Author Ashley March on Writing About the Temptress Heroine

We are excited to welcome guest author Ashley March to the Roundtable today! Her debut Victorian romance, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, was just released on October 5 from Signet Books. Congratulations, Ashley! It’s wonderful that you could visit with us today!

First of all, thank you to Laurie and the rest of the Romance Roundtable crew for hosting me today! I’m excited to be here and to tell you a little bit about my struggle (yes, struggle!) in writing my debut novel, Seducing the Duchess.

The reason I say it was difficult to write Seducing the Duchess is because not only did I choose to write a reconciliation story, which is somewhat of a challenge in itself, but I also chose a heroine who has a temptress personality. We always hear people advising us to write what you know, right? When I first thought of Charlotte, my heroine, I had no idea how to write about a temptress because my personality is completely opposite. Whereas I’m introverted and shy, Charlotte is outgoing and overtly sexual at times. She enjoys taunting the hero, her husband Philip, and is accustomed to using her body to get what she wants. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s promiscuous, but that she has a talent for manipulating men as a result of their desire for her.

With that being said, she doesn’t sound much like a heroine any reader would root for, does she? We may like our heroines to be strong, smart, and independent, but usually (at least in my experience) we don’t want them to be too self-assured or cocky. Yet that’s what Charlotte has become. Just as the stoic and self-controlled Philip has his own masks to wear, so Charlotte wears the temptress mask as a measure of self-defense. The key—and challenge—in writing her this way was that I had to show the reader over the course of the book that while Charlotte does have a certain femme fatale aspect to her, beneath the mask she is vulnerable and even fragile when it comes to Philip.

Because I couldn’t draw from my own personality, I based my inspiration for Charlotte’s character on Scarlett from Gone with the Wind (although I didn’t intend their names to be so similar). Just like Scarlett is beautiful, impulsive, and strong, so is Charlotte in Seducing the Duchess. And just as no man except Rhett can pierce through Scarlett’s armor, so is Charlotte weakest when it comes to Philip.

While I struggled to write Charlotte, knowing that she must gain the reader’s sympathy, I also discovered it was a lot of fun. Delving into her character was almost like putting on my own mask, saying and doing things I would otherwise never think of doing. Although I was skeptical of writing a temptress heroine at the beginning, now I’m grateful for the idea. Not only do I think it’s made me a better writer in terms of developing characters, but I’m also more willing now to go for the unusual in writing historical romance…whether that means a different type of character, setting, or plot line.

As for Charlotte…I think I succeeded in making her a heroine readers can root for. But just to be sure, I’d love for you to have a chance to win a copy of Seducing the Duchess and let me know what you think! Simply comment below and tell me if a) you’ve ever taken a risk in writing about something unusual in your own story, or b) the last romance novel where you read about something (character, setting, plot line, etc.) you don’t normally see in romances, and why you liked it. One random commenter will win the copy of Seducing the Duchess.

Here’s a taste of SEDUCING THE DUCHESS:

It was just another scandalous night…

Gambling. Carousing. Flirting. Charlotte, Duchess of Rutherford, will do anything to create a scandal large enough to force her husband to finally petition for a divorce. Once madly in love with Philip, she is now determined to escape from their less than civil marriage and the reminders of his betrayal.

Until he stole her away…

Philip Burgess, Duke of Rutherford, is not a man to tolerate regrets. He wed Charlotte for revenge, not for love or convenience, knowing she would come to hate him. But he never expected he would one day find himself craving her attention or desiring her company….

And gave her something more…

Philip is no longer the cold, deceitful man she married years ago. And when he promises Charlotte a divorce if she will help him become a better husband for another woman, she wonders if she truly wants to lose him—and if Philip may still possess her heart after all….

Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Don’t forget to comment for your chance to win a copy!

38 Comment(s)

  1. Whoa! Ashley, you left me breathless just from reading the blurb. I absolutely love the premise and can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

    I feel like I’m always writing things out of my ‘know’. But that is what research is for, right? ;) My heroines tend to be brassy, which is something I’m definitely not. When it comes to intimate encounters I’m all over the board. Some are tenative and shy, others kind of grab the bull by the horn and well . . . you can imagine the rest. As for my heroes, they tend to be the silent, considering type.

