I discovered the incomparable Meredith Duran when I was trolling Sherry Thomas’s website, and found it took me to a blog site where Sherry and Meredith post together. The following words on Meredith’s website caught my attention almost immediately: “After looking at her bookshelf, I am not only terrified, I am downright appalled.” — Random Anthropology Professor #24
Of course, I was intrigued, not only because it showed me that smart, professional women read and write romance, but because I struggle with this perception myself (in my house, sandwiched between Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague” is a plethora of cover-cringing romance novels.) I am always searching for a smart historical romance, and I decided to check her out based on the promise of rave reviews. What do I mean by a smart historical? It’s an ephemeral sort of book, one that is hard to define. It means I want writing that is accurate and engaging, writing that sweeps me to a distant time and immerses me in the cultural experience of the story, and most of all, writing that gives me incredible prose I want to linger over and dissect at my leisure.
Meredith Duran writes a smart historical. In fact, she writes the smartest historicals I have ever read. She is an author I will always read first, even if I have a To Be Read list that resembles the New York Public Library, because I know I will never be disappointed. I recommend starting with “The Duke of Shadows,” her incredible debut novel. One review on Dear Author said, “”We speak of the Golden Age of Romance, of Putneys and Gaffneys and Ivorys as if it’s something we’ll never see again. Your book makes me think we’re wrong.”
Readers will be cheering to learn that Meredith’s newest release, “At Your Pleasure”, is slated for March 27, 2012. Tomorrow. Which makes March 26th a very long day for me, and makes my To Be Read list angry at my planned negligence.
Glittering court socialites and underworld cutpurses alike know that Adrian Ferrers, Earl of Rivenham, is the most dangerous man in London. Rivenham will let nothing—not the deepening shadow of war, nor the growing darkness within him—interfere with his ambition to restore his family to its former glory. But when tasked by the king to uncover a traitor, he discovers instead a conspiracy—and a woman whose courage awakens terrible temptations. To save her is to risk everything. To love her might cost his life.
Lady Leonora knows that Rivenham is the devil in beautiful disguise—and that the irresistible tension between them is as unpredictable as the dilemma in which Nora finds herself: held hostage on her own estate by Rivenham and the king’s men. But when war breaks out, Nora has no choice but to place her trust in her dearest enemy—and pray that love does not become the weapon that destroys them both…
Finally, I discovered the pleasure of Meredith herself after winning a 50 page critique from her for a charity auction (OK, win is a weasel word. I set my alarm and woke up at 2am to sink the winning Ebay bid and max out my credit card in the process, because come on. It’s Meredith Duran!) And she was so lovely, so generous, and so spot-on with her critique, I found myself admiring the person as much as the author. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to share her with you through this author interview. So, without further ado, I give you Meredith Duran!
Your newest release, “At Your Pleasure”, comes out March 27th. Tell us a little bit about this book, and what inspired you to write it (aside from a deadline!).
At Your Pleasure is one of those “books of the heart,” by which I mean that I fell in love with the story and decided to write it with nary a thought for the kind of historicals that are popular right now. It’s an unusual setting (1715, the first year of the first King George’s reign) and a very dark tale. Let’s just say my editor is a wonderful woman who did not so much as blink when I said, “I’ve got this idea for a terribly dramatic story about a star-crossed love, two people who are natural enemies but who love each other to the point where they’re willing to risk everything, even themselves, for the other. There will be duels, abduction, a forced marriage, a possible execution, and some nasty court politics. What do you say?”
I was fascinated when I learned how you broke into the business. Tell us a little bit about your debut book, “The Duke of Shadows”, and how you came to be published.
That was pure serendipity. I’d written the book, failed to find an agent for it, and then shoved it under the proverbial bed while I turned my attention to graduate school. Then came one summer night in Chicago, when the heat made it impossible to sleep. While surfing the internet with a fan aimed squarely at my face, I came across mention on Smartbitchestrashybooks.com of a writing contest held by Pocket Books and Gather.com. To enter, you had to submit a completed romance manuscript. The grand prize was a book contract with Pocket. I shrugged, thought, Why not?, and emailed my manuscript to the contest. Nobody was more shocked than me when I won!
