Our July Top Pick is best-selling author Julie Ann Walker's action-packed romance Hell or High Water, the first in her Deep Six series about a crew of ex-SEALs and the deep-sea salvage company they run. In a 7 Questions interview, Walker tells us about her Key West research trip, the Cuban treat that fueled her novel, the appeal of a Navy SEAL and more.
Describe your novel in one sentence.
Packed full of all the good things: action, adventure, danger, romance and half-dressed, hunk-a-licious hotties!
What inspired you to switch careers from math teacher to romance author?
It's a crazy story of fate and timing. My husband and I moved from Michigan to Chicago, and I had a tough time finding a teaching position. So I decided to take a year off. I started volunteering at my local USO, and there I met service members from every branch of the military: wise-cracking army guys, swaggering Marines, fun-loving sailors, flirtatious airmen. I watched them all together, listened to their wild and crazy tales and fell a little bit in love with the camaraderie they shared—not to mention their special brand of humor. I'd always been an avid reader, but I suddenly discovered that I couldn't find the exact book I wanted to read—The book that took all those men from different branches of the armed services, threw them together on high-stakes missions and let the chips fall where they may. So I decided to write that book—and toss in a little romance. Because everything is better when there's a love story involved, am I right? To make a long story short (too late?), I ended up entering that book in a writing contest. To my great surprise and delight, I was a finalist. And because of that, I ended up snagging an agent who sold the book, titled Hell on Wheels, the first in my Black Knights Inc. series. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is the first book in the Deep Six series. What inspired the new series?
The need to write something new. I'd been living, working and writing in the Black Knights Inc. world for three years. And while I love those characters and will continue to pen their stories, I needed to stretch my imagination. A chance trip to the bookstore had me picking up a novel about the excavation of the Atocha, one of the most profitable shipwrecks ever discovered. And I asked myself the question that all writers ask themselves: "What if?" What if the holy grail of sunken Spanish shipwrecks had yet to be discovered? What if the world's greatest dive specialists—Navy SEALs—decided to go search for it? What if danger, death and destruction followed these men into their civilian lives? What if they each found love? Voila! The Deep Six series was born.
You moved to Key West for two months to do research for this book. What sort of research were you doing?
I was soaking it all in! As a storyteller, there's only so much I can do through research. And since I wasn't just setting one book, but an entire series in the Florida Keys, I felt like I needed to experience what it's like to live there. After all, it's the little things that bring a story to brilliant, sparkling life. If I hadn't moved to Key West, I wouldn't have known that sunsets there are like snowflakes: No two are the same. I wouldn't have known that chicken wings are a staple of the local diet or that the wild roosters that roam the island invariably wake everyone up at the crack of dawn. I wouldn't have known what the beach smells like after the tide goes out. I wouldn't have known that everyone gets excited when the shrimping fleet rolls into town. And I wouldn't have known how the water changes colors where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic. So many details, both big and small. That's what I was researching. And I loved every minute of it!
Did you have a favorite snack while you were writing this novel?
Oh, sweet heavens to Betsy, yes! About three blocks from the house we rented was a Cuban take-out restaurant called Bien Caribbean. They serve fire-roasted corn on the cob slathered in aioli, Parmesan cheese, cilantro, salt, paprika and fresh lime juice. My mouth is watering just thinking about that corn on the cob. It's so good, it's almost worth the price of a roundtrip plane ticket!
What’s your favorite thing about Leo and Olivia’s relationship?
Each of them likes and respects the other. So often in romance, I feel like the stories are about characters that start out loathing each other and then BAM! They're suddenly in love. Not Leo and Olivia. They may bicker and dance around their deeper feelings, but besides the chemistry they share, they also have a history that has instilled in them mutual admiration and appreciation.
What do you think would be the best perk of dating a former SEAL?
You mean besides his hard body, his ability to kill a man with a plastic spoon and his . . ahem . . . endurance? No, seriously. I think the best perk of dating a SEAL would be his character. It takes a particular kind of man to become a Navy SEAL. He has to be courageous, loyal, patriotic and steadfast. And what woman wouldn't wish for all that in a boyfriend?