Mary Jo Putney
New York Times bestselling romance author Mary Jo Putney was born on a farm in the Northeastern United States and early realized that she had a reading addiction, a condition for which there is no known cure. Her entire writing career is an accidental byproduct of buying a computer for other purposes.
Traditional Regencies were her first love, and she has since expanded into historical and contemporary romance, young adult, and historical fantasy. She has written somewhere around forty books and won numerous awards, including two RITAs from the Romance Writers of America. She lives in Maryland, and most of her stories include cats.
Ten Questions For Mary Jo Putney
1) Of all the books you have written, do you have a favourite?
MJP: I love them all! But if forced to choose, it would probably be The Rake, a Regency historical with an alcoholic hero. I’d read so many romances where the hero drank like a fish but never suffered consequences. I wanted consequences. So the book is not only a romance, but a realistic description of addiction and recovery. (Yes, I like to write stories with edges.)
2) What’s a typical work day like for you?
MJP: The first thing I do is feed the cats, or there’s no telling what might happen. (Four cats, all rescue kitties.) After breakfast, I check my e-mail, do chores, go out to exercise three mornings a week, and generally waste time. Most of my serious writing is done in the evening. I am not very efficient!
3) What does your workspace look like?
MJP: My writing room is a sizable upstairs bedroom with a wide window looking into trees. Two walls are all bookcases, and the custom built workstation is U-shaped with more bookshelves. (Custom because I’m short so the work surface is a couple of inches lower than standard.) There’s a sofa against the other wall, as well as a very comfortable easy chair. Oriental carpets on the floor, lounging cats, and usually it’s not all of that neat. <G>
4) What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
MJP: I love the flexibility of organizing my own time, and I love working for myself. Like most writers, I like spending lots of time alone with my imagination. It’s lovely to create characters, stories, and settings.
5) What are you working on at the moment?
MJP: I’m on the sixth book of my Lost Lords Regency historical series. The heroes of the different books were all students at a school for boys of “good birth and bad behavior.” All were square pegs in round holes in different ways, and they bonded with each other to create powerful, life long friendships. The heroines are a varied and independent lot.
6) When you have time away from your desk, what do you enjoy doing?
MJP: I like to travel, cook, play with the cats, chat with friends. The usual sort of thing! I loved visiting South Africa, and hope to return in the future.
7) Any tips about writing and getting published?
MJP: The idea of being a writer is lovely, but the reality is seriously hard work. So read, read, read to learn what works in stories, what succeeds in the marketplace, and what you love. The kinds of stories you love to read will probably be what you should be writing, because that’s where your passion is. Then write, write, write — you have to keep sitting down and doing it, over and over, even though it won’t always be fun.
8) How do you go about writing a novel – what process do you follow?
MJP: Sometimes I’ll start with a plot idea, other times with a character who has appeared in other books and now will step to center stage. If it’s a plot idea, I need to figure what kind of character is best suited to that plot. If I have a character, the reverse is true: what story will best test that character? What kind of partner will make the best match?
After I’ve played with an idea for a while, I’ll write a short synopsis, maybe 6 – 8 pages. If I can work out a beginning, a middle, and an end, I have a structure that means I can write the whole book. There’s still a lot I don’t know, but once that framework is in place, I can make it work.
9) What have been the biggest changes in your genre over the last ten years – both positive and negative?
MJP: That’s a big question! The changes have been huge and varied, but the biggest is the explosion of e-books. Traditional publishers had a limited number of publishing slots, and had to choose books with fairly wide appeal. Now e-publishing can produce a much wider range of stories for every niche imaginable because the production costs are so low. This is very positive. The negative downside is that with so many e-books produced, the quality varies enormously, and it can be hard to find the stories that you’ll love. The e-book market is a work in progress, still evolving — but it’s exciting to be part of it. <G>
10) How (if at all) has your writing style changed over the years?
MJP: I loved Georgette Heyer and other British writers who reveled in language, so when I started out, I did the same. I never met a compound sentence I didn’t like. If two words were good, four were better. <G> Over time, I’ve learned to streamline my writing to use fewer words more effectively. But apart from that, the same kinds of stories and characters still interest me. I love history and good people struggling to do the right thing, and definitely always happy endings!
Thanks so much, Mary Jo, for answering my questions!
MJP: Thanks so much for having me, Alissa!