Recently Matthew had a bit of a chat to Kendall McKenna, writer of military and military werewolf stories about her books and writing, which in her own words, is about a lot more than just romance. He started by asking her why she wrote:
Kendall: I write because I’ve always had stories in my head. I enjoy forming sentences and selecting words that say something specific, or that sound a certain way. I write because I just love to do it. I love being creative and constructing story arcs and developing interesting characters. I love the feeling of completing a story, it’s a powerful sense of accomplishment. It’s also pretty gratifying when readers appreciate what I’ve written.
Matthew: You say you wrote your first story at the age of nine. Can you tell us what that story was about?
Kendall: I suppose it was a form of fanfiction, only I didn’t know what that was at the time. There was a song that was popular, or had been popular in the recent past, I can’t recall. Anyway, I realize now that the song was nonsense. However, back then, I thought it was telling a story in a vague way. I thought it was deliberately non-specific for creative reasons. I was intrigued and I wanted to know the entire story. The only way to do that, was to write my interpretation of the story. And that’s what I did. I incorporated some aspects of the song and expanded on them until I had a full story.
I wrote it in a journal that I kept as a class assignment, and I have no idea where it is now. Somewhere, I have a spiral notebook that holds a Return of the Jedi fanfic that I wrote when I was about 12, but I’m not sure where that is, either.
Matthew: Do you have a personal connection to the military? What makes soldiers your characters of choice?
Kendall: I’m going to get technical on you. Soldiers are army. Marines are Marines, and are a subset of the Navy. It seems nitpicky, but every Marine you’ll ever meet will correct you. A fellow author wrote a story about a Marine and called him a soldier through the entire story, and she gets email from readers correcting her!
I have never served in the armed forces, but I have been around them in some capacity, my entire life. The grandfather I was closest to was a Recon Marine. He was an original member of Third Recon when they were formed in WWII. All the men in my family served in one branch of the military or another. I grew up in San Diego, which has more Navy and Marine bases than I can easily count. Coronado is the home of the Navy SEALs, MCRD is the west coast intake facility for the Marines, Camp Pendleton is the home of First Recon. My social circles growing up and as a young adult always included Marines. Friends married Marines. They have been omnipresent in my life.
When I read a couple of stories that had a Marine (or someone military) as a main character, I was always thrown off by the inaccuracies. From the use of the jargon, to an obvious lack of knowledge about now military training and chain of command works, the stories didn’t ring true for me. I sat down to write one and realized my greatest understanding was of the Marine Corps, so that’s what I wrote. I have a knack for it. The cadence of their speech, the equipment they use, the way a Marine Corps base is laid out, are all things that are a part of my personal knowledge base and easily translate to my writing. I realized I was good at writing these characters and these stories, and that I really enjoyed it.
I was searching for a niche in which to write, and this turned out to be it. Military stories aren’t overly common (frequent, but not common), especially written in the way I write them. Because I turned out to be good at it and it set me apart, I found I enjoyed it. Now it’s become my little niche.
Matthew: What’s harder to write, a fight scene or a sex scene?
Kendall: For me, a fight scene is more difficult. I’m comfortable with sex and using all of the words and terms that go along with it. The narrative used in writing the sex scenes is pretty much the same as the rest of the story, and more closely fits my natural writing style. It’s done with compound sentences and use of all five senses. The characters have a wider view of the immediate world and can have more wandering thoughts.
Action scenes require short sentences. The words used have to be action oriented rather than a state of being. The narrative needs to resemble the action itself, moving quickly and abruptly, relying more on sight and sound than smell and feel, unless explosions are involved! The focus of the POV character is very narrow and very tight. Their minds can’t wander. Writing action scenes requires a change in my natural writing style so they take me longer to write, they require a little more effort, and I tend to revise them more times than the rest of the manuscript.
Just because they’re more difficult to write, I have no plans to reduce the number of them I write and include in my stories. They’re part of what sets me apart from other writers in my genre and I’m pretty proud of that.
Matthew: Do you have any plans to revisit your cops and/or cowboys in the future?
