Schuler Guest Spot: Romance author Katharine Ashe
Can you feel that heat? It’s not coming from the summer sun, but from the sassy romance section! Today we’re celebrating the release of How to Be a Proper Lady by Regency romance author Katharine Ashe! Katharine holds a special place in the Schuler heart because she wrote her first novel in the Chapbook Cafe of our Lansing store! She has since moving on to a teaching position at Duke University, but we’ve had the pleasure of hosting her for an author event, and every so often we have a new book of hers to enjoy! Internet hugs to you Katharine!
High Adventure and Romance… In A Book Store
by Katharine Ashe
When I think of the Schuler Books & Music store in Lansing, I think of pirates.
It’s true. When I think of walking through those welcoming doors and into that cozy heaven of thousands of books — all fragrant of coffee and delicacies from the café — I think of action on the high seas, heinous villains, noble heroes, and adventuresome heroines. I think of ship battles, perilous missions, dangerous intrigue and secret identities.
I also think of ballrooms. In my imagination these ballrooms are peopled with ladies gowned in empire-waist confections of silk and muslin, and gentlemen in coats of superfine stretched tight over their shoulders, with starched cravats. Chandeliers sparkle with a hundred candles, the sweet strains of violin, cello and flute float about as dancers take their places in the set, paper-thin fans cool flushed cheeks, eyelashes bat, and young hearts pound as gloved fingers touch ever so briefly in the patterns of the dance. I think of scandalous kisses beneath snowy mistletoe, beneath grand staircases, and beneath the starry sky.
Well, that’s not too odd, you may say. Schuler is chock full of books about things like that — history books and picture books and novels — not to mention movies and music that evoke those sorts of stories of a bygone era. And I would reply, yes, indeedy!
But I have particularly good reason for my flights of fancy.
I live in North Carolina now and teach at Duke University. But once, not too long ago, I was a professor of History at Michigan State University, enjoying a comfy little house in a neighborhood not far from campus, spending my winters shoveling the driveway and my summers splashing in the pool at the MAC with my toddler.
But I didn’t spend all my time teaching, shoveling and splashing. I also wrote.
You can guess it: I wrote stories of kisses beneath mistletoe, elegant ballrooms, ship battles, high seas adventure, dashing heroes, and daring heroines.
I’ve been writing forever, at least since I can remember. The first story I penned (and in those days of course I actually used a Real Live Pen) was what we now call “fan fiction”. Pretzel, the hero of Margaret Rey’s children’s book about “The Longest Dachshund in the World”, was a marvelous hero, overcoming his shortcomings and rising to the occasion when the damsel was in distress. But I didn’t care for Rey’s snooty damsel. So, with the blessed arrogance of extreme youth, I rewrote the story with what I thought was a more appealing love interest for noble Pretzel.
After that, as they say, it was history. Literally. I went to graduate school for a PhD in History, but I never stopped writing love stories. Even while researching my dissertation in Rome, Italy, I would take “study breaks” in the evenings to write romance. I simply adored setting a hero and heroine down somewhere in the British Empire of the early nineteenth century and having my wicked way with them (in a manner of speaking). And I set them down them everywhere — in London ballrooms, on white sand beaches, in English great houses, on the decks of pirate ships, in disguises, in remarkably dangerous situations, and especially in each other’s arms. And I adored every second of it. This didn’t cease when I became a professor at MSU. By day I taught my classes, at all other waking hours I cared for my family, and with my sleeping hours I tucked myself away in a corner of my dark house and wrote chapter upon chapter of romantic adventure.
So it was that eventually one day I found myself sitting at a sunny little table by the window in Schuler’s café, enjoying a tasty plate of quiche and Mediterranean salad, with my laptop before me, and I realized that it was The Perfect Place to work on my fiction. Surrounded by books to inspire me, with an endless supply of delights for my palate should I wish nourishment, and a peaceful environment in which my imagination could run wild, I could create stories like never before.
And I did. In short, the first novel I worked on in the Schuler’s cafe won me my first publishing contract. That novel, Swept Away By A Kiss— featuring an English lord disguised as a priest in order to pursue a dangerous, noble mission and a lady ejected from society for scandalous behavior, and yes, pirates, ballrooms, and many stolen kisses — was published by Avon, the romance imprint of HarperCollins, to the music of rave reviews and award nominations. It was my first of five novels now, with four more to come in the next three years.
I don’t always write about pirates now. That said, my latest book, How To Be a Proper Lady (which hit stores just this week) does happen to star a former pirate and the lady kidnapped years earlier by her smuggler father. But my hero is on a mission and he’s determined to return her to her noble family, despite her stubborn wish to remain right where she is at sea.
Clearly I am not yet cured of my addiction to high seas adventure and sizzling love stories that take readers to the edges of their comfy chairs by crackling fires in cozy bookstores. Stories that take their breath away and dry their throats in delicious agitation so that they’re obliged to reach blindly for their cups of tea while never removing their eyes from the page. Stories that are ideal to read in a café just like the one I wrote them in.
See? I may be hundreds of miles away from Schuler’s store in East Lansing now. But my imagination will always linger there quite happily.