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Interview with Ronie Kendig

Ronie Kendig is well known for her “rapid-fire fiction” and for her gripping and well-researched books featuring members of our armed services. The engaging suspense and appealing characters in Ronie’s novels quickly earn the loyalty of her readers, but in addition to telling good stories, this talented author helps her audience to understand the challenging lives of military members who have completed their service.

Ronie, you have recently finished your very popular and award-winning series, Discarded Heroes. Your September release, Trinity: Military War Dog, marks the beginning of a new series, A Breed Apart. Please tell us a bit about this new series and the novel that begins it. What made you decide to go in this unique direction?

A Breed Apart came about through an email from a dear friend. Turns out the email story was a hoax, but it launched me into researching military working dogs. The idea captivated me and very quickly the series was born. My publisher snatched it right up and, here we are—launching Trinity: Military War Dog, the first in the series. Each book in the series will portray a different type of military working dog (MWD). We’re only doing three, but I believe I’ve heard it said that there are over thirty variations in specializations with the MWDs.

In Trinity: Military War Dog, readers will meet Trinity, a Belgian Malinois who went through the months-long training at Lackland, then went through advanced training for the special operations command with her handler, Heath “Ghost” Daniels. The second book, Talon: Combat Tracking Team introduces to readers a yellow Labrador named Talon, who also has PTSD. This is a sad but realistic aspect of war—for both their handlers and the canines. The third book, Beowulf: Explosives Detection Dog will throw one of the toughest, meanest dogs and handlers into the fray. Beowulf is a brindle Bullmastiff who is trained to sniff out bombs and chemical weapons.

In Firethorn, the final novel in the Discarded Heroes series, you explore some of the serious implications of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other issues for returning military members and their families. In Trinity, one of your main characters, Heath, has been sidelined due to traumatic brain injury, which the military calls “the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” How did you become interested in these issues? Besides telling outstanding stories, what do you hope to achieve with these novels?
You’re exactly right—it is the signature wound for our troops because in this war, our heroes have been introduced to a cowardly way of warfare—IEDs. They are left in soda cans, carcasses of dead animals, abandoned vehicles. And the effects are not always visible (scars, missing limbs, etc.). There are the invisible wounds like traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that take a huge toll on our military heroes and their families.

I’ve spent the last four years reading tons of books, pamphlets, online e-zines, memoirs, manuals, etc. about our troops, about what they experience, how they struggle to return to a “normal” that doesn’t exist for them anymore. Over and over I came upon cases of TBI and PTSD, and I feel it is imperative that we civilians gain some semblance of understanding about what our troops go through. With the Discarded Heroes, PTSD is heavily explored (PTSD presents with each character in a different form—anger, addiction, denial, flashbacks, family discord, etc.)

My mission as a writer of military fiction is simple: to open dialogue. I haven’t been there/done that, so I will never know firsthand what it’s like, but I pray that my efforts toward authentic stories and raw characters will open the hearts and minds of readers to think and pray a little more about our military heroes, those serving at home and abroad, and those now retired.

Your novels display a very high level of action as well as high suspense. As a writer, is it ever difficult for you to sustain this hard-hitting pace and tension through day after day of writing?
Balance is always crucial to any story. I once read a book that left me so worn out, I stopped reading. It was a good warning to myself to be careful, to balance the high action, the high suspense, the raw characters, with some well-timed and much-needed relief, either through humor or tender moments.

But sustaining it is not hard for me. I’ve found that I’m a bit allergic to what I call “domestic” scenes—the proverbial kitchen scenes, the drama. . .too much of them, and I’m yawning. Also, if I’m writing and I’m getting bored, then I know it’s time to backtrack, kill the coma-inducing elements, and ratchet it up a gear or two.

How do you learn about or verify the military details you include in your novels? Have you ever wondered whether to use a particular detail due to its potential sensitivity?
There are a plethora of sources out there, if one is willing to take the time and consideration to track them down. Since I’ve been writing military thrillers for the last several years, I’ve built up a base of help, of go-to sources. And that’s just genius because I can ask one of them about something, and if they can’t find the answer, they can find someone who can.

Admittedly, I’m very protective of those sources. I’m also incredibly aware of the danger that can come through divulging too much information—and so are my sources and contacts. I know they won’t give me information that would put someone in danger, and if we broach a topic that is tricky, they let me know. I respect their wishes, so if they say they can’t tell me something, then I move on.

Never, in my life or career, do I want to present material that will put anyone—especially those I’m trying to honor—at risk or danger. While working on the war dogs, I had the opportunity to speak with a special ops dog handler, and in a conversation he started hesitating. Then he told me he was no longer comfortable talking because he didn’t want to put his friends in danger. I told him I didn’t want that either, so we stopped.

