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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.

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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!!!!

Tis the Season to Give and Give Back

Thanksgiving is over. We Americans were thankful for our blessings and then quickly pivoted to preparations for the season of giving (aka Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, etc.). It is also the season to give back. Today, I have my own opportunity to give back. As it happens, it is also a second chance because it was an opportunity that I passed up the first time it presented itself.

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What was the opportunity? (You were wondering that, right?) Modeling.

Yes, as surprising as it may sound, late last week I found myself suddenly in demand as a model. In a fashion show for a holiday luncheon benefit. An event I was helping to organize and planning to attend.

What I hadn’t planned on is the catwalk.

When the call to action came last week—We’re down three models; please help us out—the words on the tip of my tongue were all negative. I can’t. I ate too much pumpkin pie last week. I might trip on the catwalk. But before those words could launch into sounds of refusal, I remembered how much generosity, support, and kindness has been given to me this year. These same women who are dedicating their time, talents, and energy to organize the Northern Virginia Alliance League (NVAL) holiday luncheon to benefit Friends of Guest House, were also the same women who celebrated with me earlier this year when I announced that I had published my first book.NVAL

My heart has been full of gratitude at their enthusiasm and support expressed in word and deed. Not only have many of my NVAL friends bought Broken Places, they have also taken the time to write reviews on Amazon, to express interest in the writing and publishing process, to invite me to talk to their book groups, and to give copies of Broken Places to their friends.

It has truly been a wealth of blessings. I have a pretty good idea of how George Bailey must have felt at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. (Another holiday favorite of mine.) How could I say no to these friends who have given me so much? It was my time to give back. Keep your fingers crossed I don’t trip over my own two feet!

BrokenPlaces-FrontCover-Final-72dpiDo-gooders and second chances are two prominent themes of Broken Places so in the spirit of giving back, I will be donating half of my December Amazon royalties to Friends of Guest House, a 501(c)(3) serving women ex-offenders returning to the community after serving their time. Sometimes a helping hand can make all the difference. I think the mission statement from the Friends of Guest House website says it best: Help, hope, and new beginnings for Northern Virginia’s ex-offender women.

Here’s a list of other authors who are doing good while entertaining us with stories that give us the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if just for a few short hours.

  • Heather Ashby donates half of her royalties to Fisher House to support military families in the U.S.
  • JK Rowling is donating all global royalties for The Cuckoo’s Calling to The Soldiers’ Charity to support military families in the U.K.
  • Nora Roberts donates millions every year to the Nora Roberts Foundation to support literacy and children’s programs.
  • Debbie Macomber serves on the Board of Warm Up America which distributes hand-knit afghans, caps, and other items to tens of thousands of people in need.
  • K&T’s Rachel Grant and the authors of the Hometown Heroes book bundle are donating all royalties to Pets For Vets.
  • K&T’s Lena Diaz organizes the K&T donation as well as donating her own books and other items to the annual Brenda Novak Auction in support of Juvenile Diabetes research.

Wishing you and your family peace and joy in this season of giving! Christmas background with snowy fir trees

All month, the kindle edition of Broken Places is a free download for anyone who purchases the paperback edition through Amazon. Give a gift and keep one for yourself!

 

Yes, Mr. Angry Young Man. There is a Happily Ever After.

If you’re a romance writer, then you are probably aware of the drama going on regarding the question how much romance is necessary for a story to be classified a romance novel. I think of it as the Great Controversy.

If you’re a reader, hopefully you haven’t noticed.

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SInce I’ve always had more romance than plot in my manuscripts, the Great Controversy is something I hadn’t thought much about. Not because I didn’t care but because I know what happens when you try to quantify the subjective.

Fools run errands and those wild geese you’re chasing bite back.

It’s like trying to eat a spaghetti sandwich. It’s possible, but you’re left with a mess and you’ve lost half of your noodles.

So, this summer, I let the Great Controversy go. I left it to others who are more articulate than I to work out the answers. Then I forgot about it.

