M. J. Putney: Introduction of an Alter Ego

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo, aka M. J. Putney

March 21st will be the 25th anniversary of starting my first book, which was published 18 months later as The Diabolical Baron.  It’s time to reinvent myself again. <G>  Hence Dark Mirror, my first young adult paranormal historical, which hit the stores yesterday. 

I’ve always written romance, almost always historical, though some Diabolical Baron--Original contemporaries and historical fantasy crept in.  But YA is a new country, a new genre with new rules.  Though history and romance are still present. <G>

(Note: I am NOT giving up historical romance!  The Bargain will be reissued in April, and Nowhere Near Respectable, the third Lost Lords book, will be out in May, and I’m about to start book 4.)

Dark Mirror is a young adult novel with history, adventure, magic, and a dash of romance.  (Of course romance!)  I’m getting a lot of questions about the difference in writing between romance and YA.

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ The answer is reader expectations.  Different genres have different core stories.  Epic fantasy is the struggle between good and evil.  Mysteries are about justice. 

For romance, the core is the courtship story of the developing relationship, while the heart of a YA novel is the growth and life journey of the protagonist.  (Though lots of other things can be added to those core stories, of course.  Romance is found as a subplot in all genres.) 

But while the core stories for YA and romance are different, good storytelling is good storytelling.  That’s the foundation of all popular fiction,

So why YA?  I love combining history, romance, and magic, and I wrote several adult books of that ilk. But on the whole, historical romance readers prefer to get their fantasy reading kick from the setting, which is why lords and ladies and Cinderella stories are so popular.  When I changed publishers several years ago, I found that all the editors we talked to wanted me to write straight historical romance without woo-woo elements. 

Marriage Spell--300 dpi That was okay—obviously I like writing lords and ladies and Cinderella stories, or I wouldn’t have written so many of them. <G> But I still wanted to write magic!

In particular, I wanted to write a story that connected the Napoleonic period and World War II, because I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities in these two eras.  In both cases. England stood alone against a powerful Continental conqueror, protected by the English Channel, the British Navy, and the stubborn courage of her people. 

From there, it was a short hop to thinking that Regency mages would be drawn to a Napoleon-Bonaparte similar time period where their abilities were be needed.  I had the story idea for Dark Mirror in mind for quite a while before my Del Rey fantasy editor said rather casually that it would work well in YA. 

Bingo!  The heavens opened and the trumpets sounded!  I’d never considered writing YA, even though I’ve read it for years, but I immediately knew that this story should be written as YA. 

DM takes place in a Regency world where magic exists but is disdained by the nobility.  My heroine, sixteen year old Lady Victoria Mansfield, performs an act of heroism that condemns her to the dread Lackland Abbey, where well-born children are “cured” of their magical afflictions. 

Tunnel under Dover Castle Tory chooses to cast her lot with those students who study magic in secret in the chalk tunnels below the Abbey.  One of them is Allarde, the handsome, enigmatic heir to a dukedom.  When a magical artifact draws her through time to a war torn 1940 Britain, she wants nothing more than to return home.  But duty calls, and she and her friends must use their magical abilities to help save their nation from disaster at Dunkirk. 

Mega research!  Especially on the 1940 section of the book, which is within living Dunkirk beaches memory.  But there is nothing like stepping off a creative cliff to get the juices flowing.  <G> 

At least three books will be set in this world.  The YAs will be published under the name of M. J. Putney to indicate that they’re a different kind of book.  (Though you who have long memories may recall I did one historical romantic fantasy, Stolen Magic, under my initials before returning to my full name.)

This is a rather scary leap for me because the YA market and distribution are quite different from adult popular fiction.  Plus—could I fake a young adult voice?  I wasn’t a very good teenager even when I was one!  On the plus side, the readers are wonderfully enthusiastic, and there is a tremendous freedom in YA storytelling.

Besides, I had a story I wanted to tell.  <G>  I’m grateful that so far, the reviews have been very good.  Even from the teenagers. 

