High stakes situations and combustible chemistry — what's not to love? All that and more is in Lindsay McKenna's latest, Down Range. A former member of the armed forces, fire figher and more, today Lindsay's here to tell us about her inspiration for her Shadow Warriors series, and how women can be just as tough as men.
As a former member of the Navy, how much of your experiences influenced the Shadow Warriors series?
There’s an old saying that writers should write what they know. And if you do that, your books come alive and the readers can sure tell the difference. I created the subgenre of military romance in 1983 with Captive of Fate from Silhouette Special Editions. It was a bellweather book in the industry, not only from the standpoint that it was about a hero who was a U.S. Marine colonel, but that the book’s tone was serious, gritty and realistic. Before that, in the early 1980s, there was a lot of what I term “fluff,” humor and light romance, which was popular at the time. That book changed the surface of romance writing in those two ways and it went on to be very popular — and is to this day.
The Shadow Warriors series has been five years in the making. Because I held a Secret clearance in the U.S. Navy, I’m more familiar with black ops than most simply because of the area I worked in. I took three years and read every book on SEALs, written by SEALs to grasp their mindset. Because there is one. Later, I branched out into Rangers, Delta Force and Special Forces. I’m well known for my thorough research and I like my books vetted by someone in the area I’m writing.
I have long been a proponent of women going into combat. And I know women who could easily fit into that slot. The downside is that women have weaker upper body strength than a man. As a volunteer firefighter for three years, from 1980 to 1983, with the West Point Volunteer Fire Department in West Point, Ohio, I was the only woman among 20 male volunteers. I worked out every other day and a lot of my exercises were upper body focused to develop that region of my body. And I did. I did everything any of those men did, and did it well. So I know from personal experience, we women can do it all. It just requires a certain mindset, a passion and a woman who is drawn to a combat slot in the military, and she can be successful.
You're known for your extensive research practices. Can you describe your process for preparing to write Down Range?
The military knows that women are better marksmen than a man. Women also have more powerful legs. Their weakness is upper body strength, but that can be corrected through exercise. It took three years of reading black ops books written by the operators themselves, taking notes, collating the psychological patterns that they learn and accrue through constant training, to grasp their mindset.
Later, after I’d written Down Range, I went in search of a SEAL who would help me with some technical details in the book I simply couldn’t find answers to anywhere else. I read Chief Michael Jaco’s book, The Intuitive Warrior (www.michaeljaco.com) and decided to e-mail him. I told him who I was (and, yes, that I was a romance writer), that I needed some unclassified answers to questions I had. A year passed and no reply, so I figured he didn’t want to deal with me because I’m more or less media. And black ops types avoid media, reporters and yes, writers, like the plague. I didn’t take it personally.
One day, Tracy Jo Jaco, his wife, called me out of the blue. She said, “Let’s get together for lunch.” I agreed. What is funny about this is that they live in Sedona. And I live eight miles south of that town. They were there all that time, under my nose, and I didn’t know it! I prepared a list of 66 questions for Chief Jaco. When we met for lunch, we hit it off right away. We were both Navy. I’m sure the fact I was a military vet swayed his initial opinion of me. Military vets have an unbreakable bond with one another, regardless of gender. I showed him my questions. If he thought I was “fluff,” he learned I was not. My questions were detailed and I knew my business and I also knew enough about weapons and medical that it impressed him enough to grant me a four hour interview with him based upon my questions. He answered every single one of them.
I then asked him if he would read Down Range to vet it, to make sure it was accurate. He said yes. Chief Jaco came back about four days later and said he was very taken by my book. So much so, that he wrote a Dear Reader letter to it and also supplied a back cover quote for it. A SEAL has never given a book quote, much less an emotional, heartfelt letter, in any romance book that I know of. He found two technical errors in the book (I thought he was going to find a lot more) and I corrected those.
What can readers expect to see in the new book? How is it different than your others?
