Day 21 Meredith Duran – The Wonder of the Ordinary

Romancing The Humdrum

The older I get, the faster the days seem to pass. I’m told that this is a known phenomenon with no single, credible

fool me twice_website_largeexplanation. The theories that do circulate mostly concern the ways in which our lives, as adults, settle into familiar routines that allow our brains to go on a kind of autopilot. We wake up one day and realize an entire month—or year—has passed, and somehow it’s our birthday/summer/the holidays again.

There is something deeply disconcerting about realizing I can’t remember much of what I did last week. Work, grocery store, gym, repeat: my life recedes into a blur. But how does one become mindful of, and grateful for, the ordinary moments that make up everyday life?

Commercials suggest that all it takes is a new car, or a beer, or the right kind of yogurt. Talk-show psychologists urge us to shake it up—to push our comfort zones with a high-octane fad like aerial gymnastics, or to take a trip to a faraway place we’ve never been.

But we know that an appreciation for mundane daily life isn’t sold in stores. And very few of us can afford to risk our necks on aerial silks—much less to live our lives out of a suitcase. (For those who can, I suspect that five-star hotels and first-class flights very quickly become autopilot routines of their own.)

In fact, contentment and appreciation are not skills widely taught in our society. Everywhere I look, I discover messages that urge us to escape the realities of daily life—not celebrate them.

One exception? Romance novels. The very books maligned by critics as “escapist” are, in fact, the books dedicated to capturing the beauty of the universal, the commonplace, the ordinary, the taken-for-granted: love; relationships; camaraderie and connection.

Just think about it! When we pick up a book that lavishes three hundred and fifty pages on the story of two people meeting, coming to know each other, and falling in love, we are celebrating one of the most commonplace—and simultaneously, the most extraordinary—things that happen every day, on every street corner in the world.

By reading and writing romance novels, we are celebrating the extraordinary that always lurks within the ordinary—and thereby, I think, also celebrating the key to making each day count: an appreciation for the everyday wonders that make up the real substance of our lives.

Recommendations:

Rose Lerner and Jeannie Lin – Rose’s stories are set in Regency England; Jeannie’s, in Imperial China. Yet I recommend them in the same breath because both are exquisitely talented writers whose romances consistently prove swoonworthy. Furthermore, if you love a finely polished phrase, a sentence that sings, and an immersive sense of time and place, you would be well advised to seek out both these novelists’ work.


 

Questions for the Author

Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.

I was the kindergartener who wouldn’t climb on a jungle gym until she saw another kindergartener do it—and demonstrate how to get down, afterward. That innate caution remains with me to this day. I have friends who think my penchant for solo travel is brave—I’ve set off on my own through the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and India. But I promise you, if it felt risky, I wouldn’t do it!

In fact, I’ve found that traveling alone, particularly as a foreigner, becomes an invitation for strangers to show their warmest, friendliest faces to you. My most inspiring stories consist of the kindness I’ve received from people whom I’ll never meet again—the two Barcelonans who, realizing I was lost, walked me a mile out of their way to show me back to my hostel; the Bangladeshi construction workers in Florence who helped me when food poisoning struck at the Duomo; the unknown benefactor in India who, when I was studying abroad there, deduced that I’d spent money I couldn’t afford on a gift for my mother, and smuggled that money back to me by leaving it in my hostel room, in an envelope bearing an image of Ganesha (to denote the contents as a gift and blessing).

People are marvelous. My hope is that telling stories about inspirational people will, in turn, become an inspirational act of my own.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)

I honestly cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. You can blame this on E.B. White. My mother read Charlotte’s Web to me at a very impressionable age, and I was severely disappointed with Charlotte’s fate. I decided to correct Mr. White’s error by rewriting the ending.

It was a hard road, of course. First, I had to learn how to handwrite (to say nothing of spelling). But my determination was unwavering. I’m pleased to report I got an EE (“Excellent Effort”) in English on my first report card—exactly the encouragement I’d needed.

I embarked on my first project with the aid of several reams of construction paper and a pack of crayons. In my unauthorized sequel, Charlotte was resurrected, and survived to spin many more webs. Meanwhile, I moved on to pencils, then cursive, and (at the ripe age of ten) a banged-up typewriter.

