Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Today's Special -- Ashley March

The ladies of The Romance Dish love debut novels and authors. It is always fun and exciting to read a new author and find someone with a great voice and a wonderful story to tell. Today's guest is exactly that. Ashley March's debut novel, Seducing the Duchess was released October 5, 2010. You can find my review of it here. Hard to believe, but it has been less than a year since Ashley received "the call" with a 3-book deal from NAL Penguin. Please give a warm welcome to debut author Ashley March as she discusses . . .

The Question of Infidelity

Once upon a time, the most-beloved historical romance trope was “rake meets wallflower,” in which the promiscuous hero is tamed by the virgin heroine. Because love eventually conquers all, readers allowed their bad boy his play before he fell in love with the heroine. The heroine, however, was expected to remain pure and pristine until she melted beneath the touch of her wild and roguish hero.

Then came the courtesan heroine. While romance readers still enjoyed the “rake meets wallflower” trope, we began to demand more variety. We wanted heroines who, like us, were sexually aware. Women who were not afraid of their sexuality, and indeed, used it to capture the attention of the hero. This meant that, prior to meeting the hero, the woman might also engage in sexual acts with other partners. Variety is good, we thought. We don’t want all of our romances to be the same.

However, in reconciliation stories, where the husband and wife have been separated after their wedding and then get back together, it appears the romance community is still divided on the topic of sexual awareness in the woman, especially regarding infidelity while she was separated from her husband. As is often the case in historical romances, the taking of a mistress by the hero is tolerated (since he has sexual urges that cannot be controlled), while the taking of a lover by the heroine can either incite disapproval or garner praise from the female romance reader.
When I first began writing my version of the reconciliation story (now my debut novel, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS), I was determined not to take what I thought to be the easy road out. My heroine, Charlotte, had spent the past three years acting scandalously in an attempt to force her husband, Philip, to petition to divorce her. As a result, all of the ton—and even Philip—believed Charlotte to be a harlot, having taken several lovers. If she was so angry and hurt by Philip as to desperately seek a divorce petition, I reasoned, why wouldn’t she take lovers? Philip had betrayed her by pretending he loved her; she also knew he’d taken a mistress. Why not allow her to seek comfort in other men’s arms? This, I thought, was how I would write Charlotte.

However, as I continued to write Philip and Charlotte’s story, it became clear that despite her many outrageous acts and tendency to provoke Philip, allowing her to be unfaithful to Philip wouldn’t be true to her character. Yes, he’d hurt her—terribly, in fact. And yes, she was still angry and resentful. But beneath it all, she still loved him. She might be tempted to escape her loneliness by being with other men, but inside she was still fragile and wounded, and she still wanted no one else but Philip.

I really could have written the story either way; Charlotte could just as easily have taken lovers, and in the end, Philip would have accepted it, because he had taken a mistress. Their HEA wouldn’t have been in jeopardy. But I think showing Charlotte’s love and faithfulness throughout their marriage, despite what Philip did to her, not only humbled Philip all the more, but also remained true to Charlotte’s character as I wrote the story.

This, in the end, is what I believe a writer must do. It’s not about what is or isn’t popular in the romance genre at the time, because trends will eventually fade. It’s about writing a love story between the hero and heroine which the reader can believe in, a love story that will truly stand the test of time. For the writer, it’s also about believing in your characters enough to sometimes allow them to take the lead as you write, even though you had other plans for them.

What about you? Where do you stand on the question of infidelity for either the hero or the heroine in reconciliation stories? Will an unfaithful character immediately pull you out of the book? What does it mean to you to have a story try to stay true to the characters, rather than bow to reader expectations?

One random commenter will win a copy of my debut novel, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS (open to both US and international residents).


  1. Congrats on your debut release, Ashley. I do admit that some stories involving infidelity aren't as enjoyable or satisfying because it was hard for me to forgive the unfaithful hero or heroine. It is important for a story to stay true to the characters because it'll be difficult for us to believe them capable of an action that's so out of character.

  2. Ashley, I want to thank you for the post because up until today, I've read lots of recommendations and reviews of your book but just could not get past the premise of the book to actually go out and buy it to read.

    A book club I participate in has even selected this book as it's book club read for the month and I've been debating whether I want to participate for this month or not.

