Dark Passage: Anne Interviews Mary Jo, aka M. J. Putney

Cat 243 Dover by Anne and Mary Jo

Anne:  Mary Jo, in DARK PASSAGE, we return to the world you established in DARK MIRROR — a Regency-era world where magic was for commoners only and aristocratic families sent their talented children to be 'cured' of their magical tendencies. The young people secretly rebel against their school's teaching that magic is an abomination, and become "Merlin’s Irregulars", sworn to use their magic to defend Britain. They travel forward in time through Merlin's Mirror to a time and place where magic has been forgotten and is desperately needed — Europe, during WW2. I have to say, I'm really enjoying this series. But enough about me <G>

For those who want to read Mary Jo's post about the first book in the series, Dark Mirror, it's here.   It was also nominated as one of the top young adult novels of the year by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association.
And now on with the questions.

The Book:

DarkPassageA Anne: Mary Jo, tell us about Dark Passage.

MJP:  This young adult series was my chance to write more fantasy, which I love.  Also, unlike romance, where each book concentrates on a particular series, the Dark Mirror books present interesting new challenges with the same protagonists continuing through the books, though new secondary characters can appear and become important.  Relationships also grow and change and face new challenges.

As for the actual story—a classic WWII story is the secret mission behind enemy lines, and that’s the plot of Dark Passage.  The Irregulars need to rescue a French scientist whose work is vital to the war effort.  My scientist is fictional, but the project that wants him is real enough.  The story also lent itself to some other WWII themes, which I’ll let readers discover on their own!  I will mention that the male Irregulars are saying, “Yes, we need to do this,” while the girls are saying, “Are you out of your MINDS?!!!”  <g>

Anne:  Yes, it was a nice reflection of the difference between the genders in attitude to war and risk and adventure.  This time, as well as following the progress of Tory, Lady Victoria, we get to know more of Cynthia, the spiky, difficult, duke's daughter who is as mixed up about her own feelings as she is about her place in the world. It's a great combination, two girls on the threshold of love, star-crossed, with difficult decisions to make — personal and life-and-death.

MJP:  My editor absolutely adores Lady Cynthia, and I must say that I find her very Traditional Christmas Pudding easy to write.  I think she gives me a chance to let loose my inner Mean Girl.  <g>  Certainly she has the arrogance of very high rank, but she’s also wounded by the rejection she has experienced because she’s “tainted” by magical abilities.  No wonder she’s cranky. <G>  By the end of Dark Passage, she’s a lot happier with herself, but I’ve promised my editor that Cynthia will still retain her tart tongue! 

Anne: Excellent.  Readers are pretty familiar with the early 1800's but the WW2 period is not yet a well worn path, and in the first book you brought to life the heartache and drama of Dunkirk brilliantly. How have readers responded to the WW2 setting? or What inspired you to choose WW2 for your time slip period?

MJP:  When I was a kid, adults talking about “the war” meant WWII, a situation that didn’t change until after Vietnam, I think.  Also, it was “the good war” in the sense that there seemed to be a real difference between the good guys and the bad guys.  (Nazi death camps trump pretty much everything on the scales of evil.)  So when I was daydreaming in school (something I did a lot), I’d dream heroic stories of WWII with adventure and romance.

Now, finally—I’m writing heroic stories of WWI with adventure and romance. <G>

Readers seem to find the WWII setting interesting, though they don’t always spell what they like out.  The typical reader e-mail for Dark Mirror has been, “I loved this book!  When will the next one be out???”  <g>  To which I reply, “I’m writing as fast as I can!”

Anne: When I was a kid, almost all my historical knowledge came accidentally —from reading exciting novels with vividly drawn historical settings. Do you keep educational factors in mind when you're writing or does the story come first?

MJP: I don’t start with the idea of teaching anything in particular, but like you, I loved learning history through fiction.  (That may be what makes a reader a lover of historical novels.)  I think using real history greatly enriches a story and I always try to research new topics in each book because I like doing that, and I figure that at least some readers will, too.  I also come from a long line of teachers and preachers, so I love that educational elements are there as value added.

DARK MIRROR--Finalcove-- Research: 

Anne: You've been very clever in interweaving fact with fiction, especially in the WW2 sections, which some people still remember. I was telling a friend of mine about your weather mages in Dark Mirror and she said, "But that's amazing, the sea was uncannily still during the Dunkirk evacuation!" What kind of research did you do for this new story?

