Sunshine for Christmas!

Sunshine for Christmas ebookSunshine for Christmas

By Mary Jo

It's Christmas novella season and I'm celebrating by releasing a freestanding e-edition of this story plus an audio version.  Not that Sunshine for Christmas is a new story.  It's one of five novellas included in my Christmas Revels collection, so if you have a copy of Christmas Revels, there's no need to buy a separate e-edition of Sunshine for Christmas.

But it was the very first novella I ever wrote and I started it with some wariness because I'd never written at this length before. (Most novellas are in the 20K-25K range, though they can be somewhat shorter or longer.) 

The trick is to get a whole, satisfying story within a novella length, and it can be particularly challenging for a romance, where it takes time (and words!) to build a convincing relationship.  This is one of the reasons that reunion/second chance at love stories are popular for novellas.  The main characters already have a relationship, for better and worse, so a lot of the emotional groundwork has already been laid. 


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Villain to Hero?

by Mary Jo

Today's topic was inspired by a question from Word Wench reader Kay Spears, who 51Vng9sTxILasks:

One of my allllll time favorite romances is/was Mary Jo Putney's The Rake and the Reformer aka The Rake.  I love Reginald Davenport…he turned out to be quite a hero. My question for all wenches: How do you take a drunk/ licentious/ corrupt/ not-hero-material man and redeem him? And, when you're writing this character, do you recognize him as hero material? Or, does it come as a surprise when readers start wanting him as a hero?

MJP:  I immediately grabbed this topic for a blog, but it's such a great question that other Wenches may pick it up for blogs of their own. For asking this question, Kay Spears will get a book from me. 

Reggie Davenport made his debut in my very first Signet Regency, The Diabolical Baron. Since it was my first book, I was feeling my way and just wanted an antagonist for my hero, Richard, a Waterloo veteran who has learned that he's heir to the Wargrave earldom, a responsibility he isn't sure he wants.  Reggie is his cousin who has long thought that he was the heir. 


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The Return of The Rake

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

A frequent interview question for authors is to name our favorite among the books we’ve written.  I hate that question.  Sophy’s Choice! 

I usually reply that I love all my books and characters, or I couldn’t write about them.  This is entirely true. 


Rake--small Kensington coverBut if pressed, I will admit that the book that is closest to my heart is The Rake.  It’s a long book that was written in a mere four months (very fast for me), and which was created out of the visceral experience of alcoholism. 

Not my own—I come from generations of Yankee teetotalers.  Two glasses of wine a week is wild times for me.  But I knew an alcoholic.  (Doesn’t everyone?)  I observed the slippery slope as a social drinker comes to crave alcohol with increasing urgency until self-control crumbles and life becomes an ever more frightening downward spiral.

I also observed the difficulties of recovery, of attempts to moderate.  The temporary successes, the backsliding, and the growing desperation until the shattering of the soul that comes with hitting rock bottom.  And then the long, painful, and uncertain struggle toward recovery.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the source material of The Rake.  The book itself grew from my very first Signet Regency.  In The Diabolical Baron, the hero is a Diabolical Baron--Originalreserved former army captain who is unsure if he wants to take on the vast responsibilities of the earldom he finds himself heir to. 

One of the reasons Richard decides to declare his identity and take on his heritage is his obnoxious cousin, Reginald Davenport, the heir presumptive to the earldom.  Reggie is a rude, ill-behaved jerk who has been hanging out on the town for years, waiting for his uncle to die so Reggie can inherit.

Reggie was invented as a foil for the noble, wounded, and conflicted Richard (clearly this hero archetype was in my mind right from the beginning <g>), but as characters do, he started to develop dimension.  At the end, he shows surprising grace in defeat. 

My critique partners loved Reggie and wanted to see more of him, but—well, he was an obnoxious jerk.  Then I realized that all his bad behavior came when he was drunk—which was more or less all the time. 

Inspiration struck. Regencies were full of hard drinking, womanizing rakes who never Dangerous to Knowsuffered any consequences.  I figured it was time someone wrote a book about consequences.  Having had the opportunity to observe the whole cycle of alcoholism and recovery close up, I had a pretty decent grasp of the subject—and off I went, illustrating that fools do indeed rush in where angels fear to tread. <G> 

Reggie's story begins his cousin gives him the estate where Reggie had been born—and which should have been Reggie’s if not for his uncle’s nasty machinations. Richard basically says, “Here’s an estate with a good income, sink or swim, you’ll get nothing more from me, and you might want to keep the steward, he’s very good.”

