Tuesday, June 28
Today, it is my great honor to have the author who wrote, what I consider to be, the best first line in a romance novel last year. So often books blur together, especially historical romances (at least for me since I read so many). But when I can remember a specific line from a book that I read months and months ago, I consider that AMAZING storytelling!
Historical romance author Meredith Duran is my special guest today to share with us her newest novel, A Lady's Lesson in Scandal, which I have no doubt will contain many memorable lines and/or moments. Read and enjoy!
Welcome back to Seductive Musings Meredith!
For some readers the first sentence/beginning of a book is one of the most important moments, maybe even just as important as the last sentence/ending in the story. I still remember the first line from Wicked Becomes You, and how much I absolutely loved it, “England was a wicked bitch who wished him ill”. LOVE. IT! What is the first sentence from A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal? What do you think it says about the story to come? And how important is this to you to get just the right line/beginning?
The first sentence of A Lady’s Lesson:
“By the time the whistle finished shrilling, Nell was already out the door.”This opening line isn’t quite so vivid as Alex’s opinion of England in Wicked Becomes You, but it certainly hints at Nell’s feelings about the factory where she works—and the fact that she’s willing to hustle (in the figurative as well as the literal sense) to achieve her goals.
As for how to determine the “right” beginning (a great question!), I’m never clear on where to start until I’m well into writing the book and have a good grasp on the characters’ deepest fears and needs. To wit: A Lady’s Lesson originally started with the excerpt now featured on my website, in which Nell breaks into Simon’s house. That’s quite an action-packed scene and it captures Nell in a moment of profound crisis. Ultimately, though, I realized that we needed to know who she had been right before her world shattered. So, I backed up in the narrative and began with what appears to be another ordinary day in Nell’s life, but which, by midnight, has called into question everything she thought she knew about herself.
Most authors have a synopsis, outline or idea of what the story they are about to write will be. However, sometimes during the writing process your “Muse” might speak to you and lead you in a different or unplanned direction. What surprised or changed the most from your original intent of A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal?
I am wholly unaccustomed to writing about well-adjusted men, but Simon—despite my intentions, and his own personal history—turned out to be one!
To be fair, he didn’t appear well-adjusted when I started writing this book. He’s downright beautiful, popular with widows and wives, bored with social niceties, and makes a performance of being untroubled by the world’s good opinion. That sounds like the classic rake, does it not? And since I’d never written a true rake before, I was game to do so.
But, no. Whereas a true libertine is completely self-involved and singularly intent on his own pleasure, Simon is full of curiosity and thoroughly intent on making others enjoy themselves (even—and despite—their intentions to the contrary). He’s too pleased with himself to indulge in the sort of self-loathing that motivates true libertines–and too curious about other people, about what motivates and impedes them; too imaginative and too compassionate in some ways to count as a true rake.
It took me about 120 pages to realize that his resemblance to a libertine was, in fact, his camouflage. Once I did, and went back and rewrote him, voila: true chemistry was born between him and our heroine.
Tell us about your hero, Simon St. Maur. What do you think will make readers, much like his heroine Nell , fall in love with him? And can you tell us a little bit about their story in A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal?
Occasionally in life you meet someone whose extreme charisma is born of his complete comfort in his own skin. Simon is one of these people. He knows his own strengths but he also has no illusion regarding his flaws.
The very fact that he’s not hard on himself (or on anybody else: he doesn’t judge the milkwater misses for behaving as debutantes must; doesn’t scoff at pompous landowners for prating about their hunting hounds; doesn’t revile the trappings of his station, rather enjoys them, in fact) makes him a fascinating match for Nell.
Nell has lived a hard life. By necessity, she is wary, mistrustful, and ungenerous in her judgments. Moreover, she has every reason to scorn this man’s promises until he has proved that he will honor them.
She’s a challenge to Simon, who rarely runs up against anyone he can’t persuade. That said, he also understands her at an intuitive level, because he has a strong instinct for self-protection (born of his upbringing) that borders on wariness. Most people in Simon’s life, even his friends, don’t know him nearly as well as they think they do. He simply protects himself more subtly than Nell does–-not with defiance but with layer upon layer of impenetrable charm.
