Heather Ashby: Stories of Love and Suspense on the High Seas

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.Heather Ashby 2013 03 07 - 0042-2-5

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

Forgive & Forget

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?

HA: The first two books in the Love in the Fleet series were character first, while the final two are story first.

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.*


Photo courtesy of Heather Ashby

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.


Photo courtesy of Sharon Wray

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 2013 03 07 - 0065-EditHeather 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.

Heather loves hearing from readers and can be found on Email, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads


About Sharon Wray

Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and is the author of the Amazon bestselling Deadly Force romantic suspense series.

Posted on October 22, 2013, in Author Interview, book recommendations, Sharon Wray and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 70 Comments.

  1. Great interview, Sharon and Heather! These books sound fascinating and I love the covers. Looking forward to reading. Best of luck with this series, Heather!

  2. Forgive & Forget is a terrific read (I have a copy with the original “South Pacific” style cover, sure to be a collector’s item!), and the villain is definitely scary, because he’s so plausible. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

    • I love that cover, Kay! And I agree about the villain. He is so quietly scary and plausible that he ups the tension until you almost can’t bear it. He’s wonderful as far as creepy villains go. 🙂

  3. Awesome interview Sharon. Hi Heather! Great seeing you here. Congrats on your latest release!

  4. Hi Heather, I missed seeing you at the November FCRW meeting. Great interview and hope to see you again soon.

  5. Welcome Heather! I remember sitting at the same TGN retreat table in 2012. (And people say I have early stage ALZ!)

    Your novels sound terrific and I love the steamy covers, heartfelt congratulations on your contact! My mom wanted to be a WAVE but her dad wouldn’t let her, so she really pushed me to become one…the typical mom living out her dreams through her daughter. 🙂 Each of my YA birthdays she’d say “you know, you still qualify to get in the WAVES.”

    Regarding plots that are ripped from modern day events: I think there’s an element about it that fascinates readers. Like maybe the author can delve into senseless motivations and help all of us understand horrific tragedies better. But then there’s the “Lena Diaz slightly-creepy author foresight” phenomenon- a month before her suspense novels come out the completely fabricated terror-event occurs for real!

  6. Thanks for stopping by PIntip, Kaye, Lena, Jan, and Sarah! Kaye, I love the idea of the SP cover being a collector’s item. What a hoot! Thanks for congrats, Lena, Pintip, and Sarah. Jan, I hope to see you at the next FCRW meeting.

    Sarah, Love the story about your mom and the WAVES and her trying to get YOU to join! (My mother always pushed my older sister, but never mentioned it to me. She was THRILLED when I joined the Navy.) I like this spin on things. “Like maybe the author can delve into senseless motivations and help all of us understand horrific tragedies better.” Many of my readers have told me that they UNDERSTOOD my villain’s motives, although couldn’t condone it. And as to that “Lena Diaz slightly-creepy author foresight” phenomenon,” now that’s just WOO-WOO!!!

    Thanks so much for inviting me today, Kiss and Thrillers! Have a SAFE day 🙂

  7. Forgive & Forget is a great read…Her characters come alive on every page and will steal your heart. Her witty dialogue makes you laugh out loud! Looking forward to book2 with the hot aviator sidekick! Cheers!!

  8. I am new to the military-based suspense/thriller. I’ve only ventured into Christine Feehan’s GhostWalker series (mind enhancement, etc), but it’s one of my faves!

    Forgive & Forget sounds wonderful and Suzanne Galbo’s reference to your witty dialogue makes it a must-read!

    I prefer the more realistic villains, to be honest. I just read Perfect by McNaught about a Hollywood darling who was sent to prison for murder…and it was just too hard to accept when it was clearly fictional. The love story was McNaught mastery, but it lacked authenticity.

    It is so generous of you to donate royalties to the Fisher House — that’s some support! 😉

    • Carmen, if you enjoy the ghostwalker series (which I love!) I have no doubt you’ll enjoy Heather’s stories. They are very realistic with smart, snappy dialog. Heather also writes a beautiful love story!

