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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 August 2010

Welcome, Katharine Ashe!


The History Hoydens are thrilled to welcome Katharine Ashe. A professor of European history, Katharine has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US, all excellent training for a debut historical romance that RT Book Reviews awarded a “TOP PICK!” review, calling Swept Away by a Kiss “a page-turner and a keeper.”

Katharine was kind enough to take the time out from her busy round of writing to talk to us today about love and war (in which, as we know, all is fair).

So, without further ado, over to Katharine....



Romancing Revolution

What do love and war have in common? We could easily imagine them polar opposites.

Consider: Passion.

Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about passion: “any controlling or overpowering emotion, as desire, hate, fear, etc.; an intense feeling or impulse.” Hmm, I ponder. That sounds about right to me. But here’s the thing—love, even sex, only appears in eighth place upon the list of sub-definitions. “8. Strong affection; love. Sexual desire or impulses.” That’s pretty low down the list.

If you will humor me, now consider: Revolution.

I am a professor of history. Perhaps because I teach courses on conflict, I did not find in the OED what I expected for this word. “Circular movement; the movement of a planet, moon, satellite round another.” Only the second category of definitions mentioned war, under the general heading “Change, upheaval,” and even way down on that list: “8. Overthrow of an established government or social order; rebellion.”

My point?

For starters, I like the circular movement notion. Isn’t that how a hero and heroine behave for a time, in the earliest stages, revolving around each another in a dance of attraction and desire that holds them bound by a force as powerful as an interstellar orbit?

But perhaps we ought to move away from the galactic model back to earth. To terrestrial revolution. To war.

Revolution. The word suggests chaos and danger. But it also suggests a struggle for something grand, something powerful, something meaningful that reaches far beyond every day concerns. Doesn’t every great love story do the same?

Here’s the sub-definition that shows up for “passion” right after love and sex: “9. An intense desire or enthusiasm for something; the zealous pursuit of an aim.” My stomach gets all tingly when I read this. Because that marks every great romance I have ever read or seen on screen, as well as every great war story. Revolutionaries carry within themselves a passion that turns things inside out, passion more powerful even than guns (consider Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr.). And in most war stories we hear of nobility of character, bravery for honor’s sake, and courage beyond compare.

Possibly because of this, some of my favorite love stories are set in times of war. I discovered historical fiction with John Jakes’s Civil War trilogy. This was family saga at its best, including all the heartache and triumph of love and war intimately combined. And what about Gone With the Wind? (“Oh, Rhett!”) Or my all-time favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney masquerades as the dashing Pimpernel, saving French aristocrats from the guillotine all for his wife’s sake. War and love often intermingle, I think, because of their common bond: passion.

Passion drives humans to the extremes of emotion, its greatest heights of joy and profoundest depths of despair. The adventure of passion is intoxicating, the risks enormous. When passion ignites action, in both war and love, everything is at stake, everything of any importance—the dignity of the human person, the treasures in the human heart. Because the payoff is unequaled.

The hero and heroine of my debut Regency-era historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, find themselves in the midst of a passionate love that turns their lives inside out. Steven Ashford, black-sheep lord with a noble mission, cannot be distracted from his pursuit of a dangerous villain. After a two-year exile in Boston, scandalous Lady Valerie Monroe has vowed to reform, to mend her wicked ways and reenter London society a proper lady. When they meet, neither Steven nor Valerie understands the extent to which their passions will now take them because of the other.

True love causes a radical alteration of the heart, an upheaval of mammoth proportions. Revolution does the same for a society. I created a radical history for my hero and a scandalous past for my heroine. Coming of age in the French and Haitian Revolutions, Steven lived the passions of his youth through sword and fire. For her part, in her first season in society Valerie played out her young passions in a contest of wills with her cold father. Upheaval and rebellion were Steven and Valerie’s daily bread and water.

But in love they discover a different kind of passion. A transcendent passion. A passion whose desires and impulses overpower only to restore and nourish. A passion whose radical power fuels a monumental change in that greatest of all frontiers—the human heart.

What is your favorite story that mingles love and war?

If you'd like to hear more from Katharine, you can visit her at her website, www.katharineashe.com.

12 Comments:

Blogger Gigi said...

Ms. Ashe, I love this post! It now makes so much sense to me why I've always felt so much intensity from a wartime love story- thank you for enlightening me! As for my favorite... of course Gone With the Wind is at the top but to add a new one to the list, Les Miserables, each time I've seen it it's feels like I'm pitching up and down on a boat in a turbulent sea - I love it! :) Also, Ms. Ashe, I just wanted to say that I LOVED 'Swept Away By A Kiss' and have been telling all of my friends not to miss it!!! Thank you for such a wonderful novel!!

7:11 AM  
Blogger Katharine Ashe said...

