Thanks for inviting me to the blog! Among the first books I placed on my keeper shelf were Laura Kinsale's The Dream Hunter and Mary Jo Putney's Veils of Silk, so I've been a card-carrying fan of unusual historicals for fifteen years, now. It's good to be among kindred spirits.
Tell us a little about your new release, WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN.
In a nutshell... World-weary former spy, now determined to walk the straight and narrow, runs smack into a beautiful blond obstacle: the woman who saved his life four years ago. When she calls in the debt, he has no choice but to guide her back into the world of his nightmares. The object is to find her mother. Neither of them count on falling in love. They're both cynics, after all--and damaged. Love just isn't what people like them do.
Somebody at the RWA conference asked me if this book is dark. It's certainly emotionally intense; Phin and Mina have their respective Big Issues. But the pleasure they take in their battle of wits--these are two people who have never before found someone able to match them--made it an incredibly fun book to write. They're both very clever at disguising themselves from the world, and very, very good at dismantling other people's facades. When they turn these skills on each other, things get interesting...and steamy. Quite steamy, actually. A reviewer told me she blushed!
Any favorite scenes?
Every time I answer this question, my opinion changes! On the lighter side: Mina has perfected the art of playing a wide-eyed featherhead; it's one of her most valuable survival skills. There's a scene, just after the events in Hong Kong, in which Phin hunts her down. As he bundles her into custody, he gradually catches onto the fact that she's playing a role--that she is, in fact, the farthest thing from stupid. Meanwhile, Mina, not yet realizing that he's onto her, industriously continues to demonstrate her vacuity. I particularly like her speculations about the identity of this ubiquitous chap named "Anonymous."
On the darker side: Phin is damaged. He has seen and done terrible things. There are a few moments in the book in which he balances on the edge of the precipice--when he truly is convinced he might be losing his mind. My favorite of these comes when he visits the home of a former tutor, Mr. Sheldrake, now deceased. Sheldrake taught him cartography, and in Sheldrake's study, he comes face to face with the ghost of the naïve, idealistic boy he once was. It was only after writing this scene that I finally felt as though I fully understood his character.
A brief snippet from it:
The surface of the globe felt thick with wax beneath his palm. His finger fell on the Indian Ocean. This antiquated shading spoke of an older time, when Britons had known nothing of the Transvaal or Baluchistan, the Suez or Upper Burma. When he'd last looked at this globe, he'd known nothing of them either. Hot, humid, the river yellow with mud, moving so slowly it seemed to creak; it still amazed him that he had not died on that last expedition. The bounty on British heads would have bought the locals a decade worth of meals.***
He tapped the ocean once, and looked up. On the uncrowded desk, a pen lay discarded across a sheet of foolscap. He picked it up. Brandauer's Oriental. Naturally. 'Steel-crow quills, Phineas; that's the real secret to a drawing. Got nothing to do with your hand.'
As he set it down again, an uncanny feeling prickled over him. It looked as though Sheldrake had just left off drawing. As if he would return in a few minutes.
He exhaled and stepped backward, his throat tightening. In his father's generation, they had counted nostalgia a disease. The mind was believed to rot on impossible longings; it fixated on a time that would never come again, and cannibalized itself by embroidering memory until it collapsed into fantasy. He could see the logic in it. This library felt like a sickness. The scents of paint and paper and polish and ink filled his chest and turned to stone. More wholesome than the odor of baking bread in the hall outside, they conjured safety, peace, knowledge, everything he had once taken for granted. Such sweet and easy lies.
Is this book related to any of your other releases?
WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN is billed as the sequel to BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH, but for the most part, the stories occur simultaneously, and neither story requires knowledge of the other. In the end, I only wrote one overlapping scene, which turned out quite differently in the two books, largely because the heroes are night and day in terms of how they view the world.
It was an interesting experiment, and I wonder how readers will receive it. The heroes were once very close. While they're still ostensibly friends, they no longer view each other very charitably. For instance, if you read WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN before BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH, you'll get a very different picture of James Durham, Viscount Sanburne, than you would if you began with Bound—although WoYS was, of course, written afterward, when I already knew James (and his story) backwards and forwards.
Any plans to write more unusual historicals?
Well, there's my next book, WICKED BECOMES YOU, out in May 2010. The shorthand synopsis: Provoked one too many times, London's nicest girl snaps. If nice isn't working anymore, perhaps it's time she learned to be wicked. And what better place to learn to be wicked than the Riviera?
Unfortunately, the rake she chooses as her unofficial tour guide happens to be in love with her just as she is with him. Not that it signifies, of course. He knows that the tangled history they share--a history even darker than she realizes--makes any future between them impossible.
...Or does it?
I haven't read many historicals that move from London to Paris to Monte Carlo, so perhaps this one counts as unusual. If not, then I've got some other cards up my sleeve. Lord Lockwood, for one. A secondary character in THE DUKE OF SHADOWS, he endured a very interesting stay in Australia...and I plan to explore that soon. So don't count me out! There's more unusualness on the way. ;)
Thanks for joining us today, Meredith! You are breaking lovely ground for all of us with your talent and imagination. Readers, if you'd like the chance to win a copy of Meredith's new releases, leave a comment or question. She's giving away both BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH and WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN, so you have two chances to win. I'll draw our lucky winners next Sunday!