A writing buddy of mine asked, after I’d read my fifth or sixth book on the subject, “But how much research do you need to do to write a Navy SEAL romance?” If you’re me, turns out you need a lot. When I pitched the idea to Riptide to write WATCH POINT for their charity holiday bundle, I hadn’t written military romance before, much less US Navy SEAL romance.
The first thing I did was read some (heterosexual) Navy SEAL romances to get an idea of what was going on in the genre. Mostly I was disappointed by the lack of Navy SEAL content in these books, but this is often my gripe with romance novels, where the characters’ jobs are just a label applied to them. Their profession doesn’t actually provide a tapestry of rich details for their story to unfold on, and those stories always feel thin and half-finished to me.
If the heroine is a brain surgeon, I expect to learn something about what it’s actually like to be a brain surgeon and how being a surgeon, going through med school, etc… shaped her personality and her worldview. If the hero is a firefighter I expect to learn something about firefighting while reading the book–and he better run into a burning building at some point in the plot.
Ultimately, I found memoirs by Navy SEALs to be great for providing details and backdrop, especially Chris Kyle’s AMERICAN SNIPER, Marcus Luttrell’s LONE SURVIVOR, and Howard Wasdin’s SEAL TEAM SIX. I also learned a lot from BATTLE READY by Mark L. Donald and THE RED CIRCLE by Brandon Webb. I read them all cover to cover, but I still had other questions. For that I ended up delving into a lot of blogs and websites devoted to Navy SEALs, some of which are geared at men who might want to join the SEALs, while others are aimed at their families, or at guys who just want to be as strong, fast, or deadly as a SEAL without actually joining the Navy.
Among the questions that dogged me while I was writing WATCH POINT:
– what kind of shoes/boots do Navy SEALs wear?
– how many SEALs typically work together?
– what slang terms are specific to the SEALs (vs the rest of the Navy, US military in general)?
I wasn’t able to find answers to all my questions in the books and websites, but I hopefully built enough of a unique point of view for Eric, the hero and narrator of the book, that it comes across believable and immersive.
Of course, what’s “believable” in a romance novel can be debated: we expect the reader to suspend some disbelief in order to fully enjoy the thrill-ride of the book. So “believable” can be a moving target, and very much in the eye of the beholder. But here are links to a ton of the online resources I used while writing the book (and which I’ll return to if I ever write a sequel…!):
So here’s a pile of what I learned with links to the online resources:
One thing I had read quite a while ago is that books often make the mistake of having Navy SEALs referred to as “soldiers” whether in the text or in dialogue, i.e. “Do you hear me, soldier?” and that this is wrong. SEALs should apparently never be referred to as soldiers, since they’re in the Navy, they’re Sailors. But since they’re a very specialized part of the Navy, not exactly serving on ships in the same way as someone “sailing,” I wondered if there was another term. The term SEALs seem to use for themselves is “operator.” When they go into the field (or water…) to do something it’s called an “operation” and the men are operators.
“Fuckface: Any person or thing which has a face.”
“Once your soon to be Sailor ships out for Recruit Training Command it’s time to speak the language. Your Sailor will arrive as a SR ( Seaman Recruit ) and after passing battlestations they will be known as United States Sailors. Navy Dads wishes them the best from the first few days when they’re known as smurfs to when you arrive at PIR to seeing them as Sailors. Good luck to them during boot camp and good luck to you learning their language.”
Overall, NavyDads.com has some great resources. They have other glossaries and slang pages, as well.
General Navy Stuff
Navy Boot Camp (not the same as SEAL BUD/S): http://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/navy-boot-camp-schedule.html
“How My Negligent Discharge in Iraq Ruined My Army Career”: https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/05/16/how-my-negligent-discharge-in-iraq-pretty-much-ruined-my-army-career/
Handgun commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the SEALs: http://www.gunsholstersandgear.com/2013/01/20/sig-p226-mk-25-special-edition/
SEAL Life and Experience
SEAL Boots/Footwear: http://sealgrinderpt.com/discounts/top-10-navy-seal-hiking-boots.html/
–As it turned out my question about what kind of boots a SEAL wears was copiously answered by this blog post. The Bates 922 is apparently what’s issued at BUD/S but every terrain and operation requires a different kind of shoe.
SEAL Selection and training: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_SEAL_selection_and_training
Hell Week: https://navyseals.com/nsw/hell-week-0/
A Navy SEAL’s tips for Surviving Hell Week: https://thechive.com/2017/01/31/navy-seal-shares-10-tips-to-train-for-hell-week/
Among the great tips he gave, don’t bulk up with weight lifting: you’ll regret having to carry that muscle mass. Also: “Occasionally pour water in your boots to work out as that is how you will work out at BUD/S (many times). It is good to have drain holes in your boots to drain excess water.”
A SEAL speaks out on training from BUD/S to Teams: http://www.businessinsider.com/current-seal-speaks-out-and-talks-about-seal-training-from-buds-to-teams-2012-6
Among his tips: “Never stand between the Zodiac and the beach. That f***er weighs a ton and comes fast.”
One thing I couldn’t find out anywhere though was do Navy Sailors or SEALs have a nickname for the CRRC/Zodiac? I felt like there must be, but I didn’t find it in the various slang lists. Eventually another writer I know who is married to a Navy officer asked him for me! (Thank you, Kristina Wright!) Zodiac is a brand name, and US sailors more commonly call all the rubber boats “cricks” by pronouncing the acronym CRRC, which stands for Combat Rubber Raiding Craft.
Chamber Ride (exercise in anoxia): http://mfwright.com/chamber.html
SEAL Platoons: http://www.americanspecialops.com/navy-seals/seal-platoon/
Structure of the SEALs: https://navyseals.com/nsw/structure/
The “Budweiser” (trident insignia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Warfare_insignia
History of the Seals 1984-2012; http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/u-s-navy-seals-from-goldwater-nichols-to-the-present-day-1984-2012/
SEAL Frog Bone Tattoo: I decided against giving Eric a tattoo. I read a lot of blogs and articles about it. SEALs who may be captured or do clandestine work don’t want tattoos that could identify them as US military or special forces. Apparently a lot of guys who get the SEAL trident tattoo are fakers trying to make people (usually women they impress) think they are ex-SEALs. Some guys get the trident AFTER they are no longer active on operations. A tradition did start in 2005, apparently, of getting a skeleton of a frog (SEALs are “frogmen”/divers) tattooed if a SEAL in your platoon/squad/team dies, and overall the military are getting much more lenient about tattoos. If I write more books about Eric’s team, at least one of them will have the frog bone tattoo.
At one point in the story our hero refers to a Breitling watch with a 24-hour face and manual wind. There are a bunch of models I looked up. The Cosmonaute is the classic version but there are many others.