Military Theme Week Kickoff: A Talk With Military Romance Writer Kris Michaels
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I’ve got a big post today for you lovely Lady Smutters, but before we get started on the awesome that kicks off our Lady Smut Theme Week, some quick housekeeping: I will be on vacation for the next three Mondays as I head out to San Diego for some sun, fun, and Navy-boy watching (it’s a competitive sport in those parts, I hear), and also, of course, the RWA National Conference. But you will hardly even miss me because I am delighted to announce a pair of outstanding authors who are going to guest post while I’m away.
On July 11th, award-winning author Cara McKenna will be taking over Lady Smut. We are huge fans of her sexy, complex, thought-provoking novels (do a search of her name to find past relevant posts). Her newest menage novel Downtown Devil is already burning up the Lady Smut bloggers. Then, on July 18th, USA Today bestselling author Megan Crane will be guesting. I went total fan grrl over her foray into biker novels, Make Me Burn from the Deacons of Bourbon Street series, and recently reviewed her new apocalyptic series about Viking marauders, which include the upcoming third book in the series, Edge of Control. Can’t wait for these exciting writers to add their unique stamps to the Lady Smut community!
Now onto Theme Week!
It’s Military Theme Week on Lady Smut! We’re celebrating the release of Lady Smut blogger Alexa Day’s new novella Passing Through, part of the military anthology Hero to Obey: Twenty-Two Naughty Military Romance Stories featuring 22 sexy novellas by bestselling authors.
Military heroes (and heroines, of course) are a hugely popular sub-genre in Romancelandia…and with us here at Lady Smut, as you’ll see this week. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to author Kris Michaels whose series, KINGS OF GUARDIAN, features all kinds of military connections and not only of the hero variety. What’s more, Michaels writes from experience as she served in the military for many years before turning her skills and expertise to the page. After reading her first three books in the series, I invited her to join us here on Lady Smut for Military Theme Week to talk about writing in this super popular sub-genre and how much real life inspires her military romances.
KIERSTEN HALLIE KRUM: Welcome Kris Michaels! Thanks for joining us here at Lady Smut. Tell us about your series, KINGS OF GUARDIAN.
KRIS MICHAELS: Hi! Thank you for having me! So, Guardian in a nutshell? Well, to paint the big picture, Guardian Security is the empire owned by David Xavier, a recluse billionaire. The private security company handles all types of security operations, both international and domestic. They are the absolute best at what they do. No single nation or governmental agency sanctions Guardian Security—but all use them. Guardian works to free Americans from desperate situations, to protect humanitarian efforts around the world, and to provide safe passage and secure environments for VIPs and dignitaries of all nations. On occasion, they are authorized to take out some nasty bastards that nobody else can touch—legally. The Kings are a family of five brothers and three sisters who all work, in one capacity or another, for Guardian. The series follow each of the siblings and revolve around a central element which pulls all the stories together.
KHK: Rumor here at Lady Smut headquarters is that you’re an Amazonian military bad-ass yourself…Truth?
KM: Ha. Bet I owe Elizabeth SaFluer for that question. I served in the military, so yes, my kids can say their mother did wear combat boots. And I’m 6′2″. Am I Amazonian? Perhaps, based on height alone. Bad-ass? Meh…not so much.
KHK: What about the men in your sphere? Is it true your husband and guy friends are also impressive, military bad-asses? If so, are they all taken? (Just kidding) (Kinda).
KM: LOL! I met and married The Cop, aka my husband, while we were serving together overseas. I’ll let him know someone suggested he was a military bad-ass. Or maybe I won’t. He’d be impossible to live with! Sorry, all my guy friends are all happily married, and yes, most have served in the military or are police officers.
KHK: Dammit! Always too late! So, what about offspring? Your kids must be fearsome…or perhaps fearless? Are they mini-bad-asses in training?
KM: Mini? At 6′7″ and 6′5″ they are anything but mini! The Cop and I demanded they go to college and have a profession outside the military. The oldest just finished medical school and the youngest is entering law school.
KHK: Holy crap, “kids” no more, for sure. Tell us, what were the elements of your military career that inspired you to write hot, alpha special-ops kinds of heroes? What inspires you to write your complex, intelligent heroines?
KM: I’m not sure I can pick one point in time and say, hey, that’s it. My life experiences, as a whole, influence everything I do. But honestly, I started writing because I bought and read a popular series that…well, suffice to say it didn’t really impress me. I thought to myself, you can do better than this! So, I started writing. I try to describe people the way I see them. No matter who you are, you have an internal strength that is unique and beautiful. I have met damaged people who persevere against staggering odds. They are so strong, and yet, if you asked them, they would say they are nothing special. Military heroes or intelligent heroines aside, focusing on the inside strength of the character engages everyone at an elemental level. If you can express that dynamic, you can write strong heroes and heroines.
KHK: Are there downsides to the military that you soft-peddle or omit entirely in your writing? If so, what and why?
KM: Honestly, the military is a microcosm of society. All the good and bad is still there, it is just structured and put into a pressure cooker. The dangers are real. The fear is real, and it isn’t glamorous. Life in the military is long hours of hard work and dedicated sacrifice. I write adventure, romance, and drama, but I soft-peddle the aspects that would detract from my ability to entertain my audience.
KHK: What are some of the common mistakes that you see when people write about the military? (I ask while bracing for any potential faux pas in my book, WILD ON THE ROCKS, and its SEAL hero.)