    It was mostly I'm not a huge reconciliation story person and I was reluctant to take the plunge and read the book.

    All that said, your post has changed my mind because (1) even though subconsciously, I guessed that Charlotte was more than just her reputation, nothing had convinced me to find out more about it,(2) it really wouldn't hurt me to read a reconciliation story and find out that I really like it and finally, (3) there really have been some great and enthusiastic reviews for the book and I really shouldn't just ignore that due to my own prejudices and broaden my horizons. I'm looking forward to the read.

  3. Ashley

    I orderd your book and it arrived the other day I have heard so many good things about it and I do love reading debut authors (always great to have another author on the bookshelf) I am so looking forward to reading it.

    For me as long as the author keeps me interested in the story I am happy with the infidelity on either sides and of course that it is written with both characters involved and I am still feeling the story if that makes sense I am not a writer and I trust the writers to give me a good story that pulls me in.

    Have Fun

  4. Congratulations on your debut, Ashley!

    What a great and interesting post! In terms of reconciliation stories, if they are well written, I will enjoy them. But I will want to know that they have truly worked through whatever issues drove them apart in the first place, and that they are committed to moving forward and not making the same mistakes.

    As for the couple maintaining fidelity to each other, that always reminds me of Friends and Ross and Rachel's argument about them being on a break, lol. While I would have no problems with either the hero or heroine moving on to a new relationship,in the historical context, I would imagine it'd be a lot harder to pull off due to the social mores of the times when it comes to the heroine. And again, I would want them to explain why if they are still in love and harboring feelings for each other, why did they try to pursue a new relationship? Are they in denial, trying to move on and settle because they think there's no hope, or what?

    One reconciliation story I thought was very interesting was Sherry Thomas's Private Arrangements. In most stories when the hero and heroine break up over a misunderstanding, the heroine is invariably innocent of whatever crime she's been accused of. In this case, the heroine Gigi really did cross the line and do something egregious, which made the reconciliation more interesting, at least to me.

    But at the end of the day, if I come to care for the characters, and if their actions seem true to who they are, I'll read it and enjoy it!

  5. I'll read either.

    I believe Eloisa James' last series featured a couple where he'd taken a mistress, they'd separated, and at one point, she takes a lover. So they're both on "equal" footing so to speak when they reconcile, which I really liked. But I believe the heroine found the act to be empty, that she was sorta getting back at him and it didn't work.

    On the whole I tend to prefer they didn't cheat on each other, so I probably gravitate more to those books, but I don't hate books that have one or both characters cheating on the other. It is very real; and we're all just human. And learning to trust again or forgive is a very real issue, about if it's even possible. I think authors who can do that are very brave and skilled.

  6. Hi, Ashley.

    I may be one of the few to have this opinion, but if there's infidelity in a relationship, then the story isn't one I would finish nor pick up if I hadn't started it yet. Even if there is a separation between the couple, they are not divorced and still have vows to maintain.

    Besides that, if my husband ever did that if we were to separate, even for a short time, he would no longer have the balls to do so again....Just sayin'.

  7. Ashley, Congratulations on the release of your book. It sounds like a really good story and one that is on my BTB list right now.

    I don't recall reading that many reconciliation themed stories in the books I read which are 99% historical romances. I think Lisa said it well in her post: it is difficult for the time period to pull that theme off without offending the reader. As long as it is necessary to the story and the author is true to the plot and characters, I have not problem with it.

    I have Private Arrangements on my TBR Mountain Range...must pull that book out very soon!

  8. Hi, Ashley! You're having a busy, blogging week, aren't you? I hope you're enjoying all the excitement around your debut.

    Infidelity on the part of either partner often makes me decide a book is not one I want to read. But there are some books in which a skilled author creates characters who so engage my head and heart that I forgive their infidelity even if I can't condone it.

  9. Congratulations on your debut book.

    On the subject of infidelity in a story for me it has to be more history accurate. I like to think that a women would retaliate and take a lover to get back at a husband but I don't really know if most wives did that back throughout history. Maybe if they were born with power they could get away with it. From what I have read women have been no more than bargaining tools for their fathers throughout history.
    But I love a story with a strong women that gets what she wants and needs in the end. Give me a HEA and I am happy.

    The book cover is just lovely and from what I have read of your story it looks to be a great book.