    • Thank you, Carmen. Fisher House does amazing things for our military families. And BTW, the villain in F&F scares me he became so real and so creepy. It’s those ones you don’t suspect that are so scary – but VERY authentic. No Hollywood boy this one! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Great interview ladies! And Heather, as a kid I spent a weekend on an aircraft carrier as it sailed from Long Beach to San Francisco out on the high seas. There were none of those nice stabilizers cruise ships have, and someone thought it’d be funny to show us the Poseidon Adventure as out Saturday night entertainment. (Luckily our cruise ended better than the Poseidon’s) My dad was the Captain of that last cruise before the ship got decommissioned, so we got to live in relative luxury compared to those below deck. I’ve just started your book and am really enjoying all the authentic details you took the time to include! Crossing fingers for mega sales!!

  10. Joan Denman w/a Joan Wylder

    Great interview! Your books sound awesome, Heather! And, what a honor for a retired Chief to comment so favorably.

    Having a villain that reflects current events certainly makes for scary reading, as long as it doesn’t follow Lena’s crazy ESP! I study women’s participation in WW II and I’m looking forward to your contemporary perspective. Best of luck with your books!

    • I love books that follow current events as long as they’re not too realistic or too scary. But Heather’s was so well done, I didn’t mind the scary villain.
      And I’m hoping Lena is the only one here with the scary ESP thing. It really is crazy!

  11. I like living in ostrich-land and don’t think about fiction becoming reality. Fun interview, Heather!

  12. Congrats on your new series, Heather! I find “breaking bad” villains to be the most interesting–someone who has some bad luck and compounds it by making some bad decisions that in turn propel him/her past the point of no return.

  13. Sounds like a very interesting series, Heather. Will need to check this out on my kindle. A great interview.

  14. Heather, welcome to Kiss and Thrill! So great to have a Firebird sister on board. You already know I LOVED Forget Me Not! I can’t wait for its release in December. One of our commenters is in for a wonderful treat!

  15. Welcome to K&T, Heather. I think I was at that same table for the TGN retreat…

    As an Army/Navy brat–yes, my dad did both–and Air Force spouse, I’m definitely going to have to give this series a read. I think we like realistic villains because they amp up the tension and really draw us into the story. I know I prefer them over the cardboard cutout variety who are just evil for evil’s sake.

    Great interview, ladies!

  16. What a wonderful interview, Heather. This sounds like such a great story!! I tweeted.

  17. Great Interview. Always glad to read about someone new and experience something through a new set of eyes.
    I have family that is serving and have served in the past. This world is a scary place. Who would’ve thought someone would run a plane into the world trade tower.

    Always there is a chance of something we’ve read about finding headlines. “Shiver”.

  18. And thanks for responding to all these wonderful comments, Sharon. (I do apologize. Grand-baby duty just usurped blog duty, but now I’m back in writer mode.) Tammy, I’m guessing you got to go on a Tiger Cruise as a child. I always imagine that those Navy Juniors NEVER forget the thrill of being at sea on a carrier with Dad – or Mom! Thanks to everyone for your comments and tweets about F&F and about bad guys in general. Abigail, I kind of like to stay in Ostrich mode as well. Probably why I don’t write straight-out RS. (It scares me.) Thanks to everyone for stopping by!

  19. ” I think we like realistic villains because they amp up the tension and really draw us into the story.” This is so true, Gwen! I did not realize you were an Army/Navy brat and AF spouse! Wow. I hope you enjoy the “cruise.”

    And speaking of cruises, Tammy, I just re-read your comment to discover your dad was the CO for that cruise. HOW COOL!!! Surely that was a weekend you will never forget!

    Carmen, thanks for your good wishes and kudos to Fisher House. They do SO MUCH for our military families!