    What kind of time span occurs in Seducing the Duchess? I ask because I was wondering how you handled the backstory, if any, to show their past history.

    Welcome to the Table! And congratulations on your debut!!

    Renee | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  2. Welcome, Ashley! It’s great that you could hang out with us today.

    Seducing the Duchess looks delicious – I love reconciliation stories between married couples. In a historical romance, that leaves lots of room for the heroine to get a bit outrageous. :D

    I’ve taken a few risks with stories I’ve written for Writers of the Roundtable challenges. I like to experiment and see what works.

    As for your second question, I’m sure I have. I just need to think about it a bit.

    You must be so excited to see your debut novel in the stores! Could you tell us a bit about your call story?

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  3. Welcome to the Roundtable Ashley! I’m a stick to what you know writer. So, I’m thrilled to see an author who has written outside her comfort level become published. I’m curious. Do you think your next complex character will come easier due to this success?

    terri | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  4. Hi, Ashley.

    Welcome to the Roundtable! We’re thrilled to have you join us today.

    Congratulations on your debut! Your book sounds amazing. Since Gone With the Wind will always be one of my favs, I ADORE the comparison. But even without that, your blurb has me HOOKED!

    I think I write a mixture–what I know and what I don’t know–and my characters tend to be the same. I know my heroines (and my heroes) have pieces of me in them, but I think they make choices and do things I’d never have the guts to do. But maybe, like you said, that’s a mask I wear. I’m like Laurie, too, I tend to risk more with the challenges we hold at the Writers of the Roundtable site.

    I generally write things different from the norm and not everyone “gets it.” lol. I love to read about authors like you who’ve found success by staying true to their vision. I’d love to hear more about your journey. Was it difficult for you to find your place in the publishing world? What were some of the struggles you faced along the way?

    As for your (b) question: Christina Dodd’s Candle in the Window is definitely outside the norm–a medieval with a blind heroine and a seriously wounded hero. And, of course, I think Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan pushed boundaries like we’d never seen before and opened doors for other writers to take their own risks.

    Brynna | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  5. It does sound delicious! I would love to read it. And I too would love to hear the call story:)

    Sarah Tormey | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  6. This sounds like a very interesting story! Would love to read it.

    Margay | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  7. Welcome to RRT! Your book sounds delicious. I can’t wait to read it :-)

    I think I pretty much take risks with everything I write. I’m a person who likes pushing envelopes. Heck, the book I have coming out next year has a talking ch-imp-anzee! :-)

    Sidney / Arianna | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  8. Oh, yes, how could I forget about the call story?

    Renee | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  9. Hi Everyone!

    It’s great to be here! =)

    Renee–Thank you so much. I think you and I tend to write our characters similarly. For the most part, my heroines are always louder than the heroes. =)

    As for the time span in SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, it’s about 4 months, give or take a few days. However, I gave some flashbacks that provide some insight into their past relationship, both before they were married and afterward. It’s a good thing, though, I think, because it would be tempting to write everything, and then I’d end up with an 800 page book. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  10. Hi Laurie!

    I think with readers complaining about the sameness of the romance genre nowadays, risks are good. =)

    Call story…

    It’s actually kind of anti-climactic (but still exciting). After waiting for what seemed forever (more than 6 weeks), we had only received 1 rejection. Impatiently (but trying to not appear so), I called my agent one Friday afternoon to see if we had heard anything else, and she told me she was about to call me because she just got off the phone with NAL, who loved the book and wanted to offer a 3-book deal. I think my jaw literally dropped, and then I was up out of my chair (at the office) quietly jumping up and down. =)

    I then called my husband, who, hearing the difference in my voice, immediately asked “What’s wrong?” When I told him the news, he started shouting through the phone. I called my mom, my best friend, etc. That evening we had a function at work, and my boss was telling everybody about how I’d just gotten a book offer, and everyone was suitably impressed. It was a great day. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  11. Hi Terri!

