Dear Friends,

Happy almost Fourth of July and welcome to the Meredith Duran issue of An Infrequent Offering.

I adore Meredith Duran, both as an author and a person--or else I wouldn't have invited her to become my blogging partner. She is one of those writers on whom you cannot heap enough superlatives. But I try anyway. :-)

The Duke of Shadows Cover Meredith's debut historical romance, The Duke of Shadows, won the first & Schuster romance writing contest--500 manuscripts in the competition and hers was the chosen one. (Read more of her road-to-publication story here. Furthermore, I had the chance to speak with Borders romance buyer Sue Grimshaw, who was one of the judges for the contest. According to Sue, the five contest judges unanimously selected The Duke of Shadows as their number one choice.

When The Duke of Shadows was released, it met with fierce, almost flabbergasted acclaim. Author Ann Aguirre was so blown away by it, she sponsored a contest and gave away a $25 Barnes & Noble gift certificate, a $15 Amazon gift certificate, and 5 copies of The Duke of Shadows so that Meredith would reach a wider readership.

Bound by Your Touch Cover But it looks like The Duke of Shadows is set to eclipsed by Meredith's back-to-back 2009 releases. Her new release, Bound by Your Touch--available TODAY!--has received a coveted Desert Isle Keeper review from All About Romance and an outright A review from Dear Author (which the reviewers of Dear Author have only awarded to 3.6% of the 1,700+ books they have reviewed). And her August release Written on Your Skin is already a top pick from Romantic Times.

Written On Your Skin Cover I am absolutely thrilled for Meredith. And delighted that she took time out of her super-busy schedule--Meredith has to complete her next book by August, and then she is headed to India for a year of field research for her dissertation--to answer a few questions for readers of this newsletter. I hope you will enjoy the interview.

And as always, stay tuned for the exclusive contest. This time, we are giving away two copies of Bound by Your Touch.

Not Quite Enough About Meredith

Meredith Duran Photo

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?

Bound by Your Touch Cover 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?

Written On Your Skin Cover 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?

The Duke of Shadows Cover 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 Buzz interview 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

Meredith Duran Giveaway

Bound by Your Touch Cover

There is a contest exclusive to subscribers of An Infrequent Offering. To subscribe, click here.

Book Signing

Meredith and I will both take part in the "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing event at the 2009 Romance Writers of America annual conference in Washington D.C.

Wednesday, July 15
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Exhibit Hall

Book Recommendations

This month's recommendations seem to share a certain science fiction bend.
Archangel cover

Archangel by Sharon Shinn. On a distant planet ruled by angels, the man who would become Archangel must find the woman the god Jovah has decreed to be his wife--except she would turn out to be a slave who wanted only her freedom to return to her own people, not further incarceration in an Angelic hold. Archangel is terrific science fiction. It is also a terrific love story. I was completely enraptured by the magnificent world Sharon Shinn invented, by the angels who fly above the clouds to sing their prayers to their god and to have them actually answered by this mysterious god. Two admirable protagonists, a romantic battle of wills, and a battle of good versus evil with the Archangel and his mate on one side, and a rogue band of angels on the other--this book certainly has everything I want.

Stories of Your Life and Others Cover

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Ted Chiang has won just about every award given to SF/F writers without ever publishing a full-length novel. Instead he writes short stories, intricate, beautiful, devastating and eminently readable tales that leave an indelible impression. This is the collection of the handful of stories he has published in his career. The titular story, "Story of Your Life," is especially amazing.


Endymion and The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons. Dan Simmons write grand-scale sagas that unfold against the whole of the galactic background in which nothing less than the survival of the human soul is at stake. But Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, the last two books of his Hyperion Quartet, is also the epic yet intimate love story between an ordinary man and an extraordinary girl who would one day be Messiah, with one of the most triumphant, awe-inspiring, and bittersweet endings I have ever read.

May your shelves always overflow with great books to read.


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