  10. Congratulations on your new book Ashley! I do like the characters to behave in a way that makes sense with the person I have come to know in the story. I don't like it when a character acts completely different than what I would expect. Infidelity is definitely a tricky topic and I believe it's one of those things where there will always be some people who can't accept it. For me, I have to believe by the end of the story that it will no longer be an issue so the couple definitely has to have moved far beyond that issue for me to believe in their HEA.

  11. Hi Everyone! Welcome Ashley! I've been running errands all morning. Going to take the dogs out, grab some lunch then I'll be back to read all the comments. See you in a bit!

  12. Hi Jane!

    Thank you for commenting! It's a tricky situation, isn't it? There are some romance readers who don't want even a hint of infidelity because they want true escapism, and then there are some who seem to want it as realistic as possible. I think it's definitely a challenge when writing a book like this.

  13. Hi Daz! Wow, thank you so much for commenting! I have to admit, this was one of those posts that I had second thoughts on writing, simply because I know how controversial a topic it is within the romance community. Thank you for being willing to give my debut a chance--I know not all types of stories appeal to everyone. Although I know it's a hard subject for some people, especially those who have experienced spousal infidelity in their own lives, I wanted to show that, at least for Philip and Charlotte, there was hope in moving beyond their past failures and mistakes. And I truly hope you do enjoy it.

  14. Hi Helen! Thank you for ordering my book! I hope you'll let me know what you think after you read it. Also, thank you for taking a chance on a debut author AND a story that some might see as different from the other historical romances out there. =)

  15. Hi Lisa--great points! I think, in a way, Sherry Thomas' reconciliation stories have made it possible for other authors to take more chances with this type of plot.

    Although I like reading about rakes and courtesans, I find that as a writer I (usually) have a problem reading about characters who have sex purely for the sake of having sex with multiple other people. With Charlotte, as I mentioned in my post, I think she would have fully been justified to start a new relationship--she probably even thought about it--but something held her back, and that was because she still loved him, despite his betrayal. For Philip, although he might have been attracted to Charlotte at the beginning, he wasn't in love, and so as a writer I felt it was more realistic for him to take a mistress, since his heart wasn't involved.

    And that's a glimpse inside my head. =)

  16. Hi MsHellion (love the name =).

    You touched on my theme for this book...trust and forgiveness...or rather, the healing in a relationship that can come through forgiving and learning to trust again.

    I think in our present times it seems much more realistic for them to have stayed apart--but I like the idea of couples who truly love each other being willing to risk their pride enough to come back together.

  17. Hi Deb! Thanks so much for your comment! I completely agree with you about the couple having vows to maintain even though they're separated. My background is pretty conservative. At the same time, as a child of divorce, it appealed to me to write a story like this where mistakes were made (even one as big as Philip's) and yet still be able to write a HEA for them.

  18. Hello and congratulations on your release! I've been waiting for this post since I heard about your book here.

    I don't mind infidelity if it's well written by the author. If I feel that it's out of character for someone to be unfaithful, then I might not like a book that much.

    If the author makes me believe that the hero and the heroine are happy together despite the cheating, then I am a happy reader because I won't doubt the fact that they'll remain faithful to each other. I hope that makes sense.

    However, a story with a more experienced heroine will always make me want to buy it even if she's unfaithful or not.

  19. Hi Karen H in NC! (I've only been to NC once, but loved it =)

    You can't miss Private Arrangements. It does set off some people's buttons, but I found it to be a wonderful love story.

    I think your comment is very interesting, and I hope I understood it correctly. I believe you were saying that you read historicals because of the stricter standard of morals in that period. I wonder then, with all the recent focus on courtesan and mistress-themed books if you have difficult finding a book you truly enjoy? I know that some people really enjoy them because it seems "wicked", while it turns others off. Just curious. But then again, that's another topic. =)

  20. Hi Janga! Thank you! Yes, it has been busy, especially when the little one inside (I'm 8 months pregnant) decides her favorite time of the day to kick is at 2 in the morning. But I'm so fortunate to be able to celebrate my debut with you guys!