Until I went to the airport for my flight to San Antonio for the annual RWA Conference and met the Angry Young Man.

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Tall. Shaved head. Sharp tongue. His dark tattoos threatened to slash me, but it was his words that cut.

Romance novels?  Pathetic. Formulaic. Pornographic.

I stepped away quickly, not wanting to engage in an argument before boarding a plane.

Yet, despite his derision, his eyes held desperate questions.

Will I ever be loved?

Will I ever love another?

Are Happily Ever Afters real?

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My heart hammered and I felt nauseous. I hate conflict. And I had no words at the time, especially since we were on the same flight and might have to sit next to each other. But I was disappointed in myself. How could I aspire to be a romance writer when I couldn’t even defend my profession? I didn’t want to go to RWA anymore. Even if it meant missing the Golden Heart ceremony.

What difference did a Golden Heart final make if I couldn’t take away the pain in that man’s eyes?

Stuck with a non-refundable ticket and in desperate need of chocolate, I snuck away to the far end of the gate area. I searched my carry-on for my emergency dark chocolate with almonds candy bar. Instead, I found my RWA badge carefully tucked around my signed copy of Letters to Kelly by Suzanne Brockmann (which I take to every conference as my good luck charm).

The book dismissed me as a coward. My Golden Heart pins glittered, accusing me.

If my words couldn’t heal the Angry Young Man, then whose would?

Why was I so afraid?

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That’s when the truth slammed her fist into my stomach. The Great Controversy had stolen my confidence. All this worrying about my books not being romantic enough had made me doubt my stories, my writing, my career aspirations. I’d thought that by ignoring the Great Controversy, it wouldn’t touch me.

Like a true introvert, I’d just wanted to be left alone.

Instead, I’d left my heart’s gate unguarded and self-doubt had crept in.

My desire for chocolate died, and I watched people move in and out of gates, down hallways, dragging baggage and pillows and kids. But in many of their eyes I saw an emptiness. A sad kind of desperation.

Were they just weary travelers? Or were they in the same kind of pain as the Angry Young Man? Just less obvious?

I heard loud voices nearby and looked up. The Angry Young Man was arguing with the flight attendant manning the departure door. I couldn’t hear his words, but his dark voice made everyone turn. For a second, we all held a collective breath, all held together in the moment. A minute later, a security officer escorted the Angry Young Man away. When he passed me, I met his gaze.

Will I ever be loved?

Will I ever love another?

Are Happily Ever Afters real?

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I wanted to reach out and tell him that everything would be alright. That I had the answers to the questions in his eyes.

But he disappeared around the corner and everyone retreated back to their private space. Each person separate again, lost in their own thoughts. But something inside me had shifted, and I took out one of my Golden Hearts and pinned it to my sweater.

Although no one else would know what the pin meant, those mirror-image question marks holding the shape of a heart confirmed what I knew to be true.

I took strength from the heart’s beauty and found truth in its form.

Formulaic?  Romance novels bring order and comfort to the chaos and suffering of the human condition.

Pathetic?  Romance novels offer hope to the seeking, soothe the ill, and give solace to the grieving.

And the other word that’s not worth repeating?  Romance novels prove that true love given and true love received can change the world.

I’m still not sure if my stories meet the requirements of the Great Controversy, but I learned something that day in the airport. The power of a romance novel comes not just from its level of romance, but from its graceful ability to answer the questions of the Angry Young Man.

Will I ever be loved?  Yes. With great passion.

Will I ever love another?  Yes. With great truth.

Are Happily Ever Afters real?  Yes. With great beauty.

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Maybe, instead of asking the question of how much romance is in a romance novel, we should be asking if a novel fulfills its promise to the reader. A promise written with great passion, great truth, and great beauty. A promise of a happy ending.

I am proud to be a romance writer. I am proud that my stories offer a mix of adventure, suspense and love. I am proud that my manuscripts–like those written before and those yet to be–end with the same three simple words.

Three simple words which, almost invisible on their own, carry a force unlike any other.

