Nineteenteen: Most of your books are set in the nineteenth century. What draws you to that era?
M.J. Putney: The early 19th century, which in England is usually called the Regency because a chunk of it was during the period when George III was bonkers and his son ruled in his place as the Prince Regent, is just a really, really interesting time. It’s the hinge between the old days and our modern society. Industrialization and democracy and social reform were starting to take off, there was a “good war” as Britain and others fought Napoleon Bonaparte’s absolutism, there was the romantic revolution in arts and letters—and women’s clothing was relatively comfortable.
NTT: How much research do you generally have to do before you start writing a particular book?
MJP: The amount of research varies a lot depending on the story. Having written 30+ historical novels, most of them in the Regency, I have a strong base of knowledge of the period, but there are always particular topics that require extra research.
My first YA, Dark Mirror, required enormous amounts of research—not the 19th century, but the WWII part of the book. In particularly, during the grand action finale at Dunkirk, there were masses of materials that I needed to research in order to have my characters fit in with the historical event as it happened.
In contrast, the second YA, Dark Passage, which just came out, required much less research because it’s built around my characters attempting to rescue a scientist from Nazi-occupied France. There were aspects of the story that required research, but the mission itself was fictional so it didn’t need the same kind of detail that Dark Mirror did.
NTT: You've won the Rita award, the highest honor in romantic fiction, twice, been nominated eight other times, and placed on the New York Times bestseller list for your adult historical romances. What encouraged you to try your hand at young adult fiction?
MJP: It’s all about the story. I love blending fantasy and magic with history, and YA is where I could tell these kinds of stories. Unlike my romances, where the growing relationship is the heart of the story, my YAs are stories of adventure and growth and history. There is some romance, but the romance isn’t the focus. Plus, I’m working with continuing characters rather than focusing on a new couple in each book. It’s and interesting challenge. The Muse likes to try her hand at new things!
NTT: What do you like about writing for teens? How does it differ from writing for adults?
MJP: I’ve always been interested in the psychology of my characters, and since teens are growing in so many ways, they’re intriguing to write about. Also, the focus of a YA is different from a romance—growth rather than courtship—and I like the change of pace.
NTT: Tell us a little about the premise for your Dark Mirror series.
MJP: The Dark Mirror series is alternate history—the world as we know it, but with magic added. With the added twist that magic is widely known and accepted, except among the aristocracy. The nobility despises magic, largely because they can’t control it, and aristocratic kids who show magical ability are sent to a kind of reform school to be “cured” of their unacceptable talents. So my main characters are magically talented teens who are exiled to Lackland Abbey to be cured—except that they realize that maybe they don’t want to be deprived of their power.
The students who secretly study magic call themselves Merlin’s Irregulars, and they pledge to use their powers to defend England if necessary—not an idle vow when Napoleon is sitting on the other side of the English Channel preparing for an invasion.
Then my main character, Lady Victoria Mansfield—Tory to her friends, accidentally passes through a time portal and land in England in World War II. She makes friends there—and it turns out that they could use some magic, too!
NTT: Why did you pick the Battle of Dunkirk as your first time travel point?
MJP: The story of Dunkirk has always fascinated me. A third of a million British and French soldiers had been cornered with their backs to the sea by the Nazi blitzkrieg—“lightning war.” If they had surrendered, Hitler would have been the master of all Europe.
Instead, there was this stunning evacuation that was not only the military and merchant might of a seafaring nation, but with countless volunteers risking their lives and their boats to bring their soldiers home. The “little ships” have become famous as an emblem or British courage and ingenuity.
It’s an incredible story and a tribute to British tenacity. But what made me want to write a story was when I read that the only reason the evacuation succeeded was because the English Channel, usually a turbulent and dangerous waterway, was unnaturally calm for ten whole days. I read that and thought, “Weather Mages!!!!” It was a story I just had to write.
NTT: What's happening in your new release with Tory and her band of mages?
MJP: In Dark Passage, Tory and the Irregulars join their 20th century friend Nick Rainford on a mission into Nazi occupied France to save a French scientist whose work is vitally important to the war effort. Plus, there are important changes in some romantic relationships.
NTT: What's next for you?
MJP: The third book, Dark Destiny, takes a couple of the 20th century characters back to 1804 to help their 19th century friends save England from invasion. With two wars to work with, there is no shortage of plot materials!
NTT: There certainly isn't! Thank you for talking with us, M.J., and for spending the week here at Nineteenteen--it's been a pleasure!
M.J. Putney's Dark Mirror and Dark Passage are available now from St. Martin's Press. You can learn more at http://www.mjputney.com/ ... and be sure to comment here--all commenters this week through Monday will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Dark Passage! The winner will be announced next Tuesday.