So, with that said, what were your goals for the book – in other words, what did you want to make absolutely certain came through to the reader in the pages of the novel?

Meredith: (Au contraire, I am wholly flattered that you compare James to Nardi! I am a massive fan of Judith Ivory, and Bliss is one of my favorite books of all time.)

To be honest, I only wish that I could think in terms of goals or themes when writing! My main concerns are always the same: to make sure that these characters capture a reader’s interest; that their romance is gripping and develops believably; and, last but not least, that the world in which they live seems engaging, absorbing, and real.

Somehow, though, the books do manage to acquire themes. Written on Your Skin is about trust. With Bound by Your Touch, I’m pretty sure that the keyword is faith – or, more accurately, whether or not to love someone is to have total faith in him or her.

This theme wasn’t crafted with conscious intention. That it exists at all can be blamed on Lydia.

You see, James was the anchor of this book. The first words I wrote for BBYT now comprise the first scene in Chapter One, in which James is intoxicated on some unnamed drug and staring down at his flagstones, deploring how white they are and thinking they’d be a bit more bearable if he took a header off the balcony. He moves on from his maudlin reflection very quickly, because he generally tries to take nothing very seriously, least of all himself. But that he even had that thought—well, right from the beginning, I knew that he would need to have a very powerful reason to entertain such black thoughts, and it wasn’t long before I realized that reason. From there, sections written in his POV flowed like water. James was always clear to me.

Lydia gave me greater trouble.She always had my sympathy, of course.Being scorned, passed over, made to feel a fool—if this happens at a vulnerable moment (like your first declaration of love), it can cripple your dreams and your courage for a long time to come.I found it entirely fitting, then, that she would want to fight for her loved ones—that is, the loved ones who actually recognized her worth, and made her feel valued—till the bitter end.

However, I worried that her devotion risked coming off as obstinacy, or, worse yet, as stupidity.And my greatest nightmare is writing a TSTL heroine.

All this to say, I think my concerns about Lydia shaped the development of the novel, since the conflict between James and Lydia ultimately boils down to the one question that I, as the author, kept asking about her: is there a limit to what you owe to those whom you love?

Lydia thinks not. She believes that having faith in someone is part and parcel of loving that person.In her view, if you break faith with someone, you cannot claim to love him.

When we first meet James, he’s quite cynical; he believes the concept of faith is intrinsically flawed, implying as it does that ignorance is a virtue. Through his deepening relationship with Lydia, he begins to soften his stance, but he does hold fast to the idea that love doesn’t come freely. It demands and entails respect. Blind faith, he feels, gives a free pass to those who would abuse and use your love and give nothing in return for it.

Now, as I said, none of this was planned; it emerged organically, in the process of trying to figure out Lydia. But I do think that this debate underpins the basic conflict between the hero and heroine, and I hope it comes through, if only because Lydia might seem awwwwfully stubborn if you don’t take her conviction seriously.

Sandy: Sherry Thomas, one of my favorites, is also one of your biggest cheerleaders. I think that the two of you – along with Elizabeth Hoyt and Joanna Bourne – represent a true return to a golden age of historical romance. Does it feel golden to you?

Meredith: Wow. I’m so bedazzled at being associated with those authors that I am tempted to say the whole world looks golden right now!

Speaking as a reader, now – yes, I’ve been a very happy camper recently. I’m a fan of dense, richly textured, emotionally complex stories, so the past couple of years have introduced a whole host of new authors to my auto-buy list.

What I find particularly remarkable about the authors you’ve named is that they each have such a distinctive voice that if you put an unlabeled excerpt of each of their books in front of me, I would know instantly who had written what. They’re innovative not only in terms of where they set their books and the sorts of stories they tell, but also in terms of the way they tell those stories. I learn something about writing each time I pick up one of their books.

(I have a bad habit of dog-earing pages with breathtaking description or particularly clever dialogue. You should see my copies of Not Quite a Husband and The Spymaster’s Lady. I have to put a weight on them to keep them closed.)

So, yes, I think historical romance is very strong right now.My only quibble is that I miss the page counts of the historicals from the early 1990s.I know there are very good reasons for lowering the word count: the market has changed substantially, readers’ tastes have changed substantially, and shorter novels demand tighter plots (and, in my case at least, far more discipline when it comes to editing). That said, I’m a fast reader, so I often look with jealousy over to the fantasy aisle, with their big fat tomes.Books that can double as doorstops!Books that would swallow me for days!

Then again… trilogies-by-mandate…

Sandy: Your path to publication was quite different than most since you won an online competition so this may not be the fairest question in the world – but, gee, who said life is fair? Is it your perception that romance publishers are open to the idea that not all historicals must be in set in Regency England? In other words, do you see an end to what many readers see as same-old-same-old?

Meredith: As you mention, I’m a relative newcomer to the publishing scene, so I have very little inside information. I can only speak to my experience with my editor at Pocket. Clearly she’s quite supportive of risk-taking—The Duke of Shadows was far bloodier, not to mention considerably farther-flung, than most historicals. Also, when I was briefly toying with the idea of a book that would consist of an around-the-world chase, she was all for that, and I don’t recall England being anywhere on the couple’s itinerary. So, at Pocket, at least, it seems that historicals are free to range across the globe. Whether or not this signals a shift in the industry, I don’t know. I hope so!

Sandy: Clearly, you are a long-time romance fan. Who would you cite as the authors who inspired you?

Meredith: Inspiration is exactly the right word for it. If I’m feeling reluctant to start writing, the best medicine is to read prose that excites and surprises me. And these are my go-to historical romance authors when I need that shot in the arm: Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory, Loretta Chase, Sherry Thomas, Connie Brockway, Joanna Bourne, Marsha Canham, Jo Goodman. Also, I recently discovered Carla Kelly. Amazing that I hadn’t read anything of hers before. One perk about being waaaay behind is that there’s a backlist to glom!

Sandy: And, lastly, the official Books with Buzz closer: We know that Written on Your Skin is up next month. After that, what’s next for Meredith Duran?

Meredith: Another historical! The book I’m working on at present is a romp through the pleasure gardens and casinos of 1880s Europe. The heroine has been raised to be very, very nice (so nice that she’s strangling on it), but when a humiliating turn of events proves to her that nice isn’t working anymore, she decides instead that she’ll learn how to be naughty. This book (the heroine in particular) is less angsty than anything I’ve ever written, and I’m having a lot of fun figuring out how to tell an emotionally intense tale that is also full of laughter.

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