Rake and Reformer
Except that the steward is a female working under her initials—and quite the surprise for Reggie when he returns to Strickland!  Alys Weston, known as Lady Alys for her imperious ways, had run away from her life and reinvented herself as a steward with three foster children and a fluffy imperious cat named Attila.  (The cat was really Rocky, the feline belonging to a schoolteacher neighbor of mine.  I used to cat sit him when she was out of town.  Definitely imperious.) 

Alys is a strong character in her own right, with her own pains and sorrows and hidden dreams.  She shares Reggie’s subversive sense of humor, so there's a fair amount of banter.  This is also the most agricultural book I've ever written, showing something of what it was like to run an estate. (Yes, I grew up on a farm.)

But ultimately, it’s Reggie’s book. Here's a very brief excerpt, when Alys checks up on him after he's had a very bad episode with his drinking:

(Alys) took the prepared tray and entered the library.  Reggie was a lean, silent shape slouched in his favorite chair, half turned away from her.  The room too shadowed to see his face, but his clothing was neat.  With luck, he had not availed himself of the liquor cabinet. 

She set the tray on a table to the left of the door and said quietly.  “Are you still among the living?” 

His head turned in her direction.  After a lengthy silence, he said in a slow, rusty voice, “I've read of penguins that jump around on an ice floe, trying to decide if there are sharks in the water.  Eventually they push one of their number into the sea.  If the sacrifice isn't eaten, they all dive in.  You, I assume, are the sacrificial penguin.”

She had to smile.  Obviously there was some life in the old boy left.  “I’ve have been called many things in my life, but never a sacrificial penguin.  How did you know there was a committee outside trying to decide what to do about you?”

“Occasionally the door would open, very quietly, then close again.”

“After they had determined that the shark was still lurking here.”  Without asking if he wanted any, she poured two cups of tea, with heavy dollops of milk and sugar in Reggie's cup, then went and put it in his hand.  Close up, he looked dreadful, with haunted eyes and a gray tinge to his dark skin. 

As he stared at the dainty cup, she said helpfully, “It's called tea.  People drink it.  It's the British cure for whatever ails you.”

The first version of Reggie and Alys’s story was a SuperRegency called The Rake and the Reformer. and it caused a modest sensation when it was published.  I received some remarkable letters and the book won a RITA, among other awards.  On one occasion, a woman walked up to me at a conference, said the name of the book, then burst into tears.  (I led her to the nearest sofa, patted her hand, and we talked.)

The Rake--originalLater NAL gave me the opportunity to revise my early Regencies into historical romances, and The Rake and the Reformer was transformed into The Rake.  People ask how much I added to the original story.  The answer?  I didn’t add anything.  Instead, I cut about 4000 words, making the story tighter and just a little bit sexier.  (I’d been threatened with actual bodily harm if I changed the story too much. <g>)

The story sold lots more copies as a historical romance, but eventually went out of print, as books do.  So I was pleased when Kensington chose to buy the rights to The Rake so they could reissue it again.  The official release date is April 27th, so it may already be showing up in stores. 

Needless to say, I’m delighted that a book so close to my heart is widely available again.  (Much as I love e-books, a lot more people still buy print.) 

IMG_0873As an amusing sidelight, a couple of years ago the Mayhem Consultant adopted a young tom cat to replace his much mourned Cleocatra.  Since the MC loves The Rake, he named the cat Reggie. BIG mistake—the Reg turned out to be a charming teenage thug who harassed my older cats.  ("Reggie makes other cats edgy!”)  In fact, a young feline troublemaker.  Maybe if we’d named him Cedric….

In honor of the reissue of this book of my heart, I’ll give away one copy of the very Rake--darker blueoriginal version, The Rake and the Reformer, to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday. 

I almost hesitate to ask you about your experiences with addiction—it is SO not a fun topic.  But if there’s anything you’d like to share, I have hugs to spare.

Mary Jo


Ask A Wench — Secondary Characters

Hi all, Anne here, introducing a new occasional feature of Word Wenchery — Ask a Wench. As many of you know, we invite people to submit questions to the wenches, and if a wench chooses your question to answer, you'll win a free book.  We have a long list of these questions, however some are not sufficiently meaty to fill a whole blog. But we don't want to ignore you, so in "Ask a Wench" we'll pose just one question, and give a variety of wenchly responses to it. CatchBride40k

To start AAW off, we've chosen a question sent in by Susan Klinger: "Has there ever been a secondary character who has surprised you and sprung to life so forcefully that s/he has jumped up, grabbed you by the throat, and demanded his/her own book?"   (For this question Susan wins a copy of my latest book TO CATCH A BRIDE)