In short, I’ve been making up stories and committing them to the page since first grade or so.

Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

There are so MANY books that changed my life! I feel like that’s the definition of a good book: by broadening your awareness or empathy, it broadens your experience of the world.

I think here, for instance, of Susan Kay’s Legacy — a novel about Elizabeth I, that I happened to pick up as a ninth grader. It’s a wonderful book, and before reading it, I knew almost nothing about Tudor England. By the time I finished the book, I was caught in the grip of a fledgling obsession. Fast-forward to my senior year of high school: I was playing the lute, taking voice lessons, and acting and interning at a Shakespeare camp, all because an interest sparked by a single book had opened up opportunities to which I’d been blind before.

I don’t think there’s a single book in the world bereft of this transformative power. But it’s a little like love: compatibility is key—and so is timing!

Meredith is generously giving away one copy of Fool Me Twice and one copy of That Scandalous Summer to three winners. U.S. readers only, apologies to international friends.


 

Meredith_DuranBio: Meredith Duran 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. All three goals have now become her favorite things to do. When not teaching, researching, or working on her next novel, Meredith can be found in the library, browsing through travelogues written by intrepid Englishwomen of the nineteenth century.

 

 

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  • MK

    What a wonderful post. Books are indeed very powerful

    • Meredith Duran

      They are, aren’t they? And also, of course, just plain delicious. I was looking at my TBR pile last night and feeling positively gleeful about it. 🙂

  • Kathy Nye

    I love your idea that romance celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary. I have never thought about it like that before but it is true. Thanks.

    • Meredith Duran

      Thanks, Kathy! I’m so glad that it resonates with you.

  • Hope Stern

    oh Meredith, you are so right “Romance novels. The very books maligned by critics as “escapist” are, in fact, the books dedicated to capturing the beauty of the universal, the commonplace, the ordinary, the taken-for-granted: love; relationships; camaraderie and connection.” I so agree, THIS is what Romance books and reading them mean to me. I appreciate them more and more as I age. And these books are never ever mundane to me, nor the writers. The authors I have met, read and listen to all their lovely stories have blown me away each and every day. I enjoy your works and yes, Charlottes Web…the reason I read and write here and there…I crave happy endings! And I believe Charlotte looked over the entire farm forever and ever. Psst, I read travelogues also! And reading the latest Duran title….

    • Meredith Duran

      Hope, it’s funny that you say that romance novels have taken on a deeper meaning as you age. I’m finding the same. Particularly of late, when the news around the world seems unceasingly bleak, I’ve been reflecting on how fortunate I am to be working on a manuscript that emphatically favors the utility and rightness of hope. 🙂

  • Sharlene Wegner

    I think solo travel is especially brave, particularly in countries with different languages! Glad you are having such positive experiences!

    • Meredith Duran

      Well, I don’t do much solo travel now that there’s a Mr. Duran in the picture, he kind of insists on coming along. 😉 But those experiences remain so valuable to me, even after all these years!

  • I agree with her. Life is beautiful and some time the greatest beauty is the mundane. I love looking at the vegetable garden

    • Meredith Duran

      One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed was Mar Vista, a collection of little cottages on the Northern California coast with no television, really no internet reception, and a huge vegetable garden that all the guests could plunder whenever they liked. I have never been so entertained in my life, so now I know what you mean — gardens are indeed magical!

  • Debbie Oxier

    Thanks. Have never read any of your work before.

    • Meredith Duran

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll give my work a try!

  • Mj

    Romance books are definitely an escape like you said, a chance to see things in our mind that we might never experience in our own lives.

    • Meredith Duran

      Indeed. Well put!

  • LisaVH

    I may never again refer to reading as my escape. You are so right! Celebrate the ordinary because its not mundane at all. It is remarkably profound that two people manage to come together to share their lives. I need to remember that more often.

    • Meredith Duran

      “It is remarkably profound that two people manage to come together to share their lives.”

      Much less stay together! I love asking people who have been together for forty, fifty years — “How did you meet? What did you do for your last anniversary?” The answers are almost always so moving.

  • Anna

    Hooray for sushi!

