Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dignity by Christian Ashley: Interview & Excerpt

Erotic Historical Novel

Dignity is an erotic Tudor historical romance novel portraying the tragic and short life of Henry VIII’s fifth and youngest wife, Katheryn Howard. Although written in a romantic style, Dignity contains explicit sexual content and disturbing themes such as incest, child sexual abuse, and male privilege within the context of 16th Century Tudor history. The dark secrets of Katheryn’s childhood are exposed explaining the commonplace result of over-sexualization and promiscuity. Her lascivious lifestyle was to become her eventual demise as her pre-marital history was uncovered during her short reign as Queen of England. The story explores the viewpoints of many of the characters involved with Katheryn both historically and romantically as she searched for love through the only thing that she felt she had some control over, her sensuality. In the time of Katheryn’s short life, women were considered little more than property in a male dominated world. Dignity does nothing to sugar coat this fact and because it is written in a romantic fashion, it can draw the reader in and be quite stimulating yet in some instances, it can be quite disturbing.

This excerpt is appropriate for older teens and adults.

The sun was starting to rise and the air was soft and misty as she entered a marshy area. The thick, wet fog swirled around Katheryn as her bare feet made soft squishy noises in the cool, mossy earth.
He sat, rubbing his eyes as she approached. She couldn't be real he thought. She must be an apparition of some sort, an angel, or a goddess. She was exquisite with the delicate light shining on her damp, golden hair so gently flowing behind her and falling to her softly rounded hips. The swell of her full breast; appearing to be free beneath her gossamer gown, showed the faint protrusion of rosy nipples. Her oval face shone as pale as the Moon, and her mauve lips formed the most perfect mouth he'd ever seen. Her eyes looked purposefully to where she stepped, and the darkness of her thick lashes framed her deep and well-shaped eyes; innocent as the eyes of a fawn. He could see the outline of her beneath the sheer gown, and he knew he'd not ever seen anyone half as fair as she. He watched her silently and imagined taking hold of her supple body, and his loins burned as he fantasized.
Katheryn felt eyes feasting upon her. Was it a wolf?  No, it wasn't fear she was feeling. As she felt herself fill with heat she stepped back and leaned against a tree, and she tried to steady her body. She knew that someone was there and was watching her. She bit her lip and restrained her hands in an attempt to fight her feelings as she could feel his eyes burning into her, touching her secret parts, and probing each crevice.
He watched her, and he knew he'd never wanted anyone like this and that he must take this angelic creature; this seductress of souls. He stepped toward her as she turned away and clung to the tree for strength, and he could see the full roundness of her backside. He could envision himself pushing her against that tree, her soft flesh yielding as he thrust. He thought he'd gone mad and that he would burst, his desire was so great, and he moved, like the hunter he was, stealthily toward her as if she were his prey.
She turned around, opened her eyes wide, and peered through the mist into the thick cover just beyond her, and she thought she could hear him breathing, he stood so close.
"Who's there?” she whispered.
He stepped out and stood before her as the new sun sent light dancing off the mist that surrounded him. Then he bowed deeply. Katheryn looked at him closely, his familiarity took her breath away, and her heart pounded wildly. He was much older than she, and his clothes were that of a huntsman; however, he had obviously been hunting when she came upon him. He had thick, dark brown hair and warm eyes that matched the colour of his hair. His jaw was strong, and he seemed very masculine, but he had the softest look about him. He was exceptionally well built, and a smile brightened his face as he saw the intent on hers, and their eyes locked as his deep voice filled the crisp air.
"Are you real Miss, or am I dreaming?'
Katheryn's smile showed white, even teeth as she spoke.
"Please forgive me. I did not expect to find myself in your company,"
"Nor I in yours, and I believe you'd better go Miss, before I take full advantage of your company." he said as he felt an overwhelming urge to cover her with kisses.
Katheryn laughed and scampered off toward her home. She felt as if her entire body was smiling during her trek, and whenever she thought of him her knees weakened. She wondered who he was, and she knew she must find out.

Do you use a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?

Yes, Christian Ashley is my pen name.  In the early 1990s, a dear friend of mine (who also happens to have been raised a Prince in India), “Prince” Raja Harindra Singh, told me that I would become a famous writer and that I was to use the name, Christian Ashley. 

What can you tell me about the writing of Dignity?