Kendall: I go back and forth about that. I doubt I’ll write Marines exclusively forever. But if I write what I know, I know cops better than I know Marines. I had a plan to write a story about two cops. Then I realized it would be fun to make one of them a K9 handler, which I also know a lot about. After that, I thought it would be fun to write one of them as a Vet. During my research for the werewolf story, I collected a lot of knowledge about military dog handlers so now I’m thinking it would be fun to go that route. Recently, my publisher, MLR, put out a submission request for Average Joes. On one of my social groups, a reader gave me a plot bunny everyone thought I should be the one to write, and it involves a federal agent and a cowboy. So, yeah…eventually!
Matthew: You’ve also got a new book out, involving werewolves. What inspired you to write about them and can you give us a teaser as to what it’s about?
Kendall: The werewolf story that has taken the m/m genre by storm! I DID NOT see that coming. I thought it might do well because paranormal stories are popular right now. I did not anticipate that I had changed up the genre so much, that it would become a ‘must read’.
I literally had a friend, who likes werewolf stories, ask if I thought I could write Marine werewolves. I told her I would try. I sat down and got about 6,000 words written and realized I did have an entire story to tell. 95,000 words later, I had Strength of the Pack, and ideas for two more stories.
I don’t read shifter stories, so I wrote this blind to the usual conventions and tropes. My werewolves serve openly in the military, side-by-side with humans. They are not only accepted, they are revered because they are fierce warriors. A human platoon commander finds himself in charge of werewolves for the first time, and he’s in over his head. At the same time, he and one of his NCOs are growing closer emotionally, but he’s resisting, out of a sense of duty. Ancient history and legends come into play as the two grow closer. Most of the story takes place in a combat outpost in Afghanistan.
Matthew: Now I understand we have an excerpt to share with our readers. Would you mind introducing it for us?
Kendall: Sure. Lieutenant Lucas Young is a Marine Corps platoon commander. His senior NCO is Sergeant Noah Hammond. They are very strongly attracted to each other, but Lucas keeps putting responsibility and duty and honour first. The werewolves are about to embark on their monthly full-moon-run, and Lucas considers it his duty to stand watch in case of trouble. He’s never seen a run before, so this is all new to him. The last thing Noah has expected was his platoon commander to take having werewolves in his command quite so seriously.
So, they’ve gathered for the run and Lucas tires to learn about werewolves and Noah tries to learn about Lucas.
Lucas pulled his SUV into the parking lot. The sun blazed orange and hung low over the ocean, streaking the sky with shades of red and purple. Lucas estimated it was about forty-five minutes before sunset. There were several vehicles already parked, but Lucas knew there would be many more rolling in.
Noah was easy to spot, leaning against the spare tire of a Jeep, legs crossed at the ankles. A thrill ran the length of Lucas’ spine as he took the parking place beside the Jeep. Stepping out into the still warm evening, he realized he wouldn’t need the jacket he’d brought.
“I will admit, Lieutenant,” Noah said by way of greeting, “I didn’t think you’d actually show up.” His eyes were glittering silver.
“I said I would, Sergeant,” Lucas replied. “Why would you doubt it?”
“Not a mistake I will make again,” Noah drawled laconically.
Lucas knew there was more meaning behind that statement than was immediately obvious. He held out the clipboard with the roster of werewolves expected to show tonight. “Do you already have one of these?”
Noah glanced at the list and back up into Lucas’ eyes. “I won’t need that, sir. But if it makes you feel better to use it as a back-up, by all means.”
He knew Noah was laughing at him, and Lucas bristled. “You can keep track of exactly who shows up tonight and if they make it back in the morning, without writing anything down?”
“Yes, sir, I can.” It was a simple statement of fact, devoid of any arrogance.
“Since we’re off duty, we can set rank aside for the evening,” Lucas said, wondering at the wisdom of his words even as he spoke them. “Explain to me how you keep track of such a large group of shifters.”
“Yes…Lucas,” Noah replied. His face was expressionless, but his voice was laced with humor. “At the end of the night there will be two distinct scent trails for everyone who turns out for the run. If there’s any trail that goes out but doesn’t return, I’ll use that to track down the missing werewolf.”
Lucas ignored the tug of attraction he felt at Noah’s subtle amusement. “Does that happen often?” he asked brusquely.
“No, Lucas. Not very.”
Lucas suppressed a shiver at the husky, suggestive way Noah said his name. It had to be due to his impending shift into wolf form. He watched as Noah’s nostrils flared slightly.