    Good question. Actually, I’m finishing up my second book now about an earl and his best friend’s wife who are drawn together after their spouses die in a carriage accident and it’s revealed that the spouses were having an affair. And although the characters aren’t as complex in that I can identify with their personalities more, the plot line of the story is such that maintaining a balance between their anger and grief and their developing awareness of each other has been somewhat difficult. I can’t seem to stay away from a challenge, it seems. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  12. Hi Brynna. =)

    I think the only reason I read Gone with the Wind over and over again is because of the love story…although I then have to read Scarlett to get my HEA. =)

    As for your question about finding my place in publishing…it wasn’t actually as difficult as you would think. I believe this has to do with more authors lately pushing boundaries, as you mentioned, and the realization that readers want more variety in their historical characters. With that being said, the only *small* problem I had was debating with my publisher over Philip’s character. Although it didn’t take much in terms of revising, she wanted me to make him more sympathetic (less cold and manipulative), and although I stuck to my guns in a few places, I’m really glad I took her advice in others because I think it did make him a better hero…especially considering how far he had to come in making up to Charlotte.

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  13. Thanks, Sarah and Margay! I hope you enjoy it! My husband, who has never read a romance novel and was VERY reluctant to read mine, read SEDUCING THE DUCHESS in less than 24 hours recently. Apparently he loved it..and now knows that romances are more than just sex (*sigh* I’ve been telling him for years).

    However, when I tried to convince to read some of my favorite romances, he balked. Men. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  14. Sidney–

    A talking chimpanzee? Yes, I can see you’re a fellow risk-taker. ;) Good luck with your book!!

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  15. Wow! I love the blurb and the idea for your story. What a terrific concept! I look forward to reading the whole thing!!

    Christiana Cameron | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  16. Wait, Renee, you’re not brassy? *g*

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  17. Terri, I think your characters are outrageously funny – definitely not in the norm!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  18. Brynna, I “get it”, as do the other Roundtablers! Your another one who stays true to your vision.

    How can I forget Anna Campbell’s books. They do push the envelope in a delightfully wicked way.

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  19. Hi Sarah! Great to see you today. How’s the munchkin? Congrats again on your contest final!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  20. Welcome, Margay! Doesn’t the book look fabulous?! Thanks for stopping by!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  21. Ashley, I think your call story sounds wonderfully exciting! You must of been over the moon. So you already had an agent. Did you query her in the normal way or did you do the contest route? How did you pick her?

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  22. Oh, I thought of an answer to that second question – the last romance novel where you read about something (character, setting, plot line, etc.) you don’t normally see in romances, and why you liked it.

    Wild Child by Mary Jo Putney deals with a heroine so traumatized that she is completely shut down (from childhood) and thought mad. I liked it because of the hero’s acceptance of her and his patience in helping her relate in some way to the normal world.

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  23. Sidney, you’re one of the biggest risk takers I know. You have always pushed the envelope and it’s paid off!

    Christiana, it sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I love the premise too!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  24. Welcome to the Roundtable, Ashley! This is definitely one more for my TBR pile. It sounds wonderful.

    A couple of out of the norm books that come to mind are Laura Kinsale’s Flowers From The Storm and as Laurie mentioned, Anna Campbell’s Claiming The Courtesan. Both of these pushed the boundaries and opened new doors for any writer daring enough to step through.

    As for taking risks, I like to. One of my WIP’s has a very daring heroine. There is a definite challenge in going with a daring heroine in historicals though, but well worth the risk and very doable, if you give it enough thought.

    I’m curious, does your muse deliver your plot ideas already out of the norm or is that a process you challenge her into?

    Thanks again for visiting with us today and my heartfelt wishes for much success and many more great plots! I’m very much looking forward to reading SEDUCING THE DUCHESS!

    Anastasia St. James | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  25. Laurie, what are you trying to say? Hmmm? ;)

    Renee | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  26. Ana, this definitely sounds like a book you’d like to read.

    Nothing, Renee. I didn’t mean anything. ;)

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  27. Laurie–

    Wild Child sounds very interesting! Not something I’ve heard before. I might have to check that one out, as it sounds like something difficult to write, too.

