Claire Zion on Editing the Late Jo Beverley

Claire Zion, editor in chief at the Penguin/Berkley publishing ­division of Penguin Random House, had been editing the late Jo Beverley (1947–2016) for roughly ten years (her first book was published in 1988). Beverley’s final novel, Merely a Marriage (LJ 6/15/17, p. 66), is releasing this June. We asked Zion to talk about her relationship with the much-revered author, Beverley’s process/themes, and her contributions to the romance genre.

What was it like to work with Jo Beverley? How did you resolve things if you didn’t see eye-to-eye on revisions?
Jo was a joy to work with because she always had a very clear vision of what she wanted to do and the talent to achieve it. She was a professional in every sense of the word. Sometimes her imagination would be caught by an idea, and she would incubate it over a season, developing it carefully and lovingly, then she would put it on the page. Sometimes books flowed easily for her, and sometimes she struggled. But the result was consistently polished and graceful. In fact, I never asked Jo for many changes on her manuscripts. She always hit her target.

What was one of the most memorable things you remember about Jo?
When Jo decided to move to England from Canada, she and her husband took the summer to drive across the North American continent. It was such a liberating thing to do—pick up stakes and seek out the adventure. I admired her for it—and was jealous! She kept that curiosity [and energy] about life with her always.

Her career spanned almost 30 years. How did her writing evolve and how did it (and she) change the romance genre?
Sadly, I was not Jo’s only editor, but [I was] her last. I had the privilege of working with her for a decade but not during her formative years. By the time we met, she was a master…. As a fan of the historical romance genre, I certainly observed how Jo’s novels grew and changed over the years.

She started out, like many of our finest historical romance authors, writing category-length Regency romances. But even those shorter books showed off Jo’s magic in portraying spirited heroines and the heroes who knew how to bring out the best in them. As time went on, her settings and stories grew larger and more complex. She started introducing more cultural, social, and political issues [into her works]. She was writing in the same romance genre, but her novels seemed more elevated and offered the reader more.

What do you think she will be most noted for? What is her legacy?
It’s hard to pick just one thing. I guess one reason I enjoyed Jo’s books so much is that they were not just entertaining and heartfelt romances but novels that brought to light social issues of the time that still held relevance to modern readers. For instance, it was from Jo’s novels that I came to understand the limits—legal and real—on women’s lives in the early 19th century. She found characters who brought to life social, political, economic, literary, and artistic issues of all kind.

That being said, she wrote in several historical time periods other than the Regency. And do you know what [drew] her to the earlier time periods, especially the 1760s (George III) and the 12th century? It was the freedom those time periods gave her to explore her characters in more complex ways. I worked with Jo on her Regency “Company of Rogues” series and her Georgian “Malloren World” books. She loved the Georgian period because it was a pretty loose and racy time, so her characters could risk naughtier behavior. She encapsulated the magic of the ton during the Regency period in her novels about the Rogues.

So many of her stories have related characters. Did she ever have a problem keeping things straight?
No! She never had any problem with this at all. I was so impressed by that. But her characters were all very real people for her (and her readers). So they were hard to forget or confuse.

Her early works were traditional Regencies, but they always pushed the envelope a bit. Do you know if she had problems with editors wanting her to tone things down or be more “traditional” when writing these?
I don’t know if she had problems with this in the early days. I certainly never had a problem with it. It was sometimes that risky element that I liked about Jo’s books. Maybe risk isn’t the right word. It’s that her books were very honest. They portrayed the time as people must have lived it. That was the magical part about her books, her ability to make those people come alive.—Kristin Ramsdell

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About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)

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