Ashley March Author Interview
Historical romance author Ashley March stops by RT to answer our questions just as her second full-length tale, Romancing the Countess, hits shelves. Discover why March loves writing in the Victorian age versus the more popular Regency-era romance, go behind the scenes to see how she created her two sizzling heroes and learn how infidelity figures in her novels. And don't miss your chance to find out why her third book is going to be a game-changer!
RT BOOK REVIEWS: There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Regency set historical romance novels, but you have decided to focus on Victorian times in your books. In your point of view, what were the major differences between these times periods and how does that affect your plots and characters?
ASHLEY MARCH: There are a great number of reasons to love both the Regency period and the Victorian era. I grew up reading Regency novels, and I still love them now. However, as a writer, I wanted to explore a Britain with which I wasn’t quite familiar. I knew about spies and Napoleon, about Prinny and mad King George. I have to admit that the span of multiple decades in the Victorian era appealed to me. I could begin with the Queen’s coronation in the 1830s and end after the 20th century begins. For now, though, I’ve chosen to stay around 1848-1850 in mid-Victorian England, where the country seemed to be teetering on an invisible boundary between the aristocracy ruling society and the common man becoming more powerful than he’d ever been before. While great national triumphs occurred in the Regency period, it is the climb of Victorian Britain to the status of a world power and the transformation of British society that mainly distinguishes the two in my mind.
The characters and plots I’ve written so far mirror the struggle of society through this change. In my debut Seducing the Duchess, the heroine wants to be free of her husband no matter that society disapproves of divorce or her methods of trying to get him to agree to one. In Romancing the Countess, my September release, the heroine is determined to find her own happiness after bending to society’s will for most of her life. I believe Victorian England’s struggles in adapting to new technology and the blurring of class distinctions are the perfect backdrop for my characters who often wish to change their lives, only to have to deal with those who would try to hold them back.
RT: In your first novel, Seducing the Duchess, your hero (and I use the term loosely) starts out as a Very Bad Man. You have explained before that you wanted to redeem a truly awful character using love, but you have never really said why you are drawn to this type of character. Care to explain?
AM: I’m an optimist. I believe in the real world we all make mistakes. If we were to be written into a romance novel, not many of us would appear to be heroes or heroines. I like showing that, despite our imperfections and mistakes, we can still be part of a magnificent love story—that it is love for another person that redeems us and helps us become better people.
When I was 5 years old my parents divorced. As we all know, today it’s more common for couples to get a divorce than to stay married. Many romance novels show the hero and heroine falling in love and preparing for their future together. In Seducing the Duchess, I wanted to show the difficult part of marriage, when the couple must choose to continue to love. Although Charlotte still loved Philip and had every reason to walk away from him, she chose to love him when it wasn’t easy and when she knew she could have her heart broken again. To me this is true love and the proof of the strength of a relationship. After the tingly feelings fade away and the rose-colored vision transforms to a crystal clarity, a true happily-ever-after comes when you choose to love someone despite their failures.
RT: Some readers might consider Phillip irredeemable. Is there anything he does that you would not be able to forgive?
AM: Mental and physical abuse. When I wrote above about choosing to love someone despite their failures, this excludes any sort of abuse perpetrated on another person for the sole purpose of receiving pleasure from their pain.
RT: Just like in your debut novel, infidelity is also at the center of your second book Romancing the Countess. However, this time it is your protagonists’ spouses that have had the affair. What is it about this plot device that drew you in for a second time?
AM: As I mentioned above, my parents divorced when I was 5. Although I was young, this had a predictably huge impact on my life. In Seducing the Duchess I wanted to show that it is possible for a couple to stay together despite the worst, because they choose to love instead of giving up and walking away. In Romancing the Countess I wanted to show that it is possible to love again. In both books I write about the strength and power of love, how it can break down walls and heal hearts.
RT: You give a lot of advice to aspiring writers on your blog. The one thing you reiterate is that writers must always give the reader something to care about. What did you care about in Romancing the Countess?
