Not Quite Enough About Meredith
MEREDITH DURAN grew up enamored of British history. At thirteen years old, she made a list of life goals that included writing romance novels,
trying sushi, and going to London to see Holbein’s portrait of Anne Boleyn. Now a doctoral student in anthropology, she is happy to report that all
three goals have become her favorite things to do. When not studying, doing fieldwork in India, or working on her next novel, Meredith can be found
in the library, browsing through travelogues written by intrepid Englishwomen of the nineteenth century.
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? *
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,
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.
You have said on your blog--our blog, lol--that you brainstorm to blaring Top 40 hits on the radio. Can you give me some examples of songs that
have helped Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin take shape?
I knew that was going to be a dangerous confession! In many cases, the lyrics are very simple, even trite. But when they touch off an image or a
vibe that brings alive some aspect of the characters' relationship, they become profoundly important to my brainstorming.
With Bound by Your Touch
I was particularly struck by "Eyes Open," by Snow Patrol. The lyrics brought to life, for me, how James inhabits the wreck he
has made of his life -- the numbness he courts to get through his days, the anger he represses beneath his easy, freewheeling charm ("All this feels strange
and untrue... My bones ache; my skin feels cold... The anger swells in my guts and I won't feel these slices and cuts"). They also capture how
central Lydia becomes to his journey toward redemption. He desperately needs to see himself clearly, and that only happens for him when he sees
himself through her eyes ("I want so much to open your eyes because I need you to look into mine... "). The lyrics also seem to capture how his
redemption ultimately becomes her path to freedom as well ("Get up, get out, get away from these liars, because they don't get your soul or your
fire / Take my hand, knot your fingers through mine, and we'll walk from this dark room for the last time / Every minute from this minute now,
we can do what we like anywhere...").
So, on my playlist, this would be a "James" song.
With Written on Your Skin
, the most influential bit of music wasn't even a whole song -- it was the fiddle solo that comes about two and a half
minutes into Dave Matthews' "Crush." Seriously -- whenever I was stuck, I would listen to that thirty second snippet. It's funny; listening to
it now, in order to answer your question, I can't understand any longer what I found so inspiring. But I recall being enchanted by how its
ecstatic and dramatic quality was leavened by hints of humor. It got me into the headspace of the power play between Mina and Phin, which is
certainly dramatic but also, occasionally, very funny.
And here's the mildly embarrassing part of this answer: another song I listened to quite often when writing Written on Your Skin was Britney
Spears's "Circus." Mina, the heroine, is a force, and this song is about a woman under pressure ("All eyes on me in the center of the ring
just like a circus"), who rises to the challenges thrown at her, and demands that anyone who wants her attention earn it the hard way
("Don't stand there watching me, follow me, show me what you can do"). Mina, of course, has never met someone who can follow her, much less
someone who can beat her at her own game. Until, of course, she meets Phin.
I have to girdle myself to do my research. But you, you like history. You would read primary sources even if you don't have a book to
research. What kind of historical readings do you enjoy the most?
I find travelogues immensely interesting. Judging by what I can find in my university library (and on Google books as well), they were greatly
in vogue throughout the Victorian period. Since the authors are generally foreigners to the land about which they're writing, they end up
documenting the social scene and the local mores and everyday customs, all the little things that they would never think to remark on with
regard to their own society. Victorian-era travelogues written by Americans visiting England are hugely useful for this reason.
My favorite sorts of travelogue are those that were written and initially published for a limited audience of family and friends; they're chatty
and personable, and often pair fabulous descriptions of various cities and countries with bits of gossip and social commentary about influential
figures of the day.
You have written both damaged heroes (Duke of Shadows, Written on Your Skin) and roguish, golden-boy heroes (Bound by Your Touch).
Which one do you enjoy better? Or do you just like to alternate them to keep things interesting?
Oh, I think James (Bound by Your Touch
) is fairly well damaged, too. Certainly he's better at hiding it -- from himself as well as others.
That fabulous sense of humor makes his scars a bit more difficult to spot.
I can't really imagine writing a perfectly well-adjusted hero. I'm sure I will one day write a hero who *seems* perfectly well-adjusted,
but ultimately I find my characters' flaws more interesting than their talents. And I find it particularly interesting when their talents are
inextricably linked with their flaws -- as James's humor and charm are.
Your two 2009 releases are both set during the 1880s, late Victorian, so to speak. The Victorian reputation in pop culture is the
cover-the-piano-leg prudishness. But prudishness was largely a phenomenon of the Victorian middle class. The upper class were a rather
naughty bunch--upon whom the middle class frowned mightily, I might add. In another one of your interviews I'd read, you mention that you'd
come across "descriptions of parlor games played during country weekends that, let’s just say, you wouldn’t want your teenage daughter playing
with her friends." Inquiring minds want to know. What kind of parlor games are we talking about, exactly?
So, the upper crust played a lot of intellectual parlor games -- freestyle poetry or charades, for instance. But they also played rather more
physical games, which many of us might recognize from childhood: Blind Man's Bluff, Sardines (hide-and-seek in which only one person hides; as
others find this person, they must squeeze in to hide with him/her), and various "Sit on me" games, like Squeak Piggy Squeak.
Have you played any of these games since you turned sixteen or so? Probably not. Why not? Because piling into closets together, groping each
other, or sitting on each other becomes rather more risque once you hit puberty.
Now think of a whole lot of adults playing these games after a night of wine and champagne, in a dark, sprawling country house in the middle
of nowhere. Good, clean fun... no? ;)
Your 2010 release is currently titled Wicked Becomes You. Along with Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin, they are a trifecta of total
triumphs as far as titles go. Who came up with those titles, you, your editor, or the marketing team at your publishing house? Are there any
interesting stories behind those titles?
Yep, they were all my suggestions. Generally, I come up with a list of possible titles for each book, submit it to my editor and agent,
and we all confer. (What this pithy summary elides is the many days I spend ripping my hair out while brainstorming titles. Some of my rejected
suggestions are laughably bad.)
Interesting stories, hmm... Well, Written on Your Skin
was named before it was written, and my agent floated the concern that the title conjured
an erotic romance rather than a historical. I occasionally wonder if this is why WOYS ended up being even hotter than BBYT -- I "wrote to the title",
as it were.
Then again, when a friend of mine heard the title, she said, "Rethink that. It sounds like it's about a serial killer."
Ah, well. You can't win 'em all.
Yes, you can, Meredith. Your gorgeous books will win readers and influence aspiring writers! Congratulations on the book release. I'm getting
off my bum to the bookstore this minute!
*The first question and answer of this interview comes courtesy of Sandy Coleman of All About Romance
, who conducted a Books with
with Meredith on AAR's News & Commentary
Blog. Because Meredith is so busy, I didn't want her to have to rewrite an already pretty perfect description of
her new books. And Sandy was gracious enough to let me borrow what Meredith gave the AAR blog. Thank you, Sandy.
Below are links to excerpts for Meredith's books