    And I love the idea of romance novels, instead of being an escape, are a celebration of the ordinary. Thanks!

    • Meredith Duran

      Mmm, sushi…

      Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

  • ckiku24

    I love reading, especially romance novels. They take you to place you have never been before, and you can stay there like a invited guest. Romance novels are never mundane, nor will never go away.

    • Meredith Duran

      When I started reading romances in the 1990s, you could find historicals set in a huge variety of places, from Aztec Mexico to colonial Brazil to China to medieval Germany. It was exactly that sense you describe of being transported which so enamored me of them…

  • Dorothy Salvagin

    Thank you for a lovely post. The mundane can be the exquisite.

    • Meredith Duran

      Thank you for stopping by, Dorothy!

  • Sue G.

    I love ending my day by reading a romance novel. They just make me happy!

    • Meredith Duran

      Can’t argue with that. 🙂

  • mariannewestrich

    I routinely escape the day-to-day by falling into a good romance!

    • Meredith Duran

      A very good habit, methinks! 😉

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I read romance novels pretty much every day and often have to tear myself away to do mundane things like cook dinner, do laundry, go to work, blah blah blah. I love when I am in the middle of a great book or series and I literally cannot tear myself away to go to sleep. I agree that time seems to move quickly as we age and I have really made an effort in the last few years to take time to enjoy things more. I try not to focus too much on the distant future and instead, stop and live each day to the fullest. So far, I have to say that I like living this way…I tend to stress out a lot less and find a lot of pleasure in the little things (for instance, amazing books, ice cream, and cute sleeping dogs, cats, husband). Great post today and I look forward to reading your books. I have a very full to be read list, courtesy of RARM that you have now joined!

    • Meredith Duran

      How wonderful, Courtney! Thanks for putting me on the list!

  • Debbie Fuller

    Adding you to my TBR list

    • Meredith Duran

      Thank you, Debbie! I hope you enjoy my books.

  • Quinn Fforde

    I love how you turned the escapism criticism on its head. Very thought provoking! I haven’t read your work, but I will after this post. Thanks!

    • Meredith Duran

      Thanks, Quinn! I’d be pleased indeed if we could defuse that criticism once and for all.

  • Kim

    I’ve enjoyed the books in your new series. Traveling abroad alone does take courage or at least confidence.

    • Meredith Duran

      Glad to hear you’re liking The Rules for the Reckless series!

      You know, the first time I went abroad solo, I *was* pretty terrified. Checking into that hostel was such a relief, I think I didn’t leave it again till the next morning — and keep in mind, I arrived in the afternoon! 🙂

  • Martha B

    I just discovered YOU this year…How did I miss you?! (especially since I love historical romances, my preferred genre). That said, I appreciate your recommendation to the other two authors mentioned (totally new to me). Duke of Shadows was the first book I read of yours…
    As they say, the rest is history (pun intended)!

    • Meredith Duran

      I am thrilled to have been discovered, Martha! I hope you enjoy Rose and Jeannie’s books as much as I did.

  • rebecca moe

    I agree–Charlotte definitely deserved a better ending! I’m so glad you gave her one 🙂

    • Meredith Duran

      Score a point for Team Charlotte! Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca.

  • alisha woods

    haven’t read Rose’s books will have to look into her

    • Meredith Duran

      You’re in for a treat; she really has such a way with words.

  • Sheila M

    I love happy endings and had some ideas of my own about how the ending of Charlotte’s Web could have been different…maybe a dream sequence?

    • Meredith Duran

      I sense an anthology on the horizon: “A Hundred HEAs for Charlotte!”

  • Erin F

    I remember as a kid, not changing endings but expanding them. My chore was walking the dogs and that was perfect for my HEA expansion dreaming 😉

    • Meredith Duran

      I love this – “not changing endings but expanding them.” Sounds like we would have been friends as children!

  • Emmel

    Romance does take the mundane and make it powerful, doesn’t it? I I hadn’t thought of it that way before. But beneath the surface of all of our simple romances lies a complex core of faith, fervor, fire, fear, and fun. Wonderful way to consider it!

    • Meredith Duran

      Thanks, Emmei – I’m so glad it spoke to you.

  • Barbara E.

