Raised in a military family, Ronie has a B.A. in psychology and has been married to a military veteran for more than 20 years. After a recent move, the author and her family now live in Virginia.
Serena: First off, I have to ask about your first name, just because I've always wondered. So: long "o" or short? And is it a nickname, or given?
Ronie: Too funny! I actually get this question a lot, much to my surprise. It's pronounced just like "Ronnie," though — only the spelling is confusing. And, yes, it's short for Veronica. My mother's Irish family often called me Roni, but I added the "e" on the end to be a little different (and, apparently, difficult).
Serena: You're a self-proclaimed "Army brat" who married a former military man and now you create romantic stories that happen within the lives of military folks. Did you start writing in this direction because of the "write what you know" mantra?
Ronie: Being an Army brat gave me an insider's view on the constant upheaval in the life of a military family. But it wasn't so much what I knewthat compelled me to write military thrillers (I certainly haven't enlisted, nor have I served in combat), but rather what I love — what I admire and respect about those who do. Out of that deep respect and admiration for our military heroes grew a passionate desire to be a voice to raise awareness of what they go through.
Serena: I love how your website goes along so well with your heroes and heroines. Even your tabs have action-packed names like Base Camp (home) and Dossier (Bio). Growing up, were things in your home life referred to by military lingo? And do you use it with your own family — or save it for the books?
Ronie: Sure, my father had some phrases that were distinct to the military, but it wasn't really until I met my then-future husband that these phrases and terms crept into my dialogue. Brian wanted to be career Army, but God closed that door. He has since become a military history buff and spends countless hours inhaling shows from the Military/History channels. He is a firearms instructor, and I think he finds it a little attractive that I can both shoot a weapon and use the lingo the military would use. Brian is my hero, and when I write something, I try to write it in a way that he would enjoy reading. I work very hard to keep the romance elements from being cliché and cheesy, and anything Brian would roll his eyes at gets plucked from the story.
Serena: What made you decide to form a new series around military war dogs and their handlers?
Ronie: You know, it was a bit funny the way this series came about. A dear friend of mine from the first writing group I ever joined sent me an e-mail about this military war dog, whose handler had been captured. It was an incredible story with the dog performing heroic feats to rescue his handler, including killing her captors and sniffing her out in the prison. I was enthralled! Turned out the story was a hoax. But!! That seedling of an idea blossomed into a compelling series about military working dogs and their handlers. Five months after my publisher bought the series, the Navy SEALs' MWD Cairo hit the news for taking down Bin Laden. Soon, the interest in MWDs hit a fevered pitch, and I knew that I'd struck gold with this concept for my series.
Serena: In Trinity, Heath is a former green beret, an MWD handler who, after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a tour in the Middle East, longs to prove he can still do his old job. When this novel was first taking shape in your mind, were you tempted to allow him to succeed, recover, and return to active duty?
Ronie: Honestly? No. And here's why — I believe that life is never easy on us, and if I want my readers to identify with my characters, I need to keep it believable. Therefore, I am pretty hard on my characters. Rel Mollet of RelzReviewz has teased me, often saying my characters run from me. Most people, I think, identify with the person who overcomes. We want to see the person who overcomes insurmountable odds and wins the race because we're searching for a glimmer of hope that there is a chance for us to do the same. To me, there's no story in the guy who has it easy and sails through life. The vast majority of readers cannot identify with that. Ican't identify with that.
Serena: Your heroine, Darci, is an intelligence officer. I loved seeing Heath through her eyes: "Heath hopped down from the stage and Trinity with him. The guy's muscles rippled and stretched his shirt taut. Those were things she should notice as part of her job. Because it told her he had the muscle power to take her down. Of course, it shouldn't elicit a traitorous, involuntary reaction from her body, but it did." What's your favorite part of a romance to create: the initial attraction … or that first kiss?
Ronie: Oh, wow. Is this a trick question? (laughs) I guess I'd have to say that while I love nearly every book's first kiss, to me, the favorite part of a romance is ... well, the romance. The initial attraction, whether it becomes obvious right off the bat or grows through time, and I think the reason I like that is because there are so many ways to show attraction (beyond physical attraction), and it's largely dependent on the characters and the situation. My stories tend to complicate things because there are missions in which the characters aren't concerned with "tingles running up their arms" when they touch because the bigger component is surviving — staying alive.
Serena: At the end of your novel you share the story of a real-life military war dog handler and his dog, Max. Did you meet, talk to, or interview any other handlers (or are you planning to) for this series?
Ronie: Oh Serena, I have to tell you this has been one of my favorite parts of researching this series. Yes, I've met several handlers and I'm still being introduced to some. In fact, I've got a call to make to a trainer out in Yuma. I'm so intimidated by these guys, but I'm determined to warrior on and get the most information I can!
I almost feel like I'm cheating — getting to meet the handlers, the dogs, watching them together, learning about them. All for research. Ah, the sacrifice — but someone has to do it, right? Seriously, it's just amazing. They are so impressive. The dogs have this amazing, keen intelligence in their eyes that is undeniable. They do not miss a thing. I've done enough research not to approach them (without permission, that is; but most handlers will tell you not to pet the dogs; they're not pets). MWDs are lethally loyal — to their handlers. To the mission.
The most surprising thing to me is that, generally, I have found the handlers to be very humble. And with research going on regarding using the dogs as therapy dogs for soldiers with PTSD, I cannot help but wonder if the use of the MWDs in theater helps the handlers themselves cope with the situations.
Serena: Of all the romances you've written, what hero/heroine pair is your favorite? Why?