The Shadow Warriors books involve military men and women in combat situations. Or it will deal with them outside the military world and instead they'll be in a security contract work environment. The stories will occur around the world, not just in a particular war zone. The freshness of this approach is that readers are going to get to see how a woman deals with the stresses and pressures of combat and life-and-death situations. Because our reactions ARE different than how a man copes and processes these events. Also, how male operator deals with a female operator in a combat environment, because that is very different, too. There’s a lot of rich, gritty psychological and emotional ground to plow here: how combat changes a person, their perspective and ultimately, how it changes their lives. These books are going to be fierce, powerful love stories, woven in with seat-of-the-pants suspense and action. It’s going to be about the wounds the characters bring from their childhood, the wounds created out of combat situations and how the characters not only cope, but deal with the issues as adults and with one another. These books are going to be an intense emotional ride for the reader.
Women in the military are often overlooked. What do you hope readers gain from reading about Captain Morgan Boland?
Danger Close (HQN, September 2013) is the foundation book for the Shadow Warriors series, available in e-book format only. In Down Range, U.S. Marine Captain Morgan Boland is the daughter of the hero and heroine of Danger Close, Corporal Cathy Fremont and U.S. Marine Captain Jim Boland. Morgan comes from a military family, and she has the confidence, passion and focus to go after what she knows she’s good at. In this case, being one of the first women to go through Marine Corps sniper school, graduating from this vaunted military institution. She’s a role model for women who know they’re good in combat situations, and she has the balance of personality, leadership skills and courage to do the job and do it right. Many males don’t realize some of the strengths of women in general. One of them being of a team work frame of mind. And in the black ops world, team work is the most important component of a successful team out in the field. I believe readers will find her sympathetic, but also exuding a woman’s internal strength that gives her more to pull from during a crisis than a man.
What do you love the most about the book's hero, Jake Ramsey?
That despite a damaging childhood, his father being a Navy SEAL, Jake being left to take care of his ailing mother as he grew up, he’s open to change — even if he’s dragged kicking and screaming to the precipice of it. Jake grew up nearly fatherless because he was always away in combat situations. He became the man of the house as a young child, as a result. When his mother becomes chronically ill when he’s 10 years old, Jake’s view on women changes. After being a caregiver to his mother, who contracted multiple sclerosis and steadily got weaker until she died when he was eighteen, his perspective on women is set. He goes to U.S. Naval academy at 18, knowing women are weak in comparison to a man. But when he meets red-headed, fiery Morgan Boland at the Academy, he’s drawn powerfully to her, but he can’t reconcile the fact she’s vibrant, strong and as good or better than the men in just about every way. They start a love affair there, but things deteriorate over several misunderstandings and they part. Years later, they meet accidentally in Afghanistan and have a torrid, three-day affair, drawn inexorably to one another. Yet, out of bed, Jake just can’t get rid of his reality that women are weak. And Morgan will have none of that and they split up once again. The book opens two years after this point. They’re about to be thrown together on a top secret op that pairs them as snipers going after a high value target, an opium drug lord, in Afghanistan. And now, they HAVE to get along. And they have to ignore their combustible sexual chemistry between them in order to get the op completed.
Do you have a favorite scene from the book?
I have several, not just one. I love the opening scene to the book where Jake pulls into the Pentagon parking lot, heading into an interview with an Army general regarding a up-and-coming top secret op. When he spots Morgan Boland, a few rows over, climbing out of her car, he’s shocked to see her. It has been two years since their fated meeting in Afghanistan, which drove them apart once more. And when she spots him, it goes downhill from there because as much as Morgan loves Jake, she will not be treated as a weak, incompetent woman. Imagine his surprise that she’s heading for the same place, at the same time, to see the same general as he is ...
When you're not writing, what do you like to do and why?
I write every day. I walk a good half mile every day, joined with my husband, Golden Retriever, Cody, and my camera. I’m a decent amateur photographer and my favorite subjects are shooting sunsets and wildlife. I also love to cook, have an organic garden where I’m down on my hands and knees, weeding just about every day. I try to work only 20 minutes at the computer and go outside, get fresh air and sunshine, to balance off all the mental and creative work.
Intrigued? Down Range is available now online and in stores! And for more romantic adventures, be sure to visit our Everything Romance page!