Back in early 1995, my good friend Eric called me and told me to run — immediately — to the library and read a Newsweek article on US Navy SEALs BUDS Training and Hell Week
I remember sitting on the floor in the library, between the stacks, reading this article about these amazing men and thinking, “Oh. My. God.” I knew right then and there that I could create a miniseries for Silhouette Intimate Moments about a fictional team of Navy SEALs that would be a) outrageously fun to write and b) potentially endless.
I photocopied the article, and grabbed every book I could get my hands on about Navy SEALs. (There aren’t that many out there, and most of them deal with the SEALs participation in Vietnam.)
After I read as much as I possibly could, I began to sketch out my ideas for my fictional SEAL Team Ten and its Alpha Squad.
In setting up the first three storylines (and since good things come in threes, I decided to start with a trilogy), I took what I knew from my research and reading about Navy SEALs.
First, SEALs work in very small teams of seven or eight men. Much of their work is covert. That means, unlike what you see in most movies, they DON’T go in with their guns blazing. In fact, they use stealth, slipping into a location unnoticed. They usually leave just as quietly, with no one knowing they’ve been there — at least not until the bridge or the oil well or the ammunition warehouse blows up! I recently read a really great article which stated that SEALs specialize in NOT discharging their weapons, and “the minute they start shooting, (that means) something has gone terribly wrong.”
More of what I knew from my research: Working together, SEALs bond tightly with their teammates. They trust each other with their lives — they have to! Rather than being individual Rambo-types, they must learn to work as a team, using their knowledge of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses to make their team perform at top efficiency. They rely on each other to be better as a team of seven men than they could ever be as seven individuals.
Most SEALs are alpha males. They are take charge types who prefer to take action. They’re in topnotch physical shape — the PT requirements for qualifying for BUDS training are intense. They’re also usually incredibly intelligent and top scholars.
It’s extremely difficult to become a SEAL. It’s tough to get into the program, and during BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training, it’s often the case that more than 70 percent of the class will ring out or quit. Men who make it through BUDS and become active duty SEALs are usually intensely motivated and highly driven.
Okay. So I took that basic information and applied my number one rule of creating romantic heroes. I believe that in order to create truly wonderful, compelling romantic heroes, I have to set up a situation in which that character will really suffer. In fact, the question I ask myself as I’m doing my preliminary sketching of my characters and the story is “How can I make my hero suffer the most?”
You think I’m kidding, but I’m not!
As I sat there thinking about my potential Navy SEAL trilogy, I thought to myself, “What would be the three most difficult things for a SEAL to deal with?” Here’s what I came up with:
Number One: Being forced to be passive. To act as a target or bait. And that’s exactly how I tormented my hero in PRINCE JOE, in which commanding officer Lt. Joe Catalanotto is forced to take on the persona of a visiting European prince who’s being targeted for assassination by terrorists. Joe has to rely on FInCOM agents to protect him. He’s supposed to stand around with a big target on his forehead and duck and run for cover if any danger pops up. I figured this ought to provide a great deal of misery for a man who’s used to running toward danger!
Number Two: Separate the SEAL from his team. In FOREVER BLUE, Alpha Squad’s executive officer, Lt. Blue McCoy goes home to South Carolina for his step-brother’s wedding to his own former high school sweetheart. While there, he finds himself framed for that very same step-brother’s murder. And when he tries to call Joe and the rest of Alpha Squad for help, he finds that the team’s out of the country on a training op. Blue is completely on his own. (And he’s forced to accept the help of a woman, to boot!)
Number three: Injure the SEAL and make it impossible for him to remain on active duty. I did this in FRISCO’S KID, one of my favorite TDD books. Alan “Frisco” Francisco’s entire identity comes from his status as a US Navy SEAL. In his eyes, if he’s not a SEAL, he’s a failure, and just a few steps away from following his alcoholic father’s footsteps to complete worthlessness. After a terrible knee injury, he can barely even walk, let alone do the physical kinds of activities a SEAL needs to be able to do. He’s lucky he didn’t lose his leg, and he’ll never be an active-duty SEAL again. As you can imagine, this situation was quite a challenge for Frisco, who at first didn’t believe that his injury was permanent. Talk about suffering!
So there they were. My first three story ideas for this miniseries.
My editor liked the overall idea and gave me a green light for the first book, which I’d named PRINCE JOE. (My friend Jodie came up with the “Tall, Dark & Dangerous” name!)
My editor and I knew shortly after PRINCE JOE was released that the series was going to be a hit. I started working on three more books in the TDD series, including HARVARD’S EDUCATION. Nearly everyone who wrote to me about PRINCE JOE wanted to see more of Harvard.
Harvard was African American, and although there had only been one other IM with characters of color (!!!!!!!!), my editor warmed to the idea right away. With her help, we made sure the art department delivered a cover with a picture of a very tall, very handsome, very black man with a shaved head. Well, okay, the guy on the cover of HARVARD’S EDUCATION is a little young, but he’s close enough! (I was adamant that I didn’t want Harry Bellafonte — as nice looking as he is — on the cover of Harvard’s book!)
When EVERYDAY, AVERAGE JONES came out in 1998, I started getting lots of mail about Lucky. Readers were fascinated by this completely obnoxious ladies’ man. “I can’t wait until Lucky gets his,” they’d write. “I hope you really make him suffer!”
I consider the third trilogy of TDD books (THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE, IDENTITY: UNKNOWN and GET LUCKY) to be Lucky’s trilogy. He plays an important part in both TAB and I:U. And, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that I fleshed out both Bobby and Wes in these three books, giving them a little backstory, as well.
Oh, yes, I had plans for them…