Three simple words which, when strung together, hold the weight of a golden heart, the answers for an Angry Young Man, and the power to heal the world.

So yes, Mr. Angry Young Man. There is a Happily Ever After.

I, and my books, promise.

Now I’d love to know what is your absolute favorite romance of all time?

I will be offering two books for two lucky commenters: The first, in honor of my last K&T interview with Heather Ashby, will be an e-copy of Heather’s newest release Never Forget.

Second, in honor of my K&T interview coming up, I will be offering an e-copy of Night Sky, a new Young Adult novel by Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter Melanie Brockmann.

(You don’t want to miss it!  My fourteen-year old daughter and I will be interviewing Suzanne and her daughter Melanie for our first ever mother/daughter and mother/daughter interview. It’s going to be tons of fun!)

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray

Heather Ashby’s Never Forget: A Suzanne Brockmann Recommendation

I am so excited to welcome back one of my favorite Golden Heart sisters Heather Ashby. Today we’re talking about her newest release  Never Forget and the most amazing author endorsement ever!!!

“A must-read for fans of military romantic suspense. This book is part of a series, but it stands very much alone. If you enjoy my Troubleshooters, Heather’s definitely an author to check out! Amazing book, amazing author, amazing series.”

                                                                                             – Suzanne Brockmann

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HA: Thanks for inviting me today, Sharon. It’s always exciting to visit “Kiss and Thrill.” I’m thrilled to share Book #3 in my “Love in the Fleet” series with your readers.

 Never Forget

 With 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel melted into her bow, what if there are more souls aboard the USS New York than the sailors and Marines stationed there? And what if those souls can help the troops defeat al-Qaeda this time?

When Royal Navy officer Gwyn Pritchard reports for exchange duty aboard USS New York, she’s the only one who sees 9/11 spirits roaming the decks. The daughter of a famous Welsh psychic, Gwyn learns the spirits must complete a mission in order to pass to the other side.

The sole survivor of an IED blast in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Adam Connor has his own issues. But when he discovers that the British officer sees ghosts aboard their ship, he becomes her confidant—and lover.

Passions rise to fever pitch when New York rushes to liberate British and American hostages in North Africa before al-Qaeda’s deadline. Can the spirits gather the right intelligence to help the Marines save the prisoners? Can Gwyn help the ghosts move on to the light? And can Adam and Gwyn find the love they’ve searched the world over for?

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SW: For my first question I just have to ask, “How did you get Suzanne Brockmann to give you a cover quote?”

HA: I asked Suzanne in person when she presented at our chapter meeting, so I had the opportunity to see her jaw drop when I told her about the USS New York and the 9/11 spirits on board. (Yes, there really IS 7.5 tons of WTC steel in the New York’s bow.) However, since Suzanne is well-known for supporting the troops, I’m sure the deciding factor was that I donate half my royalties to Fisher House Foundation in thanksgiving for my son’s safe return from war. BTW, getting her quote and endorsement on Facebook was a dream come true. It was her Troubleshooters books that got me through my son’s deployments (along with vast amounts of prayer and chardonnay!) And while reading her books, I was inspired to try my hand at military romance.

SW: You are so brave. I don’t know if I would have the courage to ask. When you first came up with the idea of the ghosts aboard USS New York, did you have any concerns or worries?

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HA: I sat on the idea for several weeks, questioning if it was okay to write about them. My concern was for the 9/11 families. Then it came to me that if I didn’t write this story, somebody else would, and I wanted to ensure it was written with the respect it deserved. I am a Navy veteran, Marine Corps daughter, Navy wife, and mother of an Iraq and Afghanistan combat Army vet. I felt I was qualified—and with the victims’ families always foremost in my mind—I jumped in with both feet and wrote straight from the heart.

I realized that if I could give the spirits a voice and empower them with some control over the ship, the crisis, and their destiny, it would allow them to move from victim to victor. Just so you know, I worked on this book for two years and I still get goose bumps. Thus far my favorite reader review is this one on Facebook: “As a member of a 9/11 family, this book is truly inspiring. I’m filled with gratitude for this very special remembrance of my son.”