Finding sources takes time. It can be frustrating, too, because writers want their material to be authentic, but there’s a line that can be crossed.

Your readers and reviewers often comment about the faraway settings of your novels and your ability to bring them to vivid life in their minds. Presumably, you can’t travel everywhere your characters do. How do you manage to successfully depict settings you haven’t seen firsthand?
This is probably one of the frustrating elements of writing these amazing settings. In fact, I’ve had one of my military sources pretty much tell me, in his opinion, that I should not be writing what I haven’t done or seen. Unfortunately, I cannot globe-trot the way he and others do. So, that’s where my research skills come into play. There are a ton of ways to dig out the information you want, if you’re willing to expend the time and energy to do the work.

First, I backfill my setting by spending hours upon hours reading books, magazine articles, blogs, watching videos, and visiting forums about a location, setting, and/or element of my story. I search for tangible experiences, the quirks of a place, things that readers will connect with. I also try to make contact with people who have been “boots on the ground” at a location. The little things they share can have a huge impact on the realism of your story and bringing authenticity to setting.

And truly, the research never ends. Currently, I’m writing the last MWD book, and I’m still making contacts with handlers and trainers. There is always something new to be learned, no matter who you are. And that’s how I approach my research.

Your bio gives us a hint about your demanding schedule. You home-school, you write a regular column, you are involved in public speaking, in addition to writing your books. Living in Dallas, you are no doubt also involved in ACFW’s 2012 convention at this time. How do you manage your time so that each part of your life—writing, teaching, speaking, and other things—gets its share of attention? What tips can you give beginning writers in terms of managing their time?
Ironically, I just saw a thread on the main ACFW loop about “how do you work full time and write?” The great truth is that there is always something that will interfere with writing. My biggest challenge came this summer when we moved our family halfway across the country to Virginia. It’s the first time our family has lived outside of the Lone Star State, and it’s been very daunting.

For me, yes—I homeschool my kids, I write, and I speak—but I had to just accept that if I wanted to get writing done, I had to write. Life is life and it’s best at throwing hurdles into our path. Our job is to leap over them and just keep going. Satan would love nothing more than for us to stop writing, to stop impacting the world for the Kingdom. It’s not easy for me to say this because I sit here struggling to finish my last MWD novel with a mega-dose of real life smacking me between the eyes, but—we can let those things become a problem (I know. . .I know. . .easier said than done) or we can eke out writing time. It’s an old adage: we find time for what’s important to us. That might hurt to hear or admit, but it’s very true. If you’re called to write, if God has given you the gift to write, then you have the “obligation” to write. Better than that—You GET to write, you get to do what our Lord did—tell stories! If it’s just a paragraph a day—do it. You can’t fix/edit what’s not there.

Your writing career has been particularly active and successful during the past few years. Would you be willing to share something about your journey to publication with our readers?
Absolutely. It’s going to sound cliché, but—I give all praise to the Lord for where I am today. When my “beginnings” were, well, beginning, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. In fact, my first novel released March 2010 and then my second in July. One month later, I’d written my agent asking if I was a failure. And if I was, why one earth had he signed me. I had a major crisis of confidence. And it was in that time that the Lord introduced Himself to me as my Audience of One.

Performance is a trap. “Success” is a trap. As young authors, we’re told—once you get that first contract, you’re golden. The next contract is easy. We’re also told if we hit best seller lists or if we win awards, we’re golden. The next contract—publishers will be fighting over us.

Ha. So not true.

Here’s what is true: If you’ve been asked by the Lord and gifted by Him to write, then your responsibility is to Him, to write the best story you can possibly create. The result is not in your hands. I have bent over backward, nearly killing myself to market, to promote, to thrust my book in the face of anyone who stood still long enough. I’ve seen so many friends do the same thing. All of us chasing the proverbial golden egg.

When I removed my grubby hands from process and went back to what I was called to do—writing—I enabled the Lord to sweep in and do what He wanted (which, has anyone besides me noticed that what WE want and want the Lord DOES are often two different things?) with what I had written.

How does your faith tend to express itself in your fiction?
My faith is in anything and everything I do and approach, so I think the elements of faith in my stories are there. Sometimes, they’re very light, other times, they’re a bit heavier. Because my Christian faith is as much a part of who I am as breathing, it’s inevitable that it will appear in my writing.

What’s ahead for you, Ronie? Beyond this series, what would you like to write?
In all honesty, I’m not sure what’s ahead. There are a couple of proposals that we’re waiting to hear back on, but what I want to write next is what the Lord wants me to write. And I mean that completely because if I’m not in His will, then life is miserable. I’d love to get my space opera (think Star Wars, Firefly) edited and put out there, but I am also very happy continuing on in the military thriller vein that I’ve grown to love.

Thank you so much for visiting with us today!
Thank you so much, Mary! It has been a pleasure!

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