Evolution of a Cover

MaryJoPutney_TheChinaBride_800Evolution of a Cover

by Mary Jo

Publishing is all kinds of complicated, so I decided to look at one small piece, which is the story behind my new cover for The China Bride.

The second of my Bride trilogy, the book features Troth Montgomery, daughter of a Chinese woman and a Scottish trader.  She's a great character, strong and brave and vulnerable from having been raised between two worlds.  I knew that writing her story would be a challenge because I'm a farm girl from Western New York but my mother had lived in China as a girl, and she told us stories about her life there, so that part of the world has always intrigued me. 

So I did a lot of research about China and the tea trade in the early 1830s. (Very interesting!) Also, during the months when I was planning this book, if I received a fan email from a reader with a Chinese name, I pounced and asked if she'd be willing to read my manuscript when it was done. Five lovely, intelligent women of Chinese heritage agreed to help, for which I'm forever grateful. 

The story logic of the trilogy led me there because the hero, Kyle Renbourne, had appeared in The Wild Child, book 1 ofCHina Bride larger the trilogy.  He was portrayed as a restless young man who yearned to travel, but who had been tied to England because he was heir to an earldom.  At the end of that book, he was breaking free and setting off to fulfill his travel dreams. 

The China Bride began when Kyle reached China and the city of Macao.  He knows that this is the end of his journeying for it's time to return home to assume his responsibilities.  Then Kyle meets Troth Montgomery.  Orphaned young, she'd been taken into the household of a powerful Chinese trader who requires her to dress as a man and act as a translator when dealing with Western merchants.  She feels like a a hopeless misfit.  Kyle realizes that she's female and asks her to take him into forbidden China to fulfill a life long goal.  In return he will make it possible for her to travel to Britain, the land of her father and his family. 

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Last of the Brides!

MaryJoPutney_TheBarteredBride800by Mary Jo

I've loved introducing new readers to my classic Bride trilogy, which had been languishing in obscurity for years. Now the last book, The Bartered Bride, is due to be released as an ebook tomorrow (February 8th).

All three books are marriage of convenience of one sort or another, and The Bartered Bride is no exception. The review from Publishers Weekly said, "(Gavin and Alex's) journey from strangers to spouses to true lovers is utterly authentic." And a long and challenging journey it is!

The story was partially inspired by requests I had for a story about Amy Melbourne, the intrepid young daughter of Catherine Melbourne, heroine of my Fallen Angels book, Shattered Rainbows. Catherine had married a cavalry officer and "followed the drum" through the Peninsular campaigns, caring for her husband, nursing the wounded, and raising her fearless young daughter. Amy played an important role in her mother's story, and readers wanted to see more of her.

So did I, but I had to wait till she grew up, which is why the Bride trilogy is set a little post-Regency. More than that, I knew that if Amy got into trouble anywhere in Britain, her warrior stepfather, Lord Michael Kenyon, would swoop in to save her from harm because that's the kind of man he was. But that would interfere with Amy's own romance. <G>

MaryJoPutney_ShatteredRainbows_HR-2It took me time to work out her story. Not only did I decide I'd have to send her halfway around the world, but she informed me that "Amy" was too much a little girl's name and she much preferred to be called by her middle name, Alexandra. (Teenagers!) So she became Alex, and after being widowed in Australia, she heads for home with a young daughter of her own. Here's the blurb for the story:

After building a fortune in the exotic East, American adventurer and merchant prince Gavin Elliott sets his sails for London to begin a new life. Then fate intervenes on an infamous island in the East Indies where he discovers an Englishwoman facing degradation and peril. Though saving her may cost Gavin his life, he cannot refuse to help the fierce beauty who touches his heart and soul with her unconquerable spirit.

Alexandra Warren is returning home from Australia as a widow and mother when a pirate attack condemns her to a life of servitude. A miracle arrives in the form of a steely-eyed Yankee captain whose reckless courage wins them freedom and a safe passage home to London. Intimate strangers joined by too many secrets, they slowly begin to heal the past with attraction and tenderness–until an old enemy reaches out to threaten the passionate love Gavin has found with his irresistible bartered bride.

Alex and Gavin's story has lots of adventure, powerful romance, and of course a happy ending, though there were some serious black moments! There's also the opportunity to see Catherine and Michael and other Fallen Angels characters. Here's an excerpt:

Alex had finally dozed off in a corner of the cage, but she jerked upright at the sound of footsteps. Slavery had taught her that changes were seldom for the better, and she’d been frightened ever since guards brought her to the palace to confine her in this triple locked cage in a strange, luxurious chamber.

At first, the dim light of the single lamp showed only the arrival of a tall, intimidating male. Then she recognized the European who’d visited the slave market. She’d begun to wonder if he was a hallucination, but he was real enough—a tall, powerful man with an air of command. Those gray eyes and the fair hair sun-bleached to gold had to be European. Involuntarily she rose and crossed the cage, pressing against the bars as she studied him hungrily. The gaudy uniform wasn’t British—perhaps German or Scandinavian.