    Okay, my agent story is a little funnier. =) I had my first daughter in June 2009, returned to work in July, and had just started to feel the push to write again. I still had about 80 page to go to finish Seducing the Duchess. Thinking I would go ahead and start the querying process while I finished because I expected it to take forever (I know, I know, we’re never supposed to do this), I went ahead and queried 3 agents. Two were brand new to me, and one was my top preference. Almost immediate rejection from top preference, who only accepted query, no sample (I admit, I suck at writing queries!). No response ever from second agent. Third agent, who allowed first 10 ten pages with query, emailed me back in a few DAYS asking for the FULL.

    As you can imagine, I was quite ecstatic, yet flabbergasted. After getting advice from other writers, I emailed her back saying I needed to “polish” the manuscript and would have it to her within 3 weeks. I think two days before that deadline, I sent her the full manuscript, completed…and polished. =)

    One week later, she sent me an email asking if she could call me the next morning (of course!), and then offered representation. I was beside myself. I had an agent! Woohoo!

    I stayed with her until she left the business in June 2010, and then, in the middle of my publishing contract, decided to query my top preference again. Because I had sold, they wanted to see my first full manuscript (SEDUCING THE DUCHESS), and the agency that had first rejected my query one year ago now wanted to represent me. I was (and still am) so happy, because I know I can’t write a query for my life, and I was able to use my writing to get an offer.

    And now I’m a client of Sara Megibow at the Nelson Literary Agency. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  28. Hi Anastasia!

    Your WIP sounds very interesting. =) I think the most important thing when writing my “different” characters is to make sure I spell out their motivations. I tend to not be clear enough on this with first drafts, so I usually have to write it in later, after frustrating my critique partners. =)

    As for my muse and plots…she usually pushes me toward the more unusual plots/characters. I think this comes from having read so many historicals, and not wanting to write what I’ve already read. That’s not to say that I never think of a somewhat typical plot, but if I do and I decide I want to go for it, I try to think of ways I can make it unique, such as developing interesting characters for that plot or choosing unique scenes. Great question!

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  29. Ashley, I know all about not being clear enough and frustrating my cps. ;) I think I should have come with a owner’s manual that says, WARNING: dyslexic thinker! Expect the unexpected in an unclear, nonconcise manner.:)

    Renee | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  30. Ooo, I like temptress personalities.

    Alice Audrey | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  31. Hi, Ashley! Seducing the Duchess sounds wonderful and the book cover is gorgeous! I’m always drawn to stories that don’t quite fit into the “normal” range, so your book sounds like one I would really enjoy. I loved getting to hear your call story and about getting your agent. Even without the perfect query, you’re definitely doing something right. :) Congratulations on your debut and may there be many more books in your future!

    Sasha Allgood | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  32. I agree, Ashley, striving to add enough into a typical plot to make it less so is a must. Thank you for answering my question, I enjoyed getting a glimpse into your process.

    I’m off to bed now, it’s way past my time. I leave you in good hands though. :) Best of luck for your future projects and many happy sales!!!

    Anastasia St. James | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  33. Ashley, thanks for sharing the agent story. I love to hear them. And it’s cool you ended up with the one you wanted from the beginning!

    Sasha, I agree, that cover is beautiful!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  34. Hi, Ashley,
    Seducing the Duchess sounds delicious. I love reconciliation stories and Charlotte sounds like she was great fun to write. My TBR pile just got bigger.

    Keena Kincaid | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  35. Renee–I think my critique partners by this point read my label as “Person who appears sane but has frequent bouts of writer psychosis, along with endless procrastination complaints and pouting.” Seriously, I don’t know how they put up with me. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  36. Thanks, everyone, for all your kind comments! I had so much fun chatting with you today, and if you do get a chance to read Seducing the Duchess, I hope you’ll tell me what you think. =)

    Now I’m off to write 4,000 words…my husband said I couldn’t leave the basement until they were done. Good husband. =)

    Ashley March | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  37. Ashley, thanks so much for visiting with us today, we really enjoyed chatting with you. Hope you’ll come back again.

    Wishing you wonderful sales!

    Laurie Faelan | Oct 8, 2010 | Reply

  38. Thanks for having me, Laurie! Have a great weekend, everyone!

    Ashley March | Oct 9, 2010 | Reply

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