 When I was a little girl, I loved, more than anything, to spend the night with my great grandmother who was born and raised in Kent, England. The youngest of eight children, she was born on May first and had been named, Martha May Howard. She was always called May, and she’d been told by her family that the May Pole celebration on May Day was for her. As I fell asleep, she’d tell me the stories of her childhood; how she’d run barefoot through the wildflowers and loosen her red hair so that it cascaded down her back. She’d speak softly about playing with her Shetland pony and how her older brothers and sisters spoiled and protected her. I was transported, through her words, to her childhood. At some point, she told me that one of her aunts, long ago, had actually been the Queen of England and that her name was, Katheryn Howard.

From my early years, I have always had a vivid imagination and would play with pretend brothers and sisters rather than real people. Similarly, I’d dream of children running and playing and see myself as a golden haired child running through the yellow wildflowers of my great grandmother’s youth.  I woke disoriented after nightmares of dark places with cold walls, and became afraid of the dark. I remember that my mother got me a nightlight. My great grandmother died when I was about nine; however, my dreams of England continued.

In the early 1970s, when I was about twelve, a book arrived in the mail about the Tower of London. I felt chills climbing up the back of my neck as I opened the book to a random page and saw a picture of a block of stone. The inscription read that the block had been carved for Catherine Howard and that she had practiced laying her head upon it the night before her execution. I believe that I decided then that someday, I’d write her story.

I started working on it in 1994 as an outline in which I told the whole story. Then I put the outline, which was hand written, away. I began writing “Dignity” in 1995 and changed it in 1996 to make the main character older. However, in 2002, I realized that it had to be rewritten to how it was originally because, historically, it was the only way that it would be accurate. I worked on “Dignity” off and on and then completed my first draft in 2007. The first manuscript was submitted in 2008 and it was recommended that more dialogue be added. So it was re-written to include more dialogue. I then revised “Dignity” in 2010 to add the full names of many of the historical characters as there had been so much written about Tudor history that it made sense to do so. Much of this story is historical including the names of her family members which I did not know were accurate until researching post hoc in 2007. The parts that are not came through me from somewhere otherworldly. Also, after writing the story, I found that many of the events depicted, such as the gentlewomen’s chamber, were actually historical though they are hard to believe.  

I never looked at the hand written outline again. I wrote Dignity straight through and remembered the story from heart. I found out, when I began researching online in 2007, that the name of Katheryn Howard's oldest brother (10 years her senior) was Henry. Harry is the nick name for Henry, and his wife's name was recorded as being Anne (all facts that I did not know until after the story was written). Many of the letters in Dignity are real and were paraphrased, by me, from Old English including the statement that Katheryn made at her death.

There’s been quite a bit of controversy concerning Dignity.  Tell us about it.

When I sent my finished manuscript to be edited, I half expected them to tell me that it was too sexual. But they didn’t. They told me that Dignity was well written, but that it needed more dialogue. So I added more.

I realized that Dignity was disturbing, and I thought that I had clearly explained that it was, but I guess that it wasn’t enough. I finally came out with a disclaimer about it. INTENSE-DISTURBING-EROTIC-EXPLICIT-TRAGIC-COMPELLING-DARK-PASSIONATE… DIGNITY

But apparently that warning wasn’t enough either.  In the majority of reviews that I’ve received, they rave about the weaving of a well written, compelling story with history. However, I’ve had some reviews where they are raging that the story disturbed them in some way.

How do you react to a bad review of your book?

The negative reviews say nothing about my lack of writing skills, on the contrary, they actually say that I describe sex too explicitly or that some of the scenes are too upsetting. I’ve decided that for Dignity to have such a profoundly disturbing impact on someone that they would go to the trouble to write a negative review, that it must be a positive acclimation to my writing ability.

Why should we read your book?

I’ve thought about adding a statement saying something like, if you have any sexual hang ups – do not read Dignity…  But seriously, for those that can get past the very real portrayal of the horrific and sexualized life of a sixteenth century girl, Dignity is an amazing story.

A descendant of Katheryn Howard, the author's maternal great grandmother, Martha May Howard, was born and raised in Kent England, and was descended from one of Katheryn Howard's brothers. The author was raised in Los Angeles, California and has four children who are now adults. The author is also an artist; Christian Ashley's illustrations of characters in Dignity are portrayed on book covers, web sites, and in the DIGNITY book trailer created by Sam Samson -

There are two book trailers outlining Katheryn’s story:

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