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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Leaping into Military Romantic Suspense

by M. L. Buchman

I didn’t set out to write military romantic suspense. I was a fantasy and thriller writer, though always with “strong romantic elements.” After all, what’s more fun that a love story? Right, my point exactly.

So there I was, writing a foodie thriller entitled Swap Out! When I needed my hero to be rescued from a Chicago high-rise by a kick-ass helicopter. I knew nothing about helicopters, so I started researching them. Meanwhile, a kick-ass heroine shows up in [helicopter] (square brackets are how I, as a writer, tell myself, “Research this later, and fix it right here, but don’t stop writing now.”) She isn’t his love interest, instead she’s…well, that’s a different story.

Bottom line, there I am learning about helicopters on the side of my foodie thriller. And in my research, I learned about a great deal of truly intriguing technology. Then I stumbled on the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, who call themselves the Night Stalkers. These are the dudes who fly secret missions for much of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, including the raid on bin Laden’s compound among hundreds of much less publicized events.

And here I think is where one of the great joys of being a writer pays off, and one of the great secrets of writing as well: I went down the rabbit hole. I was intrigued and I followed that curiosity I followed it all the way down to the transfer application (because you can’t even apply to fly for SOAR without at least five years helicopter experience in the Armed Forces.)

On the transfer application, there used to be a little box that said, “Men only.” (That only changed recently.) I had been wanting to write a true romance for some time and I’d actively been hunting for a story to tell. And in that instant, I had the key to all of my military romantic suspense writing:  

The first women to fly for the Night Stalkers, 
and the men they deserve.  

With that as my motto, I launched into writing and was an overnight success.

Not really, just kidding.

What I launched into was two years of research into every aspect of SOAR, helicopters, and most importantly the stories told by the men of Special Operations Forces. For in a romance, the most important thing is getting the character right and that constituted the bulk of my research reading and interviews.

I have come to love my women who fly to battle in "The Night Stalkers" series and fly to fight forest fires and worse in my "Firehawks" series. Perhaps the most surprising lesson for me in all of this has been learning a deep, deep respect for the men and women who choose to serve in the U.S. military, especially those who serve at the tip of the spear in our Special Operations Forces.

To this day, I research nearly as many hours as I write, always seeking authenticity while still honoring both the military I have discovered, balanced with the demands of the love story that is what I set out to tell in the first place.
coming Sept 2, 2012
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7 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

So that's how it all got started - well, the military romance part. I'm always intrigued by how writers find their stories and characters. Even now you spend about half your time researching? Amazing! But then I'm very glad you do. I know when I sit down to read a M.L. Buchman book it is authentic. Thanks, Matt!

M. L. Buchman said...

Hi Judith,
Curiously enough, just last night I happened to figure out my detailed research time vs. writing time. Over the last 8 months I researched 20 minutes for every hour I write! Now that research includes a bit of class time, but it's mostly reading the latest news, books, memoirs, etc. I am limited to only a few fiction books a month because of all of the cool non-fiction I've discovered to read. Write what you're passionate about.

Pippa Jay said...

Research is so much fun! And I do the same thing, write and leave myself little notes in brackets to research this or look up that. And funny how it can lead to writing a different genre to the ones we started with.

Pippa Jay said...
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Pippa Jay said...
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M. L. Buchman said...

Hi Pippa,
I love research, but it is a real rabbit hole. The catch is, I now have something of a reputation for "realistic" worlds in my books which takes much more effort than you'd think.

And yes, I write in four or five genres now. My thriller led to romantic suspense which led to contemporary romance, but it also led me back to thrillers in a broad loop with my latest release "One Chef!" (and I started out in SF/F, released 2 just last year).

And if you want research craziness, my trad. publisher just gave me a contract for 4 different rom sus series in a 4 book contract. That should be wild!

Sarah Raplee said...

Fun and interesting post, Matt!