The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Sunday, September 7, 2014

SEALed: Information for Writers with Navy Veteran Stephen Templin


Today our guest is Stephen Templin

Steve is a New York Times and international bestselling author. His books have been translated into thirteen languages. Before becoming a full-time author, he completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert, and blew up things during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

After the Navy, he became a missionary then tenured professor at Meio University in Japan for 14 years, where he practiced the martial art aikido. His PhD is in education. Steve lives in Dallas-Fort Worth (

Fiona - 

Hi Steve, thanks for coming and hanging out with us. So SEAL training, huh? How did that become your goal?

Steve - 
I've been interested in military/spy stuff since I was a kid. And writing.

In high school, I read a lot about the Vietnam War and was impressed with the SEALs, so I joined the Navy to become a SEAL.

I read about terrorism in Europe, and I was interested in fighting terrorists.

Fiona - 
So off you went to training. Were you in the SEAL Challenge in high school - the men who knew they were headed for SEALS - or did you join the navy with the hopes of becoming a SEAL?

Steve - 

Yeah, guys today can sign up for a contract before boot camp. There were no contracts when I went in. No special group, we were just lumped together with the other Navy guys.

I took a physical screen test (PST) during boot camp to get in SEAL training but failed my first attempt. So I spent time on a ship as a sailor and prepared to take the test again.

Fiona - 
What kinds of things were in the screen test and how did you prepare to meet those qualifications on the next round?

Steve - 
At that time, there was a timed swim, 35 push-ups, 35 sit-ups, 6 chin-ups, and a timed mile run.

I failed the swim.

Being in the Navy, I had easy access to pools when my ship wasn't underway. So I practiced. I sucked at swimming without fins, but once they put fins on me, I was a fish. 

And I kept training the other parts of the test: push-ups, sit-ups, and running.

Later, when I took the test, I passed the swim by one second.

Fiona - 
What happens next?

Steve -
After the PST, there's medical, dental, psychological, and hyperbaric chamber testing.

So out of about 100 guys who applied, I was the only one who passed.

That was just to get into the training.

Fiona - 
Explain the hyperbaric chamber test and your experience in it.

Steve - 

It was a compression chamber where they simulated diving deep.

The guy before me panicked before reaching depth, and he failed. 
Somebody else's ears or nose bled.

It's helpful to yawn a lot and clear the ears while going down in depth. They do the simulation by air pressure. 
They don't do it anymore.

Those of us who were accepted to training did what was called indoctrination. the hardest part of that was drown proofing, where they tie hands and feet together and jump in deep end of pool.

Then we had to perform a variety of tasks while tied up in the pool:
* bob from surface to bottom so many times 

* swim length of pool and back
* do dead man's float 
* forward somersault 
* backwards somersault...

After indoctrination, guys were ready to quit already.

Fiona - 
You said you went through psych testing - can you give us an overall idea of what they were looking for?

Steve -
Just trying to weed out crazy people, I think. Asked questions for example:

*Have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?
*Do you ever hear voices in your head
*Would you like to become an interior designer.
*And they asked a number of the same questions more than once.

Fiona - 
Alice in Wonderland? - who hasn't read that book - it's sort of quintessential childhood stuff. Having talked with a friend who does mass killing studies -it's Catcher in the Rye that's the issue book.

Steve - 
They might've asked about that, too. I hadn't read Alice in Wonderland.

Fiona - 
Most of what one hears about SEALS has to do with physical strength and endurance - but much of that is psychological. Which of your character traits did you see mirrored in the other men who successfully made it through SEAL training?

Steve - 
SEALs would say "mental toughness" but that's sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand. I'd describe it as strong self-efficacy.
In other words, a strong belief in completing a task or group of tasks.

Physically, water polo guys do best

Fiona - 
And mentally?

Steve -
Chess players

If you play water polo and chess you got a good chance of making it.

Fiona - 
Very nice - did you do either?

Steve - 
I played chess

Going through SEAL training is very mental. The mind controls the body, too.

Fiona -
When you went through your training - the horrible hell week is what we've seen depicted - do you also undergo psychological training like an elite athlete would?

Steve - 
I think hell week is quite unique. Elite athletes quit all the time.

Image of BUD/S trainees covered in mud during ...
Image of BUD/S trainees covered in mud during Hell Week. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Going without sleep for 5 1/2 days and hallucinating dreams while awake is something few elite athletes experience
And that isn't the hardest part.
The toughest part is the cold.

Most people have experienced 1st degree hypothermia: numbness in extremities and mild shivering.
We were in the water constantly and mostly in stage 1 hypothermia.
They also put us in stage 2 hypothermia: violent shivering and mind slowing down.

Stage 3 is dangerous, and they tried to keep us out of that: shivering stops, and person becomes an idiot, not knowing where he is or what he's doing.

There is no Stage 4, only death

Fiona -
Has anyone ever died during hell week?

Steve - 
No one has died during Hell Week to my knowledge. The instructors are very careful.

Fiona - 
What tricks did you personally employ to succeed? - Were you tempted to ring the bell or was that off the table for you?