“When it does,” Noah continued. “It’s usually a case of someone misjudging how far out they’ve run. Occasionally, I have to deal with trapped legs or lacerated paw pads.”
Lucas thought of how Noah always seemed to be scenting him. “Is that how you all keep track of each other?” He silently chastised himself for hoping he was something special.
Noah’s eyes narrowed as he studied Lucas for several seconds. “Are you asking if every werewolf is able to differentiate between over a hundred individual scent trails and identify the age of each trail?”
Not really. “Yes.”
The abrupt answer took Lucas by surprise. He waited for Noah to elaborate but quickly realized he didn’t intend to.
“So it’s a skill unique to Alphas?” Lucas persisted.
“Having the ability to monitor several different scent trails contributes to an Alpha being able to successfully lead a pack.”
Lucas forced himself to be patient. It was like pulling fucking teeth. He decided to meet Noah’s silence with his own.
Finally, Noah pushed off from the Jeep and said, “True Alphas can track and monitor larger packs. It manifests naturally; we don’t have to develop it.”
Lucas nodded thoughtfully. That was a hell of a useful skill to have.
“Listen up,” Noah suddenly shouted, causing Lucas to jump. “Everybody check in and out with my Lieutenant, here. He’s standing Sentinel, so make it easy for him.”
Lucas looked around, abashed that the parking lot had begun to fill up while they’d stood there talking, and he hadn’t noticed. How such a large group had remained so quiet baffled him.
As the Marines passed by, each one called out his or her name. Lucas checked the first box for each one on his alphabetized list. The entire process went quick and smooth. As the group checking in dwindled, Lucas turned to find Noah kicking off his shoes.
“Now what?” Lucas asked, surprised at his own informality.
Noah opened the back of the Jeep and pulled out several plastic tarps that he handed off to other Marines. “We walk out into the setting sun, get naked and shift into wolves.”
Lucas’ mouth went dry at the mental picture of Noah stripping himself naked. “And the tarps?” he asked distractedly.
“Nobody likes putting on clothes that have lain in the dirt all night.” Noah’s grin made Lucas’ chest tighten.
“Of course,” Lucas replied, wondering when he’d lost the power of deductive reasoning.
The large group had almost all moved out into the growing dusk. “I should warn you; some of us are going to show back up in different states of…arousal,” Noah said, looking like he was avoiding meeting Lucas’ eyes. “There could be squabbling. There will definitely be some fucking. It’s typical. Just ignore it.”
Lucas wasn’t sure how to respond. He stared wordlessly at Noah for several long moments. “Seriously?”
“Ever been in combat?” Noah asked, finally looking directly at Lucas with his silver eyes.
“Yes.” Lucas wondered what that had to do with anything.
“Similar reaction,” Noah replied.
Lucas suddenly understood. “Copy that.”
“Are you really going to sit in your car all night waiting for us to come back?” Noah asked abruptly.
Why was this so fucking hard to believe? “I’ve got a book, a thermos and a cell phone. If something goes wrong out there, send someone with a message, and I can get help.”
Noah gave a slight shake of his head. “Are you for real?” he muttered.
“Excuse me?” Lucas had no clue how to answer, or if he even should.
“The first of us should start showing back up just as it gets light,” Noah said over his shoulder as he walked into the dark, his hips rolling slowly, broad shoulders cutting a defined silhouette.
Lucas locked down the sudden spike of lust that rocketed through him. “What’s the appropriate thing to say, right now?” he asked, hoping levity would dispel the sudden awkwardness. “Good luck? Stay safe? Play nice with the other wolves, and don’t pick up any strange fleas?”
Noah stopped in his tracks and slowly turned back. Lucas was sure he’d crossed some sort of line of inappropriateness. He mentally berated himself for openly flirting with an NCO under his command.
Relief washed over him when Noah suddenly grinned. “I wondered if there was any spirit to go with that brain.”
Lucas stayed rooted to his spot, speechless, blood thundering in his ears, as he watched Noah walk into the darkness.
Brothers in Arms is out now from MLR Press as an ebook. You can find Kendall at her website, be her friend on Facebook, or stalk her on Twitter.
Kendall was born and raised in Southern California, where she still lives and works. A non-conventional relationship has kept her happy for the last decade. Her four dogs enjoy it when she writes, as she sits still long enough for them to curl up around her.