Thank you so much, Gigi! I adore Les Mis. But can I tell you a secret? I like Eponine the best! She's so terribly tragic, so blindly in love, I can't help but feel for her. I suppose that fits well with the war setting, such hopeless passion willing to give all for the beloved. But the attachment between sweet Cosette and brave Marius also moves me, innocence all wrapped up in honor. :) Thanks for commenting!

7:59 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Welcome to the Blog!!! I can’t wait to read your book (though it has to linger in my TBR until I get my revisions done *grumble*)

As to favorite war-time book, that’s hard, esp if I’m supposed to pick just one . . . if I’m limited to a single book, I’m gonna have to go with Heyer’s An Infamous Army. I can’t even think about her description of the Highlanders marching out without tearing up. If I get to go with a series it’s either fellow Hoyden Tracy Grant's amazing Charles and Melanie books, or Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series (specifically the early books with Theresa).

8:31 AM  
Blogger Melinda Leigh said...

War is the ultimate conflict and the perfect setting for a romance, except the lovers don't often get their Happily Ever After.

But I have three favorites. Jude Law was amazing in Cold Mountain. I only watch it in small doses because it's just so damned sad and awful and realistic. Since my childhood was filled with John Wayne movies, In Harm's Way. And for a romance WITH a HEA, Star Wars. I've had the hots for Han Solo since 1977.

Thanks for the great post. I'm going to put these three movies on my Netflix list. Must see them again.

And thanks for Swept Away. The perspective on the Haitian Revolution added an intriguing twist to a very atypical Regency Romance.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Welcome to the blog, Kathryn! What a wonderful explanation for why I adore wartime romances so much.

Isobel - may I propose THE SPANISH BRIDE to match your INFAMOUS ARMY? I love Juana and Harry's odyssey with Wellington's army.

I'm also very, very fond of Elswyth Thane's DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT and YANKEE STRANGER, from her Williamsburg series. DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT is set during the American Revolution. I can never forget how Tibby rides across a battlefield to track down Julian and he finally - finally! - realizes she's a desirable young woman.

YANKEE STRANGER is set during the Civil War. It has battlefield scenes, too. But I tend to remember more intimate ones, like when Yankee Cabot sees blood trickling out from under the southern grandmother's bed during a house to house search for hidden southern officers - and comes back later to operate and save the young soldier's life.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Katharine Ashe said...

Thanks for your kind welcomes, Isobel and Diane! Your favorites sound fabulous, full of wartime confusions and revelations... And compassion. Love it!

Melinda, I adored Cold Mountain, until (SPOILER ALERT to others) he died! How could anyone do that to Jude Law?!?! Thanks for your kind words about my book. :)

9:58 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I've been saving The Spanish Bride for a rainy day. It's the only Heyer I haven't read (aside from The Great Roxhythe, which apparently she wasn’t happy with and would never allow to be reprinted).

12:27 PM  
Blogger Katharine Ashe said...

Oh, Isobel, I do that too with my favorite authors. I have a few Liz Carlyle novels tucked away, and a handful of others. I've saved an entire series by Dorothy Dunnett because she's no longer alive and I can't stand the idea of finishing her books and never having another to read the first time through again. :)

12:46 PM  
Blogger GladysMP said...

My first thought was of Gone With the Wind. What a remarkble story of love and war.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Katharine Ashe said...

Gladys, I'm particularly fond of Gone With the Wind, too. The war is ever present in their lives, passion always driving the story. Wonderful!

2:36 PM  
Anonymous rp said...

Katharine,

Brava on an excellent post & especially on your book! I enjoyed it thoroughly--loved the way you wove the various pieces of the story together & created two such vivid characters. I liked the way you gave us both Steven & Valerie's points of view --and the chemistry between them sizzled!

War-time romances ... so many to choose from ... Scarlet Pimpernel is right up there, as is Jane Aiken Hodge's The Adventurers (& her later book, Whispering), Heyer's Infamous Army, and Lauren Willig's entire series--especially the most recent.

Totally in sympathy with your Dunnett hoarding as well, although I read them one reckless summer in graduate school--burned through all six books in a week of marathon reading! (life before children allowed for such reading extravagance ... now I pay for the lost sleep too dearly) I've reread them multiple times, however, and while not the same breathtaking thrill of the first time, the story still has the power to sweep me away.

Even in the midst of preparing three music classes for the rapidly approaching semester, I could not resist your book & I'm eager to read the next.

Again, congratulations!

r.p.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Welcome, Katharine! Wonderful post. Your book sounds fabulous--I love new takes on the Regency era, particularly if they deal with the political upheavals of the time. Like Isobel, I immediately thought of Heyer's "An Infamous Army," which I recently reread because I'm working on a Waterloo book. I love how the hothouse atmosphere before the battle and events of the battle itself impact the romance.

Which Dunnett series are you saving you to read?

1:09 AM  

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