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10 Questions with Mary Jo Putney

Early in her writing career, which began with the publication of The Diabolical Baron in 1987, Mary Jo Putney began testing the traditional boundaries of historical romance. She tackled topics like alcoholism and domestic abuse, set her stories in a wide range of locales from China to Indonesia, and even added a dollop of magic into a plot or two. Putney’s output is equally boundary-busting: in addition to her celebrated collection of historical romances, Putney has written three contemporary romance novels, a young adult historical fantasy trilogy, and a wealth of novellas and short stories. Now, with more than forty novels and counting to her credit, two Romance Writers of America Awards, and the RWA Nora Roberts’ Lifetime Achievement Award, Putney continues to delight and amaze. Her fantastic new novel, Once a Scoundrel, comes out next month.


Mary Jo Putney

JOHN CHARLES: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

MARY JO PUTNEY: I grew up in the farm country of Western New York (lots of snow!), which was useful, since I write stories set in the early 19th century in an agrarian world and people lived closer to the land than most of us do now. As soon as I learned how to read, I became addicted, a condition that is basically incurable.


How did you get started as a writer?

My first career was as a designer, but I’d always had stories in my head, even as a small child. I thought that being a novelist would be the coolest thing in the world, but it seemed so impossible that it was never a goal. Then I got a computer and learned how to use the word processing program, where when you fix a mistake, it stays fixed. I’d read and reread Georgette Heyer and later Regency romances, and I love history and happy ending. Thus when I started to write, what came out was a Regency. Three months later I was offered a three book contract on a partial manuscript, and the rest is history.


What is Once a Scoundrel about?

The heroine, Lady Aurora Lawrence, is the eighth and youngest child of an earl, and she’s known as “Roaring Rory.” Restless with the constraints of London society, she sets out to see the world. She and her cousin and BFF Constance are returning from India when they’re captured by Barbary pirates. Gabriel Hawkins, an adventurous sea captain with a less than pristine past is commissioned to go to Algiers and try to negotiate a ransom that her family can afford. But he has a history with her captor, and the situation becomes increasingly complicated. As is so often the case in historical romance!


What sort of research did you do for the book?

I usually start by reading general history books to get an overview of the setting and the situation. Then I drill in more on elements that I think will work in my story. It’s ideal to talk to people with first hand experience, but that’s not always possible.


Once a Scoundrel is part of your Rogues Redeemed series. What inspired you to write these books?

My publisher thought that after seven books in my Lost Lords series, it was time for a fresh direction. I didn’t disagree, but I had characters left over from the Lost Lords series that I really wanted to write about. I came up with the idea of five men imprisoned in a Portuguese cellar and sentenced to be shot by a French firing squad at dawn. (Two of the men were from the Lost Lords.) Working together, they managed to escape and bond in the process. They make a pact to keep in touch, and they become useful friends to each other.


What is it about the Regency era that fascinates readers so much, and why does it appeal to you as a writer?

The Regency is on the cusp of the old hierarchical societies and the modern world. There were political revolutions and revolutions in music, art, literature, and so much more. There was a “good war,” in which Great Britain often stood alone against Napoleon, the Continental monster. The period is so rich and varied that I can always find a fresh setting for my stories.


What is the best piece of advice about writing you ever received?

Writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they sit down and do the work, over and over and over. And it’s hard! But that’s how books are created.


What are three writers who were major influences on your writing?

That’s easy! Georgette Heyer, of course, who created the Regency world we now inhabit. Mary Stewart, whose enthralling romantic suspense stories took me to fascinating foreign lands with great stories, great characters, and happy endings. And lastly, Dorothy Dunnett, whose Lymond Chronicles, set in the 16th century in the eleven years between the death of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne of England. The stories are incredibly rich and intense, with heart stopping plot twists and adventures from Scotland to Constantinople to Russia. And ultimately, wonderfully romantic and satisfying conclusion.


What’s next?

I’m currently finishing Once a Spy, book four in Rogues Redeemed. The hero is Duval, the Frenchman in the cellar with the four Britons, but he’s much more complicated than that!


How can readers best connect with you?

My website ( and my Facebook page. I do my best to answer all emails and comments myself.

Mary Jo Putney



About the Author:

The Romance Writers of America 2002 Librarian of the Year, Charles has been reviewing romances for Booklist since 1999 and is the author of Romance Today: An A to Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance. After working for the Scottsdale Public Library System for 30 years, Charles retired and went to work for Scottsdale's independent bookstore the Poisoned Pen, where he still gets to push books but has to deal with far fewer computer questions.

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