Unforgettable: A Day Spent with Heather Ashby and Chris Bergeron

Today I’d like to offer a warm Kiss & Thrill welcome to Heather Ashby and Chris Bergeron. Heather, a veteran contributor here at Kiss and Thrill, has combined her amazing writing skills with retired Marine Corps Major Chris Bergeron for the fourth book in the Love in the Fleet Series Unforgettable.

Unforgettable lives up to its title. It’s an amazing book with beautifully drawn characters. Adam, Gwyn, Mike, and Cate have such emotionally touching journeys that when you’re finished with the book you’ll wish they were real, then be sad when they’re not. And that’s what gives this book a special spot on the keeper shelf.

UnforgettableFinal1

UNFORGETTABLE (Book 4 in “Love in the Fleet”)

The 9/11 spirits aboard USS New York are back! Their mission: help Adam, Gwyn, Mike, and Cate find their happily ever afters—and stay alive. As the only person who can see them, Lieutenant Gwyn Pritchard tries to help the spirits move on to the light. That is, when she’s not helping Gunnery Sergeant Adam Connor heal from his PTSD—or falling madly in love with him.

Captain Cate Hawkins, has run from her unconventional childhood by becoming a Marine Corps pilot. But when a mission in East Africa goes awry, she finds herself in a race for her life. After burying the hatchet with Cate, Navy pilot Mike Nikolopoulos wants nothing more than to rescue his new love. If the spirits help him save her, they’ll finally be free to move on. But can Mike overcome a sudden fear of flying to find his way to Cate before terrorists repeat “Black Hawk Down”—with a female American pilot this time?

SW: Welcome to Kiss and Thrill today, Chris and Heather. First of all, I have to tell you how much I loved this book. Second, I’d love to know how you two met.

Heather: When I was brainstorming Book 3, Never Forget about Marines on an amphibious assault ship, I realized I didn’t know anything about either one. My husband was the pool captain at Naval Station Mayport and told me that one of his lifeguards had a mom and dad who met on an amphibious assault ship. Mom was Navy and Dad was a Marine. I invited them for lunch and the magic began.

Chris: LOL. Heather asked me if I could help her out with Book #3, Never Forget and this is what I said: “I spent over twenty years writing training scenarios for Marines and never got to use half of them. I already know how we’re going to rescue those hostages at that consulate.” I was so excited that somebody wanted to hear the crazy ideas I had in my head.

SW: I’m dying to know what it’s like working with a co-author? Can you tell us about your writing process?

Who are these beautiful women? Heather with a few of my K&T sisters--Gwen, Sarah and Lena!

Who are these beautiful women? Heather with a few of my K&T sisters–Gwen, Sarah and Lena!

Heather: It’s pretty interesting since we’re both Pantsers and Puzzlers. We do a basic brainstorm at the beginning – in person before Chris retired, and now via FaceTime. I start writing the book and send Chris a quick sketch of scenes or chapters I need him to run with. It usually entails the bad guy and any Navy ship or USMC technicalities—or emotional issues our Marine protagonist might have.

Chris: It works for me. Not sure I’m ready to sit down and write a novel by myself, but when Heather sends me a framework to fill in with military – or villainous – details, I go to town. Like she said, we’re Puzzlers, so we write the scenes that call to us first and fit all the pieces together later. Somehow a complete book emerges. That’s part of the magic.

Heather: I typically write the relationship portion of the books and Chris writes the bad guys and external conflict, but then more magic happens. We tend to bleed over into the other’s turf and fine-tune each other’s scenes. And it just works. Examples: Chris will add layers of emotions to the characters and think up unique things for the spirit characters to do to help the crew of the USS New York. Yet, once he started back to college he got very busy. I needed him to write a poignant scene in Never Forget between two Marines sharing about a buddy who had died. He wrote back, “I’m super busy. Any way you can run with this one? You’re doing a great job writing Marine emotions and camaraderie.” I took that as the ultimate compliment. In Unforgettable, Chris was drowning in mid-term exams when I needed the final amphibious assault scene written. I knew what I wanted, but no way did I know the details.

ae55d3d601552ac1024213d51370b5c8Chris: I told Heather, “Go ahead and scratch it out, then send it to me and I’ll Marine-it-up.”