SW: What a wonderful review! How many people did you share your premise with while you were writing this? Or did you keep it to yourself?

HA: I shared with very few, highly-trusted individuals. For me to keep a secret like this for two years was a big deal, but I felt the story was too special to allow it to be stolen and sensationalized.

SW: How did you come up with your heroine? Why Welsh and the Royal Navy? She’s fascinating and so different from other heroines.

HA: Several years ago my husband and I entertained Royal Navy officers from the HMS Ocean. One delightful Sub-Left-tenant, suggested I write a romance about a Naval officer exchange program between the U.S. and the U.K., which meant two love story threads. In Never Forget, the love story on the British ship, HMS Atlantic, is the link to the first two books in “Love in the Fleet.” The other thread is detailed above in the blurb. Then I needed a reason why only Gwyn could see the spirits, and thought of a country that might have “faeries,” so I made her Welsh. She grew up with a mum who dabbled in “all kinds of woo-woo stuff,” so Gwyn rebelled by becoming a Royal Naval engineer, a profession which uses science and logic. She is therefore mortified when she reports for duty aboard New York and sees ghosts—meaning she has inherited the family “gift.”

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SW: Why were the prisoners in North Africa? Was there any significance in that choice? (It seems so eerily appropriate now)

HA: I chose North Africa because I needed both the American and British ships (with both sets of lovers) to be close enough to rush to the crisis. The USS New York would be on a routine Med cruise and the HMS Atlantic could race from Plymouth, England to join her in trying to free British and American hostages. My USMC advisor and I decided Tangiers was the perfect spot for the crisis because it was the espionage crossroads of the world in the 1940s and 1950s which plays into the story.

SW: Did you have any surprises while writing this book?

HA: The spirits were a total surprise. My stories are “homeported” at Naval Station Mayport, FL. In 2012 I learned that Mayport would be receiving three amphibious assault ships in 2014, so I decided to write about an amphib. While researching the new ships, I read about the World Trade Center steel melted into the bow of USS New York. I literally flew out of my chair, hands to open mouth with “OMG!OMG!OMG!” screaming in my brain!

Next I surprised myself by making one of the two heroes a Marine. I knew nothing about Marines and could just as easily have made him a Naval officer. But something spoke to me. My late father was a WWII Marine. He had some sad issues from his childhood and I decided to work them out through Adam Connor, my Marine hero. Then I was led to a fabulous newly-retired Marine, Christopher Bergeron, who was interested in helping. He said, “I spent my career writing amphibious assault training scenarios and never got to use half of them. I know exactly how to go into your fictional consulate and free those hostages!” Like I could turn THAT down! The fact that Chris doubled as the cover art photographer was beyond awesome!

There are several surprises in the crisis – which is a series of black moments. One scared the living daylights out of me! My brain kept saying, “Play it safe. This is too risky. You can’t do this.” But my ADHD gut said, “Go for it! This is the kind of thing that makes for blockbuster books and movies.” I figured if it was too risky, my editor would slap me on the wrist and make me revise. But she loved it! (It scared her too J)

Although Chris is new to writing fiction, he added in a few surprises that literally had me screaming out “OMG! I didn’t know that!” At first he just gave me Marine Corps “sand,” general information that I could turn into “sand castles.” But his confidence has gone through the roof as he realizes what a brilliant and creative writer he is (my words, not his J) We are exploring the very real possibility of co-authoring book four, Unforgettable.

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SW: Speaking of your covers, Heather, I see they’ve changed. Can you shed a little light on that.

HA: I changed publishers over the summer and am now working with the amazing Teresa Medeiros at Amber House Books. Since it was imperative that this book have a respectful cover, we decided to go with military uniforms for the entire series. My hero son agreed to pose for the covers and Chris shot the photos. My retired Navy husband meticulously researched the ribbons and devices (A.K.A. “fruit salad”) to ensure that the uniforms reflected the age and experience of the hero in each book. It was a true family affair; even my daughter helped out. She suggested a key spy character – “The Lynx” – right before Never Forget went to press.