Here are a few of the reviews.  I particularly liked the first because it says what I hope and believe: that a fair number of my adult readers will enjoy Tory’s story.

“An amazing young adult novel from an established romance author! Mary Jo Putney’s adult readers will delight in her latest offering.”
 Leah, YoungAdultRomanceWriters.com

“One of the best stories I've ever read that mixes history, magic, and time travel.”
 Angel, 15 years old, from the teen advisory board of New Albany-Floyd County Library in Indiana.  5 star rating.

 “Absolutely riveting, Putney creates a vivid historical fantasy and delivers a page-turning read.  The plot builds slowly and deliberately and then suddenly you're got magic-wielding, time-traveling teens in WWII England, as Putney gives us a magical explanation for an incredible historical event.”
    Raven Heller, 4 1/2 stars, Romantic Times Bookclub

Evacuation_Dunkirk Since I am new to the YA genre, St. Martin’s Press wanted to release the first books close together.  Book 2, Dark Passage, is scheduled for September 2011, and the third book, not yet written, will be published some time in 2012.  (You can see why I’ve been so busy!)  There will also be a free downloadable short story, a sort of prequel, that will be available soon online.  It’s called “Fallen From Grace.” 

I have a basic website up at mjputney.com , and also a Facebook page, though I don’t pay as much attention to the sites as I should.  I can write more stories, or have a great online presence.  Not both unless I figure out how to clone myself. Triplets would be about right.  <G>

DarkMirror--LOWER REZ If the story interests you, or you know a young reader who might be enjoy Tory and her adventures, I hope you’ll give it a try.  Leave a comment between now and Friday midnight and you may win a signed copy of Dark Mirror from me.  So tell me what you think about this latest reinvention!

Mary Jo, aka M. J.

We’re Four!


Happy birthday to us! Happy birthday to us! Happy fourth birthday to the Wenches, happy birthday to us!

Hi, this is Jo, compiling our special anniversary blog with four helpers. Each of the Wenches has answered the question, "Why historicals?" We hope you'll enjoy the posts, and then answer the question in your own way.

There's a special anniversary gift, of course — a mini-shopping spree at a great internet bookstore called The Book Depository. What's particularly great about this one? It ships free world wide. We do have Wench readers all around the world, and this way the prize is of use to any of you. To fit with our 4th anniversary, the prize is $40 US, which translates into about 28 British pounds. Why do I mention that? Because the main Book Depository site is in the UK, though there is one in the US. American readers might find books at the British site not readily available in the States.

Click here to visit them now.

What do you have to do to win? The details are at the end.

Now on the the Wenches' answers to the question, "Why historicals?"

Susank Susan King: For me, reading fairy tales and then historical fiction as a kid went hand in hand, and then years spent studying history at a graduate level heightened my fascination for history. So writing historicals, when I began writing fiction, seemed like a natural choice.


Something that greatly appeals to me in historicals is the way a good historical can have a rich world-building aspect — we can totally immerse, through that story, in a different time and place and discover new things that don't exist in our own world. And a good historical, for me, always has a hint (or more!) of that fairy tale essence, of romance and adventure in a far away time and place — and yet characters, settings, situations and events might be actual. 

As fiction writers, we're part of a long, long tradition of storytellers and bards who told tales by the fireside–and those old stories were often historicals!

Anneg Anne Gracie: Why historicals? I blame Georgette Heyer. She caught me young (11  years old) and I was hooked for life. The book was These Old Shades,  and it plunged me into an exciting new world and swept me way on the  adventures of Léon, bought for a few coins for the mysterious purposes  of His Grace of Avon, turned into Léonie and taught to be a girl  again, and then— well, you need to read it. I'm not sure I even  noticed it was a historical — for me, the characters and the story were what counted, and the historical setting was just their world, as  Mowgli lived in his world and Anne of Green Gables hers.

I don't understand people who love paranormals but say they don't like  historicals because of "all that history" — as if a historical novel  is some kind of history textbook. And I don't understand those who 
only want to read about men and women of their own nationality, time  and country. Sure, it's fun, but I love to escape to other places, other worlds, other times.

