By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Having said that, for me to talk about myself is like facing a mountain far behind me. I did this type post once before here at Sweethearts of the West (August 30, 2011, to be exact). Back then I shared some sweet memories of my childhood in a small, quaint town in Upstate New York. But I really didn’t open up the vault, so to speak.
You see, although I have some precious memories of my childhood with my wonderful mother and siblings, there are far more dark, violent memories associated with my father that I just am not comfortable discussing. Some wounds are best kept closed. Suffice to say, if my mother was an angel; he was the devil.
There have been some close friends who know a little about my childhood, but I am still reticent to speak about it on a forum like this. Thus, out of respect to my siblings, and my firm belief that it does no good to open old scars, I still won’t discuss them in detail. What I will say about my childhood is that as dark and frightening as it often was, there was also great light and love in the presence of my mother and my faith in God.
Sad, but true. Why I thought that, I do not know. Maybe even back then, I had the thought process of a writer. But I think it was just the way I was able to handle the volatile temper of my father. Then, one day after I said my little mantra, I looked up at the sky and saw a bright shaft of sunlight break through a dense, dark cloud and shine onto my face. I knew I was not alone. I knew God was there, ever near. I knew he saw everything. He heard everything. And he loved me.
Not a very cheerful start to my post, is it? Sorry, but after thinking about what to say in this post for days, I am still at a loss. All I can say is that as much as I love history, and often get lost in genealogical research and historical research, etc., there are memories you just don’t want to revisit.
Life is a journey, and not always a pleasant one. Bad things happen to good people all the time. And when I look at the world today and the chaos happening in the lives of so many people, I am far more fortunate than some have been. So, instead of posting about myself, I will post a little about what I have learned on my journey to today.
Ironically, I have found that it is the dark times, the challenges in life, and (yes) even the painful moments that give us the greatest strength, the most capacity for compassion, and the sensitivity toward the suffering of others. I consider myself a survivor, and there are lots of us out there. People who have faced, and continue to face, daily challenges in their lives. I am lucky, blessed, in many ways. I did have a wonderful mother and a faith that sustained me. I remained true to my beliefs, my values, and 'made it through the rain'. In fact, there is a song by Barry Manilow (God Bless Him!) that when I first heard it I thought was written for me. Surely, it must have been, right? Ever since, I have claimed it as my personal anthem. It is called, “I Made It Through The Rain”. And it still strengthens me when I need a boost.
The point is I am not alone. You are not alone. People are fighting battles all around you. Someone’s child is sick. Someone’s mother just died. Someone’s husband, son, or daughter in the military has been deployed to a foreign land. Someone is struggling to pay their bills, and someone is hoping when they graduate from college they will be able to find a job. There are people suffering from depression, feeling lost and alone. People who have nothing to believe in anymore, and just want to find a reason to be happy again.
For me, I am no longer hindered to speak my mind, especially when I see someone being bullied. And I am able to address certain issues like cruelty, child abuse, and bullying, etc., in my writing. I give my characters a past, and scars they struggle to overcome in their daily lives. And I believe it is those traits, the wound they hide, or that sad vulnerability in their humanity that resonates with readers.
Bad things happen to everyone. Even if you think someone’s life is perfect, think again. We are all human, all on the same path in life – to understand ourselves, our purpose, and to face adversity, hurt, illness, or whatever obstacles life throws at us the best we can.
So, rather than go any further with this—and at the suggestion of a sweet friend named Kate Angell, I decided to answer ten questions from someone who perhaps knows me better than most –a character from one of my books. I actually put their names in a bowl and pulled out the one who would interview me. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Christiana Tatum from THE SENSE OF HONOR, my Regency period historical romance. Not sure if this will work, but let’s give it a try.
AKB: “Believe it or not, there was a time I was too trusting, Christiana. I had a very naïve “Pollyanna” attitude that most people were honest and sincere. My mother taught me to always treat people the way I want to be treated, with kindness, honesty, and sincerity. I expected others had that same moral compass. Sadly, they don’t. Mind you, no one is perfect. We all have bad days. Life is stressful. But when you see someone malign or gossip about others repeatedly, you can be sure they will gossip about you, too. I am more observant now. I realize some people like to control or bring others down. Some people love drama in their lives, and seem to thrive on it. I no longer have tolerance or patience for people like that in my life. There are lessons in life when dealing with people we all have to learn, and trust is one of them. I believe trust must be earned, and even then, I am now watchful and wary.”
CT: “You said you give your characters a past, scars they must overcome. For me, you touched on child abuse in my relationship with Lord Bellewyck. In the Prologue, when I am looking at my reflection in the window and drawn back in memory to my childhood, it is such a powerful moment. It carries over into when I am climbing the stairs to his room. The past gave me strength to face Bellewyck. Is that how you handle memories that surface, perhaps unwanted?”