Heather: Yet, when I was called out of retirement to teach middle school this past winter, Chris did almost all the writing for two months before his classes started. Then, like in a relay race, I took the baton and wrote the rest when his school began. One of the biggest compliments we’ve received was from our editor, the amazing Teresa Medeiros at Amber House Books. When she got the finished manuscript for Unforgettable, she said, “This book is seamless. I honestly can’t tell which one of you wrote which parts.” I hadn’t thought about it until this moment, but I think trust between co-authors plays a huge factor. That and the fact that there are no egos involved. We totally work as a team.

Chris: Speaking of trust, it’s great working with someone who encourages you to just write. I do my best “writing” while I’m doing PT. That’s military-speak for Physical Training. I’ll head out for a run, or a swim, or a long bike ride—or even skiing since I live in Michigan now—and the scenes will just form in my head. I get all the details like the steamy air our heroine is running through in Kenya, the buzz of the insects on the African plain, and even the shine of the villain’s gold tooth. All the thoughts tumble over each other in my head and when I get home, I dump them into the computer. I don’t worry about grammar or spelling or paragraphs or anything. I just write it down and send it to Heather. She’s always telling me, “Just send me sand and I’ll make sand castles out of it.” I think it really frees people up to write good, creative stuff when they don’t have to worry about mechanics or that some teacher with a red pen is going to point out your mistakes.

c20ae2e6b504df1d99abdcb06df2f836_r8f1SW: Where did you get the idea for this story?

Chris: When Heather and I brainstormed Unforgettable, she said, “The USS New York will be off Somalia, so I’m thinking about a conflict with Somali pirates.” To which I replied, “It’s been done. I think we should do ‘Black Hawk Down’ with a female American pilot this time.” I have the utmost respect for the female Marine Corps aviators I watched take to the skies during my career. They are one of the last groups to brave the old boy network and succeed. I kind of based our heroine on Lieutenant Colonel Sarah “Diamond” Deal, who I had the honor of serving with during my final deployment to Afghanistan. So Heather and I made up Captain Cate Hawkins. Heather wrote her back story and I picked up the reins to shoot down Cate’s MV-22 Osprey and have her running from al-Shabab at the Somali/Kenyan border. I’ve served in East Africa, so it was fun setting the scene for Cate as I repeatedly put her in danger. And, because she’s a Marine, she repeatedly gets herself out.

Heather: Unforgettable has two love stories in it. While Chris was endangering Cate, I was healing another hero’s PTSD. I gave Gunnery Sergeant Adam Connor my late father’s issues of having his mother die in childbirth, then be the only survivor of a combat patrol. Talk about survivor guilt. Adam – and my dad – had suffered from it since birth—and war intensified it. (My dad was a World War II Marine who fought at places such as Guadalcanal and New Britain.) The healing aspect of this book is very important to us. My thought was that I may not have been able to heal my dad, but maybe we can guide another Marine—or soldier or airman or sailor or veteran—to seek help for his or her issues. We are already hearing from doctors and readers who are using the “Love in the Fleet” books as a tool for healing. This has been the high point of my publishing career.

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 SW: You say this is the final book in the “Love in the Fleet” series, but do you two have plans for any future books?

Chris: We’re both pretty busy right now, but there is the possibility of another book. Just because it’s the end of the series, doesn’t mean we can’t write a prequel at some point. One of the couples in Never Forget and Unforgettable is a World War II U.S. Marine and a Royal Navy WREN. They are elderly ghosts, but I’d like to explore how they met in WWII and how Bud served as a spy throughout Europe during the war. Always got to have your next dream on the horizon. In the meantime, I’m just excited about finishing up college Freshman English. I have to say it was pretty darn cool to lay a copy of my first novel on my professor’s desk.

Heather: We think Unforgettable has something for everyone. Suspense, military action, healing, two love stories, and even ghosts. Below, please find a short excerpt from a chapter Chris wrote. It literally made me jump out of my chair when I read the entire scene. Thanks so much for inviting us today, Sharon.

