Michael Miller; Penguin Random House
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March 20, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

Best-selling romance author Christine Feehan could be the heroine of a romance novel herself — she holds a third degree black belt in martial arts; her best-selling Ghostwalker series inspired a unit in the U.S. Army to adopt the name and creed she invented; and she publishes five new novels each year. What’s more — she has just hit the jaw-dropping milestone of publishing her 75th novel.

Feehan reaches the incredible status of prolific writers like Nora Roberts with the publication of her latest novel Covert Game on March 20. Her 75th novel overall and the fourteenth in her Ghostwalker series, Covert Game follows Ghostwalker Gino Mazza, a man driven by his own share of dark demons, as he works to rescue Zara Hightower, a leading expert on artificial intelligence who finds herself the captive of a dangerous madmen when she goes in to wipe a Chinese crime lord’s computer network.

On the eve of this momentous occasion, EW called up Feehan to find out what this milestone means to her, where she gets all the inspiration for her prodigious writing output, and how she nails the accuracy of military tactics and more in her writing.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This will be your 75th published novel, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. You’ve said in interviews before that you’ve written your entire life and had stories going long before you thought about trying to get published – back then, did you ever dream of reaching a milestone like this? Or imagine it possible?
CHRISTINE FEEHAN: Absolutely not, no. I actually didn’t consider having a publishing career. I was a martial arts instructor, and I taught self-defense to women and that was pretty much my life for years and years and years. But I wrote every day and wrote stories for myself and it was one of those things where you hold on to it for yourself. I didn’t really think in terms of publishing. I don’t think I ever considered that anybody would even look at my stories.

Are you struck by it as a milestone or something particularly special? Or does it just feel like business as usual for you since you obviously are writing all the time to maintain your output of five books a year?
No, it’s definitely something very, very special. I was so shocked when they said to me, “You realize this is your 75th book.” It was very shocking. I really like that particular series, so it kind of even added to that because of the series that it landed on it. I really felt like it all kind of came together.

Do you ever worry you might run out of ideas?
No, I worry I’ll die before I write them all.

You release five books in different series each year – are you a Hamilton fan or have you heard the lyrics, “How do you write like you’re running out of time?” This really reminds me of you. How do you do it?
I have not been to see Hamilton. I wish that I was in New York more often because I certainly love theater. But you know, I just write because I have to. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve written almost every single day of my life since I was able to pick up a pen and told stories and read books. I don’t watch much television. I read. And I have to write or I become really irritable. It’s horrible, but true. There’s just something very soothing to me about it. Just like I can disappear into a book, I can into my work. It’s like going on this great adventure.

This book is the newest in your Ghostwalker series, which has made such an impact that there is even an active duty team in the U.S. Army that uses the name. When they first contacted you to ask for permission, what was your reaction? And are you still in touch with them?
I was really honored. My family has always served and I have nieces and nephews serving now. So that was quite an honor to be contacted and have somebody say, “We love the creed, and we want to use it.” They’ve sent me flags and all kinds of other things, and I just am extremely honored that they would do that. 

This is the 14th book in the series – what inspired you to create the Ghostwalkers in the first place? Military background or family? Did your own interest in self-defense feed this as well?
I wanted to write a story where the male and the female were equally able to do what needed to be done to save whatever was happening. She could save him and he could save her if that was whatever it was, but they were equal. That was really important to me, so that kind of fed into it. And of course martial arts, that was a big part of my life for so many years. I think it all came together in those books – the military that I admired and the men and women I felt were heroic. I really liked the paranormal aspect, and there was so much research done both in Russia and the United States and in other countries with their military for psychic warriors so to speak. So that enabled me to make it seem more real.

How did you devise the Ghostwalker creed and seal? Were they inspired by those of family members?
No, I just made it up. I just thought about, okay, if they’re called Ghostwalkers and the night is theirs, what types of things would I expect them to do heroically? Then I put that together in a creed. Then I wanted the whole Shadow Warriors, which there’s this little imprint that I have for them, where they tattoo it. I looked things up — what does this mean and how do I put these symbols together? These different symbols. It took me a while to find the symbols I wanted and the meanings that I wanted, but the creed itself I just wrote that.

I know you turn to advisors to ensure the accuracy of the military tactics, etc. Can you talk a little more about that – who you turn to and how you find them?
They’re usually people that I’ve met actually through martial arts. There’s a retired Army ranger who helps me tremendously with missions and I know a retired Navy SEAL. They both are very good about helping me to get all the details right on how a mission would go down, the types of things they would say. I don’t use all the jargon, because it’s harder for readers. but I try to make sure everything is right. Oftentimes I’ll send a scene to them and say, “Is this right?” And they either say, “Yeah, you got it right” or “No, change this piece.” I do have a nephew who is retired from the Navy. He was in subs for 10 years and he’s an officer and a doctor. So, he ran missions all time, so he’s a really good resource as well.

In the acknowledgments, you thank Dr. Christopher Tong for his knowledge in artificial intelligence – what was working with him like and how did his work inform the book?
He is a brilliant man, and I’ve known him for years…When I knew I was going to do this, I contacted him and I said these are the things I want in the book and I have to understand them in order to put them in the book because I didn’t at that time have any idea of artificial intelligence or one machine speaking to another. So he had to talk me through it. He would send me notes and then I would read all the notes and compare it with things I was reading online, and then I would ask him a bunch of questions and then he would correct me ’cause I was usually wrong. It just went back and forth like that until I had enough understanding to actually write something that I felt my readers could understand as well.