I feel like I’ve come full circle, Sharon. At 9:04 on 9/11, I knew my son would be going to war. It was one of the most frightening realizations I’ve ever had. I’ve been blessed to have him return safe and whole from combat. Now he helps out as we publish “Love in the Fleet” and donate to causes that support families who have not fared as well as ours in the War on Terror.

Now I’d like to leave a question with your readers: What were you doing when you learned of 9/11 and what was your initial reaction?

 

SW: One lucky commenter will win a copy of Never Forget by Heather Ashby!

HA: Thanks for inviting me today, Sharon. It’s always a pleasure to interact with your readers.

SW: You’re so welcome, Heather. It’s always a pleasure to have you here.

USSNYHeather 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. She now writes military romance novels in the series, “Love in the Fleet.” Her debut novel, Forgive & Forget was voted “Best of 2013” by Suspense Magazine. Forget Me Not is currently a finalist in the Military Writers Society of America’s annual contest. She publishes with Amber House Books, who released Never Forget on September 9th. Heather lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida with her husband and two rescue cats.

You can find Heather at: www.heatherashby.comwww.heatherashby.com/Books.htmlhttp://amzn.to/1lFC9Ua, Twitter: @HAshbyAuthor, and www.facebook.com/HeatherAshbyAuthor?ref=

All photos courtesy of Heather Ashby.

Winner Announcement: And the winner of ALL GOOD DEEDS by Stacy Greena as well as ALL GOOD DEEDS swag  is JB Schroeder. Congratulations JB! Please use our contact page to claim your prize and let us know if you prefer an e-book or print on release day. Please include your email and snail mail addy.

 

 

K&T Tuesday and Thursday Winners!

GwenHernandez_BlindFury_800pxThank you to everyone who stopped by on Tuesday to celebrate Gwen Hernandez’s debut release of BLIND FURY! The lucky winner of her romantic suspense is jackielayton.

Congratulations! Please click on the Contact Us link to let us know if you prefer digital or paperback.

Thank you, Heather Ashby, for spending the day with us yesterday. And the lucky winner of Forget Me Not is …… Sasharenay

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Congratulations!  Sasharenay, please contact us here with your email address to claim your e-book.

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Please join us next Tuesday, March 4, when Lena Diaz interviews Paranormal Suspense author Mary Behre.

We can’t wait!

Forget Me Not with Heather Ashby

Today I am so pleased to welcome Heather Ashby, a 2012 Golden Heart sister as well as an award-winning romantic suspense author!Heather Ashby 2013 03 07 - 0125-Edit-7

After the successful debut of her first book Forgive & Forget, Heather has just released the second book in her “Love in the Fleet” series, Forget Me Not, to even more acclaim. And I heard a rumor that she’s also brought along Forget Me Not’s sexy hero Sky Crawford. I can already tell he’s a flirt!

SW: Welcome, Heather! I loved this book and am not surprised to hear all sorts of wonderful buzz about this story, the hero, and especially the villain. Can you share the blurb without giving away too much?

HA: Thanks, Sharon, for inviting me back to Kiss and Thrill! Here’s the blurb for Forget Me Not:

Suffering from survivor guilt, playboy Navy Seahawk pilot Sky Crawford swears he’ll never marry, unsure he deserves happinessbesides there are too many hot chicks to choose from.

War widow and veterinarian Daisy Schneider swears to love only animals after her Marine pilot husband is killed in Afghanistan—but work fails to ease her loneliness or the guilt that she might have saved him. The last thing she needs is a sweet-talking, fast-playing military pilot in her life.

Between a fiery battle with drug runners at sea and one stray, matchmaking Siamese cat, the fur flies in Forget Me Not as Sky and Daisy learn about life, love, and second chances. 