I read all kinds of fiction; fantasy, adventure, mystery, sci-fi and  historicals of all kinds  but whenSharpe2 it came to writing a romance, Heyer  had entwined the Regency era and romance firmly in my mind. I love  everything about the Regency era;  high society —glamor, intrigue and  frivolity, the dark undertow of poverty, the tragedy and heroism of  war, the huge changes wrought by the industrial revolution, the growth  of the British Empire and more. It's such a rich and varied garden to  browse in.

It's perfect for me, because I love to explore the people  who fall through the cracks of change — heroines cast adrift by  circumstance, heroes who've returned changed by war, or who are the  product of broken or dysfunctional families. And speaking of  historical heroes… sigh… what's not to love about larger-than- life, unreconstructed men, raised (they think) to rule? 

When I started writing romance, I connected with a small bunch of  would-be writers who seemed to know everything –all the publishers,  the agents, the rules of writing etc. To my dismay they said, "Don't 
you know the historical is dead? All the historical authors are leaving. If you want to get published, you'll have to write  contemporary." But I loved my Regency-era story so I persevered with  it, and to my surprise and delight I sold it. Apparently the publisher  didn't know the Historical Was Dead — and I wasn't going to tell them.  That was ten years ago, but last year I met a very talented new writer  who tCatchabride16kold me worriedly that she'd just been told the Historical was  Dead and she ought to be writing paranormals… Heh heh. 

As far as I'm concerned, as long as people write fabulous and original  stories, the historical will never die. It's a constantly evolving  subgenre and every year wonderful new writers emerge who take a rich,  well mined vein of history and create something fresh, bright and new-minted from it. And congratulations to the Original Wenches who've done much to ensure the historical will never die.

Andreapickens Cara Elliott: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . . "

My love affair with the genre started when I was a child. I remember the wonderment of reading of T.H. White's The Once And Future King, a book on King Arthur childhood and his schooling with Merlin (shades of Harry Potter) It was sheer magic! Then it was on to swashbuckling adventure like The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, and Horatio Hornblower. And as I got a little older, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. The list could, of course, go on ad infinitum, but I shall simply say that I was an avid reader long before I was a writer.

When I read, like to be transported into a different world, and a historical setting adds that additional layer of "fantasy" — and I mean that in every good sense of the word!   I want to savor the sights anSurrd sounds and texture of the imagination . . . and somehow, having the story take place in another era helps me slide out of the mundane confines of my daily routine and into that special place.   If I learn a little something about a facet of real history, be it painting or smuggling or what a Regency phaeton and postboy look like, well, that only adds to the enjoyment. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good contemporary story, too. But there is an element of romance to windswept castles and candlelit ballrooms, aswirl in silks and satins, that make my heart go pitter-patter.

Now, why do I write historicals? For exactly the same reasons. Leaving the present for the past seems to let my mind to explore stories and characters with more freedom. Maybe it's because even with all the research we do-the studying of fashion and furnishings, the walking through historic houses and gardens, the tasting of orgeat and spotted dick-we have to create what life felt like, smelled like and sounded like in our own heads.

Every so often, a big debate arises in publishing circles on whether historicals are dead. Dead? Ha! A look in any bookstore will show that they are clearly alive and thriving. And I believe that won't change because they have an appeal that is truly timeless.

Patrice Pat Rice: I was one of those irritating children who always asked Why? Of course, at that age, my concerns were more of the nature of Why do I have to wear dresses and not pants like the boys? But I quickly branched out to Why did the Greeks and Romans have so many gGreek godods and Why are they rioting in Alabama and after being ignored enough, I eventually learned to look up the answers. That's when I learned that you can't understand today or tomorrow unless you understand yesterday. The old adage that history is doomed to repeat itself until we learn from it is painfully true, so I set out to learn from our ancestors.