That was five years ago, now. I’m still amazed at my own luck. Thank God I was too broke back then to buy an air conditioner!
One of the things I find most compelling about your writing is your prose. In your second book, “Bound by Your Touch”, you wrote the following love scene: “Back in her flesh, her awareness ran south like a broken yolk… It was awful. It was ecstasy. It was making her come out of her skin.” I find myself bookmarking phrases like this, and studying how you put the words together. What inspires your sentence construction?
I’m terribly flattered that you think so highly of my prose. As a writer, I listen to the rhythm of the sentences as I construct them. Gorgeous writing has its own music embedded into the sounds and syllables. When I’m hitting the rhythm correctly, the paragraphs sing in my head. As a reader, I look for this same sensation; it’s one of the reasons that I’m such a huge fan of Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Sherry Thomas, and Julie Anne Long. Their prose has a musicality that makes reading their books a multisensory experience.
You have traveled a good deal internationally, and some of these elements work their way into your writing. “The Duke of Shadows” opens in colonial India, for example, and “Written on your Skin” opens in Hong Kong. What is the top travel destination on your list of must-see places at the moment, and when do you think you will get there?
When I was in ninth grade, I read Shadow Play, by Katherine Sutcliffe. This is an exquisitely researched historical about a trip down the Amazon in nineteenth century Brazil, and it left me determined to travel there. I’ve since been to Rio de Janeiro with a dear friend who hails from those parts (and it really is the most beautiful city in the world; photographs don’t do it justice), but I’ve yet to make it to the Amazon. As to when I’ll manage…sometime in the next decade, I hope!
You juggle teaching, schoolwork, travel, and writing and make it look seamless. When do you write? For that matter, when do you sleep?
I used to be a night owl. I’d get everything else (schoolwork, teaching, etc.) out of the way and spend 10PM – 2AM writing. Now I’m in my thirties, my natural schedule seems to have flipped: I spend the first three hours of the day writing fiction, and then tackle everything else. I think switching from my laptop to an Alphasmart for the first draft also contributed to this change. Though I couldn’t tell you the precise mechanics of it, the Alphasmart seems to have made it easier to focus. I no longer need the silence of the midnight hour to immerse myself in the story.
As for when I sleep – I take my sleep really, really seriously. I massively envy people who can get by on six hours a night, but if I don’t get at least eight, I’m cranky and unproductive and generally mad at the world. Sleep is a priority!
You have said you draw heavy inspiration from earlier romance writers like Judith Ivory and Laura Kinsale. What about their work stands the test of time?
Apart from their language, which I discussed above, their characterization is superb. Both writers are masters of creating three-dimensional, imperfect, sometimes downright unlikable characters who nevertheless are terribly charismatic. Laura Kinsale’s heroines are often unusually thorny; Judith Ivory’s heroes always have a touch of the dirty old man about them (even though they’re not old. But c’mon, you can easily imagine Stuart or Graham or Nardi sitting on the porch at ninety, unabashedly leering at all the pretty young things traipsing by). Yet they manage to capture your sympathy even when you’re not sure they deserve it! That’s talent. That’s also real life, the messy truth of real life somehow captured in fictional prose.
If you could write any hero and heroine pairing you wanted, without any editorial nudging or censorship, who would they be?
I have a very indulgent editor, so I’m actually hard pressed to name a story that I’d not be able to write. I suppose one that I’ve never pitched (largely because it’s not precisely my genre, being more of a historical fantasy) would involve a Druid and a Roman woman in Roman Britain. I doubt you’ll be seeing that one on the shelves any time soon, but I could have a lot of fun with it. If only there were more hours in the day!
Thank you for your insight Meredith, and for joining us on the Dashing Duchesses blog! Be sure to check out her newest release, “At Your Pleasure”, available everywhere books are sold starting March 27, 2012.
This author interview was posted March 26, 2012 on the Dashing Duchesses blogsite.