Ronie: You do realize what my heroes/heroines are trained to do, right? And, in light of that, how dangerous it could be for me to answer this question? (laughs) In the Discarded Heroes series, my favorite pair would probably be Griffin "Legend" Riddell and Kazi Faron. Their chemistry wasn't just a physical attraction, but an intellectual one that had a heaping dose of mutual respect and admiration. In the A Breed Apart series, the decision is much tougher, for some reason. But I'd probably say the (upcoming) story with Aspen and Dane (Talon: Combat Tracking Team) is one of the most beautiful stories — at least to me — I have ever written.
Serena: I will certainly be looking forward to that one! If Heath had to describe Darci in three words, what would they be? (And vice versa.)
Ronie: Heath would say Darci is tough, intelligent, beautiful. But direct, honest, and compelling are the three most likely words Darci would use to describe Heath — if she could stop staring at him long enough, that is.
Serena: Oh, yeah. Heath is certainly worth a good long look! (Serena wipes a bit a drool away.) And he has a great relationship with his dog! As a dog lover myself, I think that says a lot about his character and makes him even more attractive. Er, I mean "direct, honest, & compelling." LOL! Heath's affection for Trinity is so real on the page. How many dogs were hugged by the author over the course of writing this book?
Ronie: (laughing) As many as I could. We currently own two dogs — a 12-year-old Golden Retriever named Daisy and an 8-year-old Maltese named Helo (there's one of those military terms you'd asked about) — and the research I put into the A Breed Apart series also gave me a greater appreciation for my own dogs. While Daisy couldn't tear across a training yard for "bitework," she is as fiercely loyal as Trinity. At times, I think the 5-pound Helo thinks he's a Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd — the little menace has no fear!
Serena: You write, you mentor writers, you homeschool … do you sleep? And if you get a free, unscheduled moment, is there a particular activity (besides the perennial favorite nap) or hobby you indulge in to unwind?
Ronie: Life is so insane, but it's full and I'm happy. My favorite activity is painting my house and/or (re)decorating. I love sewing curtains or slipcovers or pillow covers, too. And since we've moved into this incredible home (it borders on being my dream home, honestly), I have plenty of decorating and painting and sewing to be done! Yay!!
Serena: You have a real heart for the "discarded heroes" at home; soldiers and military personnel who, for one reason or another, have been denied the care and/or respect they deserve. Now you've added MWDs to the list of heroes who deserve recognition. Do you ever hear from readers (obviously not the dogs!) who fall into that "discarded hero" category?
Ronie: You know, this is one of the most touching aspects of getting to write about military heroes. I often do hear from veterans and/or active-duty military who tell me about their experiences. And I do not care what I'm doing or where I am, I will stop and listen. Because far too often and for far too many years, they've been overlooked and ignored, told to "act normal" when their "normal" has changed.
That is what writing is all about for me — opening dialogue for and with our military heroes. I am so humbled that I get to do this!
Serena: And you do it so well! If you were stranded on a deserted island with a military hero from one of your novels, which one would you count on to keep you alive and see that you were rescued?
Ronie: I think I'd have to say Canyon "Midas" Metcalfe from Wolfsbanebecause he was a combat medic, and he's very even-keeled. He's not easily ruffled and he's very intelligent and amazing with survival skills. But don't tell Max (from Nightshade) or Legend (from Firethorn) that I didn't pick them, OK?
Serena: My lips are sealed. Besides, I'm perfectly OK with keeping Max on my deserted island (fans self). Or Heath for that matter — especially if he brought Trinity along! Although you're not currently stranded, you did recently make a cross-country move. Shall I assume that, as an "Army brat," you're a pro at this sort of thing?
Ronie: Boy, this move from Texas to Virginia nearly did me in. There were so very many things that went wrong, and some expensive hiccups, but we are finally starting to settle in.
Serena: But now that you're all settled, you can take a well-deserved breather to get caught up on your Dr. Who episodes, right? So just who, might I ask, is your favorite of the Doctors?
Ronie: Hang on — first I need to cue the sound effects from my Tardis cookie jar before I can answer. OK. Favorite Doctor? Hmm, I'd have to say the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, is my favorite. Admittedly, I really struggled when we lost Christopher Eccleston, but Tennant won me over very quickly. I'm still trying to adjust to the 11th Doctor, but I'm enjoying the storylines.
It's also incredibly fascinating to me — and a bit risky, in my mind — for the producers to not only change the Doctor's companions, but to change the Doctor himself through the series. Typically, that kind of shift (the lead character) could end up jettisoning readers or, in this case, viewers; but the producers/directors have managed to keep the stories compelling and intriguing.
Serena: And do you ever think your own writing might stray into sci-fi land?
Ronie: Oh yes. Yes, yes yes. You've made me downright giddy, Serena, with that question. In fact, I have already "strayed." I'm working on a space opera, one I originally wrote in 2005, to revamp her before she meets the public. My agent and I have talked about it and, considering the temperature of the Christian market regarding speculative fiction, especially speculative fiction with a more sci-fi bent, I'll probably put my series out there myself. But yes — I am a huge fan of Kathy Tyers, Stephen Lawhead, Orson Scott Card, Ted Dekker and many others. I also love supernaturals (Shannon Dittemore is amazing!) and dystopians (Veronica Roth is a fave).
Serena: Your list has a lot in common with my "faves" shelf! I can hardly wait to see what happens when "Rapid Fire Fiction" goes space opera! Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Ronie: Reading and researching about our military heroes, both two-legged and four-legged, is one thing. But I strongly encourage readers to put boots to ground on their support. Volunteer through one of the many organizations or efforts, adopt a soldier to send moral support (through organizations like Soldiers' Angels ), or even consider adopting a retired military working dog (check with your local base and kennel master there). They fought so we can have freedom. The least we can do is show our support. The "Ground Support" tab on my website has more info on how readers can do this.
And last — I love to hear from my readers. I can be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@roniekendig).