As a shameless flirt, I have enjoyed the thrill of romance since the first grade—including 40 years with my husband, “Commander Integrity.” But I discovered a whole new joy of romance when our 21-year old son invaded Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. On March 23, 2003 my mother lay at death’s door in the local hospital’s ICU and my son lay in wait at the gates to Baghdad. We did not know if my mom would make it through the week and we did not know what Saddam had or didn’t have. It was the most terrifying week of my life. God and Suzanne Brockmann got me through.
When not on my knees in the hospital chapel, I sat at my mother’s bedside, holding her hand and reading CNN’s words crawling across the bottom of the muted TV. When I could take the tension no more, I pulled out my first book in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series and was hooked. I found myself simultaneously intrigued by the military action and laughing along with her amazing voice. And because this was a romance, I knew that no matter what happened to the hero or heroine—even in a combat zone—there would be a guaranteed happy ending.
There were no other guarantees that week.
I devoured several of her books that third week of March. She provided the escape I needed. And she helped me experience joy in the midst of chaos and fear. I looked up from one of the books, with tears in my eyes, and said, “I will find this woman and thank her for helping me get through this.”
God was good to me. Talk about joy! My mother pulled through and was released from the hospital. My son returned safe and whole from Iraq a year later. As a writer and military veteran I was guided to show my gratitude by writing my own military romance series and donating half of everything I earned to Fisher House Foundation, who supports wounded warriors and their families. I’ve had the privilege of meeting and thanking Suzanne Brockmann personally and was blessed when she gave me cover quotes for two of the books in my series, “Love in the Fleet.” To be publishing with the amazing Teresa Medeiros at Amber House Books was also beyond my wildest dreams!
I am also blessed to have received letters from military personnel who thank me for “taking them away from it all” while deployed, including a Navy surgeon whose job it is to put our Marines back together. She thanked me for writing my books and helping to keep her sane! I also heard from a Washington DC neurologist who uses my series to help heal his PTSD patients. But mostly, I am blessed that my awesome son is still in my life! And the icing on the cake? He was gracious enough to support my cause by serving as the cover model for the series.
Yes, I have found joy in romance—both reading it and writing it.
What was a moment in your life when you experienced pure joy?
The day my son returned from Iraq is at the top of the list, but here’s another joyous reunion moment: 28 years earlier when his father returned from deployment so we could marry.
In 1976 my fiancé, Lieutenant Integrity, was the Executive Officer of a fleet tugboat, the USS Shakori. The ship was in Scotland that summer when an F-14 Tomcat rolled off the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy into the North Sea. Since the Russians were cruising around, hoping to locate the jet and the top-secret Phoenix missile, the Shakori found itself in the national news for the next several months. The ship was not large enough to warrant mail delivery at sea, so I planned my wedding around the evening news and articles in the New York Times.
After postponing our wedding six times, we were finally married on December 4, 1976.
But my joyous memory was the day the Shakori returned home from that cruise. Because he was the XO and the Navigation Officer, Lieutenant Integrity was responsible for docking the ship. There he stood on deck, so handsome in his dress blues, supervising the docking—with his gaze repeatedly darting back to me on the pier. The look in his eyes spoke volumes, and the fact that he was finally home so we could marry, trumped even our wedding five days later.
A place that brings you joy?
I live in Atlantic Beach, Florida, a block from the ocean. Need I say more?
A sound that brings you joy?
The right songs. My dad was a musician and I grew up marinated in music, all kinds of music!
A book that brought you much joy?
To Kill A Mockingbird. I had a magical childhood, filled with creativity and adventures, similar to Scout, Jem, and Dill’s. I re-visit my childhood every time I read this book.
Joy of choice?
The joy of learning that babies or grandbabies are on the way! That “We’re pregnant!” moment.
What romance writers do you recommend?
Suzanne Brockmann, Teresa Medeiros, Terri Osburn, Natalie Meg Evans, Jamie Rae
Pick your Chris.
I’m going to cheat and go with my awesome co-author, Major Christopher Bergeron, USMC (ret). I could not have written my books without his military expertise, sense of humor, and friendship.
Author Bio: Heather Ashby is a Navy veteran who taught school and raised a family while accompanying her Navy husband around the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In gratitude for their Army son’s safe return from war, she writes military romance novels, donating half her royalties to Fisher House Foundation. Books in her “Love in the Fleet” series have won awards such as: Suspense Magazine Best Romantic Suspense, Military Writers Society of America’s Gold Medal for Romance, Holt Medallion Award of Merit, and Florida Writers Association Book of the Year. Suzanne Brockman says, “My readers will love Heather Ashby!”