    I have to say that from my own viewpoint as a reader, I'm willing to read a story where infidelity occurs as long as it's something that's seen as a mistake. But I've seen one or two storylines in the past couple of years (can't remember titles) in which the characters engaged in a relationship outside of marriage, and that was their HEA, and I can't bring myself to buy it. I know we all differ on the topic of infidelity and the various situations, but for me (and this may be because I am a child of divorce, as I said in another comment), I would rather the couple who are married find their HEA even if it's difficult than move on to other partners.

  21. Hi Gigi! Thank you for the congrats and the comment on the cover--I was so excited when I saw it for the first time. =)

    If we're being entirely historically accurate, I believe 50% or so of the historical romances on the shelves would probably have to be pulled off in terms of what women usually did and did not do in the 19th century.

    But, as a romance reader, I also like a strong, independent woman who more closely resembles the women in our current times, and I also think that they make for more interesting characters.

    As you implied, I think it is a delicate balance that authors must maintain, and most readers are simply divided on either side of that line.

  22. Congrats on your debut release, Ashley! I have been reading some wonderful reviews of it.

    I do not condone infidelity within a marriage where the couple is still together. It is more acceptable to me if the marriage is basically over because the couple has been living separate lives for a long time. I find that I can then forgive the infidelity if there is genuine remorse and determination to make the marriage succeed.

  23. Hi Maureen! Well said. There is definitely a difference between being able to write an HEA for a character who has made mistakes and has changed from the person they were, and writing one for a character who you have the suspicion will continue making the same mistake (in this case, being unfaithful).

    This is why it was so important for me as a writer to show how Philip changed over the course of the book--meaning his character, specifically. It wasn't an immediate change at all--even though he wanted to change, he still sometimes reverted to old characteristics. But over time, I had to show that his love for Charlotte and the awareness he gained of his own failures through her was enough to make him WORK to become a changed man.

    If he'd been the same cold man at the end of the book, I don't think even I as the author could have believed in their HEA.

  24. Congratulations on your debut.

    I don't like infidelity in a romance. It tends to spoil the book for me. However, if the author does write about infidelity, then I like the plot to pick up after the event occurs. I don't like reading all about the cheating spouse and showing the actual infidelity.

  25. Hi PJ! Thanks so much for having me today! Looking forward to reading what you have to say on the topic. =)

  26. Hi Antonia! Thank you for the congrats. =)

    I completely understand what you mean--the ability to move past the infidelity and believe in the HEA is very important.

    In terms of your comment on a woman with more experience, I'm curious--do you mean a woman with more sexual experience, or a woman with more sexual awareness?

    Is this because, like some readers, you want more variety beyond the virginal heroine?

  27. Hi Cheryl C! I think I understand what you mean--if the couple are already separated, it doesn't seem as that much of a betrayal? I can definitely see what you mean, and just to clarify, that's more the case of Philip and Charlotte's marriage. He had already betrayed her (not through infidelity) and they were leading separate lives when he took a mistress. To me, at least, that kind of gives a different spin on the topic.

  28. Hi Penfield! Thanks for your comment!

    I can understand what you mean. If it's there, reading about it taking place in the past is far preferable than reading about it on the page.

    Just to clarify, the book starts after Philip has dismissed his mistress, and although he'd led to believe Charlotte has been unfaithful, she hasn't.

    I think some people might consider this a spoiler, but I would rather tell you up front what to expect and you be able to enjoy the rest of the book then be unpleasantly surprised.

  29. Ashley, I absolutely loved Seducing the Duchess and I almost did not buy it because of the description! I'm a reader that does not like infidelity by the married hero and/or heroine in romances, whether historical or contemporary. I can't reconcile the loss of trust that would be inevitable. However, I do like second chance romance storylines and that part of the book's description won out. I didn't know that Charlotte had remained faithful before I read the book so I wasn't sure if it would be a "keeper book" for me or not. Because of Charlotte's fidelity it is a keeper.

    The reason I didn't have a problem with Phillip having a mistress after he and Charlotte married was because of his reason's (rotten as they were ;) ) for marrying her and because Phillip did not love Charlotte when they married.

    Using infidelity in a romance so the hero and/or heroine can expand their sexual experiences or "get back" at the other isn't a romance novel in my opinion. I can read general women's fiction for those kinds of stories.

  30. I'm back. While I'm more accepting of infidelity in another genre, I don't want to read about it in romance. I'm not hiding my head in the sand. I just prefer my romances to have a heroine and hero who don't cheat on one another.