Excerpt from Unforgettable:

As the sun set, Cate climbed down from the termite mound and slid through the tall grass silently. Thank God, she’d been correct about the small clearing she’d spied. It was a stream—or at least it was a stream when it rained. Right now it was a series of muddy puddles. She submerged one of her collapsible canteens in the muck and strained the water through gauze from her first aid kit. After dropping in two iodine tablets, she drank her fill.

She was still being pursued by al-Shabab, but at least she wouldn’t die from thirst now. She even allowed herself a small smile—but it was short-lived. When she raised her eyes from the canteen, sheer terror twisted her gut. Twenty yards away, two sets of amber eyes stared back at her in the setting sunlight. A pair of massive female lions stood frozen, their gazes fixed on her. Moving as slowly as possible, she reached to her side and drew her pistol. If they charged, she might get one or two rounds off, probably only wounding one—and alerting her pursuers at the same time.

Cate was screwed either way.

She prayed they were more interested in a drink of muddy water than the flight-suit-encased-Happy-Meal she was beginning to feel like. After staring for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only seconds, the lionesses lowered their heads and began to lap at the murky water. Cate hoped they would drink their fill and be on their way. She pressed her elbows painfully to her sides, trying to make herself as small as possible. Both lions turned suddenly and peered in the direction Cate had come. Something had alerted them. They slunk off into the brush.

Suddenly she heard a motor growing closer by the second and she took off running. How could those men drive through the tall grass and brambles? Soon she could make out the sounds of undercarriages and brakes squealing. Surely this had been what had scared the lions away. Cate’s heart thundered as he picked up her pace. At times they would get close enough that she could hear voices as they called out to her: “We know you are out here, Lady America. Make it easy on yourself and give up. We have water and food. We’re not going to harm you. You are worth more to us alive than dead.”

And then, in the moonlit-speckled dusk, she heard another sound that made the whole world stop: the slow, throaty growl of an animal. Cate froze, then lowered herself to the ground. In her attempt to move away from the vehicles, she’d forgotten about the other pair of pursuers. Was it possible she was being hunted by two different sets of predators?

She slid down and lay prone on her belly, then eased herself under the thorny limbs of the closest tree. It was quiet for a few minutes and Cate could hear nothing but the pounding of her heart in her ears. But that was soon joined by the same low growl as before. The tall grass moved in the moonlight. Had to be the lions slinking through the brush. One came into view, crouched low to the ground, and started walking slowly toward her. Cate would lose no matter what. If she shot at the big cat—and even if she could take it down—the men would be on her in an instant.

Her heart hammering in her throat, Cate cocked her pistol. The lion’s head swung to its left. It doubled back in the direction it had come and disappeared from view. She blew out a breath of relief, lying motionless except for the racing of her pulse.

Then she heard what the lion must have heard: sticks breaking as something moved in her direction. And she smelled what the animals had probably smelled, cigarette smoke. Where the lion had stood just moments ago, two men appeared in the gloom. They were armed with what looked like AKs. One had his rifle slung over his shoulder and carried a large machete. His cigarette lit up his face as he took a puff. The moonlight lit the rest of him. Given the mix of military hardware and dark fatigues, these were the men Cate had feared: guerillas of the al-Shabab terrorist group, hunting their American prize. The other man flipped on a flashlight and began searching the ground.

“We’re here to help you, Lady America. So be a smart American lady and let us take you to safety.”

Cate infinitesimally shifted the pistol so it was aimed at the two men. She was about fifteen yards away, not a great shot in the dark, but it might be the best chance she’d get. The first man crushed out his cigarette and began to walk forward. He was not acting as if he could see her, though. The brambles were probably reflecting the flashlight’s beam back at them, and her camouflage flight suit was doing its job. She would let him come as close as possible to get off a good shot.

As he closed the distance, Cate took careful aim across the sights. The pistol butt rested on the back of her hand. Her first shot must be deadly accurate.

Closer . . . Closer . . .

She took the slack out of the trigger and prepared to fire.

Closer . . . Closer . . .

A beast sprang from the left! The man screamed and loosed a burst of rifle fire in the air. With a sick, wet crunch, the lion bit clean through his throat and vertebrate. The man with the flashlight screamed, “Simba, Simba!” and ran into the darkness. The second lion pounced on the body on the ground, grabbing the lifeless legs in her teeth and tearing.