AKB: “No matter how old we get, a part of us will always be the child we once were. For me, when I think about myself as a child, so much time has passed that it is almost as if I am looking at another child. She was so sad, shy, afraid to speak up and be heard, etc. It is hard to explain. She is part of me, but not me anymore. I am very happy and blessed in my life. I am not afraid to speak up, and I draw strength from everything that happened to me. Faith is a major part of it. I think, when anything bad that happens in life, you can either let it suck you under and drown your spirit, or fight to keep your head and swim. If you can’t swim, do a back float. You cannot give in or give up. Just move forward. Believe in goodness. Believe in kindness. Believe in yourself. Push the negativity out of your life, as best you can.”
CT: “How do readers react to situations you put your characters in?”
AKB: “There are many readers who have told me how much they enjoy the books, they love the characters, the challenges they face, and their journey toward ‘happily ever after’, etc. Most readers are very polite and it can be helpful to hear their opinion about something that they dislike or don't understand, etc. I had one person who felt making a child clean chimneys wasn't a 'big deal' Clearly, she didn’t understand the historical facts regarding this type child labor, or how many children were crippled or killed because they were forced to do that work. To me, it was a very ‘big deal’, and something I wanted to address in The Sense of Honor. Still, that reader is entitled to her opinion. Reading is subjective. All I can do is try and write the best story I can, and one that will touch people in positive way."
CT: "Let’s talk about something happier, like the reissue of The Sense of Honor as a Special Edition. What makes it a Special Edition?”
AKB: “Well, the Special Edition contains new content, special editorial changes I made after learning more about the craft of writing, and illustrations -- things that I was not able to do when the book was first released. When I decided to reissue and publish the book myself, I wanted to stay true to the book and the readers who loved it, but also enhance it, too.”
CT: "How are we doing as a Special Edition?”
AKB: “I am happy to say that since its release in July the book has continuously been on Amazon’s Best-Seller List for Regency set Historical Romance in both Kindle and Books in the US and the UK. And it is also on the UK Best-Seller List for Romantic Suspense, and in the US for the overall Historical Romance category.
CT: "What are you working on now?"
AKB: "I am working on a Historical Gothic series set in Regency England and Scotland. I have had several NY publishers interested in the series, but after giving it much thought decided to publish it independently. To do that, I want to have at least two books polished and ready to release close together. The first book is done and I am halfway finished with the second book.”
CT: "What is the title?"
AKB: "The first book is titled “Between the Shadows”, and the second book is “Echoes in the Darkness.”
CT: "Where are you in your next western writing?"
AKB: "Spirit of the Wind, the second book in the Windswept Texas Trilogy, is still in the writing stage. I had to put it on the back burner. The Patience Sinclair series is set in the Regency period, and I really want to finish two or three books in that series for release back-to-back. So, I am focusing my writing and research time on that series. Spirit of the Wind is set in the late 19th century, and has been a challenge for me because the story is very different from Whisper in the Wind. It is finished, but I am not happy with it just yet. It has the time travel element, but from a different angle that I think readers will find exciting and intriguing. And it is darker, more serious in content. There was a lot of humor in Molly and Jordan’s story—mostly due to Molly’s personality and her chemistry with Jordan Blake. However, Ethan Blake’s story in Spirit of the Wind is darker. I need to find a way to lighten it up.
CT: "Are there any plans to return to the characters in The Sense of Honor?"
AKB: "Funny you should ask, Christiana. Yes, I will be returning to Regency England and the much loved characters in The Sense of Honor. Linked novels are plotted for Devlin’s handsome and roguish friends: Mr. Howard Mitchell, Mr. Walter Duncan, Viscount Lyndon, and Michael Stevenson, Earl of Wessex."
CT: "My 10th question is at hand. You write historical fiction, primarily in Regency England and the American West of the 19th century. What is it about those two periods that attracts you?"
AKB: "Well, I am personally more drawn to Scotland and England – especially the Georgian and Regency periods. But the American West is part of my heritage. My mom’s grandparents came to Texas in covered wagons after the Civil War. However, I have also just learned my 4x great grandfather came to Texas in the early 1850s. Having said that, I started writing western fiction because of my older sister, Karen. She LOVED westerns, and asked me to please write a western romance. Not just that but she wanted all the things she loved incorporated into that romance. Hence, Whisper in the Wind has a wagon load of things that happen to Molly and Jordan because of Karen, who passed away in 2005. Someday, I will give a funny insight into those elements, like the ode to Doris Day and Rock Hudson, but that’s for another time.
CT:"Thank you for the opportunity to converse with you today, Ashley. Anything more you would like to say?"
AKB: "Only that for anyone who made it this far through the post, thank you. I hope you didn’t find me too boring’. Far more exciting things happen in my books. In fact, I will be giving away a signed copy of ‘The Sense of Honor - Special Edition’ to someone who posts a comment. Or, if you prefer, a Kindle version of the book.
Oh, and for anyone else out there who ‘made it through the rain’ in their lives, watch the video below. You will perhaps understand why this song means so much to me, and has for years. See you all the end of October! ~ AKB