Message From The Author
Keeping the Edge
HISTORICAL AUTHOR MARY JO PUTNEY ADDS A PARANORMAL TWIST TO HER TALES
Mary Jo Putney doesn't think of herself as a trailblazer. "I'm usually just slightly ahead of the curve, not a true pioneer," she says. "The real pioneers end up with arrows in their backs." Even so, what she calls creative decisions and "pure luck or whatever" have kept her on the leading edge of the romance genre.
After three traditional Regencies for Signet
in the late '80s, Putney switched to longer, Regency-based historicals. This was in 1990 (her first book was Dearly Beloved, also released by Signet), long before Regencies began their lamentable slow decline and fadeout and many authors turned to the longer format. "Catherine Coulter and Joan Wolf, I think, were the first ones who had made the jump before I did," the Baltimore resident says. "So I was in the leading edge, but not the first."
For Putney, it was a natural progression. "My first four 75,000-word Regencies were originally drafted at 125,000 words, so obviously I do not write short," she says with a laugh. More than that, she wanted to write stories with more historical flavor. Best of all, once she started writing historicals, she was able to quit her freelance graphic design business and devote herself to writing full time.
"As I started to write, I did less graphics and more writing," she recalls. "I didn't have to draw a line in the sand, like somebody in a real office job." She adds, "I like to tell people when I give talks that I was used to having no benefits and an erratic cash flow; it was perfect preparation" for the life of a writer.
Putney again broke new ground by tackling formerly off-limits subjects, such as spousal abuse, alcoholism, death and dying in her historical romances. She put her characters, often tormented and complex, through a lot in the name of love. "What's interesting to me is how people can become stronger in the mended places. Suffering and reconciliation, redemption, rebuilding your life better -- these are themes I really like," she says.
When the muse called again, in the early 2000s, she switched to contemporaries, producing three for Berkley/Jove. "Again, it was the creative need to do something different," Putney says about her foray into the modern, adding that she was happy to return
to her favorite genre. "I'm proud [of my contemporaries], and I think they're good books, but I found that my natural instincts
are more for the historicals."
Nowadays, though, Putney's giving her historical tales a new twist: the paranormal. She tried her hand at fantasy with a contribution to the 1998 Zebra anthology Faery Magic; in 2004, her story in the NAL fantasy anthology Irresistible Forces introduced readers to the Guardians, humans with supernatural powers. Two Georgian era-set Guardian novels followed:
A Kiss of Fate ('04, Ballantine) and Stolen Magic ('05, Del Rey); a third Guardians book
for Del Rey is in the works.
Her June release from Ballantine, The Marriage Spell, also incorporates fantasy and magical elements, but it's not a Guardian book. It takes place in an alternate Regency world where, as Putney puts it, "magic exists, everybody knows about it, but it's considered very, very tacky and declasse by the upper classes, a social stigma that's worse than being in trade." The hero, a typically tormented Putney creation with a bit of a death wish, has had all the magical impulses beaten out of him at boarding school. The heroine magically saves his life when he suffers a hunting accident. Since the healing process is dangerous for her, Abby demands that Jack marry her if he recovers.
"It's a Regency marriage of convenience with magic," says Putney, adding that her Guardian books are more fantasy with romance, "sort of a larger canvas with world issues, though romantic development and relationship development are major parts of the story." Every one of her historical fantasies has a happy ending, she hastens to add.
"I think historical romance in general is suffering some because so many of the stories have been written so many times. That's one reason, I think, why paranormal and fantasy elements are so popular. It's a way to give a fresh twist to a beloved story."
And with that fresh twist, new readers may very well come
into the fold. A recent survey notes that more men are reading romance, perhaps lured by science fiction/fantasy and romantic suspense crossovers.
Putney, who has been known to hotly defend romance writing against "patriarchal" attacks, is glad to see this mini-trend. "Romance focuses on emotion and relationships, which are traditionally a more female sphere of interest, but as our society has evolved, more men are getting interested in this too," she says. Spoken like a true leading-edge thinker.
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