(This interview was originally written for The Literary Times in 1996)
Jo Beverley is the innovative author who stretched the boundaries of Regency writing, leading the way for other adventuresome authors to transcend the genre's traditionally strict boundaries.
Jo's writing career began in 1977 with her first draft of An Arranged Marriage. After a "feeble attempt" to get it published, she became involved in the woman-centered childbirth movement and in having and raising her children. It wasn't until 1985 that she was ready to try writing again. Her first book, the traditional Regency Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed, was published in 1988. Five traditional Regencies followed, two of which, Emily & The Dark Angel and Deirdre & Don Juan, won RITA awards.
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But Jo's style had begun to change; she was beginning to write "longer and sexier" Regencies. She returned to An Arranged Marriage, re-wrote it, and was surprised that it was sold as a Regency in 1991. The first of her popular series about the Rogues, she feared readers would reject this book as being too risqué. She found, however, that the readers accepted her new take on the Regency genre.
Jo's first three Rogues books, An Arranged Marriage, An Unwilling Bride, and Christmas Angel, were definitely different from the format set by Georgette Heyer several decades past. Jo's Regencies had sex scenes, the traditional Regency did not. Jo believes the real difference between her style and the traditional has more to do with the complexity of situations found in her work.
Jo had been influenced by the writings of Lolah Burford, whose stories were atypical. The lesson she gleaned from these "strange and awful/wonderful" books, "was that I realized that love stories could be very strange. They didn't have to always be decorous and tidy." The author says about her writing and her break-out series:
"Rogue is very appropriate, I think, in that they were a bit aberrant, not fitting the mold. The first one, for example, started with a rape, and went on to involve homosexuality, drugs, and a hero who - while married to the heroine - was sleeping with a French whore for the good of his country! It wasn't surprising that it was rejected in many places before Zebra had the courage to give it a place."
With her writing of Forbidden, the fourth in the Rogue series, Jo realized she had "pushed the Regency envelope so far that it burst. But it was a drift rather than a plan; a question of letting the characters tell the story." As with Forbidden, Dangerous Joy was not released as a Regency. Both books were released as historicals set in the Regency period.
As do other authors who have transcended the limits of traditional Regency writing, Jo does not believe the period is as "prissy" as it is made out to be. That is why she felt comfortable enough to include sensually intimate scenes in her Regencies.
Jo varies the level of sensuality depending upon the period she is writing in. In addition to the Regency period, she has written books set in the medieval period and the Georgian period.
Early Medieval times, for example, were fairly simple as life was based on survival. "They had the arts, yes...but most people, even the nobles, were working hard for food, shelter, and security. In my medieval books, therefore, sex is fairly simple. Gentle at times, even playful, but down-to-earth. I don't think most people had time or energy for decadence!" (Jo's medieval titles include 1992's Lord Of My Heart, 1993's Dark Champion and the May 1996 release, The Shattered Rose.)
Contrasting this simplicity is the Georgian period, when people had both the time and energy for decadence. "This was a bawdy, amoral age, especially for the rich. It seems inevitable, therefore, that my Georgian romances have erotic elements. In My Lady Notorious it was an orgy. In Tempting Fortune, an inventive brothel. You'll have to wait for the special scene in (January 1997)"
When asked whether she finds it difficult to write about so many periods in history, Jo responded that she enjoys the research process; it enables her to add depth and breadth to her base of knowledge. She tries to write from within the time, and to portray things as people would have seen them. "Take smells, for example....places and people that we might wrinkle our noses at would not offend them at all. And, I'm sure that if we brought someone from that time into a 20th century city they'd be disgusted by the smell of car exhaust and chemicals that we take for granted."
While the period of history does affect the style, she disagrees that medievals are necessarily dark and gloomy. Although it was a rougher, simpler life, it was not as colorless a time as is generally thought. Jo's research reveals that, "They loved color, for example, and I think if we were dropped back into a twelfth century castle, our first impression would not be gloomy but gaudy. Painted walls, bright hangings, as bright clothes as they could manage. And we only have to look at the exquisite art being created at that time to know that these people loved delicacy and beauty."
As she develops her stories, the setting of the book affects the characterizations. She starts her time-lines decades before the book opens because that is when the characters are shaped. Jo's research into the three settings she writes about was obviously more intense in the beginning. Her studies of the Georgian period took three months of intensive work. Now she just digs around until she unearths nuggets on very specific issues.
With the setting chosen, Jo generally has characters, a sense of their problems, and how they will interact in the beginning in mind. She says, "I'm looking for a situation that really matters to them, that presents problems they'll have to work at. I also want two people who will both complicate each other's lives and eventually enrich them." She does not yet have an ending in mind, and adds, "Beyond (the characters and situation), I know nothing, and I just fly off into the mist."
Jo has created many memorable characters, and along the way captured the imaginations of readers and reviewers. Three of her Rogue stories have won awards. An Unwilling Bride has won multiple awards, as has her Georgian My Lady Notorious. Asked which characters she finds most fascinating, she cannot choose just one twosome. Her most beloved couples are Lucien and Beth from An Unwilling Bride and Imogen and FitzRoger from Dark Champion. Here are her thoughts on the subject:
"Lucien and Beth. . . because their backgrounds and beliefs were so different that they clearly were not going to be in perfect harmony, even after they'd fallen in love etc. I like to keep visiting them to see how they're progressing. And I like to see two contrasting people managing to compromise, managing to remain themselves and yet live in harmony with someone so different. I think this is what marriage is really about.
"But I also have a very soft spot for Imogen and FitzRoger from Dark Champion. Even though they started out seeming so different, in fact they were very similar and they will grow together nicely. I'm sure they're going to be no-nonsense about life and just all-around good people."
What's up next for Jo Beverley? In addition to her Medieval The Shattered Rose, due out this May, her novella Forbidden Affections will be featured in the upcoming anthology Spring Bouquet. Following that, Jo's Determined Bride, the novella of a baby birthed in battle, will be published in the anthology Married At Midnight.
Jo continues to explore the genre of romantic fiction, blazing a trail of innovation along the way. In addition to her novella The Demon's Bride, she has written a second unearthly love story about a faery, which she would soon like to see published. I look forward to reading her books as she explores the limits of the genre, and to reading the books of those brave authors who see her as an inspiration.
(Jo enjoys receiving mail from her fans. She can be reached c/o her agent, Alice Orr, 305 Madison Ave., #1166, NY, NY 10165. Please send an SASE with your letter for Jo's reply. She keeps a supply of postcards, cover flats and her newsletter for those interested.)
Laurie Likes Books
In May of 1996, Jo switched publishers from Kensington (Zebra) to Signet/Dutton. As reported in my daily reports from the RWA national conference in July, she returned her advance for Something Wicked, which was to have been published in January 1997.
An unusual step to take, Jo was concerned that, as a smaller company, Kensington could not provide the size of print run and promotional support a larger, publicly-held company could provide. She is still working with Kensington, however, on an anthology that will include the works of Mary Jo Putney and herself, among others. Something Wicked will be released by Signet/Dutton in the summer of 1997.