    Having said that, there have been books where the author has written the story in such a way that I have accepted it as a necessary part of the story. That doesn't mean I liked it, or condoned it, but I understood why it was necessary. Those books, however, are very rare.

  31. Ashley said, For Philip, although he might have been attracted to Charlotte at the beginning, he wasn't in love, and so as a writer I felt it was more realistic for him to take a mistress, since his heart wasn't involved.

    I can accept this, especially in a historical where men were expected to keep a mistress. Once he's pledged his love to the heroine, however, I'd have a very difficult time forgiving him for taking a mistress.

    Thank you for the explanation, Ashley. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

  32. Hi Kathy--I'm so glad you enjoyed my book! Thanks for taking a chance on it, even though on the surface it didn't seem like your kind of story. I'm glad that the story and the characters worked for you. =)

  33. Hi PJ!

    Perfectly understandable. I think everyone has different reasons for reading romances, and even those reasons can change at different times. I think on the whole, at least from the responses I'm seeing here, infidelity is best avoided for the majority of the romance community. Because of that, I feel very fortunate that so many people have taken a chance on me as a debut author.

  34. Hello and welcome to The Romance Dish, Ashley! We are so happy to have you visit with us today. HUGE CONGRATS on your debut! I love to read debut books and that along with Buffie's review has me wanting to read this one!

    As for your question about infidelity....I'm going to ditto what PJ said. I also do not prefer to read about it in my romance books, BUT I have read some stories with infidelity in them (written in a past tense, of course) that I enjoyed because it was an important part of the story and the conflict within. However, once the hero and heroine get together, that's it--there should be no cheating after that or it just kills my interest right then and there.

    Thanks for the very interesting blog, Ashley. I wish you the best!

  35. Holy Cow! You all have been really busy while I have been at work. :-) Off to respond to comments

  36. Hi Jane! Like you, sometimes I have problems with infidelity in a story -- it all depends on how the writer works it in the story and if I feel it is true to the characters.

    Daz - I'm so glad you enjoyed Ashley's post and I hope that you will buy the book and see for yourself what a great story it is.

    Hey there Helen! I think you and I are twins! LOL! I know I say that all the time, but it has to be true :P

    LOL @ Lisa! "But we were on a break!" One of my favorite themes in FRIENDS.

    As always, well said Ms. Hellion!

    LOL @ Deb! My hubby wouldn't be walking the same way either!

    Hey Karen, sounds like you are on the "if it fits the story" team.

  37. Janga, the key word in your response is "skilled". Yes, the author must be skilled enough to show the emotions of the characters, which in turn will take the reader to the appropriate place in the relationship.

    Thanks for stopping by Maureen! I'm with you on it all coming together for the HEA.

  38. Ashley, I am so happy that you are joining us today!! I really enjoyed your blog, and the book too ;-)

  39. Thanks for stopping by Antonio! Glad you liked the review of SEDUCING THE DUCHESS!

  40. CherylC, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today!

    Hey Penfield! It seems we all pretty much agree that it is all about how the infidelity is written.

    Hi Kathy! Wasn't SEDUCING THE DUCHESS just a great book?! Sounds like you loved it as much as I did. :-)

  41. Congrats on your debut release!
    I think if the story involves infidelity it should also show how the characters deal with it, and have them not continually making the same mistakes.
    The story should stay true to the characters. My pet peeve is inconsistent characters.

  42. Thanks for stopping by Chey! I have to say that your pet peeve is one of mine too.

  43. Congratulations on your new release.

    I don't care for infidelity after marriage, but it won't stop me from reading the book.

  44. LOL @ Andrea, there's not much that will stop me from reading a book ;-)

  45. Hi Ashley!
    Congrats on your debut!
    I agree with PJ and Andrea on infidelity. It shouldn't be happening once the hero and heroine are together.

  46. Glad you stopped by Trisha! I think you would really like Ashley's book.

  47. Hi Ashley! Congrats on your debut book! AND on your little girl!!

    Penfield wrote: I don't like infidelity in a romance. It tends to spoil the book for me. However, if the author does write about infidelity, then I like the plot to pick up after the event occurs. I don't like reading all about the cheating spouse and showing the actual infidelity.