    Reading romance is my favorite activity and I think it does brighten up my days, especially when they all seem to run together at times.

    • Meredith Duran

      Glad to hear it, Barbara!

  • Joan Varner

    I agree that most romances celebrate an extraordinary event in a person’s life – falling in love and the travels that each character takes to achieve the HEA that I want to read. I hadn’t thought about it being ordinary but you are absolutely right that falling in love and developing relationships is all around us.

    • Meredith Duran

      And thank goodness for that, Joan! Love is an everyday miracle.

  • Elke Nominikat

    As how she usually does, Meredith also summarized this beautifully. Her language is exquisit and she’s painting a picture with every single phrase she puts to paper or whatever digital device there is.
    As for this particular quib, in regards to romance novels… I am not only happy to be beautifully entertained, but more so if done in style and skill. And both I find when reading Meredith Duran’s work – which I am reluctant to pile just through (although I feel like doing it) because I know, in the end there will be nothing as fantastic left – so I spread it out.
    Here’s hope that Meredith will enjoy writing for many more years to come as I will enjoy whatever she puts out there for us to enjoy!

    • Meredith Duran

      Elke, you make me blush! Thank you so much for all your kind words.

  • Pamby50

    In the world where there is so much going on, reading romance takes me to all the wonderful places I want to go.

    • Meredith Duran

      Very well put, Pamby.

  • M Kuxhaus

    I’ve read Rose Lerner and enjoyed her writing. I’ll need to try Jeannie Lin next.

    • Meredith Duran

      I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

  • Michelle Fidler

    Hadn’t heard of your books before. They sound good. Regencies are my preferred type of romance. I don’t think I’d like sushi.

  • Tammy H

    I loved your memories of the kind people you met on your trips.

  • Donna

    “Romance novels. The very books maligned by critics as “escapist” are, in fact, the books dedicated to capturing the beauty of the universal, the commonplace, the ordinary, the taken-for-granted: love; relationships; camaraderie and connection.”

    Beautifully said! You are truly a wordsmith. A wonderful post. There is so much beauty and wonder in the ordinary and every day if we would simply take the time and make the effort to see it. And not only around us, but within us.

  • Janie McGaugh

    I enjoyed your post. I haven’t read anything, yet, by Rose Lerner or Jeannie Lin; I’ll have to check them out.

  • Adaffern

    Great post.

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    Nice post. You are new to me so I will be checking out your books.

  • Chelsea B.

    I love your story of becoming a writer! To think, at a very young age you were writing Charlotte’s Web Fanfiction 😉

  • Tin

    I’d love to read your Charlotte’s Web alternate ending! (We were just talking about this the other day, because a friend’s 8-year old just finished reading it, and I remembered not liking how EB White ended it.)

  • Glenda

    ” In fact, contentment and appreciation are not skills widely taught in our society. Everywhere I look, I discover messages that urge us to escape the realities of daily life—not celebrate them.

    One exception? Romance novels. The very books maligned by critics as “escapist” are, in fact, the books dedicated to capturing the beauty of the universal, the commonplace, the ordinary, the taken-for-granted: love; relationships; camaraderie and connection. ”

    Amen. If only more people would realize that! Thanks!

  • Stephanie M.

    Thank you for your post. I was reminded of a writing assignment in the 6th grade. Mine wasn’t as cool as rewriting the end of Charlotte’s Web though. I loved Fool Me Twice and can’t wait to read more of your books.

  • Gretchen

    Traveling alone seems brave to me. If I were to try it, I for sure would go to Scotland first!

  • Laurie W G

    I’m so glad you had a positive experience while traveling. My husband and I were robbed once at a Florida beach. My son’s rental car was broken into in Portland, Oregon. My sister’s camera was stolen in Maui. I think my family’s jinxed! CRAZY!

    I loved Charlotte’s Web.. My daughter used it for her 3rd grade book to tell her class about, dressed up as Fern.

  • Meredith Richeson Hillenbrand

    I love what you said about romance novels. Most people that malign them have never read them. They’re not just “stories”, they are about life. I don’t have a favorite book, I have read too many over the years. I just love to read!

  • Judy Goodnight

    I like what you had to say about celebrating the everyday aspects of our lives.