Beyond that, where did you come up with the main characters Zara and Gino and the plot of this book in particular?
I have grandchildren and one of my little granddaughters came to me and she said, “I want to be in a book.” And I said, “Well honey, you’re really young.” But I started thinking about it and I thought by the time she’s old enough to read my books, I may not be around. So I thought it would be fun for them to each have a story with their name in it. It obviously wasn’t going to be about them because they were way too young and I couldn’t even describe what they looked like and that was a good thing because you don’t want to associate when you’re writing. But I thought, I’m going to do that. I’m going to give each of them their name in a book. I thought it would be something because the older ones have always said, “Oh, Nana, that was so awesome that you put that in that book.” I have quite a few that are so young that there’s no way that they’re ever going to read these books at that time, but someday they may say to their child, “Guess what? Your great-grandmother wrote this book and it was for me.” 

Would you ever want to see your titles adapted for the screen, big or small?
If ever there was a television show, if someone came to me and said, “Which of your books would you feel the most conducive for a television show?” I would say the gang [GhostWalkers] series. There’s a lot of action. There’s a lot of really interesting things in it…In The Bourne Identity the book, the woman was essential to his survival and that had a huge impact on me. Then when I saw the movie, I liked the movie okay, but I was really disappointed that they made her a piece of fluff, so they could make him so amazing. That was part of the reason it was really important to me that the female character be as strong in her way. In this particular book, she doesn’t want to go out and kick butt. She can, but it’s not her big thing. It really doesn’t matter your IQ, so much as what you want to do in life and what you’re capable of doing and how strong you are. I liked showing that, that women can be strong as a man and do the things that need to be done, maybe differently, but they can get it done.

I particularly love, too, that you have a commitment to showing strength in other ways beyond just physical attributes. Why is that important for you in your work?
Because all girls are different. I’ve worked with so many women, working with self-defense and battered women and rape victims. There’s all different kinds of strength in the world and to say that the only way to be a strong person is to be physically able to beat the crap out of somebody makes so many other women feel like they’re nothing. And that to me is not sisterhood. Everybody counts and there’s strength in everybody. It’s different strength, but that’s what I try to show in my books. I try to have every type of heroine I can.

From listening to you in interviews, you come off as such a warm person who brings so much happiness to readers, fans, etc. And yet your books certainly have a very dark edge to them – where do you think that darkness and edginess comes from? And why does that draw you in as a writer, especially the challenge of balancing that edginess and the happily-ever-after of the romance genre?
I took in a lot of children. I didn’t do it through the foster care system. I just took in children that needed somebody, and I got angry at the fact that there were so many children who were abused. It’s the plague of our world that we cheapen children and make people feel like they’re not worth anything. When you see so many girls and boys who have been sexually abused or emotionally abused or physically abused or all three, I’m the type of person who is like, “Okay, I’m going to write a happy ending for them.” Also, I want people to see that trauma remains trauma. I started with women’s issues, for the most part, but my Torpedo Ink series has gone on to boy’s issues. Mostly because when I was doing all the research, I found that girls who have been raped and abused get a lot of sympathy, counseling, that type of thing, but boys often, even within their own families are told to stay quiet. All my life I’ve stood for children and to find out because they’re a boy and this happens to them, no one’s going to do anything about it. Or very few people will. And I found that even adult females will sometimes not have sympathy for the trauma a boy suffers — and it’s the same with soldiers coming home. You could be a Navy SEAL and have gone out on all these missions and have PTSD and they think less of you. Like, Oh, you’re just not strong enough to deal with it – and that bothers me. Where’s the compassion in the world? I’m too old now to take in children, but I still can write those stories for them and try to stand for them in that way. Try to swing that balance of compassion just a little bit for that type of thing.

What do you make of romance’s role in the emerging conversations in our culture about consent, especially given your background in self-defense? Romance has always been on the front lines of this conversation, but do you feel that it’s even more visible now?
I feel like most of the genres in romance have become very politically correct. Obviously paranormal isn’t and you know when you’re picking up a paranormal book. If I write a leopard series, they’re going to have animal traits, but I make up the rules of that world to be different. I think you have to have a clear line there. I’m writing a motorcycle club and I definitely motivated them to not have a clue about society and how to live in it, and their idea of, “Well just kidnap her, it’s okay.” No, it isn’t. They have to have the voice of reason there saying, no, not so much. Women have fantasies and I don’t feel like because my sister has a fantasy of this alpha male sweeping her off her feet that he’s a stalker because he wants to keep her safe and he’s keeping an eye on her — where maybe if I was writing contemporary, I couldn’t write that story. You get a question all the time — you write romance, you write sex, you write alpha males, aren’t you destroying feminism? To be a feminist, it means you support your sister in anything that she wants as long as she’s not hurting anybody and no one’s hurting her. So if she wants to be a housewife, she should be able to a housewife as long as that’s okay with her and her partner and nobody should put her down for it. If she wants to be a rocket scientist, it’s the same thing. If she wants her husband to tie her up and that’s how she likes sex, she ought to be able to have that and nobody should say anything to her. You should support her. You should support each other – that’s what feminism is to me. It’s a sisterhood and whatever that person wants is okay. And it’s the same with what you read, what your fantasy is. That’s what a romance is — it’s a fantasy with a happy ending.

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