Anne here, interviewing Mary Jo Putney about her new book, ONCE A SCOUNDREL, which is out tomorrow!
ONCE A SCOUNDREL has received some lovely reviews. Booklist gave it a starred review and said: "The intelligently plotted and impeccably researched Once a Scoundrel, third in the Rogues Redeemed series, proves once again why RITA Award–winning Putney’s books are the literary equivalent of catnip to historical romance fans." Booklist has also named Once a Scoundrel to their list of the Top Ten Romances of the Year.
Anne: Mary Jo, I thoroughly enjoyed Once a Scoundrel. And isn't that a wonderful cover? This whole series have had wonderful covers.
The hero, Gabriel Hawkins Vance, is one of your "rogues redeemed", a disgraced Naval officer, now a seafaring adventurer and sometime blockade runner. He is commissioned to sail to the Barbary Coast to rescue Lady Aurora “Rory” Lawrence, an adventurous young lady bored by staid London society. Aurora and her cousin, Constance, have been captured by pirates and are being held for a huge ransom.
We've met Gabriel before, haven't we? (I remember him from Once a Rebel but I kept wondering if we'd seen him in some adventure with Malek Reis. You brought that backstory to life so well I was almost convinced I must have read it.)
Mary Jo: We've never seen Gabriel with Malek Reis, but he was in that cellar with four other men at the beginning of Once a Soldier, and he provided transport to and from the US during the War of 1812 in Gordon's story, Once a Rebel. We didn't know a lot about him before now, though, not even his first name. When I start a series with a bunch of guys, I'm usually very vague about most of them so I have room to develop the stories when the time comes. For example, I had no idea that Gabriel was a sea captain! But Gordon needed someone to sail him to the US, and after that, Gabriel's story had a direction.
And you are so right about the fabulous covers that Kensington has given my recent books! The last several have been done by illustrator Jon Paul Ferrara and he's wonderful. His painterly style reminds me of the legendary Pino, who did several of my earlier covers.
Anne: At first glance, Lady Aurora (Rory) could seem to be headstrong and foolish, putting herself and her cousin into danger for the sake of adventure. But why not? If men can be adventurers, why not the women? I liked Rory, and found her courageous and honorable and forthright. What drives Rory?
Mary Jo: Rory is naturally adventurous and curious about the world, and as the youngest of eight children, she'd seen enough of the beau monde to find it boring. There were a number of adventurous women in the 18th and 19th centuries: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Lady Hester Stanhope, Isabella Bird, Jane Digby. Rory fits in with such women very nicely. <G>
Anne: Rory's destiny, if Gabriel cannot manage to rescue her, is to be sold into a harem. For her own and other's safety, she must remain a virgin, and yet you managed to include quite a few tender and sensual scenes.
MJP: I wanted to show the intensity of the attraction, but also the danger if they go too far. It made things interesting. <G>
Anne: It certainly did. I also enjoyed the secondary romance between Rory's cousin, Constance, and her auburn-haired American seaman and also the thread where Rory and her cousin were writing novels. What inspired that?
Mary Jo: Why does anyone write novels??? Rory is imaginative and those looooong sea voyages provided the time needed to write. I suspect she had a natural storyteller's mind and always had stories in her head growing up. (I'll bet you can relate to that, Anne!) Rory and Constance started the stories for their own amusement, but they're very good writing partners. Gabriel, for one, said he'd like to read their stories of adventurous women. Because he likes adventurous women. <G>
Anne: I also loved the miniature animals thread, especially the little goats. (Here's a link to a video with miniature goats ) And of course the small, but vital role of The Spook, who I believe was inspired by one of your own cats. (Pause for MJP to talk about Spook — is he a good mouser, too?)
Mary Jo: I doubt the Spook could catch a sleeping tortoise! Having lived part of his life under a construction trailer, he is keen on as much eating and sleeping in safety as he can manage. He wasn't feral–clearly he'd had a home, but who knows how it was lost? He is very large, very shy, very sweet, and undoubtedly part-Siamese–half, maybe–and he has the crossed blue eyes to prove it. He also has long, skinny legs that remind me of an Imperial Walker from Star Wars. He's the oddest looking cat I've ever had, which made him perfect for becoming a ship's cat. <G>
Anne: The action of the last part really swept me along, and you managed to pull all the various threads together so well. You write romance and action equally well. Do you have a preference?
Mary Jo: No preference, Anne; I really like combining the two, probably because I like reading both romance and adventure. For one thing, I need something to fill all those pages! But also, adventure tests the characters and their relationship. By the end of the book, they've grown, changed, and made a lasting commitment to each other.
Anne: Can you share a little of Once A Scoundrel with us, please?
Mary Jo: Rory and Gabriel are chatting on deck the night they leave Algiers for Constantinople. She asks him about that cellar in Portugal:
"Before we went our separate ways, we declared ourselves the Rogues Redeemed and promised to keep in touch through Hatchard's bookstore in London," Gabriel replied. "There was a vague plan that any of us who survived the war would meet up and tell each other lies of our adventures over bottles of really good brandy."
Rory laughed. "How very, very male! I create adventures in my mind, but you've lived them. Did you succeed in the mission that took you into Portugal?"
"Yes, a British wine shipper and his Portuguese wife who feared the French invasion asked me to bring her parents to London. Once I escaped my second execution, I located them and we were able to reach my ship safely. Since they were Portuguese, no one accused them of being spies. They said I was their simple grandson who couldn't talk." He smiled. "Leaving Porto was much easier than entering it."
"Have you met any of your Irredeemable Rogues again?"
"Yes, the fellow who chartered my ship to go to the United States was a fellow rogue, redeemed rather than irredeemable. He said that two of the others were alive, so that's at least four. Now that the fighting is over, maybe we'll manage to get together and share that brandy."
If he'd been able to rescue an elderly couple from Portugal in the middle of an invasion, perhaps he could rescue her and Constance. It was a cheering thought. Wanting to learn even more about him, she asked, "How did you come to be disowned? I have trouble imagining you as such a disreputable youth that your family would wash their hands of you."
His face shuttered. "I've talked enough about myself. Tell me about India. I've never been there."
Ignoring his request, she said quietly, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked you that."
His expression eased. "It's much easier to talk of death than dishonor."
And that long ago estrangement from his family still hurt deeply. Without thinking, she laid her hand on his where it rested on the railing. She meant it as a gesture of comfort, but this was the first time they'd touched and she was shocked by a surge of energy between them. Of feeling. She remembered the thought she had when she first saw him. This man. Now.
Unnerved, she would have pretended the moment hadn't happened, but before she could withdraw her hand, he interlaced their fingers. That clasp felt deeply intimate and she wondered if he could feel the pounding of her heart through their touch.
He gazed at her with an intensity that made the rest of the world fade away. "I knew returning to the Barbary Coast wasn't wise," he said in a husky whisper. "But as soon as I saw your picture in your mother's locket, I agreed to go. I had to."
Anne: Lovely, thank you, Mary Jo.
Mary Jo will be giving away a copy of Once a Scoundrel to someone who leaves a comment or a response to this question: "Do you like stories that have two romances?"