Mary Jo Putney is a brand name in historical romance. Her fans buy book after book because they know they'll find themselves vividly transported into the past. They will fall in love with intricately crafted characters who will lead them into captivating adventures woven through with romance. Her current series, Rogues Redeemed, introduces seemingly bad guys who turn out to be heroes. The next book in the series, Once a Rebel, is a signature Putney classic, but with a twist—it's a Regency-era romance, complete with British characters, but set in the United States. The action—full-scale naval battles, military heroism, rescues, and betrayals—takes place in between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore during the War of 1812.
After seven books in her Lost Lords series, both Kensington and Putney "thought it was time for a fresh direction," the author says, "but I had some characters I hadn't yet written about, so I gave Rogues Redeemed a new direction."
Rather than stick to the usual Regency formula, Putney is setting her new series outside of England. Fans will encounter familiar characters in the first two books (the series launched with Once a Soldier), but new places, such as the Iberian Peninsula and the U.S., for their lives to unfold in.
Once a Rebel follows Callista Brooke, a young Englishwoman exiled to the U.S., as the War of 1812 unfolds. While D.C. burns and the battle of Baltimore—which inspired the "Star-Spangled Banner"—rages, Brooke finds her loyalty torn between her new and old homes, with her life on the edge of ruin. She is rescued by a dashing English stranger who, she soon realizes, is the lost love of her youth, who had been sent away to the Australian penal colony. Now, reunited, their conflicted romance unfolds alongside of what Putney notes "is sometimes called the second American War of Independence." She adds: "A lot of Americans seem to have only the vaguest knowledge of the War of 1812, yet it was a really important piece of our history. It's such great history. The burning of Washington! The battle of Baltimore, in which Americans defeated Britain's army and naval forces, which were some of the most powerful in the world."
Putney lives in Baltimore, so, she says, "I've been waiting to hit the point in my ongoing timeline where I could logically set a book here." But it takes more than a personal investment in a place to write the kind of rich historical books Putney is famous for. "Clearly, one has to really enjoy history," she notes. "Once I have a general idea for a story line, I start reading history books. Partly I need to know the detailed history in order to ground the story, but real history always provides seriously cool incidents that I'd never have thought of on my own."
Beyond her passion for history, what makes Putney's books so enthralling may be her deep sense of what connects and separates the present and the past: "The past is both the same and different, and the differences are fascinating," she says.
More than anything else, Putney creates her powerfully immersive worlds so that her readers can lose themselves in her stories. "I want them to love and care for the characters, and to feel that they've been to places they've not been before, not just geographically but emotionally," she says. "And I want them to close the book with a smile and the belief that these characters will love each other forever, no matter what life throws at them."