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SW: I know this is your second book but can you tell me about this amazing Romantic Suspense list Forgive and Forget is on?

HA: I was stunned when Suspense Magazine voted my debut novel, Forgive & Forget, to their “Best of 2013” list for Romantic Suspense with Linda Howard, Allison Brennan/Laura Griffin, and Sandra Brown. This was beyond my wildest dreams.

SW: I am so happy for you, and the award is much deserved. In researching the cocaine trade, how difficult was to come by the information? Were you afraid of ending up on someone’s list?

 HA: I did wonder if the FBI was going to come for me after reading my Google search history or seeing what I checked out of the library. While packing for a wedding in St. Petersburg, Florida, my normally sweet husband pulled my current reading material from the suitcase, got in my face, and exclaimed, “No, you are not going to sit around the pool at the Don Cesar Hotel reading How to Smuggle Cocaine for Profit and Fun.

 SW: I don’t blame him! Did the reality of the drug world scare you?

HA: Yes, the above book was written by a drug lord to show just how easy it is to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. In addition to reading about the “selling of souls for profit,” I was shocked at what growing and processing cocaine does to the environment. Besides the slashing and burning for more farm land to grow coca, millions of liters of caustic chemicals, including pure gasoline, are dumped into rivers and jungles.

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 SW: How did you get a Navy helicopter pilot to help you with the writing/authentication? Can you tell me a bit more about him/her?

 HA: Oh, it was definitely a him, and didn’t he look hot in that flight suit! Oops, did I type that out loud? Seriously, he is the dad of a former student of mine. And I was thrilled to learn that he’d always wanted to write a thriller, but didn’t know where to start. So he enjoyed adding his two cents worth, along with authenticating scenes, especially cockpit dialogue and actions, and the drug interdiction/firefight. We even added in a character based on his best friend, a naval aircrewman who perished in a flight accident. Petty Officer Billy Quinn is honored in the story and on our dedication page.

 SW: Your books are known for their realism. What extra lengths did you go to do research?

HA: The Navy invited me to go through their Seahawk helicopter flight simulator. They said: “We are so thrilled that someone is going to write about what our pilots and crews do to make the world a safer place, we will help you in any way we can.” Although it was all simulated, it was 100% realistic – including movement. I sat in the pilot’s seat and my “co-pilot” (another cute pilot in a flight suit) guided me to land our helo on the flight decks of various sized ships, including a frigate which has a postage stamp-sized deck. Then they had me do it “at night” and “during a thunderstorm.” Next they set up the drug runner scenario I would be writing about. I got to fire warning shots on a “go-fast” – a speed boat – while it evaded interdiction by zigzagging. Since the mules did not cease and desist, I next got to pick off their “$100,000 engines” with lasers, one by one until they were DIW, dead in the water. After that, my co-pilot let me fire three Hellfire missiles! (No, not at the drug runners.) And finally, they had me experience a tail rotor failure, which throws a helicopter into a violent spin – and might, just maybe, happen in the book . This was one of the most exciting days of my life!

 SW: Tell me about your “Villain”.

 HA: The villain in Forget Me Not is cocaine. Through interwoven chapters, the reader follows the journey of the cocaine from harvest to processing to the mules who transport it in go-fasts to the distributer. Various characters are introduced, such as a drug lord, his son who has a conscience, the manager at a processing plant, and a go-fast captain, but they are only there as a means of guiding the villain – the cocaine – on to the next step in its journey.

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 SW: Was writing this book harder than the first? Was it a revision of an older book?
This book was way easier than Book 1, because I knew what I was doing. I had no idea about writing a novel when I wrote Book 1, which means it was re-written five times over before being published. I actually wrote Book 2 with the Golden Heart in mind, ensuring lots of voice in the beginning as opposed to the backstory that had been in Book 1. I also wrote it around a hook at page fifty. I was very excited when Book 2 was named a Golden Heart finalist. (Original title: Cat On A Hot Steel Flight Deck.)

