Heather Ashby: Stories of Love and Suspense on the High Seas
Posted by Sharon Wray
I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Heather Ashby, a 2012 Golden Heart finalist and author of the Love in the Fleet series published by Henery Press (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers!). Today Heather is talking about her debut novel Forgive & Forget, where star-crossed Navy lovers battle an al-Qaeda operative in order to find a paradise of their own. And because Heather is as generous as she is talented, half of her author royalties are donated to the Fisher House to benefit the military families they serve.
Thank you for inviting me to Kiss & Thrill, Sharon, and thanks for letting me share about life aboard the USS Blanchard. Full speed ahead!
SW: Then let’s start with some awesome reviews!
“Bold and steamy with a suspense taken from today’s headlines and a love that breaks all rules.”
~ Cathy Maxwell, NY Times bestselling author of Devil’s Heart
“A thrilling novel…takes the reader into adventure on the high seas that involves suspense, danger, and intrigue, as well as forbidden love. This is a FEEL GOOD read that rings true in every regard. It is especially exciting to know this the first in a series. I’ll be eager to read the rest!”
~ Susan Brandenburg, St. Augustine Record
“A fantastic debut! Heather Ashby kept me entertained all the way through with engaging characters and a story that had me right there living it.”
~ Kim Law, author of RITA-nominated Sugar Springs
SW: These are amazing reviews, Heather. You must be so excited. Can you give us a description of Forgive & Forget?
HA: Because her mother had always boasted, “I have something better than a son—a daughter with balls,” Navy journalist, Hallie McCabe, isn’t afraid to use them to protect the man she loves—and the five-thousand crewmembers aboard their aircraft carrier. Her chutzpah enables Hallie to find paradise with Lieutenant Philip Johnston on shore without him discovering she’s an enlisted sailor stationed aboard his ship—at least, for awhile. Her most challenging test however, occurs when Hallie faces an al-Qaeda operative intent on destroying the USS Blanchard so he too can find Paradise.
SW: How long did it take to write, and how many manuscripts did you finish, before you got published?
HA: It took me three months to write Forgive & Forget, and then two years to revise and rewrite it when I discovered I had no idea what I was doing. Head-hopping? What’s that? Scenes are parts of chapters? People have visceral reactions before they verbalize surprise or passion? Characters have arcs? Although I’d kept journals all my life and had two completed memoirs, F&F was my first stab at fiction.
SW: Which comes first: the characters or the story?
SW: What drew you to the forbidden work affair type of story?
HA: Um, they say your first novel is essentially autobiographical. Although we never worked together, I did meet my husband in the Navy. He was an officer. I wasn’t.
SW: Although I’d love to know more, I won’t pry. 🙂 How does their affair complicate the scary suspense/terrorist plot?
HA: I don’t believe it does. No one is aware of the threat until it is upon them (except for the mole aboard the ship and the reader.) Once it is upon them, both hero and heroine fleetingly think of the other in possible danger, but then resort to the code: “Ship, Shipmate, Self.” All thoughts of self or friends or lovers are tucked away as they do what they are trained to do to save the ship, then those shipmates they can save, and lastly concern for self or self-interests.
SW: I know the villain you started with changed dramatically throughout your revisions, becoming much scarier and ratcheting up the suspense and danger. Can you tell us how your villain developed and why you had to change him?
HA: I lived in the Middle East and wanted to use my knowledge of setting and culture to describe my plotting terrorists. (Which actually disturbed me, since all we met in the Middle East were peaceful, family-oriented people.) I have an awesome editor who saw that the scenes with these men plotting in some undisclosed Middle Eastern locale came across as stereo-typical. She urged me to delete most of them and have all the information about the plot be shown through my traitor’s point of view as he goes about his business on board the USS Blanchard. Now that got scary. The idea that “one of their own” was the catalyst for the attack. And what really scared me was, once I got into the bad guy’s head, I discovered he was one of the crazies on the news who seems to be functioning in society, all the while he has lost his grip on reality. *shivers.*
SW: Can you describe the challenges of writing realistic terror plots that could show up on the nightly news?
HA: Because I wrote my villain as a disgruntled sailor instead of a religious fanatic, it downplayed a convoluted terrorist plot that might show up on the news. He works in tandem with al-Qaeda, but most of the focus is on why he wants personal revenge. One of my military advisors recommended that I make my villain an Islamic extremist because “it remains a very real threat and would read authentically.” I think readers are tired of that and – as sad as it sounds – a unique villain who has gone over the edge is more likely to grab the readers’ attention, because that is what is in the news these days. (*Note to Navy: If you see anything that my villain does that really could harm our sailors or our ships, please take care of it so it doesn’t ever happen. Thank you.)
SW: Can you describe Hallie and Philip? What internal and external conflicts keep them apart, how are they different, how do they complement each other?
HA: Hallie is a lady, but a gutsy lady. Don’t push her, because she knows how to take care of herself and how to get what she needs in life. Philip is the ultimate gentleman— something Hallie would love to have in her life. A nice guy, a stable guy, and a trustworthy guy—unlike her father. Philip is Mr. Integrity. However, she fails to tell him she is an enlisted sailor in the Navy because if she does, he will walk away, because of his integrity. He’s an officer and it would be breaking the rules to date her. She never lies, except by omission. She believes she is protecting him because, according to the regulations, he can only get in trouble if he knows she is enlisted. Before the ship deploys, a sailboat plays an integral part in the story. When Hallie tells Philip he is like an anchor for her, giving her stability, he replies that she is his sails, taking him to places he’d never dreamed of going before he’d met her. Places like…paradise.
SW: What does Hallie want more than anything? What does Philip want more than anything?
HA: Remember when I said I didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote this book? It may be clear here. Besides a general need to do their part in the war on terror, they’re looking for The One. Philip wants a loving woman in his life who plays by the rules and appreciates his nice guy/gentlemanly/integrity-filled attributes. Hallie wants a loving man in her life who she can count on. However, once the suspense unfolds, more than anything, they want to save the ship, their shipmates, and each other.
SW: Your book feels so real, the descriptions of the aircraft carrier, the people who work on it, the sounds, the overall feel of living on board a ship. But as a Navy veteran, did you have to take any creative license with the military aspects of the story?
HA: I took little creative license with the military aspects. My original goal was to write books to entertain our women in the fleet, so authenticity was paramount to me. But I also wanted civilian readers to enjoy the story and see what life is like for our sailors when they deploy. So I stayed away from using too many military acronyms, but did not “dummy it down” so my active duty readers would roll their eyes. The best compliment I’ve received is from a retired Navy Chief who served on aircraft carriers. She said, “I went into the book looking for flaws, but I couldn’t find any. (*Heather pumps fist*) I have awesome military advisors to thank for their final edits.
It’s been great chatting with you, Sharon. Thanks again for the invite. I’d like to give a book away to those who comment and/or answer the prompt below. I will send the winner a choice of Forgive & Forget or an ARC for the sequel, Forget Me Not. (It’s about the hot aviator sidekick from Book 1 J)
Now I’m curious how other suspense writers and readers feel about bad guy plots that could conceivably end up on the news. *shivers again*
Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran whose mother was one of the original WAVES in World War II. After leaving the service, Heather taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for her son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to Fisher House Foundation – Helping Military Families. She lived in Atlantic Beach Florida with her retired Naval Engineer husband. Forgive & Forget is the first novel in her four-part Love in the Fleet series.