Why are military romances so popular? Author Heatherly Bell joins us today with a discussion on writing military heroes and the various research methods employed by military romance authors.
Great to have you back, Heather!
Hi everyone, and thank you for having me back to Romance University.
As a romance writer, I’m forever on a quest for learning and love to share what I’ve learned about the industry.
I did not set out to write a military romance. However, the heroes in the latest two books of my small town Starlight Hill contemporary romance series, Unforgettable You and Forever with You, just happened to be former military. One of them an Army sniper turned firefighter, and the other a Marine turned chief of police. These books are, by far, the most popular books in the entire series.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Earlier this year I sold a series on Air Force heroes to Harlequin (Breaking Emily’s Rules – Heroes of Fortune Valley releases in February 2017) and I became curious about military romance. I decided to do a little more research, because I’d fallen into a romance niche that I love.
What is military romance, and exactly what defines it?
For the answers, I decided to go straight to the experts in the field: New York Times and National bestselling authors Marina Adair, Sharon Hamilton, Cora Seton, and Jessica Scott. These lovely and giving authors took the time to answer my questions about writing a successful military romance.
While there may be some disagreement over whether either hero or heroine must be active military for a book to be considered a true military romance, one thing is clear: whether former military or active, the military background must affect who they are as characters, create conflict, and move the plot forward.
Cora Seton, author of the Email Order Bride series, takes a wide-lens look at the genre. “In most of mine, the action occurs after a hero/heroine has left the service and is transitioning back to civilian life. I love that moment, because it’s a moment of huge change and can include a redefinition of a character’s motivations and goals.”
On the other hand, Jessica Scott, author of the Homefront series, writes about heroes that are active military, especially due to her unique perspective (more on that later).
Why write military romance?
From my perspective? Let’s face it, the military man is the perfect Alpha hero. Readers can’t get enough of these captivating stories centering on real life heroes and heroines. As Marina Adair says (and I wholeheartedly agree), “What is sexier than a former special forces bad ass who is capable and ready…for anything?”
Sharon Hamilton, author of the SEAL Brotherhood series, actually has a close family member who is a Navy SEAL. “Seeing the making of a SEAL right before my eyes gave me a great perspective to start with. Then researching and asking questions of active or former SEALs gave me all the pieces I needed to weave into my stories.”
Jessica Scott was an officer in candidate school when she read Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series, and decided she wanted to focus her writing on the everyday soldier. “…not Special Forces, not Navy SEALs but the everyday men and women who I have the honor of serving with.”
Getting it Right
When I wrote Forever with You about a gung-ho Marine hero, I realized there were going to be a few back story scenes that included life as an active duty Marine. Most of them were from the perspective of a young military wife who is constantly left behind, and the husband who tries to balance love for country and service with love for his wife. It was important to get it right. What about leave time and dwell time? How many tours and how long was realistic? I turned to my best resource on the subject of all things military: my good friend Rose, a military wife, mother and sister-in-law of both the Army and Marine branches.
It turns out that all of the authors I interviewed are either in the military (Jessica), and have friends and relatives who have either been in the military or still are. But there are many other ways to do your research. Cora reads biographies of military men to get into their mindset. Sharon does as well, and also watches films in a frame by frame analysis. And Marina talks to military vets.
When it comes to PTSD, an oft-used character issue and obstacle to happily ever after, Jessica reminds us how important it is to get this right. “I would love to see people do better research before they start writing about combat induced PTSD. There’s so many bad caricatures about PTSD—do your homework and get it right. Don’t cheapen the real sacrifices of our brothers and sisters by trivializing PTSD and the real challenges people who live with it face.”
I couldn’t agree more!
Pick Your Branch
Without a doubt, most military romance centers on SEALs and other special force’s teams. Both Sharon and Cora have a popular series based on SEALs heroes, and for good reason. They are immensely popular with readers.
As Sharon says, “I am in awe of the men who are SEALs, and the women who are strong enough to love them. I believe they are America’s finest and will always portray them in this fashion. We know real life is different than my fantasy, but I will always write them as the hero, a common man who can do uncommon things.”
Cora likes to give attention to all of the military branches, and Marina writes about former Army and Marine special forces because those are her connections. Jessica writes what she knows, and interestingly enough, she strives to make her real life ‘wild’ stories more believable. As we all know, unlike true life, fiction has to make sense.
I chose to write about a service branch that is not quite as prevalent in military romance, the Air Force. But hey, can I help it that I find pilots sexy? Since my books are set as the men are adjusting back into civilian life, my research has involved interviewing current pilots at my small south county airport. I also have an author friend and CP, Lee Kilraine, whose husband is a former AF pilot. She’s had him answer many questions for me, and I received a short history lesson behind the term ‘Mach’ speed.
Some may not picture the Air Force hero as the sexiest of Alpha males, but come February I hope I will prove otherwise.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve learned from the experts what it takes to write a successful military romance.
Now, go forth and write all the words!
Do you have a military romance in the works? Any tips you can share with us?
FOREVER WITH YOU – Starlight Hill Series Book 5
She forgot something on the way to the courthouse …
Sophia Abella has a good life, even if she is a little stuck. Not quite single, not quite married, she keeps men at a safe distance. But when her ex-Marine husband returns to town and takes the job of chief of police, it might finally be time to get that paper work done once and for all. After all, most of her family already thinks she’s divorced.
They’re not actually, in the fullest sense of the word … divorced.
Years ago, Riley Jacobs chose the Marine Corps over his wife and has regretted his decision every day since. But once a Marine always a Marine, and he’ll use every tactical advantage he has to get Sophia to realize that she’s the only one for him.
Love and marriage … take two
Bio: When early onset stage fright dashed dreams of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status, Heatherly Bell tackled her first book in 2010, and now the people and voices that occupy her head refuse to leave. She no longer sings unless you count randomly bursting into song to annoy her children (and the dogs).
If she were not an author, Heatherly maintains she would be a detective and a criminal’s worst nightmare. She watches Dateline every Friday night and takes notes.
Heatherly lives in northern California with her family, including two beagles, one who can say ‘hello’ and the other who can feel a pea through several pillows. To learn more about Heatherly, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
- Military Romance 101 – More than Tales of Soldiers and Sailors by Willa Blair
- Author Cross Promotion: Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends – by Heatherly Bell and Amy Lamont
- Writing Marine Heroes – Get the few, the proud, the Marine, just right – with Patrick Haggerty
- Part Two: Reflections on my First Year as an Indie Author by Heatherly Bell
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for April 23-27, 2012 – Jessica Scott, Sherry Thomas, Jack Russell & Tracey Devlyn!