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Mary Jo Putney to visit Australia

3 July 2015

Mary Jo PutneyHistorical romance author Mary Jo Putney will be visiting Australia in August for the Romance Writers of Australia conference (and our signing event). Mary Jo has kindly agreed to answer some questions for us …

What kind of books did you love when you were a child?

Adventure, romance, and strong heroines! Horses and science fiction were also high on the list—but really, I’d read anything. <G>

Do you remember the first romance novel you read?

I always loved a romantic subplot in a book, but the first true romance I read might have been Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester: or, The Wicked Uncle. It was sort of mock Gothic in the set up, and it triggered a head-first plunge into reading Heyer.

How old were you when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I always loved stories and thought that being a writer (by which I meant ‘novelist’ without ever defining it to myself) would be the coolest thing imaginable. But I grew up in farm country a long, long way from writing and publishing and it never occurred to me that I could become a writer. I’m still kind of shocked by it all. <G>

When did you first sit down and start to write? How long after that before you were published?

I started writing on 22 March 1986.

It was the first Saturday of spring. I’d gotten my first computer and printer on 31 December 1985 (so I could deduct it on my taxes), the Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use the word processing program, and once I got a handle on that (‘When you fix something, it stays fixed!!!’), I decided to see if I could take the ideas floating around in my head and write a book.

The Diabolical BaronThe beginning of spring seemed like a good omen and on Saturday I didn’t have to work on my regular job (freelance graphic designer). So I sat down—and started to write a book. Yes, really. <G>

My first book, a traditional Regency called The Diabolical Baron, was published in November 1987.

How hard was it to first get published?

This is kind of embarrassing. Everything fell into place really fast. A friend of a friend who was an author was willing to look at the first chapter, she gave me the name of her former agent, the agent took me on and sent out the partial manuscript (119 pages at that point), and I was offered a three book contract three months after I started the first book. It was a different world then, and I had a good natural voice for Regency. But I was stunned then, and I’m still stunned now!

What authors do you read and/or admire now?

Oh, lots! All of my Word Wenches historical romance blogging buddies, including Anne Gracie and Jo Beverley. Fantasy authors like Patricia Briggs and Sharon Shinn. For romantic suspense, it’s hard to beat Jayne Ann Krentz. I could go on and on, but I’ll quit now. <G>

MJP CoversNot Always a Saint (Book 7 of the Lost Lords series) is due out in August and you have a story in The Last Chance Christmas Ball collection due in September. What can we expect from you in 2016?

I’m working on my historical romance for next year, which is called Once a Soldier. It’s a spin-off from the Lost Lords series I’ve been writing
for Kensington, and the hero, Will Masterson, has been in the background of the series from the beginning. Finally, it’s his turn!

I’ll also probably do a shorter work or two, and I need to get one of my very first books into shape for e-pubbing. Plus, I’d like to do a couple of collections of my shorter stories.

If you weren’t a writer, do you think you would still be working in design?

It’s really hard to say. I loved design and being a designer, but I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be doing design at age 50. And I’m not. <G>

Other than books, is there one item you can’t resist buying?

Fun costume jewellery, particularly necklaces or pins. For example, I love a necklace that I bought in the Caribbean in January. It’s made of flat, brightly coloured coconut beads, it loops around my neck twice, and it has so many different colours that I can wear it with anything. It cost all of ten dollars. <G>

Has there been any interest in any of your books for movies or television given the recent success of young adult franchises and period dramas like Downton Abbey?

There has been some interest and a couple of times options were taken out on my book The China Bride. But I have no expectations that anything will ever happen on that front. Movies are wildly expensive to make, historical settings even more so, and no one is making much in the way of historical romance movies unless the author is Jane Austen. <G> Plus, romances usually have a definite, happy ending, while most of the historical series like Downton Abbey are long-running melodramas.

You started independently producing audiobooks in 2013. What have you learned in the process? How do you choose the vocal talent?

I found it very interesting, but also very time consuming. I did three audiobooks, but when Audible changed the royalty structure so indie audiobooks were making a lot less money, I stopped. I don’t know if I’ll do any more myself, but I am looking into licensing the rights to an audio production company because some ‘readers’ really want the audio.

Choosing the narrators required much hair pulling! I listened to a lot of samples to figure out what I liked in the hope that other listeners will like the same things. I like a deep voice, either male or female, a British narrator since most of my book are set in Britain, a reasonably quick pace, but not so quick it sounds rushed, and a certain expressiveness without the characters actually sounding like they are being acted. Obviously all this is very subjective!

What’s next for you? Any plans to branch out in another genre?

I love writing history, romance, and fantasy in various combinations, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do so. For the time being, I’ll continue to write historical romance (I recently signed another three book contract with Kensington,) but I’ll probably do the odd shorter story now and then, sometimes with fantasy. If someone asks me to be in an anthology, I almost never say no. <G>

This is not your first visit to Australia—what did you most enjoy on your first trip? What are you looking forward to on this trip?

This is my third trip! We visited a lot of years ago just for fun. I love the people and the variety, and on this trip, I’m looking forward to seeing something of Melbourne and Victoria. Part of the reason I love visiting is that the US and Australia (and New Zealand and Canada, of course) share British roots, but each country is very much itself. Theme and variations. <G> So I love coming Down Under. Can’t wait to get there!

[This article first appeared in the June 2015 ARRA newsletter.]

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