With that kind of fascination with history, writing historical romance was a given. It's the people and cultures and society of prior periods that interest me more than battles and dates. Romance allows me to explore the past through the eyes of my characters, play with the same issues we have today” Does he love me? How will I feed my children?” and show how society changes from the perspective of my characters. 

And besides writing about history, I get to write about my other passion ”how love changes everything." All is good!  Happy Anniversary, Wenches!

Mary Jo Putney. WhyMjpwench  historicals?  Why oxygen?  I seem to have needed both my whole  life
 Maybe it's genetic.  My father was a history buff, with a particular interest in the American  Civil War.  As a boy, he heard  stories from his grandfather, who served with the Union  at Gettysburg.  As kids, we regularly visited places  like Fort  Ticonderoga (shown below.) I  was the only of my father's offspring who was happy to read the historical  novels he offTiconderogaered, so I cut my teeth on Bruce Lancaster and Kenneth Roberts.  (Georgette Heyer, Norah  Lofts, and Dorothy Dunnett came later.)  

As a  reader, I love being taken to other worlds, which covers both historical novels  and my lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy.  Of course, I read just about everything,  but a good historical novel was a particular delight.  Our tastes shape our lives, so it's not  surprising that I ended up with a degree in 18th century British  Literature, norOxford that I engineered an opportunity to live in Oxford, England for  two years. There it is, in misty grandeur. Click on the picture to enlarge.

With  all that background, it's hardly surprising that when I mastered word processing  and decided to see if I could write a novel, what came out was a traditioNeverlessthanalady150nal  Regency romance, a la Georgette Heyer.  I loved the language, the settings, the happy endings.  Since I also loved stories with action and adventure, it  wasn't long until I moved into historical romance, where we can write  magnificently over the top characters in a way that's very difficult with contemporary settings.  

History also makes it possible to explore interesting  issues right at the source, whether it's  Waterloo or abolition.  And it gives us an excuse to read  fascinating history and visit even more fascinating places.  And deduct part of the costs, even.  <g> 

I  mean, is this a great job or what?!!! 

Nicolacornick Nicola Cornick. Nicola is enjoying a well-deserved holiday.
Confessions of a duchess

If she gets back in time to contribute, it will be added then.


Mewench And now here's me, Jo Beverley. After all the excellent pieces above, I could just say, "Hear, hear!" I too had a father who was very interested in history — in this case, English history. His particular hero was Hereward the Wake, leading of the English resistance after the Norman Conquest. That's why he appeared in my first historical romance, Lord of My Heart.

I loved historical fiction from my earliest reading days. After all, most fairytales are historical, aren't they? I adored the traditional costumes for Cinderella, which could be why I now write Georgians. I, too, plunged into adult historical romance at about 11, first with The Scarlet Pimpernel, and then with Georgette Heyer. I, too, studied history at university simply because I loved it.

The whole "historicals are dead" seemed an error to me at the time, so I ignored it, which has worked out very well. Why did it seem wrong? I could see that my books were doing jusTsblgt fine, and the readers I had contact with were as enthusiastic about the books as ever. In addition, however, people have always been hungry for tales of yore, be they of love, adventure, myths, or monsters. I don't think that will ever change.

The favourite periods might change, or the most popular story elements, but fiction set in the past, especially love stories set in the past, will die round about the time the sun does.

Talking about periods, I have no interest in historical fiction set in the recent past because that's too close for the magic of "other times" to work. Anyone else feel like that? I think I can't find the magic in a time inhabited by anyone I've known, and one of my grandmothers was born in 1860. Yes, I do remember her, and a scary remnant of the Victorian era she was too. She probably explains my aversion to that period. So it's back to Regency and earlier for me.

Now it's your turn.

Share your thoughts on "Why historicals?" Why you read them, why you think others read them, and if you're a writer, why you write them. Could historical romance ever die?

On Thursday, May 27th, the Wenches will choose the most interesting comment posts, and we'll be very liberal about it, and then one will be randomly picked to win our prize.

Have fun,

The Word Wenches