    As to the table at The Golden Network Retreat, it was AWESOME to meet you, Sarah and Gwen, and see Sharon and Rachel. BTW, it was during lunch that Sharon invited me to be a guest on your awesome blog, ladies!

  20. Depends on the plot and villain

    • Which is why I find contemporary suspense stories scarier (but not necessarily better) than historical suspense stories. (Manda, you know I love you and your books!)

      • Yes, stuff than can really happen scare the pants off me – and not in a good way. Don’t you think I had some real misgivings about my Rashid character when I saw what happened at the Navy Yard last month!

  21. HAHA, the line above my comment says, “Thrill us with your wit…” that’s a tough line to follow.
    Good luck with your second release, Heather. I’m like Kay, I have copies of first cover and second cover :). I’m looking forward to reading it and it’s sailing toward the top of my TBR pile.
    I find villains creepy when they’re *normal*, everyday people with no empathy or wacky political idealogy. No way of knowing what they’ll do next…
    As for ships…HA! I was aboard a troop transport ship from NYC to Ankara Turkey. We slept in bunks, had fire drills, etc. Was a real eye-opener for a kid. Never been on a cruise, so that ship has been my only big-ship adventure.

    • I do love the first cover, Jean, but I think I like the second cover better. (it’s sexier :))
      I can’t wait to read Heather’s second book as well. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of villain she set up for her hot aviator hero.

    • “I find villains creepy when they’re *normal*, everyday people with no empathy or wacky political idealogy. No way of knowing what they’ll do next…” Yes, Jean, the kind where the neighbors say, “He was such a regular, nice person.” As to the troop ship, WOW! From NYC to Turkey? Sounds pretty exciting for a child!!! An ADVENTURE!
      Thanks for stopping by, Jean!

  22. Great interview, Heather. I love that you’re giving back to Navy families. And your cover is hot, hot, hot, btw! 😉

    • Thanks, Terri, for all of the above! And thanks for stopping by! Write On!

    • I hear ads for the Fisher House all the time (I live outside Washington, DC) but didn’t know that much about it until talking to Heather. It really is a wonderful organization and it’s so lovely that Heather is helping them.
      And I love her cover, too!

      • Yes, Sharon. The Fisher House Foundation does more than just provide lodging for military families when their service member is hospitalized. During the furlough earlier in the month, they paid death benefits to Gold Star families who would not have received their payments otherwise. The Fisher family is AMAZING!

  23. Thank you both for a fun and insightful interview! I loved Forgive & Forget, and also was struck by the details. I’m glad you didn’t dummy it down for us, Heather! And it’s a tribute to your talents that I never felt overwhelmed by the technical stuff–to the contrary, I found it fascinating. (I always remember how many ladders Hallie had to climb to get to the deck. Seven, I think? Who knew?) I can’t wait to read Sky’s story, and the rest of your books, so get back to work!

    • I can’t wait to read Sky’s story as well! And I agree with how Heather handled all those technical/military details. I was right there with Hallie and never felt pulled out of the story.

    • Always good to hear from you, Colette. Thanks for noticing the details and the “not dummying down part.” I truly have my military advisors to thank for many of the details – and when they get too technical, I “soften the edges.” I’m so glad so many civilian readers are enjoying “the cruise.” Now you better get back to work too. *sounds of whips cracking* Isn’t it time for Book 3. (Counting the days to 12/16 🙂

  24. Great interview, Heather and Sharon. I’ve got Forgive and Forget on my TBR list. It sounds really exciting.

  25. Excellent interview, and I loved the accompanying pics, including the sail boat!

    I really enjoyed Book 1, and I’ve been lucky enough to read an advanced version of Heather’s next book. It’s even better than the first!

  26. Aw, you’re so kind, Catherine (Course I’m lucky too cuz I get to read YOUR books in advance too 🙂 But, as my Critique Partner, YOU’RE one of the reasons my books are successful. Thanks for all of your comments, suggestions, and edits. And for just plain loving my books. You’re a good “Book Godmother!” Hugs!

  27. WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for Change communications

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