KM: No need to brace! I don’t read looking for mistakes. I actually had to stop and think about this. Really, I can’t single out any one thing other author’s do consistently. I buy a book to enjoy the story. I read it, acknowledge the phrase or scene isn’t the way I would have written it, and press on. I know the culture because it was my life for so long that I pick up on things that most wouldn’t. There are hundreds of little things that people who haven’t served might not catch. For instance, Battle Dress Uniforms have button up flaps in the trousers—not zippers. The respect and status that an NCO vs an Officer would receive is subtle, yet completely different. Oh, wait, I will say that military terminology used wrong immediately pulls me out of a story.
KHK: Your own guys are in a sort of security forces unit, a private military company (PMC) called Guardian, but not actual U.S. military—or at least, not any longer. Did this give you some lee-way you needed in your books to use the proverbial expression “blow shit up”?
KM: Oh abso-fucking-lutely! I built a world where I could have my characters do incredible “oh shit” things. Things that couldn’t happen in the real world.
KHK: Your first book starts out with a dark, really nasty interrogation that ends badly. Perhaps even more shocking, the person being tortured is the heroine, not the hero. Were you uncertain about starting your book there?
KM: I never had a second thought, but then again it was my first book, and I didn’t know not to start it that way. I wanted to catch the reader’s attention and hold it. I always try to start a book with action. Readers typically prefer romances to be on the happier side of life. Has that risk paid off? I wouldn’t know how to write the Guardians any other way. There are so many authors writing wonderful romance stories. My perspective is just one of many. Hopefully, readers will enjoy what I bring to the table.
KHK: The foundation of the KINGS OF GUARDIAN series is the King family, a large group of brothers and sisters, each with a particular spec ops specialty. Do you find that familial connection easier or harder to manage as the series continues?
KM: Each sibling and their spouses are completely different so they are easy to keep separate in my mind. The books track each member of the family through a continuum of a central story line. I find it easy to build each character for their book and present them that way. Ever lose track? Oh, hell yeah. You should see my manuscripts! They are littered with parentheses that I go back and fact check before I send it to my beta readers. “[Check eye color] [Check restaurant name] [SEAL or Green Beret?]” I really do need to develop a spreadsheet!
KHK: What would you recommend as the best ways to research such military-related specialties for a writer who does not have your professional background and personal experience?
KM: Books, magazine articles, interviews, and military periodicals all have great content. Honestly, anyone can write a military story. Learn enough to bring your audience into the story and keep the details to a minimum. You won’t earn or keep a reader because you know what caliber bullet is fired from an M-4. (NATO specs are 5.56 while civilian is .223). But seriously, I’ve read plenty of wonderful books that had amazing character-centered stories with an allusion of a military backdrop. With minimum information, the authors place me in their world and put me in the mood to enjoy the book. They don’t try to win me over with technical jargon and as a reader I’m perfectly happy with that.
KHK: Whenever I read or watch a series with a privatized specialty business like a PMC, I always trip over the “How do they pay for this shit?” angle. PMCs these days are huge corporations with investors, contracts, and balance sheets, and The Kings certainly are amply endowed financially, but do you ever find yourself juggling the realities of a larger-than-life endeavor for a private spec ops company, like the financial and practical logistics
KM: Honestly, I don’t pay attention to finances because I hope I’ve established a premise and built a world where these types of events actually can exist. Logistical pathways in each story are important to me. If you, as a reader, can’t picture something happening, then I lose your buy-in to the story. I spend a lot of time researching for two or three facts to make the story flow.
KHK: I thought it was a gutsy move as a writer to strand three of your Kings in the badlands of Afghanistan for months, separating the hero and heroine for an extended period of time on the page. Was this plot maneuver based on actual experience, a real-life equivalent you used as its basis?
KM: Good Lord no, all my stories are based on complete fiction. I may see something on the news or read an article and pull out a sentence or a theme, and that idea starts the ball rolling. I put on my “What Then” hat and play games with my characters. If I do this…what then? OK, I have them over there and I have a firefight…what then? I need to develop strength of family between the brothers, and I do…what then? My life is way too boring to use as a basis for any story.
KHK: Your heroes and heroines tend to hook up quick and get onto the business of saving the world in one way or another. What do you think is your books romance to action ratio? Which do you find easier to express on the page—the emotion of the romance or the intensity of the action and threats?
KM: Wow. Ratio? As in math? Hell, I have no idea. I put sex in when the characters and the story need the love and compassion, and it where it furthers the story line. I love writing romance based in mystery, intrigue, and suspense. I like to drive the reader to the corner, signal like I’m going to take them on an slow gentle right-hand turn, and then give them whiplash with a sharp left.
KHK: What’s next in the pipeline for you and the KINGS OF GUARDIAN?
KM: Well, I’ve written JACOB, JOSEPH, ADAM, and JASON (newly released in May 2016). Next in line is Jared, then Jasmine. Left in the series are Chief, Jade, Dixon and Drake, Justin, Jewell and Gabriel, but I have no idea what the order will be. Whatever character yells the loudest to be written goes next!
KHK: Any final thoughts to share with Lady Smut?
KM: I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in your blog. I’m an avid reader and love what you ladies have built here.
KHK: Well we loved having you visit! Thanks for spending time with us here at Lady Smut!
You can find out more about Kris Michaels’ KINGS OF GUARDIAN series on her web site www.krismichaels.com.
The summer’s brought two surprises to bar owner Gigi Deane: the former Army Ranger she hired is the perfect barback, and he takes orders in bed as well as he does on the job. Noah Malone’s told her that he’s just passing through, but as the seasons change, can she convince him to make their summer thing a little more permanent.