We’re very fortunate to have Meredith Duran visiting with us to talk about her recently released book Wicked Becomes You. I reviewed the book earlier this week – read my review of Wicked Becomes You here.
Just a little background on Meredith Duran before we head over to the chat. Meredith 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. She’s now a doctoral student in anthropology and reports that all three goals have since 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. Learn more on Meredith Duran’s website at http://www.meredithduran.com/index.html
Thank you, Meredith for the opportunity to review the book and for taking the time to chat.
MD: Thanks for having me!
Q1: I thoroughly enjoyed Wicked Becomes You, the two romantic leads were such witty and likable characters. How did you come up with the characters of Gwen Maudsley and Alexander Ramsey?
MD: I owe it all to Pink. No, seriously – I was driving to the library and one of Pink’s songs came on the radio. I’d never heard it before but the lyrics caught my fancy – a woman is betrayed by her husband and her reaction is, “So what? I’m still a rock star…I’ve got a brand new attitude and I’m gonna wear it tonight – I’m gonna get in trouble; I’m gonna start a fight.” It amused me, and I thought, there’s an idea for a book – a very nice girl gets jilted, and instead of wilting, she decides to try out a brand new identity as the bad girl. The humorous possibilities really intrigued me.
From there, I built Gwen’s backstory – because you don’t grow up determined to be Pollyanna unless you’ve got a very good reason for it. And would a reformed Pollyanna fall for another nice guy? No way. She’d go straight for the bad boy. But if the bad boy had his own private reasons for not wanting her to follow his wicked example… well, that would be doubly interesting. Thus was Alex born.
Q2: How did you first decide to write historical romance novels?
MD: I’d always loved writing fiction. But I decided on historical romance when I was thirteen. I was obsessed with English history, and fed up with all the historical fiction I was finding in my school library – it focused too exclusively on men, and the dry details of great events and political maneuverings. Someone left a copy of Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven lying in the dorm common room, and I happened to pick it up and flip through it—and then, realizing that it was historical fiction about a woman, I clutched it to my chest and scurried back to my room (where, about two hours later, I was probably scandalized to come across a full-blown sex scene. Scandalized and delighted, of course). When I finished the book, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to write myself. I’d already spent so much time daydreaming, trying to imagine what the past smelled like, felt like, looked like; how people back then felt and thought, what they believed. Now I’d discovered an entire genre devoted to recreating the experience of everyday life in times past, with female protagonists. The fact that they were love stories just was an extra thrill – I’d always been a sucker for rom coms. 🙂
Q3: What sort of research do you do when writing?
MD: I love research, so I do a ton of it, to the point where it often becomes a procrastination device, unfortunately. I do collect non-fiction books about the periods in which I’m writing or would like to write, but when I’m working in an era that produced so much literature and commentary of its own (like nineteenth-century England), I favor primary sources — journals, memoirs, novels, newspapers, pamphlets, letters from the period.
Q4: What are you currently reading? Which writers do you enjoy reading? Who inspires you? Which books are you looking forward to reading this year?
MD: The book on my nightstand right now is White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway. I’m halfway through – there’s some very lovely imagery in this novel, and I’d recommend it to anyone enamored of lyrical writing or Hong Kong, although I’m still waiting for the plot to kick in! I’m a pretty omnivorous reader; the only genre I can’t get into is mystery, although I’ve certainly tried and will keep trying. Among my favorite writers of historical romance are Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Jo Goodman, and Anne Stuart. Judith Ivory’s books are particularly inspiring when I’m feeling burned out; she has such a gorgeous, surprising way of hooking together sentences. Two other books really revitalized me when I was writing Wicked Becomes You: Like No Other Lover, by Julie Anne Long, and Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Both just took my breath away.
As far as upcoming books — I can’t wait for Anne Stuart’s historical trilogy to release. I’m also excited for Sherry Thomas’s His at Night (I’ve read it and it’s amazing, but I want my own hard copy). And in July, Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl comes out. I’ll be first in line at the bookstore!
Q5: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
MD: There’s lots of good advice out there. Read as much as you can. Finish a manuscript, no matter how you feel about it, because the discipline you gain by making yourself finish will serve you in good stead for the rest of your writing life. Believe in yourself – if you write, you ARE a writer, no “aspiring” to it. Learn to separate yourself, your feelings, your ego, from your writing: criticism is valuable and emotional dissociation, once the piece is finished, will do you a world of psychological good, especially once you get published!
Q6: Is there a question that you wish you’d been asked in previous interviews? Anything that you’d like to share with our readers?
MD: Sure. Here’s potentially the most damaging advice to give to aspiring writers: don’t try to become a professional writer unless you could not imagine life without writing every day. Back when I was aspiring to publication, I would lurk on writers’ boards and often run across this advice, generally during discussions in which people would remark on what an endless, unceasing joy writing provided to them. It felt so dispiriting. I could very happily live through a day without wanting to write. Did this mean I was not meant to be a writer?
Further down the road, now, I want to say that while writing every day is great advice in terms of producing a draft, I know many published authors who do not write every day, and who do not want to write every single day. If you have a deep-seated desire to be a writer but writing is not always a joy to you, that’s okay. Please do recall some famous pieces of advice:
Red Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.”
Some days, writing IS a joy to me. The dialogue crackles; the scene is alive in my mind; I am breathless as I write; I cannot wait for people to read what’s appearing on the screen.
Other days, it is a struggle to force myself to the keyboard. My brain feels like one of those old black-and-white televisions in the second after the screen is switched off: an ever-shrinking dot thinning out to a flat line. I write anyway. The sentences feel lifeless, but I write. And sometimes, later, I realize that what I wrote is actually quite good.
And then there are those days when I don’t force myself to write at all. And that’s okay, too. The world is a pretty interesting place, and if you sometimes find its offerings more fascinating than the prospect of your head vs. Microsoft Word, I adamantly believe that that’s a boon for your work. Getting out in the world, surrendering yourself wholly to its wonders, can replenish that mysterious part of your subconscious that connects dots and builds unexpected webs and produces ideas the origins of which you’ll never be able to consciously explain. Do not doubt yourself, or your ambitions to be a writer, simply because you’re not hearing angels sing every time you take a seat at the keyboard. And do not squander a chance to replenish your well of inspiration by feeling guilty about the fact that you’re not at the keyboard.
So, how do you balance your daily impulses with the demands of your writing? You set yourself a deadline for producing a first draft. Vow that you will meet that deadline. Honor your vow. However you make the deadline – grinning like a loon all the way through, or grinning like a loon on Tuesdays, kicking and screaming on Wednesdays, and playing hooky on Thursdays – makes no difference once you’ve got the draft in your hands.
And now, for a confession: there is one writing-related activity I can’t bear to live a day without doing. That would be reading. 🙂
Thank you so much, Meredith! Really appreciate your stopping by. I look forward to hearing about your next project!