My Marley Clark Mystery Series features a 52-year-old retired military intelligence officer. Marley is a widow who works part-time as a security guard for an island community off the South Carolina coast. She’s smart, fit, feisty and sexy. A great, fun character to put in danger and drop into romantic entanglements.
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But, given this month’s military romance focus, I decided to research what is happening with real-life active-duty military heroines and see how the challenges they face might lend themselves to plots. After looking at a variety of statistics and news articles, I came away with a wealth of possibilities for romantic suspense (my genre) as well as contemporary, historical, inspirational, and even young adult romance. (The YA options would focus on a teenage son or daughter with a deployed, active-duty mother.)
Below I’ve listed a sampling of inspiration sources followed by plot ideas. I greatly admire the women who serve our country, and I think they deserve to “star” in just as many romance novels as their male military counterparts.
INSPIRATION: HIGH DIVORCE RATES—Active-duty military women have higher divorce rates than male counterparts. The 2013 percentages for active duty divorces are: women-7.2%; men-2.9%. Military marriages have many stressors—deployment, extended separations, frequent relocation. For women, an extra burden is that civilian “military husbands” often don’t receive the same support and sympathy that “military wives” receive. In fact, they may be looked down upon as “less manly” if they care for home and children while their wives head off to danger zones. This can exacerbate tensions on the home front.
PLOT OPTION: A divorced career officer fears history will repeat itself if she falls in love with and marries the civilian who is steadily tearing down her defenses.
INSPIRATION: SEXUAL ASSAULTS—The statistics are debated, but there’s clearly a problem. According to one study, every hour of every day three service women suffer coerced and abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault or rape. In 2012,Active Duty members who were surveyed anonymously revealed 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact.
PLOT OPTIONS: A woman who has suffered an attack finds unexpected support from the best friend or brother of her attacker. Can she trust him?
INSPIRATION: SERVICE WOMEN IN HISTORY—Women have served in every conflict from the Revolutionary War on. In earlier conflicts, nurses outnumbered women in other roles on the battlefield. However, women have also served in many other capacities—supply, communications, intelligence gathering.
PLOT OPTIONS: Pick your favorite era and research the possibilities. I’m thinking a saboteur in the Revolutionary War or a bilingual telephone operator in World War I.
INSPIRATION: NEW COMBAT ROLES—Combat infantry roles are scheduled to open to women in 2016. The Army is now conducting tests to set physical fitness standards. (There have never been standards for men before.)
PLOT OPTIONS: A woman taking part in the testing is attracted to a fellow soldier who seems to admire her and applauds her efforts but strongly believes women should NOT be given combat roles. Can they find common ground?
I’m working on my next Marley Clark Mystery—With Neighbors Like These—which I hope to release later this year. However, once I get Marley squared away, I may just take a more serious look at one of these possibilities. I’m sure Marley would approve.