She clamped down on her longing by reminding herself that being European didn’t mean he’d MaryJoPutney_TheBarteredBride200help her. Though she had instinctively pleaded for his aid at the market, now that they were face to face she reminded herself that Westerners who frequented the far corners of the world were often adventurers and renegades. Perhaps this one had asked the sultan for the use of the European slave woman.

No matter. Even if his motives were vile, he was her best chance for freedom, and she’d do whatever necessary to ingratiate herself so he’d help her.

The man halted with shock when he saw her. Glad that he probably wasn’t responsible for her presence, she asked, “Do you speak English? Parlez vous Francais?”

“Both,” he replied in English. “How did you come to be in my rooms?”

“I have no idea.” Unable to repress her bitterness, she added, “Slaves aren’t usually told why things happen to them.”

His expression tightened. “I’m sorry—that was a foolish question.”

Though she’d repaired her battered cotton shirt as best she could, she was uncomfortably aware of how her breasts strained against the thin, worn fabric. She was larger than most Island women, and there had been no kebaya her size.

When his gaze reached her breasts, he looked away in embarrassment. She found that reassuring—a man with a sense of the decencies might be more likely to help her.

He stepped into the bedroom and returned with a neatly folded shirt. “Would you like this?”

“Oh, please!” He passed his shirt through the bars and she immediately pulled it over her head. The garment fell almost to her knees. Before rolling up the sleeves, she rubbed her face in the crisp white fabric. “This smells so good. So clean.”

He glanced around the cage, which contained nothing but her and a brass chamber pot. “Do you need anything else? Food or drink?”

She moistened her lips. Not having eaten or drunk since early that morning, she’d spent her first hour in the cage staring longingly across the room at a bowl of fruit on a low table. “Water, please. And then…could I have some fruit?”

“Of course.” He set the fruit bowl on the floor so she could reach through the bars to help herself.

While she peeled and ate a juicy local orange called a jeruk manis, the man collected pillows from a bench and pushed them through the bars. Gratefully she sank onto one. The last months had made her appreciate even the smallest of comforts.

“No water, only rice wine, I’m afraid.” He settled on another pillow outside the cage, holding a bottle and two glasses. “Drink with caution. This has quite a kick.”

“Thank you.” The rice wine went rather well with the banana that she chose, and she welcomed the spreading warmth that unknotted tight muscles. She closed her eyes for a moment, reveling in the company of her own kind. “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten proper behavior. My name is Alexandra Warren, and I’m English.”

“I’m Gavin Elliott out of Boston, and master of a merchant ship.” He noted her gaze. “Ignore the uniform—it was designed only to dazzle.”

An American? Not quite as good as a fellow Briton, but close enough.

MaryJoPutney_TheWildChild800Actually, though Gavin considers himself American, he was born in Scotland, a fact which causes him trouble in this story.  Here are several reviewer quotes:

"a story you can't put down"—TheBestReviews.com

"a hero to-die-for" —Suzanne Coleburn

"a finely crafted tale by a mistress of the genre"—Romantic Times, Kathe Robin

Click here to buy The Bartered Bride.

Books 1 and 2 of the trilogy, The Wild Child and The China Bride, are also available as MaryJoPutney_TheChinaBride800 e-books. These are some of my most sweeping, adventurous stories, and if you read them, I hope you enjoy the characters and their adventures as much as I enjoyed writing them.

I'll be giving away a free copy of The Bartered Bride to one commentor between now and midnight Thursday. Have you read Gavin and Alex's story? Do you want to?

Mary Jo, ending with her tagline for the Bride Trilogy:

Three extraordinary women,
    Three powerful men,
         Three passionate, unlikely marriages.

 

 

The Wild Child Returns!

By Mary Jo

When the great e-book explosion arrived several years about (around 2011, I think?) I was MaryJoPutney_TheWildChild800fortunate to have the rights to a number of my older books that were out of print, and I happily re-released them as e-books. I love that these books are readily available to readers around the world, and at lower prices than the original print editions.

Since e-books took off, though, it's been a lot harder to persuade publishers to revert book rights to authors like me. Imagine fire breathing dragons sitting on a hoard of backlist titles, and they DO NOT WANT TO LET THEM GO!!!

But to my delight, earlier this year I was able to persuade Ballantine to return the three books in my Bride Trilogy because of a hiccup in the original contract. My tagline for the series is:

Three extraordinary women,
    Three powerful men,
        Three passionate,unlikely marriages.

When I wrote that, I realized that each of these was a marriage of convenience story, a trope I'm very fond of. My characters have a lot to overcome!

 

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A Twin. Again.

Cat 243 DoverBy Mary Jo

Anyone who has read my books over the years has probably noticed that I have an indecent fondness for twin stories.  It’s right up there with amnesia as an ancient, creaky, and endearing, plot device.

When I thought about it, both twin stories and amnesia are questions of identity. For amnesia, who is this person really?  And what is he or she like when memory has stripped away the expectations of others so the unmodified essence of personality can shine through? 