 SW: As we’re talking, an incredibly handsome man has walked in. And since Heather has prepared me, I’m pretty sure that killer smile and sexy wink belongs to Sky Crawford, the luscious hero of Forget Me Not. “So, Sky, what was the first thing you thought when you met Daisy? (be honest!)”

Sky: If you want me to be honest, how about go right to the source? Here’s my reaction when I first saw Dr. Daisy at her vet clinic.

Attention on deck. All hands man your battle stations. Hot. Chick. Alert.

Sky’s brain flipped over to autopilot. Left eye did the ring finger check. No rings. Good sign. Right eye—hey, something was wrong here. His right eye knew it was assigned breast patrol, but it couldn’t seem to move past her blond hair swept up into some kind of barrette thingy. Hair that screamed for him to pull out the clip so he could watch the flaxen mass come tumbling down, like the walls of Jericho. Then both eyes got too lost in her pale blue ones to even consider glancing lower.

Mayday. Mayday. Losing focus fast. Send reinforcements.

Peripheral vision was called in as backup and the situation report said any woman that looked this good in a pair of scrubs must be some mighty fine booty.

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 SW: I’m surprised she even talked to you. What was it about Daisy that changed things for you? 

 Sky: She didn’t put up with my BS. But since I love it when desirable women play the hard-to-get card, I wasn’t about to give up the chase.

 SW: Was there ever a moment when you had to choose between Daisy and the final showdown with the drug runners?

 Sky: Yeah, but that would be a spoiler, sweetheart.

 SW: Your story involves your ongoing recovery from PTSD. Can you tell us how Daisy helped you in your recovery?

Sky: She made me acknowledge that I might have some…you know…issues…and I might have to…um…get some help. Okay, so she threw my a** out until I actually got help.

SW: What help did you give Heather in her ongoing research into your world of Navy pilots?

Sky: I suggested she work out at the base gym on the Navy base. See, if she goes around 11 AM and uses a certain treadmill, she can watch all the hot guys in uniforms walk by on their way to the locker room before their lunch-hour workout. That also affords her a good view of the chin up bars, since she has a thing for upper-body musculature. And I reminded her that nobody would suspect her of “doing research,” since she’s old enough to be their mother. And as to the hot love scenes, I just whispered them all into her ear.

 SW: Are Navy pilots really this sexy? Or is it all for show?

Sky: Oh, sweetheart, we are really that sexy. (Heather says it’s the flight suits, but don’t listen to her. Come on, this is the Skylark you’re talking to—king of the skies and the bedroom. The King of Hearts.)

SW: Okay. As cute as he is, it’s time to shut him down and ask the weekly question: 

Do you like unusual villains? Or do you prefer the standard scary drug-kingpin type villain?

And if villains aren’t your thing at all, what do you think about cocky heroes who get taken down by sexy, smart heroines?

And for one lucky commenter, Heather will be giving away one e-copy of Forget Met Not!

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Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran, whose mother was one of the original Navy WAVES in WWII. 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 Army son’s safe return from Afghanistan and Iraq, she now writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to support wounded warriors and their families. 

An award-winning author of romantic fiction, Heather is a member of  Romance Writers of America, and also belongs to regional/specialty chapters, including The Golden Network and First Coast Romance Writers. Additionally, she holds memberships in RomVets and the Military Writers Society of America. Heather lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida, with her retired Naval Engineer husband and three rescue cats.

All photographs courtesy of Heather Ashby and Sharon Wray.

Heather Ashby’s Thursday Winner!

Thank you, Heather, for spending the day with us!

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And now…the winner of an ebook copy of Forgive & Forget is Carmen Pacheco! Please refer to the contact page on this website for information on how to claim your prize.

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Coming up on Tuesday, Rachel blogs about the Walker-Ames House in Port Gamble, Washington. Purported to be haunted, the house was also Rachel’s inspiration for the Montgomery Mansion in her book, Grave Danger. We hope to see you all there!

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.

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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.*

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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.

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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

 

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