This is a romance, then, between two people who don’t trust anyone—Nell, because she has been burned; Simon, because, among other things, social success in his world punishes honesty and true intimacy. At the start of the book, both of them are very comfortable with their own strategies of self-protection. But these begin to fracture and fail as they fall in love with each other, which makes for some splendid tension and conflict.
To sum it up: A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal is a variation on the classic Pygmalion tale. The East End slum rat becomes a lady. But Simon’s transformation is no less dramatic.
What's your favorite scene or moment from A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, and why? Can you describe it (or provide a short excerpt) for us without giving too much away?
Initially, forced into Simon’s world, ignorant of the rules that govern it, Nell is at a real disadvantage. But gradually the balance of power between them begins to shift. A pivotal moment in this transformation takes place after Nell has successfully completed her etiquette training, proving herself adept at a dinner table where each place setting comes with seven pieces of silverware. Afterward, sensing her exhaustion, Simon decides to give her the night off, and asks her, for once, what she would like to do.
I had so much fun writing the pool game that follows. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll share the lead-up.
The white ball cracked into the red, sending it spinning into the top pocket. Nell straightened with a broad grin. She had an unlighted cigar clamped between her teeth, and as she cast down her cue, her hand went to the glass of whisky she’d balanced on the table’s edge. “Three more strokes to me,” she said. She plucked the cigar from her mouth and pointed it at his eye. “How’s that feel, laddie?”
“I’m trembling,” Simon drawled.
“As you should be.” She winked at him, then tipped back her glass for a long, unfeminine swig. Simon’s gaze wandered down the line of her throat to the low neckline of her golden gown. The lean, graceful tension of her bare upper arms fascinated him. He regretted the long white gloves that disguised the tender curve of her inner elbow. Uncreative schoolboys might dream of orgies featuring nuns, but the truly precocious dreamed of a woman like this: bohemian and endlessly surprising. Self-possessed and quick-witted enough to keep any man on his toes.
Generally boys grew up to realize that such women existed only in dreams. Finding one in his billiards room somewhat took his breath away.
Her swallow was noisy. She smacked her lips as she set down the glass. He’d invited her to behave without a care for propriety, and she’d spent the last half hour testing the sincerity of his offer. “A dead heat,” she said gleefully.
He retrieved his cue, grabbing a length of sandpaper to roughen the leather tip. “Not for long, of course. But by all means, enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Oh, I expect it won’t be long,” she said comfortably. “You’ll be fouling, this next strike.”
He snorted. “My dear, misguided twit, you’re playing the top scorer in the Oxford-Cambridge matches of seventy-five and seventy-six. I never left St. James’s Hall that I wasn’t carried out shoulder-high.”
“Oh ho, a sharper!” She retrieved her glass to make him a toast. “My sympathies on your coming defeat, then, boy-o. Bound to be bitterer than your whisky.”
He laughed as he exchanged sandpaper for chalk. She was a sharp-toothed tiger wrapped up in silk. “I think I’ll make you pay for that taunt.”
“Will you, now! And what price for your arrogance, me pretty lad?”
He looked up from the chalk, smiling slowly. “I am pretty, aren’t I? High time you noticed.”
Color rose in her face, but she did not look away—not even as she returned the glass to the small shelf behind her and placed her cigar beside it. Eyes remaining on his, she came padding around the billiards table in her stocking feet.
It was he who broke the gaze to look downward, to the white silk stockings that revealed glimpses of the slim shape of her toes. Her small feet flexed gracefully, the arches deep, her ankles trim—she was lifting her skirts higher than her short steps required.
He felt his smile deepen. Oh, he knew what she was on about, here.
As she arrived at his side, the delicate scent of lilies reached him. Somebody, the French maid, had put perfume on her, and it seemed to spread tendrils that twined into his brain and tightened around it, strangling his good sense.
Her breasts brushed his arm as she leaned past him to set the red ball at the billiards spot. “You’re going to lose,” she purred, glancing up at him from beneath her long, dark lashes. “In that dining room, you may know what’s what, but this is my sort of table.”
“Hmm.” He held her eyes, arrested by the glint in them. That glint invited him to commit mischief: she wasn’t the only one intending to misbehave. “Perhaps we should make a wager on it.”
I assure you, this is a wager he will come to regret. :)
What are five fun facts about you or this book, that readers would love to know?