US Navy 070131-N-5169H-322 Basic Underwater De...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steve - 
The bell was never an option for me. When I was in the most pain (freezing) I visualized a better place (warm).

I hear that a lot of guys think about quitting during hell week. I don't know how they could wrestle with that and do all we had to do.

It was all I could do to focus on surviving.

Some of the most athletic guys don't make it through hell week and some of the weakest guys do.

Fiona - 
Your books are about SEAL team six is this correct?

Steve - 
All of them deal with SEAL Team Six in one form or another, yes.

Fiona - 
SEAL Team 6 is now called DEVGRU - can you tell us who/how/why the men get chosen for this assignment and how it differs from a traditional SEAL team?

Steve -
Usually the top SEALs volunteer or are asked to volunteer for DEVGRU. They do a lot of the national priority jobs:
* hostage rescue 

* capturing/killing terrorists 
* counterinsurgency, etc.
The Bin Laden raid is their most famous operation.

DEVGRU is pretty thorough about their screening. Guys still have to go through what is called Green Team training, so they have to pass that before becoming a part of DEVGRU

Fiona - 
While a traditional team would...

Steve - 
A traditional team is capable of most of the same things, but DEVGRU has a group of guys on standby constantly. So when the president give the green light, they can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours or so.

Fiona - 
How do you keep your SEAL characters from becoming caricatures? How do you keep them three-dimensional.

Steve - 
Just by drawing on personal experiences, observations over the years, and so on. I think dialogue is important

Fiona - 
Is it hard to write the specialized SEAL-speak, making it correct and yet understandable to the non-military reader?

Steve - 
As a professor, I taught English to speakers of other languages, so it's easier to explain SEAL talk to Americans than English to non-Americans.

Fiona - 
What do you see written incorrectly that you wish you could teach writers so they'd get it right?

Steve - 
The loud, muscle-bound characters are less common. 

And a triathlete physique is more desirable than a body builder. The SEAL job is more of a marathon than a power lift. And it doesn't take much strength to kill a terrorist. Or anyone. The pull of a trigger requires very little strength.

In Zero Dark Thirty, the guys were shouting a lot when they took down bin Laden. In real life, guys know each other and have been doing the deed for years -- no need for words.

Fiona - 
You have a new book out can you give us a synopsis?

Steve - 

Chris Paladin leaves SEAL Team Six to become a pastor, but CIA spook Hannah Andrade pulls him back into Special Operations Group, the ultra-secret unit that SEALs and others served under to eliminate Bin Laden. Chris and Hannah are joined by Delta Force’s Sonny Cohen to stop a new terrorist threat from launching a deadly cyber-attack against the United States.

Fiona - 
At ThrillWriting we always ask: What is the story behind your favorite scar - and barring favorite scar story can you 
tell us a harrowing tale that you survived?

Steve - 
During SEAL training, we were landing our rubber boats on the rocks at night: night rock portage. We got flipped out of the boat by the waves and landed in the water and on the rocks. I got caught between the boat and a boulder.

Waves just kept pushing boat against me and filling with water. The pressure was so strong, I thought my chest was going to burst. I really thought I was dead. I've passed out under water, but that was peaceful compared to the rock.

I was sandwiched between boat and the boulder. 
About 7 guys couldn't pull it off me. They finally caught a lull in the waves and pulled it off while I pushed. And I got out. I really thought I was dead.

Fiona - 

How did they know you were under there?

Steve - 
They saw me. I think another guy was trapped with me. We were standing. A boat weighs about the same as a small car when full of water. 

Fiona - 
Thank goodness they did! Thank you so much Steve for sharing your expertise.

You can find Steve's books at

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


  1. I really enjoyed this interview. Hell week sounds like torture. Steve, you must have mental stamina beyond belief. Do you think you had it already, or did they teach it to you?

    1. Hi, Michelle, sorry for the late reply. I think I brought some stamina with me, and the rest I had to find. Hell Week is definitely an experience that helped me find a great belief in accomplishing difficult tasks. -Steve

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Today is launch day for Steve's new book: Trident's First Gleaming.

    So if you don't mind, I can answer this. It is a personality trait. If they could teach it, everyone would get through. As Steve said in the article, being an elite athlete doesn't mean you'll succeed. I have a cousin who was an Olympic medalist, and I can tell you that athletes go through extensive psych training, and they have a strong commitment ethic, but it's still not enough.

    Cheers and thank you,

  3. I've had the pleasure of meeting several former and current SEALs through my association with Sealed Mindset, a Twin Cities-based training center operated by former SEAL officer Larry Yatch and his wife Anne. Getting to know them is great, training with them even better. It's a very good thing they're on our side.

  4. Thanks for a great interview and phenomenal insight to subject too many writers throw around indiscriminately.

  5. Steve and Fiona, thank you. Great interview. I'm a Navy vet myself. Was a yeoman/chaplain's yeoman and then became a religious program specialist. Married to a Navy vet and write HEAs w/ Navy SEALs (Romances :)