Cate listened in horror to the sounds of slurping and crunching in the dark. She feared she would vomit and give herself away, but she didn’t dare move until she was certain the lions were sated. Then mentally thanking her two new girlfriends, Cate eased away from the bush and melted into the night.

SW: Thank you so much Chris and Heather for sharing that excerpt and for joining us today.

Now Chris and Heather would have a question for you: Besides marriage, tell about a partnership you’ve had in the past that worked like magic. Or one that didn’t work out, but you learned something valuable from the experience. OR tell us what you think of Chris’s excerpt. We have a $10 Amazon gift card for one lucky commenter. 

If readers want to start the “Love in the Fleet” series with Book # 1 Forgive and Forget, it is $.99 through May 14 at all online sites!

Or, if you’re ready for the fourth, Unforgettable is available at: Amazon: http://amzn.to/1PAHVCj  and  Nook: http://bit.ly/1FACsDv

Small HeadshotAward winning author, Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran who taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for their Army son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to Fisher House Foundation in support of wounded warriors and their families. Her son serves as her cover model, helping to raise money for Fisher Houses around the world. Heather lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida with her retired Navy husband. Unforgettable is the fourth and final book in the “Love in the Fleet” series. www.heatherashby.com, Twitter: http://www.@HAshbyAuthor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherAshbyAuthor?ref=hl

head shot ChrisCHRISTOPHER BERGERON is a retired Major in the United States Marine Corps, with twenty-four years of service. His ten deployments include combat tours in Desert Shield/Desert Storm; Somalia; Kosovo; Haiti; Fallujah, Iraq; and Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Chris’s travels have covered the globe, including more than twenty countries. He lives with his wife and son in Rockford, Michigan, where he is currently a Communications/Marketing student at Grand Valley State University. Unforgettable is his first novel.

All photos courtesy of Heather Ashby and Chris Bergeron

And the winner for P.A. DePaul’s giveaway from last week is Missy Clifton! Congratulations!!!!

About Sharon Wray

Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of adventure, suspense and love for Sourcebooks. She's a wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, and addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos.

Posted on May 5, 2015, in Author Interview, book recommendations, Sharon Wray and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Thank you so much for welcoming Heather and Chris to KISS AND THRILL! It’s been such a delight working with them and their wonderful books via my publishing house Amber House Books. Your hospitality is much appreciated! 🙂

  2. Unforgettable was truly that. Loved the book, Heather and Chris. Thank you so much for being here with us at K&T today!

  3. YIKES on the excerpt!!
    Welcome Chris and welcome back, HEATHER! I am so looking forward to reading your collaboration the second I finish AE Jones’ MIND SWEEPER. (A GH sister of yours, I believe!)

    Chris- on behalf of K&T, we thank you for your service to the country and how you spun your experiences into this adventure. And…um…you’re a hottie, so we’re thrilled to showcase your pic here as well. 😉

    • Sarah! Please don’t frighten away my guest. Chris may never come back! LOL.
      And don’t you love AE’s mindsweeper series? It’s awesome too.
      I can’t wait for you to read Unforgettable so we can talk about it in NYC. 🙂

    • Heather Ashby

      Hi, Sarah. Glad you enjoyed “Cate’s two new girlfriends” as much as I have! (You can see why “THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT” is our theme song for Unforgettable.) Always fun to visit K&T. Thanks for inviting us. Hugs.

  4. Thanks for joining us, Heather and Chris! UNFORGETTABLE sounds amazing, and what a great writing partnership you have.

    I had an awesome partnership at my first manufacturing engineering job out of grad school. I started at the same time as a bunch of new college graduates. My friend and I joke about it because I didn’t like him in the beginning. I thought he was pushy and outspoken. He thought he was going to mentor this quiet introvert. He didn’t realize I had worked in another field for almost a decade already. I was so annoyed when I found out we’d be sitting next to each other. Turned out we were a great match on our team at work, and as friends. I’ve never had that kind of symbiosis in the work environment before or since.

    Chris, I agree that the freedom to write the first draft without censure is key. I’m trying to figure out how to turn off my internal editor so I can just get the words down. Good luck with school and the writing!

    • What a great story, Gwen. Are you two still in touch?
      And good luck turning off the Internal Editor. If you figure out how, please let me know!