MJP: For Dark Passage, I did a fair amount of research about France and the period of the Nazi occupation.  While my village and castle are fictional, I did research that such places could have existed.  There were also oddball small topics like Nazi service revolvers, castle tunnels, and Christmas pudding.  (A pudding like the one above plays an important role in the book. <G>)

It wasn’t a patch on the Dunkirk research for Dark Mirror, though.  That was hugely complex because I wanted to work with the actual recorded weather patterns of that period.  In fact, it was reading about the unnatural calm during the ten days of the evacuation that made a light bulb go off in my brain and I thought, “Weather mages!!!”

Mortimers Hole Anne: can you give us a small taste of Dark Passage?

MJP: Here's an excerpt:

France, Autumn 1940
    Tory had almost reached her destination when a machine gun blasted crazily from the farmhouse ahead. As Lady Victoria Mansfield in her own time, she‟d been taught to dance and manage a household and embroider, rather badly. As a mageling and a member of Merlin‟s Irregulars, she‟d learned to dive for cover when she heard gunfire.
    She hit the ground hard and took refuge under the hedge on her left, grateful for the darkness. Clamping down on her fear, she peered out from under the hedge.
    The machine gun was being fired in bursts. Sparks spat from the muzzle that
stuck from a window on the upper floor. The weapon wasn‟t aimed in her direction, which was good. But damnably, it was aimed at the small barn that sheltered the people she‟d promised to protect.
    Another thing she‟d learned in 1940 was swearing. She muttered some words that would have shocked her parents, the Earl and Countess of Fairmount, speechless.
    She had to stop that rain of death, and quickly. But how? She was no warrior.
She was an undersized sixteen-year-old girl dressed to look even younger. She wouldn‟t know what to do with a gun if it was handed to her fully loaded.
    But she was a mageling, and she could draw on the magical power and talent of
her friends.

MJP: Here’s a link to the M. J. Putney website.  http://mjputney.com/  The home page has a link to a longer excerpt.

Writing for Young Adults:

Anne: How different is it, writing for young adults?

MJP:  In a way, it’s not different at all.  A story is a story.  There is an amazing range of writing within the YA field, which is really many genres, not just one.  That said, I paid particular attention to accessibility and pacing, and of course the protagonists are young and learning about life. 

It has been said that a writer shouldn’t strive for a “YA voice,” but rather a voice young adult readers will enjoy.  I don’t think I could write a believable contemporary YA, but historical?  That I thought I could manage. 

Anne: So many YAs give dark and unsettling messages to kids about the world, and I love that your books show a world in which bad things can happen but that generally people are good, and good can triumph when good people work together. And that people can find courage in themselves when they least expect it.

MJP: The romance genre is very much about the heroic—about people overcoming adversity and becoming their best selves.  The glass half full, not half empty.  That’s how I write my young adult books, too.  My characters are kids, growing, exploring, dealing with what life sends them.  But they also try to do their best.  To behave with honor.  There is certainly an audience for dark, edgy books, but I’m a romance writer to the bone, I think. <G>

Fallen From Grace Coming up:

Anne: There Is a free short story, "Fallen From Grace," available as an e-book.  Will there be a third novel in the series? What can you tell us about that?

MJP:  The third book, Dark Destiny, will be out next summer.  I decided that after two adventures when my 19th century characters came forward to WWII, it was time to go back.  In the first two books, there were references to Napoleon hunkered down just across the Channel from Lackland Abbey and preparing for an invasion.  Now that threat becomes real, and the 20th century kids must come back to 1804 to see if they can help stave off invasion. 

Historically, we know that invasion didn’t happen, but there is no question but that Napoleon spent years preparing for one before deciding against it.  What if behind the scenes, some young mages changed his mind???

I love a good “What if…?”!!!

DarkPassageA Anne: Oh, that will be fun. Thanks, Mary Jo, for telling us a little of the story behind Dark Passage, which can be purchased here. It’s an excellent book, and I think readers of all ages are going to love it.

MJP: Thanks so much, Anne!  I've received almost as many fan e-mails from adults as from young adults.  (As a long term reader of YAs, I understand that perfectly.  A good story is a good story.)

Do you read YA novels?  If so, why?  If not—why not? 

M.J. will be giving a signed copy of Dark Passage to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday.