Thursday, September 30, 2010

Katharine Ashe on Knights and Rogues

History's Lures

I am an author of historical romance. My debut Regency-era romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, features a scandalous beauty who finds herself imprisoned aboard a pirate ship with a dashing lord in disguise to fulfill a dangerous mission.

But, like my hero in SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, I have two identities. Several times a week I don cap and gown (figuratively speaking) as a professor of medieval history.

These identities rarely mingle. My colleagues at the university don’t know I write romance, and most of my writer friends don’t much care that I’m a professor. But in my heart and soul they are inextricable. Because, like you, I simply adore history.

Allow me, if you will, to show you why.

In one 13th-century tale, a peasant’s wife prepares for a visit from her lover, the local chaplain. But, oh no! Home comes her oafish husband from work in the middle of the day. He feels wretched, so she nurses him, eventually exclaiming that he must be dying. Settling him in bed, she hurries off to fetch the chaplain to give her poor husband his Last Rites. The chaplain arrives and blesses the peasant (but being a man of at least some scruples, he forebears saying the actual prayer for the dying). Soon enough wife and chaplain convince the gullible husband he’s dead, and begin going at it in the straw nearby. The peasant hears noises, opens his eyes, sees the chaplain enjoying his wife, and shouts to the chaplain, “If I weren’t dead, you certainly would catch hell.” The chaplain assures him that if he weren’t dead he wouldn’t be there cuckolding him, and the peasant relapses into contented idiocy.

Then of course there are other sorts of stories of misbegotten lust. True stories.

Take the tale of Peter Abelard, the greatest scholar of the twelfth century who fell into a tangle of lust and love with the brilliant young woman he tutored. Theirs was a torrid affair, furtive between books and lessons, all in secret because Abelard could not marry; it would have ruined his career. Nevertheless, when Heloise became pregnant, he wed her. Discovering it, her guardian feared Abelard meant to hide her away in a convent, and hired a pair of thugs to visit the scholar. In the dark of night, they castrated him. Abelard and Heloise fled to monasteries, but her love never died, her passion remaining undimmed over the years for the man she could no longer have.

Not all medieval lust and love was bawdy or tragic, though. One story tells of a king who swore to his wife that if she bore a girl-child he would see it slain. Alas, the queen gave birth to a girl. So she dressed her daughter in boy’s clothes and raised her as a prince. Then came the day her father betrothed her to a princess. As youth are wont to do, they fell in love. Moved by their attachment, Cupid intervened. Lo and behold, with a kiss the girl-prince became a man.

But I mustn’t leave out a huge part of history’s lure to me: the heroes.

One vastly popular story tells of the knight Owein’s greatest adventure. Realizing he’s spent his warrior’s life sinning left and right, the valiant Owein seeks the entrance to Purgatory on earth. Finding it, he plunges in, taking only courage and unwavering faith with him. None of the fiery, vicious torments of the torture chambers can touch him, though. Confident, he walks out a stronger, more valiant knight for the purifying trials he has endured.

Finally, one of my favorites, a true story from a Muslim memoire. We all know of the Templars as mighty warriors. They fought for medieval Christendom like Green Berets today fight for America. And just as Green Berets, many Templars were men of great compassion and understanding too. During the crusades in a city occupied by Christian forces, one day a Muslim warrior entered a former mosque—converted to a church—to say his prayers. A French knight who’d just arrived in the East, full of the conceit of a foreigner, grabbed up the Muslim to throw him out. Five Templars drew swords and came to the Muslim’s defense. They claimed the house of prayer must be for all.

Why do I love history? For its laughter, its passion, its stories of love and pure, unadulterated lust for life. For how it shows us bravery, courage and compassion are human traits, not confined to one era or one culture. For all its marvelous lures.

Why do you love history?                                                                                                               

Katharine Ashe lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. Booklist named Ashe one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance” and RT Book Reviews awarded her debut, Swept Away By A Kiss, a “TOP PICK!”, calling it “a page-turner and a keeper.” Please visit her at , where she has a free Regency ghost novel for those of you who like a touch of haunting with your history.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Regency Romance by Jacqueline Seewald

I find Regency romances fascinating. I’ve read many hundreds of novels in the genre. In this regard, I am like many other devoted readers. Regency romance has endured for a long time and I believe will continue to be popular. However, Regency romance fans are very particular about historical references. They want them to be completely accurate. To this effect, I did extensive research, reading and collecting numerous histories of this era as well as biographies of people who lived in those times before I wrote TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS. For example, Mr. Brockton who is my heroine’s benefactor, runs a posh gaming establishment where many thousands of pounds exchanged hands each night. It is frequented by the cream of the ton. His character is based on an actual person, a gambler, who went from fish monger to millionaire and then lost it all again.

For those who are not familiar with Regency, let’s define it. When we talk about the Regency era, we mean the brief period lasting between 1811-1820 in England. However, for the sake of the novels, the era begins at the tail end of the Georgian period in about 1800. It includes the scope of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, a period of turmoil, social unrest and political revolution.

The novels of Jane Austen set in that era have caught the imagination of both readers and writers for centuries. Georgette Heyer was one of the writers who created her own novels set in the Regency era. These romances have also influenced many readers and writers. Her novels even introduced their own unique vocabulary.

At the time I initially wrote TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, I was working as a librarian with easy access to a multitude of reference sources. So my research proved both enjoyable and relatively easy. Now the internet offers so much valuable information on the Regency era which makes research more convenient. Here are just a few of the wonderful websites I recently located:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Newsletter Help

With the release date of The Tapestry Shop coming ever closer, I’ve had to jockey my time between writing, and getting the word out about my book. My readers may find today’s blog helpful, as most of us have something we’d like to share, from time to time, with either friends, family, a social group, or perhaps members of your church or book club or P.T.A. For authors, marketing has become a fact of life, like it or not, and we all must look for ways to let our readers know about our newest story, methods that won’t suck up precious writing time, and won’t strain the budget.

Any element of marketing may work for some and not for others, but I thought I’d share with you something I learned this week. If, like me, you don’t know html, I’ve found a solution. I was looking for a template for a newsletter, and ran across a site that compares the Top 10 sites, rather like a Consumer Guide for email services. 
To my surprise, among those top 10, I found one that for $8 a month, will keep your email lists in groups (alumni, RWA friends, etc.) so you can send a personalized newsletter to one group or all. After they send your newsletter out, you can cancel the service until you need to send something again, and you’re not charged for those months. However, your lists are still there, and you can add names or delete them during those cancelled months.

I signed up for the free trial, and during this time, they helped me bring the look of my website to my proposed newsletter. Thus, I have an original design that matches the feel and theme I wanted. But that’s not all. They have a free webform you can put on your website so people can sign up to receive your newsletter (you can also put it on Twitter or FB or wherever). They have instant Chat help, and even made a quick video to show me how to do something. So now I have my newsletter parked on their site until I’m ready to send it out. You can publish your newsletter on the web, too. Your lists can be imported from spread sheets or CSV files so you don’t have to type all your contacts in, or laboriously copy/paste. There are other sites out there that I’m sure do the same thing, but I chose Mad Mimi, and am having fun designing my own newsletter.