Wednesday, May 12, 2010

author interview: meredith duran

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I'm very pleased to share this interview with an author accomplished at both popular fiction and scholarly works. Many thanks to Meredith Duran for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

You’re a doctoral student in anthropology! Is it difficult to balance academic writing with novel writing?

The formal demands of the two genres are quite different, of course. Whenever I switch from an academic paper to fiction writing, I think enviously of Susan Johnson’s old practice of including footnotes in her novels. I get very excited about the primary sources I dig up when researching my historicals, and it seems a shame that I don’t get to share them in a bibliography at the end of the book!

That said, good writing transcends genres, and academics appreciate clear and engaging writing as much as romance readers do. In fact, if you look at the works of the most famous anthropologists of the last fifty years (Clifford Geertz, say, or Jean and John Comaroff), you’ll find that many of them have only one thing in common: namely, they’re excellent writers, able to render their arguments in a clear and engaging way.

Now, I’m sure someone reading this is thinking, “Ha – what is Duran talking about? I’ve tried to read some of those academic articles and they’re completely opaque.” Indeed, my main frustration with academic writing comes from my position as a reader. Often we’re encouraged to set aside the quality of a scholar’s writing when assessing the value of the arguments therein. The argument goes something like this: the concepts and paradigms we deal with, and specialized jargon developed to describe them, inevitably produce writing that seems opaque, and that’s okay. We’re specialists, after all.

In fact, I think that attitude is a mistake. If the academy wants to remain in conversation with the broader world that we study, we need to make our writing accessible to that world. And so I believe that the time I invest in writing fiction actually proves quite helpful for my academic writing. My diction might be different depending on the genre in which I’m writing, but the basics of effective communication – the rhythm and precision of sentences; the use of effective imagery and fluid, logical transitions – remain constant, no matter the genre.

Have you incorporated anything you’ve come across in your doctoral studies into your books?

I wrote The Duke of Shadows before entering my doctoral program, but certainly, during the rewrite, I tried to incorporate my new understanding of the complex relationship between the British colonies and the metropole (England). In fact, the many, many books I’ve read by scholars of postcolonialism have left me wary of writing Victorian-set romances that do not at least allude to the wider operation of the British empire in the world, and the impact of empire on how British citizens of that time understood themselves.

Do you have plans to revisit any of the characters you’ve created with a sequel or spin-off?

Yes, I fully intend to write Lockwood’s story (Julian’s closest friend in The Duke of Shadows). However, I keep postponing it because I tell myself I need to do more research on Australian penal colonies in the nineteenth century. Usually my stories are a bit like wilting flowers; they tend to wither away if I don’t immediately shower them with attention. But this one of those rare books that continues to develop in my head as I work on other stories. When I finally sit down and write it, I suspect that the conclusion will leave me feeling quite bereft!

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

Within the romance genre, the three books that have had the most impact on me are Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, Bliss by Judith Ivory, and To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney. Not only are these books spectacular in and of themselves, but they also illustrate very dramatically the scope that the genre affords its writers. If you can write a brilliant love story about a suicidal ether addict in Belle Époque France, a wheelchair-bound stroke victim and his Quaker lover, or a former convict and a viscount who initially appears to be bordering on sociopathy – well, then, I’m convinced that the so-called “rules of the genre” are only as restrictive as a writer perceives them to be.

What’s up next for you?

Three more historicals for Pocket! Stay tuned for details.

1 comment:

  1. Aloha Meredith! I just started reading Wicked Becomes You... your write so beautifully, I'm savoring it and reading it slowly! Thank you! I notice in reviews that some readers refer to your title as Wicked Becomes Her... have you noticed this as well?