Today we get to learn more about bestselling author Rogenna Brewer, who has a new book out with The Seal's Special Mission. Since her insights are fascinating, let's get started. If you leave a comment I'll enter you in a drawing for one digital copy of the May SuperRomance Bundle 2 that includes Ro's The Seal's Special Mission, my Navy Rescue, and Mary Sullivan's Always Emily. Enjoy!
Why do you write romance, and military romance in particular?
I was the girl in high school who carried a book—usually a Harlequin Presents, sometimes Stephen King—along with her schoolbooks. I read between classes, in class between bells and often got in trouble for having my nose stuck in a book.
From the time I was eleven there was never a doubt in my mind that I would one day write for Harlequin.
Then I joined the Navy, discovered boys and got married.
My husband was out to sea, a lot! While he was cruising the world, I was home alone with two boys under the age of three and a third on the way.
Just before his last cruise—which was going to be a long one, seven months—we were standing on the Golden Gate bridge saying our goodbyes and I made the off handed comment that I could be pregnant and have the baby all before he returned.
Guess what J
There were no cell phones or social media sites to keep in touch back then. For the first several years of our marriage I wrote long letters, ten and twenty pages a day and not just to my husband.
My mother-in-law called them my novels.
By the time my husband got out of the service I had a daily writing habit, no one to write to and a romantic distance from the realities of active duty.
That’s when I really started writing.
Why did you enlist? Did you think officers had it easy?
No money for college and a high school guidance counselor—shame on him—who stared out the window when I talked of attending college and law school.
I didn’t have a plan for getting there other than to start with community college, find a full time job, a place to live and hope that I could do it all on my own.
Around this time I took an aptitude test that pegged me for librarian or clergy. It sounded like a lifetime of boring and I rebelled big time. The military just happened to be my outlet.
Following my sophomore year in high school, I received an invitation to join the JROTC women’s drill team for tea. It was like cheerleader tryouts, but for geeks, and with nobody trying out, I was a shoe in by virtue of showing up.
For the first time ever I fit in.
I’d taken the ASFAB as part of the JROTC program. The Army recruiter—since I’d taken the exam through Army JROTC—started calling, but wasn’t offering me anything I was interested in. He either had a quota to fill or thought because I’d taken four years of Deutsch I’d make a good dog handler.
Although I think dog handler is a really cool job it just wasn’t me.
I’m a fire sign, but a water lover.
I met with the Navy recruiter and discovered the Navy had a paralegal program. Only it was a long road from Yeoman, which was where I’d have to start. At this point I was still thinking college and law school were in my future and the services have programs to pay for college.
There was a WWII poster behind the recruiter’s desk: Gee!! I wish I were a man. I’d join the Navy. Because it summed up my struggle at the time. I told him if he could get me a copy of that poster I’d sign up.
He was a man who kept his promises and got me a billboard size poster.
It hung on the wall above my bed until my brothers destroyed my room while I was in bootcamp, but that’s another story ;)
The recruiter also got me a paying job in his office for the nine months I had to wait for a Yeoman billet to open up.
So the short story is I joined the Navy for a poster. The long story is, well, you got the gist, but not all it.
What made you leave the service? Do you miss it? What about it has been good for you for a lifetime? What parts are you happy to forget?
So I joined to become a Leagleman, which would have been about five years down the road from yeoman. Bootcamp pretty much sucked. Two-minute showers with eighty women fighting over eight stalls being the least of it.
Our CC—Company Commander—was going through a nasty divorce from our brother company’s CC. She was a miserable witch. I’m told Navy bootcamp isn’t generally that hard. You’re thinking extra push ups. I wish. I think her husband must have fooled around with a recruit at one time because she was hell bent on breaking us.
After that it was Yeoman “A” school. Being new on base is like walking naked through a construction site. Everywhere you go, men out number women and the catcalls can get pretty ugly.
Other than stepping off the bus to the call of “fresh meat”, school wasn’t so bad. And we had weekends off.
My first duty station, Midway Island, holds some of my fondest memories. Though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. My first day went something like this…
“Hey, newbee! I’m leaving. You want to buy my room? A hundred and fifty bucks.”
“I have a room assignment, thank you. Why would I want to buy your room?”
“You don’t want the room they assigned you.”
“I’ll take my chances, thanks.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Seventy-five bucks. I gotta plane to catch.”
“I’m not paying you for government housing.”
I get to my big corner room and it looks like a tornado whipped through it. Two walls of windows—think 1940’s clapboard housing and window slats that work like mini-blinds—half are broken out with glass and dried palm fronds all over the floor. Beds and lockers are overturned. It’s a mess.
Probably hadn’t been lived in for years.
My guess is everyone else paid for a room while I stayed up until two in the morning cleaning before I even had a place to unpack my seabag.