    I 100% agree. I do not like infidelity in my romances. Nope, no way! ;-) I have, of course, read romances with infidelity in them, and enjoyed those stories, but it happened before the book started. I don't think I would be able to "forgive" the hero for cheating. I have also read a book where the "hero" cheated towards the end of the story and I can promise, I will not read another book by that particular author again. And that heroine forgave him!!! I was so "mad"... :-P

  48. Hi, Ashley! Sorry I'm late to the party. It's great having you with us today.

    I'm fine with infidelity as long as it fits the story line and is true to what the characters would do. Love reconciliation stories!

    And speaking of love....I adore you cover! Beautiful!

  49. Hi Andrea! Thanks for the congrats! Just out of curiosity, when you say that you expect fidelity after the hero and heroine are together, do you mean after they get married, or after they "fall in love"?

  50. Hi Buffie! Thanks so much for taking the time to review SEDUCING--I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for letting me visit you guys. =)

  51. Hi Chey!

    Thanks for your comment. I agree--going back to the same thing does not a hero (or heroine) make.

  52. Hi Andrea I. =)

    Even though you don't like infidelity after marriage, since you would keep reading the book, which do you think you would tolerate better--the hero or the heroine taking a lover?

  53. Hi TrishaM! Thanks for the congrats and your comment. I'm finding that's what the majority of people think--which is good for me to know for the future. ;)

  54. Hi MonicaM. =) I can completely understand why you would be mad. That's almost unforgivable to me for a romance author to write. How would you believe in the HEA??

  55. Hi Gannon! Thank you for your comment on the cover. =) I was especially fortunate, I think. One of my favorite reconciliation stories (sorry, don't remember the title) is by Lisa Kleypas..okay, maybe it's Stranger in Your Arms. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend! Note: it's a reconciliation story with a twist on the hero. =)

  56. Ashley, I'm a huge fan of Lisa's books---I've read them all! :-)

  57. Gannon--then it's obvious you have great taste. =)

  58. I'm fine with infidelity in reconciliation stories, as long as there is an explanation for it that makes sense. An unfaithful character, as long as I'm interested in them, will not pull me out of the book. They just have to be an engaging, well-rounded character. I think a story should try to stay true to the characters, rather than bow to reader expectations. I don't really have expectations, except that the writer will make interesting characters that I care about and want to find out what happens to them.
    I'm very interested in reading Seducing the Duchess, it sounds like a fantastic read.

  59. Congrats on your release!

    It all depends on how the author handles the infidelity. That's the beauty of fiction; I'm more accepting of such situations than in real life (what with STDs and all).


  60. Congrats on the debut Ashley, I enjoyed it very much. I do especially like second chance romances, and don't have a problem with the infidelity when they are separated, living independent lives. After reading for a bit, I suspected she was putting on a show, wasn't actually the harlot she portrayed, it didn't ring true as you learned more about her. I really liked her saucy character, taunting him from the start all the way to the end.

    Even that era conveys such strict morals, I've always thought in reality that's all to the public and on the surface, with so many loveless marriages, sure had to be a whole lot of cheating going on, and who could blame a lot of them. Give us good reason for it and a HEA, and I'm happy with a well told story.

  61. Ashley March said: Just out of curiosity, when you say that you expect fidelity after the hero and heroine are together, do you mean after they get married, or after they "fall in love"?

    Ashley, for me personally, I expect fidelity from the moment they are considered an item or have had that connection--when the hero has any interest, however slight, in the heroine. In a situation like the one in your book, I can overlook past infidelity if it fits the story. But it has to be something that happened before the story started because I certainly don't want to read about him being intimate with some other woman when I know he's already married to the heroine. Does that make sense? It's early, lol.

  62. In terms of your comment on a woman with more experience, I'm curious--do you mean a woman with more sexual experience, or a woman with more sexual awareness?

    Is this because, like some readers, you want more variety beyond the virginal heroine?

    Hello Ashley!

    I actually mean both of them because at a certain point I feel the need to have more variety when it comes to the heroines and the heroes as well (one of my favorite books ever happens to have a virgin hero- "Wild at Heart" by Patricia Gaffney). That doesn't mean that I'll stop reading about virginal heroines, just that I like alternating. I don't know if that makes sense. :D