AM: I wanted to see Leah and Sebastian happy together. It’s difficult to heal from a spouse’s betrayal, and it’s difficult to recover from the grief of a spouse’s death. In Romancing the Countess, Leah and Sebastian experience both. As a result they each have to come a long way in dealing with their anger and grief, and I knew they deserved a second chance at love. I was thrilled to be able to give it to them.
RT: Sebastian is a man of honor and will do anything for his child; unfortunately his wife did not have his same scruples. Can you tell us a bit about Sebastian’s first marriage and courtship and how this is different from his beginning with Leah?
AM: I imagine Sebastian and Angela as the hero and heroine in a typical romance. They meet, fall instantly in lust and then in love, and get married with the intention of staying together forever. Once they are married, however, Angela finds herself attracted to Sebastian’s best friend. The two of them end up falling in love. Although Angela loves her son, she can’t bear the misery of a facing a future married to a man she no longer loves. She doesn’t hate Sebastian; in fact, she feels terrible for betraying him, but neither can she deny her true feelings for his best friend.
If Sebastian and Angela were the hero and heroine of a typical romance with dreams of an HEA, then Sebastian and Leah are the hero and heroine of a love story in which they’re living their HEA. After the deaths of their spouses, neither Sebastian nor Leah even considers a relationship with anyone else, let alone each other. However, when Leah’s decisions require Sebastian to keep a close watch on her, they find a common bond in their shared experience. It is a love that they discover gradually over time, not one which knocks them over the head. Because of this, when they do admit their love they know each other well, both their flaws and their good traits. Unlike Sebastian’s relationship with Angela, this discovery and careful exploration helps to build a love which is strong and everlasting.
RT: Leah has had enough of Society and wishes to escape the prying eyes and whispered comments that underline her previous husband’s unfaithfulness. If you found yourself in Leah’s situation, how would you react?
AM: I think I probably found it easy to write Leah’s story because I could identify with her. I’ve never been a person to just accept it when someone wrongs me. I stand up for myself, whether that’s through confrontation or by leaving the situation. At the same time, I can also be reserved and do what is expected if I see a greater reason to do so. I see these two sides of myself in Leah, and I think her actions reflect mostly what I would do in her situation. Before her husband’s death, she withdraws into herself and does as would be expected for any aristocratic wife who finds herself betrayed: she pretends as if nothing happened. After his death, she is suddenly faced with the opportunity to be happy, when she thought that she would remain married to him for the rest of her life. Romancing the Countess is a love story between Leah and Sebastian, but it is also the story of Leah choosing happiness for herself despite the probable ill consequences.
RT: Both Leah and your first heroine Charlotte are not young misses fresh from the schoolroom. What do you love about writing more mature heroines?
AM: I think it’s easier to achieve greater emotional depth with characters who have experienced more of life. They have regrets, they have dreams, they realize that they might not get what they want, but they’re going to try for it, anyway. They’re strong and courageous and won’t be put off from their goals simply because a man doesn’t approve. They’re more self-aware and care more about what they think of themselves than what a man thinks. Also, it’s more fun to write about women who understand their own sexuality.
RT: You have just turned in your third book. Can you tell us a bit about it and how writing this book was different from your first two?
AM: I have to tell you I think I needed a break from angsty and emotional after writing the first two books. My third book is the start of the Belgrave Square Affair series, about a wealthy middle-class Victorian family and their servants, and it’s called My Lady Rival. It features a beta hero who frequently made me laugh out loud while I was writing and, because this book is the first one I’ve actually plotted out to the end, there’s more going on than just the relationship between the hero and heroine. One thing remained the same, though—the heroine is still strong and intelligent and doesn’t make anything easy for the hero.
RT: And finally, you have an unusual background in linguistics – studied Spanish, Japanese and Chinese – is there ever a time you will use this in your books?ASHLEY MARCH: I’m not sure about Chinese or Japanese. It’s definitely something I’ve considered, but the right story hasn’t come along yet for an Asian background. However, I do have a few stories in mind set in places outside of England or with characters from other countries—including Spain—so I imagine my love of languages and other cultures will come through in this way. Plus there are the accents—that’s one of the reasons why I love writing about England. All those foreign accents are sexy!
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