A guy my age, from my state, came knocking around midnight. He helped me set the furniture right. Sounds like a nice guy, huh? I thought so for about six months. He turned out to be a hard lesson that took me almost four years to learn.
I intended to write my first novel on Midway. Remember I wanted to be a writer from the time I was eleven. Settled in under a tree and pulled out a notebook, but discovered a world full of real men and never looked back.
Thank God for Seabees. Turns out, there was furniture all over the island in the abandoned housing slated for demolition. The cheesy office kind, but I snagged a bamboo couch and chairs with matching orange vinyl cushions.
They even carried a bamboo bar half way across the island for me, which I fully stocked for less than $30. Why, because I could. The Navy sold liquor cheap and let me buy it and drink it at nineteen. I wasn’t really a cocktail girl. A beer on the beach or out on the boat was more my speed.
Eventually, I got a roommate and a bar was a cool thing to have for entertaining. Until we got a third roommate who drank us dry on her first day. She spent her first night in the clinic and was shipped off the next day to alcohol rehab.
We didn’t bother restocking the bar.
Midway was a little like McHale’s Navy—sometimes we were stupid, but we had a whole lot of fun. Beach, beer, men—Navy and Coast Guard. The only civilians on the island were a couple of Aussie marine biologists. This was my coming out party.
But not what you might think—every day I got to hang out with honest, hardworking guys who did crazy things to get a girl's attention. Dated a few. Learned a lot about men, how they talked, thought and acted without a lot of women around. And was never once harassed or disrespected.
Chivalry in the military is not dead.
After Midway, DC was a culture shock. Small spaces, smaller people. Lots of pressure to type fast and error free, often with an officer proofreading over our shoulders, even holding the page so it could be ripped from the old Selectric and couriered over to the Pentagon.
Sometimes we even had to courier ourselves.
It was the only job I ever had to “interview” for while in the Navy. Don’t know why I had to interview since I already had orders—though I figured out why once I got there, and it wasn’t for my 30 wpm typing speed—even our social hours were dictated.
DC was a hub of young low-ranking enlisted women and high ranking older men and we were expected to work 12 hour days. Bad, bad combination. Welcome to the world of sexual harassment and politics. I requested a transfer within weeks of my arrival.
I’d already gotten approval for a rate change from Yeoman to Religious Program Specialist while on Midway. The Chaplain had pulled rank on the CO and stole me as his yeoman because I liked hanging out at the chapel and volunteering at the library on my off hours. And those four more years until I could request Legalman were starting to feel further and further away.
Anyway, they’d both written glowing recommendations for me, which is how I wound up in DC. And now I wanted out of there bad. The same commander who denied my transfer later approved it after he got drunk and pulled me into his lap at one of our “mandatory” social events.
And that’s how I wound up finishing out my year in DC at the Naval Intelligence Command in Maryland while I waited for a billet in my new rate to open up.
Awesome group of people at NIC. Half the time I didn’t even know what I was working on. Couldn’t tell you if I did. But I was involved—at a very basic level—with the release of the Iran Hostages. Even met and partied with them the night they hit US soil. It was a very exciting time. And I enjoyed the work immensely.
And then it was back to Florida. Where I spent the next three years working as an RP at the Naval Hospital in Orlando. I attended collage at night and earned a degree in Interior Design.
My first hitch had already ended and my one year extension was coming to an end when I met my husband. He was in Nuclear Power School, near the top of his class. He had his choice of Reactor Schools, which should have been New York, but we were both making stupid decisions to stay together, considering we’d just met. When he picked Idaho for no other reason than it was closer to Colorado, I hitched my wagon to his star and went along to Idaho for the ride.
We got pregnant and married in short order. Eventually, transferred to California. I stuck with the reserves for a couple of years. But soon learned what it was like for both of us to be deployed at the same time with a new baby and another on the way. So I decided it was time for me to let go of the Navy. It was a hard decision, but long over due.
Sometimes I regret not staying in. Mostly we regret that my husband didn’t stay in long enough to see shore duty, but after two years of school and four years at sea, he’d had enough.
Overall my Navy experience was wonderful, but it can be a hard life so that’s why I needed some “romantic distance” before I could write about it. Even just answering these questions for Geri, I find myself going off on tangents and having to reign myself in.
You don’t need to know everything about me. And trust me I haven’t told you the half of it J
What advice would you give to new authors, especially those who want to write military romance?
You can’t imagine, you really can’t imagine what it’s like to have served unless you’ve been there, done that.
That said my experiences are different than my husband’s, Geri’s or anyone else I know. Sometimes the most honest bits I add to my books are those my editor or readers find hardest to believe.
If I wrote about the black market sale of barracks rooms, who’d believe me? And yet it happened.
Also, the post Vietnam era of the 80’s military is different than the Gulf War era military of today. So even I am constantly updating my knowledge.
Just fact-check and make sure what you’re trying to do is in the realm of believable or possible and you’ll do okay.