So, over to the wenches… 

Rake&refrmr Mary Jo said : Susan, my mental imagery is much less vivid than that—I tend to think in terms of “a secondary guy got really interesting and I wanted to work out his story,” but indeed, it happens regularly.  And it’s always a guy. <G> 

The first time this happened was in my very first book, The Diabolical Baron, when the semi-villainous cousin, Reginald Davenport, showed unexpected signs of decency and humor at the end.  Friends loved him because he was a bad boy, I pondered and realized his bad behavior always came when he’d been drinking, and voila!  I wrote my alcoholic book, The Rake and the Reformer.Shattrdrainbws

On another occasion, the brother of the hero of Shattered Rainbows moved from wallpaper to three dimensions toward the end of the book.  Stephen Kenyon’s story became my death and dying romance, One Perfect Rose.  The whole plotline of running away from home and joining a traveling theater company was inspired by Stephen making a remark about “Shakespearean tragedy” in Shattered Rainbows. Who knew my duke loved the theater? <G>   
And so it goes.  I don’t want to waste a good man! MJP.

Note from Anne: (There's an excerpt here from Shattered Rainbows)

Spywrsilk  Andrea said:

You would think that we could make our secondary characters behave, but against all reason, they often manage to take on a life of their own. In my most recent trilogy, the three heroines—who were all trained at a secret school for female spies— were the stars. Or so I thought. However, Alexandr Orlov had  other ideas.Seduced By A Spy

I had fully intended to keep him in the shadows, playing the role of a cynical nobleman whose motives are shrouded in mystery. He was meant merely to tease, to tantalize the heroines with hints that he might be in league with the villain they sought. Did he stay in character? Hell, no. He displayed such rakish wit, seductive charm  and swashbuckling charisma that when it came to writing the second book of the series, I simply couldn’t refuse his demand to strut his stuff (he’s a rather cocky fellow) as the leading man.

As it turned out that I was wise to listen to his husky murmurs—he’s turned out to be one of my favorite heroes. (You may read his story in ‘Seduced By A Spy’, written under my Andrea Pickens nom de plume. There's an excerpt here.)

MagicMan200 From Pat

Over the years, I’ve had a number of secondary characters spring to life and demand their own books. Sometimes I could oblige. Others, I unfortunately could not. I’d have to say one of the most forceful of those characters was Aidan in my MAGIC series. He simply walked out of the mists, onto the page, and completely took over a scene I was writing. I had no idea he existed until then, and over the course of the six-book series, he was enigmatic, mysterious, and thoroughly fascinating until I had no choice but to tell his story.  I love it when that happens!

From Anne:

I always have trouble with secondary characters wanting to take over a book or a scene and I usually have to prune them b
ack. I have particular trouble with eccentric dowagers, although they don't usually demand their own stories.  But I have had secondary characters demanding their own stories, and, as Mary Jo said, it's usually a man who does it, though not always. (I once had a small girl who wanted her own story once she grew up. She got it in Perfect Kiss, the fourth book in a series advertised as a trilogy.)The Perfect Kiss

 It even happened with the very first book I wrote (Gallant Waif) when the hero's best friend arrived on the scene and started to act heroic. In fact I had to prune him back quite severely so he didn't out-hero the hero!

I went to write his story in the next book, but the heroine I'd picked wasn't right for him and that hero morphed into someone different. I tried several more times and each time, because the heroine wasn't right for him, he morphed into someone else. It was very annoying because at the same time he (and readers) kept asking for his story.

Waif_us I was talking about this with a writer friend of mine and she said: "Francis is so self-assured and in control — what he needs is a heroine who doesn't play by his rules." And she was right.  Almost instantly a heroine popped into my head; a dusty little street-urchin who was a long lost daughter of an aristocratic family. And when my cool, in-command hero attempts to rescue her, she refuses — for very good reasons. So I had my heroine and the bones of my story, but I'd left that publisher and had started a new series by then.

However that story and that hero and heroine kept nagging at me to be written, so I changed his name, gave him a slightly different background and friends, and put him in my new book, with the heroine I'd dreamed up for him all those years ago. The book is called TO CATCH A BRIDE, he's now called Rafe, but in many ways, he's the same character, and finally his story has been told, and I'm so pleased it has. If you want to read an excerpt click here.

So it seems a number of us have encountered secondary characters who demand a book of their own, contrary to our initial plans for them. And some of those characters have got their books, others haven't.

What about you? Have you encountered (or written) any secondary characters who you'd love to see in a book of their own? And which is your favorite secondary-character-to-hero story? I think mine is Dancing With Clara, an old Mary Balogh book, where Frederick, the bad guy from Tempting Harriet becomes the hero.