Lindsay McKenna comes from a long line of family members who have served in the U.S. military. A Navy veteran herself, she says her writing is inspired by her patriotism and support for women and men in uniform. Her stories draw deeply from her years in the service.
McKenna, who started writing at 13, began to focus on the military in her work because she felt that those who served were unfairly perceived due to antiwar sentiments in the U.S. during Vietnam. In her books, she strives to portray those who serve in the military as emotionally multifaceted human beings—as more than soldiers—whose postservice lives are full of hardship, hope, and, of course, romance. In 1964, as a fresh-faced 18-year-old recruit from rural California, McKenna, in uniform, was shaken after being chased by a group of antiwar protesters in San Francisco. “I swore on that day that I would somehow change civilian people’s minds about military people. I threw myself into writing while carrying out my duties as a meteorologist at operations,” McKenna says.
It took 22 years of dedicated hard work and a thousand rejection slips before McKenna was first published at the age of 35. After writing a couple of love stories for Berkley’s Second Chance imprint, McKenna wrote Captive of Fate, about a Marine Corps colonel sent to Costa Rica as an emergency responder following a devastating earthquake. Berkley rejected the book for being “too serious” but Simon Schuster’s Silhouette imprint snapped it up, and it helped define a genre, becoming one of the first military romances ever published. “Clearly, from the sales of it, there was a group of readers hungering for realistic, gripping, and highly emotional page-turners,” about the military, McKenna recalls.
Since her first book was published in 1982, McKenna has authored just shy of 200 novels. Her latest title, Wrangler’s Challenge, is the fourth book in the Wind River Valley series, which is set in a fictional Wyoming valley and features stories about military vets—cowboys who work at the Bar C ranch—coming home from Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, trying to adjust to civilian life.
Wrangler’s Challenge is an unlikely love story. It follows Noah Mabry, whose marriage fell apart after his service in Afghanistan; and Dair Wilson, an amputee and Marine Corps vet, who shows up at the ranch where Mabry is working with horses. Mabry suggests equine therapy to Dair, vowing to work with her himself. She is struggling to cope not only with the loss of a limb and her favorite dog, but with childhood trauma. Together, they find the healing power of love.
Many of the characters in the Wind River Valley series cope with PTSD, and McKenna sees it as an important part of her writerly mission to educate people about the disorder and to bring compassionate attention to the lives of those who suffer from it. McKenna herself faced PTSD while in the military, so she draws on her own experience. She says her experience with PTSD is “reflected in the stories I write about vets struggling with this insidious, ongoing trauma. I didn’t need to do research. All I have to do is look at my own symptoms and write about them to educate my readers.”
In Wrangler’s Challenge, the heroine is a force of nature, a common character type in McKenna’s work, which is known for strong female heroines. McKenna has never let herself be held back by her gender. She began riding wild mustangs at 12, founded an earthworm business at 16, signed up for flight lessons at 17, was one of the first women to fence épée and saber in the U.S. Navy, and served as a volunteer firefighter at 35. “My characters take on elements of myself. I don’t allow men to treat me like I’m a second class citizen,” she says. “I’m an equal. I also like to write what I call ‘21st-century males’ who treat the heroines like equals.”
Despite the adversity that they have had to face in combat, McKenna’s characters are able to find love. “I believe love is the most powerful, positive human emotion we have within us. It is the most healing and unifying emotion,” McKenna explains. “That is why I write love stories: to teach gently about the goodness and the heart of our military people and the unselfish service they give to America.”