Monica McCarty is something of an expert in alpha males, given that she’s written an entire series starring medieval Scottish warriors. Her latest novel, Going Dark, takes the modern version of that archetype—a veteran Navy SEAL—and pairs him with a brilliant environmental activist. We talked to McCarty about writing a couple on opposite sides of the political spectrum, creating a cover to die for and the never-fading allure of Scotland.
Describe your latest book in a sentence.
SEAL Team Six meets Rome’s Lost Legion.
This is your first contemporary book—what made you make the switch from historicals? And why contemporary suspense specifically?
I think, like most writers, I want to write the books I love to read. I’ve always read both historical and contemporary romance, and my favorite contemporary subgenre is suspense—especially with sexy military guys. I’m still planning to write more Scottish historical romances, but after completing a long series of 12 books (The Highland Guard), I was looking to do something a little different.
In terms of action and survival scenes, what was the biggest change from writing about a group of Highland soldiers to a group of Navy SEALS?
Not as much as you might think! These type of scenes always take a bit of research whether the technology and weaponry are 21st century or 14th century. It seems as if I’m always trying to figure out what they would have available to use either way.
The main characters in Going Dark disagree politically on a lot of subjects. That's not something I see a lot in literature, especially in romance, even though that is an issue a lot of couples have to deal with. What was your impetus for making that a key element of Dean and Annie’s relationship?
I think it’s not typical because it’s tricky to navigate without being preachy. I tried really hard to avoid that and to present both sides fairly without any kind of authorial slant. I was a lawyer so taking both sides is fun for me—I like to play the devil’s advocate! I also liked the challenge, particularly in today’s politically heated climate. I wanted to take some stereotypes and shake them up a little (bleeding heart liberal activist versus conservative military guy). I think it’s easy to put people in a category and jump to conclusions about how they think—I had fun playing with that. It also certainly provided lots of conflict!
Who is your favorite couple in classic literature?
I hate to be unimaginative or predictable, but I love Darcy and Lizzie from Pride & Prejudice. A close second would be Farmer Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.
What is it about Scotland and the Scottish culture that you think makes romance fans and authors gravitate to it so much?
I think it’s both familiar and accessible to American culture, yet different enough to make it interesting with the clans, tartans, great accents and the rich war-torn history that lends itself to great storytelling. For me, there was also the ancestral connection. My grandmother was Scottish. Some of the coolest emails and posts I received about my Highland Guard books were from descendants of people I wrote about—including Robert the Bruce! There is also a romantic element with the beautiful countryside, windswept moors and castles on rocky bluffs. And then there are those sexy guys in kilts. . . .
Going Dark has such a gorgeous cover, and you’ve said in prerelease materials that you were pretty hands-on in deciding what it would look like. What is the cover art process like for the author, and does your level of involvement change based on the book?
I was absolutely thrilled with how the cover came out. I was a little more involved with this one simply because it was the first book of a series, and we really wanted to get the feel of it right. Once the general look of the first cover is established, it’s usually easier for later books. For Going Dark, we discussed a general look at first, and then Berkley did all the hard work from there. I knew I wanted a guy on the cover, and that it was important that he reflect the guy in the pages. In other words, he had to be a hot, sexy badass! Which isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but the art department at Berkley came through with flying stars in that regard. I was thrilled with the model they picked. It was a rare case where the guy actually looked like the character I pictured. From there, it came down to poses. I loved the action shots because they felt a little different than the typical male-torso covers. But even though I’d seen the initial cover shot, I was amazed when they came back with the final cover. The Berkley cover gods worked some serious magic.
What is your favorite genre outside of romance?
I love nonfiction survival or adventure stories (think Jon Krakauer). I’m a sucker for anything about Mt. Everest, and one of my all-time favorite books is about recovering a lost treasure on a sunken ship (Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea).
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m finishing up the second book in the Lost Platoon series, Off the Grid. It will be out next summer!
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Going Dark.
Author photo by Alex Abercrombie.