Historical Chat: Meredith Duran and Sabrina Jeffries Talk Books

There’s something about authors talking shop — we love listening in, gleaning insights into how the books we love are created. So we were so happy that Sabrina Jeffries, whose Windswept is being reissued, and Meredith Duran, whose RT Top Pick! A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, are both out today, agreed to let us eavesdrop. Take it away, ladies! 

Windswept by Sabrina Jeffries (writing as Deborah Martin)Meredith: Sabrina, Windswept is a re-release of a book you wrote back in 1996. In my opinion, this was a golden age for historicals, with all the varied settings and time periods. I’m curious, what do you miss about the historical romances published in the nineties?

Sabrina: Huh. Not that much. I actually prefer the newer, tighter historicals set in the Regency, so this is a tricky subject for me. … I read a LOT of romance before the ’90s came around. By the time Regency historicals took hold of the market in the early ’90s, I was ready to ditch the intricate political plots, long descriptions, and unusual settings of those big early historicals and go back to my roots: Regency romance.

But I didn’t start out writing them. I was afraid I wouldn’t get the details of the period right, since that audience is very particular about the history. For example, even though Windswept is the only one of my Deborah Martin books that was truly set in the Regency time period (well, 1802), it’s still set in Wales with a Welsh heroine and a Welsh hero who’s an Oxford professor. Not typical at all.

Still, I didn’t write those unusual Deborah Martin books because I loved the periods or settings. I just felt that I should love them. One day when I was bemoaning the fact that my books weren’t taking off, my critique partner, Rexanne Becnel, asked me what I liked to read, and I admitted that it was Regency historicals (Amanda Quick, Mary Jo Putney, Johanna Lindsey’s Malory’s, Judith McNaught). She said, “Then that’s what you should write.”

Meredith: When Windswept came out, I had just fallen into my lasting obsession with historical romance. I remember goingA Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran into a B. Dalton and leaving with historicals that took place in eighteenth century Spain and Constantinople, and a Victorian road-trip romance set along the Silk Route. I learned so much history and geography from those romances, I became positively deadly in my AP world history classes!

Sabrina: For you, it’s probably more about the history. It isn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong—reading historical romances definitely made me more interested in history. I find it fascinating … but I don’t need tons of it in my romance. I read historicals for the “sweep me away to another world with swoony guys and bold women” aspect.

Meredith: If someone commanded you to write a historical set in a time period that you knew “wouldn’t sell” but which fascinated you, which would you choose?

Sabrina: I wouldn’t mind trying another English Restoration novel, if only to see if I could duplicate the zeitgeist of that period better than I did in my initial two Deborah Martins. To me, it’s a lot like the Regency because society was in so much flux.

Meredith: I read Forever Amber at an impressionable age, so I’d love to see more Restoration romances! For myself, I think I’d write a book set in Roman Britain, featuring the star-crossed love (and the miraculous happy-ever-after) of a Roman soldier and the Celtic woman who led the resistance against his army. It would have to be at least 500 pages to allow for a lengthy trip to Rome, where I could write some very juicy scenes featuring politics, feasts and backstabbing among the Roman elite.

Sabrina: Wait, let me guess. Fan of the Rome series, right? ☺ But you lost me at five hundred pages. One thing I do love about books now is that they’re shorter. I’m ADD. I read a lot of long, long books in my youth, but I skimmed “the boring parts”—description and stuff that didn’t involve the hero and heroine. I know, I know, I’m not a typical writer’s writer.

Meredith: Speaking of unsettled periods, many would say we’re currently living in one. What role do you see for romance novels in a time when real-world politics are on everyone’s minds?

Sabrina: Well, historical romance novels in particular can remind us of the lessons history has—or should have—taught us. Nothing is new under the sun—it really isn’t. So looking to history can help us figure out where we should be going if we want to escape the mistakes of the far distant past.

Meredith: I absolutely agree. And I also believe that making a better world requires a clear understanding of our values and our hopes for the future. Our genre is often derided as “escapist,” but I think there’s a great and potentially agentive power in escapism if it enables us to realize and articulate our core values. For instance, compassion and optimism are not only virtues in and of themselves, they are crucial resources for any human endeavor, politics included. I like to think that the romance genre, by celebrating the importance of human connection, also helps us embrace and defend the qualities that engender human connection in the world.

Sabrina: Yes! Definitely.

Meredith’s A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is out today. Digital copies start at $6.99 and you can grab your copy here: Amazon | BN.com | Google Play | iBooks | KoboWindswept is also available now. Digital copies start at $5.99: Amazon | BN.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kobo. For more author-on-author chats, we’ve got you covered

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