With identical twins, the interest lies on how two people can look so much alike that they might appear interchangeable, but in reality they are distinct individuals.  There will be similarities, so it’s the differences that are so intriguing. 
 
When the marketing people at Kensington asked me if my new release, Sometimes a Rogue, was any kind of anniversary book, I realized "Fifth Twin Story!"  I seem to give myself permission to do one set of twins per series.  <G>

My first twin book was Dancing on the Wind, a RITA winner and one of my Fallen
DOTW coverAngels series.  I did a lot of research on twins, both in books and more importantly, talking to identical twins. 

One thing all the twins said is do NOT have a good twin/evil twin dichotomy, which they really disliked.  I hadn't planned that, which is just as well.  <G>

My best research subjects were a pair of sisters who lived in Colorado.  Not only had they thought a lot about being twins and done their own research, but they were both highly intuitive.  (One could say psychic.)  As with most twin pairs, one was a little more outgoing, the other a little more reserved.  I'll call them A and B. 

They weren't telepathic, but they were so attuned to each other that one could enter a store and know that her sister had been there earlier in the same day.  They could lend energy to each other.  They both had families of their own, but they were a lot happier living in the same city. 

Talking with A and B was fascinating, and that research showed up in DOTW, when the more reserved Kit takes the place of her actress sister, Kiri, who has disappeared, and Kit needs to find out as much as possible about her sister's life to figure out what happened to her.  They are best friends and vital to each other's happiness.  Also, while the world tended to categorize them as the outgoing one and the quiet one, they were more alike than they let others see. 

An interesting thing I deduced from my research is that while female twins were often very close friends, male twins often went through a period of estrangement in adolescence as they began defining themselves as individuals.  Sometimes they become close again later, but I found cases where they were permanently estranged. 

Wild Child 300 dpiNaturally, I had to write about that.  <G>  I needed a situation where one estranged twin must go to the other for help that only the twin can supply: in other words, trading places.  So in my Bride trilogy, the hero of The Wild Child, Dominic Renbourne, is the ten minutes younger son of an earl who yearns not for his father's title, but for the land itself.  He also resents his barely older brother's bossiness, though there is still an unwanted connection between them. 

The reason why Kyle asks Dominic to essentially court Kyle's fiancée had better be a doozy, and it is.  By the end of the book, they've become friends again, and Kyle takes off to find himself The China Bride.  In that book, being a twin isn't much of a factor, but I had to give Kyle a happy ending.  (These were twin books 2 and 3.)

In the first of my Lost Lords book, Loving a Lost Lord, the heroine, Mariah, lived an unpredictable life
Cbridep2with her loving but impecunious gambler father.  Living on the edges of society, she learned to be charming and adaptable, easy to have around.  Very aware of her own shortcomings, she had an imaginary twin sister she called Sarah, who was always available, always loyal, and always a perfect young lady, unlike Mariah. 

Naturally, I was unable to resist giving her a real twin sister named Sarah.  <G>  Because they'd been separated as toddlers, Mariah didn't consciously remember her twin, but she held a distant memory of Sarah in her heart. 

SometimesaRogueMMI found Mariah and Sarah particularly interesting because, unlike my other twin pairs, they hadn't been raised together, so they were freer to be themselves rather than always being measured against their sister.  But living a more uncertain life, Mariah yearned for stability, a man who was utterly reliable.  She found him in Adam, despite the rather irregular shape of their courtship.

Sarah is quieter, but in most ways more confident.  Her mother became hostess to her widowed brother, so Sarah was raised by two loving adults and had a pack of four older male cousins who were like her brothers.  So her upbringing was very proper, though she had a tomboy streak.  And–she knew that somewhere out there was a missing twin sister, and that knowledge was a loss in her heart. 

When they come together again, they're free to be friends, without the competition of growing up together, but they want different things in a man.  While Mariah wanted stability, Sarah wanted adventure and a man with more dangerous edges.  She found him.  Be careful what you wish for!  And this is how Sometimes a Rogue became my fifth twin book.

Of course one can have a trading places dynamic without having the characters be twins. A classic of the genre is The Prisoner of Zenda, where an English gentleman who is a distant cousin of the heir to the throne of Ruritania must stand in at the heir's coronation when the real prince is drugged and kidnapped. 

George McDonald Fraser did a lovely riff on this in Royal Flash, part of his hilarious Flashman series.  A Robert Heinlein novel, Double Star, is basically a science fiction riff on Zenda, with a down and out actor being drafted to substitute for a kidnapped statesman to attend an utterly crucial ceremony on Mars. 

Savannah PurchaseAnother favorite of mine is Jane Aiken Hodge's Savannah Purchase, where the heroine is conned into taking the place of her identical cousin–and falls in love with her cousin's husband.  Being younger then, I had no idea how this could be resolved, but JAH came through brilliantly.

So at least I'm not alone in my fondness for the Twin Trope. <G>  Do you like such stories?  Do you have a favorite, either of twins or trading places? Tell me what you think!  A commenter between now and midnight Friday will receive a copy of one of my twin stories. 

 Mary Jo, who had identical twin first cousins