      • He lives in Kashmir most of the time now, but I see him every few years. He was just visiting Boston a few months ago and we managed to go out for coffee. So nice to catch up! Thanks. Will do. 😉

    • Heather made it so easy, just write she always says… when you get nothing but support from your writing partner it’s really easy just to crank it out. Heathers like a good coach that steers you but makes sure she doesn’t impede your passion for what you are doing.

    • Heather Ashby

      Hi, Gwen! Thanks for inviting us. Great story about your co-worker. So glad it all worked out. And thanks for reminding me of the word, SYMBIOSIS. That’s what Chris and I have – and we may have adopted each other as honorary Big Sister and Little Brother. I never had a brother before, so this is cool.

  5. I absolutely loved this excerpt!! The cover is awesome, too!!! Best of luck, Heather and Chris–what an awesome partnership!!!

    • Thanks, Kieran. I thought the excerpt was great too. I have no doubt you’ll love the book!

    • Heather Ashby

      Waves to Kieran! Hi, Kieran. Glad you enjoyed “Cate’s two new girlfriends.” Chris throws that stuff at me and I’m just AWED!!!! Hope your writing is going well. See you in NYC?

  6. The new book sounds fantastic, Heather and Chris. I’m adding it to my TBR pile. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to co-write a project. Thanks for giving us a peek at your process.

    Chris, did you ever have any unexpected run-ins with wildlife while you were deployed? Is that where the kernel of the idea for the Unforgettable excerpt comes from?

    As for magical partnerships, I’d have to say that K&T tops my list 🙂

    • I have to agree with you, Krista. This is the best collaborative group I have ever worked with and I’m so glad I agreed to be a part of it all those years ago. 🙂

    • Heather Ashby

      Krista, I’m not sure if Chris DID have any run-ins, but he wrote this scene based on the fact that the famous Man-eaters of Tsavo were killed in the area Cate is running in. They are in the Field Museum in Chicago now, but they were reported to have killed and eaten over 100 railroad workers in the last century. (It is reported that their descendants still have a taste for human flesh.) Chris researched all this and worked the history into the story. I LOVE working with someone who will do the research!!!!

  7. Welcome Heather and Chris! Thank you so much for sharing your experience as collaborators. Very interesting and inspiring. The book sounds fabulous!! I love the Love in the Fleet series and can’t wait to read it!

    • I hope you enjoy it, Rachel. And like many of the readers here have mentioned, the co-writing is seamless. I’m really hoping they write another one together soon. 🙂

      And thanks for reblogging!

    • Heather Ashby

      Hi, Krista and Rachel. Thanks for inviting us! YES, you ladies have an AWESOME partnership in K&T! You are very blessed to be working with such amazing writers and incredible women.

  8. Nancy Stillings

    Thanks Chris& Heather for sharing more about your tag team writing. I agree with Teresa that your writing is seamless to the reader. In my reader experience that seamlessness in a coauthorship is a rare gift. I vote an enthusiastic yes for Chis’s idea of a Bud & Helen WWII story. 2016 please! Unforgettable is truly a keeper:) Bless you both for your never ending service!

  9. Chris Bergeron

    Thanks for having us on Kiss to Thrill, it was a lot of fun. From retired Marine to being interviewed on blogs, it’s been an interesting year. We appreciate the fans of our books immensely.

  10. writerkathleen

    I already read this great story but this excerpt still gives me chills! Thanks Heather and Chris for a great blog.

  11. Heather Ashby

    Thanks again, EVERYONE at K&T! We loved visiting today!!! Write on, ladies! Hugs

    • Heather Ashby

      Oh, and YES to Kathleen Bittner Roth’s fabulous books! AND thanks to her for her expertise in helping us with some of the healing chapters in Unforgettable! Thanks, Kathleen. Big hugs.

  12. Catherine Rull

    Great interview! I’ve really enjoyed your books, Heather, and this fourth one is a great way to end the series! “Seamless” is definitely a good word to describe the way you two have written “Unforgettable” together! 🙂

    Catherine, Australia

  1. Pingback: Unforgettable: A Day Spent with Heather Ashby and Chris Bergeron « Sharon Wray

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