- Nell was originally called Polly. The name began to seem too soft for her. She conceals her tenderness as a survival strategy. I couldn’t picture her answering to such a mellifluous name.
- I cannot outline. I have outlined several books from A to Z. All of these outlines sound good to me, but I’ve never finished one of these books. Oh, to be a plotter! But after so many false starts, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the only way I can prepare for writing a book is by developing the characters. Knowing what will happen to them vitiates my enthusiasm.
- Certain gymnasiums in Victorian London had swimming pools! I’m not sure why this surprised me so much, but it did. Simon’s a habitual swimmer (with a body to match :).
- Most parts of the East End did not have a steady public water supply until the 1900s. Before doing the research for this book, I hadn’t realized quite how dire life was in the slums of late Victorian London.
- In primary sources from late Victorian England, factory girls appear to be the natural forerunners to flappers! Bold, independent, spirited, outspoken, these girls were famous for not taking any guff. My only regret is that I did not get to include a scene I wrote in which Nell and her best friend, Hannah, head off to the music hall to see a show. Factory girls did not sit at home at night embroidering. Many of them had very active social lives after dark!
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming releases, or new projects that we can look forward to? Will you be writing any series that we can eagerly anticipate?
I’m finishing up my next book, At Your Pleasure, which has a tentative release date of May 2012. This is my first Georgian, set very early indeed (1715, the year George I took the throne). I had a glorious time researching this era! The conflict in AYP revolves around an aspect of the Jacobite movement not often explored in historical romances – namely, Jacobitism in non-Catholic English circles. As I mentioned on twitter recently, the hero of this book may be my first true, undisputed, sword-wielding, bad-ass Alpha. I adore him... but as husband material, I’m pretty certain I’d prefer Simon. :)
If you could ask readers to finish a sentence, what would it be?
Ha. “I’d be shocked and thrilled to read about a hero who...”
Finally, just for fun…if you could write the “fortune” in a fortune cookie what would it be?
Happiness is not a gift, but a practice to be cultivated daily.
When Nell Whitby breaks into an earl’s house on a midnight quest for revenge, she finds her pistol pointed at the wrong man—one handsome as sin and naked as the day he was born. Pity he’s a lunatic. He thinks her a missing heiress, but more to the point, he’ll help her escape the slums and right a grave injustice. Not a bad bargain. All she has to do is marry him.
A NOTORIOUS LADIES’ MAN COULD TAKE HER FROM POVERTY TO OPULENCE . . . BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
A rake of the first order, Simon St. Maur spent his restless youth burning every bridge he crossed. When he inherits an earldom without a single penny attached to it, he sees a chance to start over—provided he can find an heiress to fund his efforts. But his wicked reputation means courtship will be difficult—until fate sends him the most notorious missing heiress in history. All he needs now is to make her into a lady and keep himself from making the only mistake that could ruin everything: falling in love. . . .
Congratulations Meredith! Today is A Lady's Lesson in Scandal's official release day, so if you've been tempted hopefully you will be able to find it at your favorite local bookseller....if not you can always find it online :)
If you would like to learn more about Meredith Duran and the historical romances that she writes, you can find her at her website www.meredithduran.com, the blog she shares with fellow romance writer Sherry Thomas, Twitter, and Facebook. One of my favorite things on her website is the section for each book called the "stories behind the story" I absolutely love this! It's basically the literary equivalent of a "cutting room floor." I'm always fascinated by things like this :)
To celebrate the release of Meredith's newest historical romance, A Lady's Lesson in Scandal, her publisher Pocket books would like to giveaway one copy of the book to a very lucky Musings follower. Here's how you can enter to win:
Ways to earn entries:
- Mandatory: Complete the sentence that Meredith asked readers to finish in the interview, AND leave some additional comment love for the author regarding her books that you may have read, or what intrigued you the most about A Lady's Lesson in Scandal. (good for 1 entry)
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- If you have a blog, or even if you don't, you can earn extra entries by telling your friends. If they successfully enter to win and mention that you sent them you can each earn extra entries. You can blog about it with a link to this post, post it on Facebook, Twitter, email...or even word of mouth (good for 5 entries for the referrer and the commenter for each friend) . Please note that to earn the points they must mention your GFC name so that I can match you.
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