What happens when a history professor writes romance? You get well-researched, engrossing novels like our November Romance Top Pick, Katharine Ashe's The Earl. We asked Ashe a few questions about her new novel and history's greatest love stories.
Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
He’s sworn to expose her; she’s determined to bring him down: It must be love.
What’s the most appealing trait of The Earl’s hero, Colin Gray?
His vulnerability. We know that romance heroes are spectacularly handsome, and they’re always successful—through their wealth, status, profession or proficiency as lovers. The heroes I adore the most, though, have really vulnerable inner cores, and of all the heroes I’ve written, Colin is the most vulnerable, so he’s built his walls high for protection. He has a pretty serious reason to feel vulnerable, and to him it’s always been a curse. Ultimately, though, it’s what allows him to surrender his pride to real, honest love. It smashes through all the heroine’s walls too. She’s a strong woman, but guarded, with a goal in life she won’t compromise for anything or anyone. But when his walls come down, and his heart is thoroughly on exhibit for her to accept or discard, she can’t resist. It’s raw emotion, and I love it.
Have you ever considered writing a contemporary novel? Why or why not?
Yes, indeed. I’ve written a contemporary novella in the anthology At the Billionaire’s Wedding, a time-travel novella with a modern heroine in the anthology At the Duke’s Wedding, and I’m writing a contemporary romance series now (albeit in the very rare spare moments between contracted book deadlines) that has big historical tie-ins. Writing in a modern voice is super fun, and experimenting with different types of prose keeps my writing fresh and sharp, whatever the project.
You’ve written about pirates, dukes and Highlanders. Which is the most fun to write?
All of them! I know: that’s not an answer. But it’s true. I simply love writing heroes, whoever or whatever they are. Each character is a unique adventure for me, and I enjoy writing really different characters with each book. That said, several of my heroes are sailors, and that’s mostly because I love the research. Britain at the time was a vast empire, a thrilling expanse of many cultures and worlds, controlled through the power of its extraordinary navy and British merchant fleets. I’m totally addicted to reading about that history, and I love the ocean. I also adore writing common-man heroes. Sometimes they’re both: the hero of How To Be a Proper Lady is a former slave and pirate, now a privateer for England, atoning for the violence of his past by going after bad guys on the ocean. With a historical hero like this, there are no limits to the story. With a noble, titled hero I can play with all the delicious power, wealth, estates and social rules of the Regency era. Whichever I choose for a particular novel—commoner or nobleman—it’s win-win.
You’re a professor of European history. How does this inform your writing? Do your studies inspire your romances?
Yes, always. The history I read inspires every novel I write, plots and characters and settings and all. My comfort with archives, historical literature, and travel to historical sites gives me rich material with which to fashion my stories. And I find that teaching history, or simply sitting in a scholarly colloquium or workshop on campus, feeds my imagination—whatever the specific topic. My academic life nourishes me and I think it makes me a better novelist.
What’s the greatest love story in history, in your professorial opinion?
Romeo and Juliet. A tragedy! But it’s not so much the ending as the profound intensity of the love that pummels my heart (in a good way!). I’m also very fond of the incredibly romantic tale of Tristan and Iseult; I used it prominently in my novel I Loved a Rogue and my novella A Lady’s Wish. Now, if you’re asking about the greatest love story in real history—Maria Skłodowska and Pierre Curie. She was a physicist and chemist, studying in France but dreaming of returning to her native Poland to teach. She was so brilliant and he respected that brilliance so much, and was so enamored of her, that he was willing to give up his own successful career in science and settle for teaching French in Poland if she would marry him. Ultimately, the university in Poland wouldn’t allow a woman to teach, so the couple remained in France where she became “Marie” Curie. She was the first woman ever to receive a Nobel Prize. It’s real heroines like her, and the men who loved, respected and supported them—in eras that didn’t typically respect women’s brilliance and accomplishments—that inspired the The Earl.
What’s next for you?
A dark Scottish duke is hiding a scandalous secret in his Highland castle. I’m currently in the process of helping a whip-smart English lady make it very hard for him to hide it for much longer. The Duke is the follow up to The Earl, the next in my Devil’s Duke series.