You asked for it, so I convinced The Ultimate Reading List authors/librarians extraordinaire to drop by and indulge our collective curiosity as to how they came up with their picks. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Joanne Hamilton-Selway and John Charles, who BTW have both held the title of RWA Librarian of the Year.
1) How did you make your picks? Did you have rules or guidelines or a set of parameters that you were working with?
The Complete Idiot’s Guide series is designed for those new to a subject as a basic introduction. So when it came time to pick titles/authors, we had to think about which books we would be suggesting to readers who had never really read mysteries or historical fiction or history, etc. We chose what we thought would be the best of the genre and then added in a few lesser known but equally entertaining titles. One of the difficulties was that so many books go out of print quickly. We didn’t want to have a list of titles that readers would not be able to find easily, so we also tried to include both books that might be out of print (but could be found in libraries) and books that readers would also find in a bookstore. When it came to series, we did (with a few exceptions <g> like Jan Burke’s mysteries) try to chose the first in the series because many readers want to start a series from the beginning. The one parameter that really determined exactly how many books we could include was our page count. The publishers gave us 204 manuscript pages to work with – and absolutely no more than that. So this meant we had to do quite a bit of cutting with our first draft. In the beginning, the publishers also wanted us to include all books (fiction and nonfiction) and that just wasn’t a reality. We had to cut out some nonfiction topics and merge other books into other chapters. It was exhausting!
2) 204 pages? Knowing you four and the way you love books, that first draft must have been something! So as you started whittling down the choices, any arguments? Books that you were willing to shed a little blood over?
Of course there were arguments <g>. When you get a bunch of strong willed people like Joanne, Shelley, and myself (Sandy was the exception – she is perfect!), there was going to be some fights about which books to choose, which to cut, and which title by some authors would be the one we would pick! There was even more blood flowing when both of us (Joanne and John) started writing the annotations for some of the books. Our creative process (we tend to write together on these projects) involves quite a bit of sarcasm, sharp comments about each other’s writing talents (or dearth of them), and commands (“will you hurry up and finish this annotation Project Runway starts in ten minutes!”). But this process generally works for us! Each of us did have a few books that we were absolutely not willing to cut – Helen MacInnes is one of my favorite authors even though Joanne was willing to drop her – but generally we would work out something. Joanne loves The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey but despite the wonderful historical research and twists and turns, we had to cut it from the book due to space. Joanne is still pouting over that one!
3) Because with four authors, everyone is going to have their loves and dislikes. So who worked on what?
You are so right about each of us having our own strengths (and weaknesses <g>). For most of the book, Joanne and I worked together and Shelley Mosley and Sandra Van Winkle worked together. We would send each other our drafts and any of us could contribute titles/authors to any of the chapters, but each “team” was responsible for certain chapters. Team Joanne/John worked on Historical Fiction, Popular Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Suspense and Thrillers, Biographies, and History. Team Shelley/Sandy worked on Horror, Westerns, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Inspirational Fiction and Nonfiction, True Crime, Humor, Science, Medicine, and Pets, and Travel. We all worked on Romance and Women’s Fiction of course.
4) Did you discover new authors in the process? If so, who?
Because in many ways this was an introduction to the different genres, we didn’t discover lots of new authors. Joanne said that she had never read James Lee Burke and now she’s in love with him (and there’s a restraining order out against her now!). What happened even more was us rediscovering old favorite authors and remembering just how good their books were. For example, I had forgotten just how splendidly entertaining Dorothy Cannell’s The Thin Woman really is. Her sense of humor is so deliciously tart. Ellery Queen was a favorite of the very young Joanne and she found that she still enjoyed the books 30 years later.
5) I think I’ve just discovered a bunch of new authors. Okay, let’s get to the most important question. The cruise ship is taking on water and you can only take three books from TURL–which two are you going to take? Because I am right in assuming that one of your three picks is going to be one of my books . . .
Of course you would ask this! How can you pick just three books? Okay, it’s a given that one of our choices would be a book by you. Actually we had a really difficult time picking the one perfect Elizabeth Boyle title since all of your books are such fun. I love Stealing the Bride, but I also love His Mistress by Morning. And This Rake of Mine has its own charm. And then there are your early classics like the ‘Brazen” books. Let’s just say the whole Elizabeth Boyle backlist would be a necessity on any desert island. So that leaves us with three other titles. For John (and did I say how really difficult this question is and how much we hate you for asking it <g>!) my three (besides the incomparable Elizabeth Boyle novels) would be: Carla Kelly’s Miss Whittier Makes a List (actually any book by Carla Kelly but this was the first one I read by her). Her traditional regencies are just perfect), Connie Brockway’s Bridal Season (another writer all of whose books are favorites of mine but this one has such a terrific combination of wit and terrific characters). And Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage. No one does classic mystery like Christie. From Joanne: I was having this same discussion with three friends just the weekend (along with what 5 foods would you bring and what five movies. Yes, my friends are a barrel of laughs!!) I’m not going to get all literary and say Moby Dick or Anna Karenina. I’m going to choose those books that I have always loved, since first reading them. The first is The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. I loved it when I was fifteen and I re-read it a few months ago and I was pleased as to how well it withstood the test of time. The second is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It still gives me chills with the first line of “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderely again.” And the third is, of course, any Elizabeth Boyle book!!!
Thanks, John and Joanne for dropping by. You two are, well, the Ultimate in my book! Note to self: When the cruise ship goes down, pack extra chocolate for John and Joanne!
Now come on folks, you have The Ultimate Librarians here for the day. Got any questions for them? Need a recommendation for something to read?