I can tell you this much. Neither Meredith nor I planned to be on deadline so soon together. But well, we are. 🙂
Meredith has a deadline in August. And so do I, since 10 days ago when my agent emailed and said she wanted the first draft of the next tour-de-force done by August 1. LOL, guess no-matter how much I deny being in the shitty-first-draft camp, I’ve been unmistakably tainted by my undeniably shitty first drafts.
Had things been different we’d hold a much grander celebration. But now we’ll just toss this little interview out and call it a release party. Enjoy!
You have said on this blog 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.