I’m a woman. I’m a civilian. I’m not a testosterone-fueled man. I’m not career military personnel. In light of all of those points, I do one thing to help me write my military characters…I talk (on IM, by phone, on Skype, etc) to active duty, career military personnel as often as possible. Below, paraphrased because I don’t always take notes during these conversations, is what I’ve heard some of them say…
1) “They came by the shop today asking for volunteers to go be door kickers in Afghanistan. If I was 10 years younger I would have volunteered to go.” …Let me interpret this statement for you. This was about 4 or 5 years ago, before the troop reductions had begun. This active duty Marine, nearing his 20 year mark, was safely stationed in the US. Someone from the Corps came to his squadron to ask for volunteers to go to Afghanistan and become part of a team whose job was to literally kick down doors to inspect the residences and search for insurgents, and men were going, while others who didn’t volunteer wished they could.
2) “I had to pull one of my guys off the Afghan det. He’s really pissed.” This was just last month. A Staff Non-Commissioned Officer is explaining how one of his troops was scheduled to go to Afghanistan this summer with the rest of the squadron, but for some reason he can no longer go and now this Marine is upset because instead he will have stay in the rear, safely in North Carolina.
3) Just a few months ago, another Marine was about to leave in January for Afghanistan when he went to Medical with severe back pain. He was told if his condition didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be able to deploy with the rest of his unit. He was nearly inconsolable about that. He said, “Now I’ll never get to go. We’ll be out of Afghanistan by the time the next det goes.” He did everything he could to heal and though he didn’t get to deploy with the advanced unit as he’d hoped, he did get to go with the main unit and is there now.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’m seeing reader reviews of ONE NIGHT WITH A COWBOY in which the reader doesn’t understand why the hero would volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan when events at home in Oklahoma make him believe it would be beneficial for him and the woman he cares about if he could separate himself from her for 6 months and then come back. It’s not a large amount of reviewers who say this, it’s just a few, but in my mind, even 1 is too many. 2 reviewers called his motivation “juvenile” and “infantile”. A couple of others thought it wasn’t a believable scenario he’d volunteer to go to Afghanistan. Sometimes that disbelief is because he ends up in a pretty hellacious region of Afghanistan. What we have to realize is this, soldiers don’t get to pick where they end up going. You say you’re willing to deploy, they don’t let you choose which base. This isn’t Club Med. “Kandahar or Korengal? Both are lovely this time of year, though I must say the food is better in Kandahar…”
These men I discuss above are the men I based Tuck’s character on. It’s their motivation I tried to capture.
I know the failure is mine as an author that I didn’t convey the above motivation better in the story. If I’d done my job, Tucker’s motives wouldn’t be questioned, he wouldn’t come across to some readers as a bratty child picking up his toys and leaving when things get tough. My only excuse is I failed to remember that not everyone has my experience with these kind of men. Not every reader is getting the “Good morning, Sunshine” instant message that I get from the war zone on the other side of the world at night before I go to bed. Not every reader is waking up the next day to another message about how, now that the day is done in Afghanistan, it’s been a hell of a day and he’s heading to bed hoping tomorrow will be better. Not every reader can hear the disappointment in the voice of the man who just got told he can’t go with the rest of this squad. And that’s my fault for not realizing that and writing that better into the story. I’ll try not to make the same mistake in future books should I choose to focus on a military character again. For now, I hope this helps to give readers who haven’t had the same experiences I have a little insight into what I see, and what I’d hoped to convey.