Many romance novels star active-duty soldiers or returning veterans and the partners who fall for them. But what does it take to write a military man or woman well? Cindy Gerard, author of romantic suspense, explains why she started writing novels about veterans and the balance she hopes to strike between the difficulties they face and the support of laughter and love.
What is the source of your military characters?
9/11 had happened. We were starting the war in Afghanistan. And I devoured all of that because as an American I felt I needed to know what everybody was going through. Whether I was going to be directly involved or not, my country was involved, there were friends I had involved. So, I started reading a lot of articles on these—on our soldiers and their families. And—which eventually transitioned to reading articles on the special operations soldiers. and then I got curious about—you know, they’ll be coming home at some point. What will they do? What will these men and women with all these specialized, high adrenaline rush type skills and experiences do when they come back? And I found out from past combat situations that many of them, they totally burn out of society. They can’t fit back into society. Many of them just simply go back to the military. Some of them just go off the grid totally. You don’t know what happens to them. Some of them start private security firms. Some of them do private contracting.
And I decided to zero in on those that started their own private firms, and then deal with—dealt with the issues that they did have as carryovers, the PTSD, alcoholism, different things like that. So, I was trying to bring a real realism into who these people are and yet show my perceptions and my experience from what I dealt with them of their integrity, their sense of honor and duty, and their goals, which are pretty much what everybody wants is to have a good life and a happy life, and find somebody that they can share it with.
[. . . ] Most of our young people who go off to war didn’t grow up thinking that they were going to be a soldier or that they were going to be on a mountain in Afghanistan in a ghillie suit behind a Barrett rifle shooting at the enemy some day. They were just boys or girls who, either felt a call to duty because they had some patriotism in them deep down that they didn’t even know they had, or maybe they were the child of a military family. But I think most of them are just trying to do a job and trying to do it well. Some of them, I think, when they start out, they’re just—maybe they couldn’t do anything else. Maybe they were stuck. Maybe they were in a situation where they were in juvie, and you either go into the service or you’re going to jail.
And yet, then they find something good in themselves when they’re put in these situations. And I think all of us can relate to that. We are—most of us are just pretty ordinary, but we rise to certain occasions depending on the stimulus or the cause or the catalyst.
[. . . ] in the first book in my Black Ops story series, Show No Mercy, the hero—his name is Gabriel “The Archangel” Jones— [. . .]
[. . . ] one of the very first scenes he takes a shrapnel hit in his leg at a bombing, and you know, being the tough macho guy that he is, truly, he has things he has to do. So he just—“Fix it up, I’ve got to go on. Fix it up. I’ve got to go on.” But he neglects it, and he neglects it, until he gets to the point where by the end of the book he’s got a bone infection and he loses his leg. Well, that all of a sudden redefines for him who he is, and so that was a huge character arc, and one that I battled with my editor with a little bit. She didn’t know if she wanted to go that far, and I said, “Look, we’ve got men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan all the time dealing with this. You know, it’s okay to deal with it.”
[. . . ] And I think that’s why they turned out to be as successful as they are because I have been trying desperately—and I hope each time that I write a book that I tap into something that not just a former military person or a current military family could tap into, but a citizen who has never done that but has admiration for what these people do and what they go through and the sacrifices that they make. And then I make them fun, too. It’s not all gloom and doom, but, you know, fighting somebody’s demons sometimes can be a very humorous situation if you look at it—because the human condition is—if you don’t—if you can’t laugh, you’re not going to get through. So, if they’re not laughing at the time they start, somebody’s going to get them there. And that’s why I also have a tendency to make a network of friends that are in all these books. And then they carry through them all. And they aren’t allowed to get too serious about their lives.