Nov 9 2017 9:30am

Everything I Learned About Wilderness Survival I Learned in Girl Scouts

Watch Point by Cecilia Tan

Today we're thrilled to welcome Cecilia Tan (Watch Point) to Heroes and Heartbreakers! Research can sometimes be the most fun part of writing, but with Cecilia everything she learned for her recent Navy SEAL romance... she may have just learned it all as a Girl Scout! Thanks for coming by, Cecilia!

One of the fun things about being a writer is getting to research all kinds of interesting things for my books. When I started writing a Navy SEAL hero, I immediately set to work researching Navy SEALs. (There's a lot to know.) But sometimes real-life experience works its way into my novels in unexpected ways. When my Navy SEAL hero kidnaps a billionaire's son to a rocky island in Maine (in December, no less) I ended up falling back on my knowledge, not of the Navy SEALs, but the Girl Scouts. 

I started in Scouting when my family had moved to a new town when I was about 10. I was a bookish nerd having trouble making friends at my new school. Since I didn't have any friends (yet), I spent a lot of time in the woods behind our house pretending I was in a Jack London story. I read a lot of “wilderness survival” books: Julie of the Wolves, Robinson Crusoe, etc. In The Lord of the Rings, I ate up all the stuff about traipsing across Middle Earth. My mother discovered that the nearest Girl Scout troop met at the church walking distance to our house, and she signed me up hoping that I'd find my niche.

At first, I resisted. I resisted anything that was associated with the word “girl.” I got the Handbook with all the merit badges in it and was mildly disgusted how many of the badges were for things like cooking and sewing. (I'd already learned to sew.) But I stuck it out because there was talk of going on a camping trip. Real camping! Staying overnight in a tent in the woods! I couldn't wait for that. The Girl Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” I brought my own camping kit (including canteen, frying pan, etc), Swiss army knife, and other tools. 

Most of the other girls didn't.

It poured rain. By dinner time everyone was starving, cold, and wet. The adults had planned the meal to be hamburgers cooked in foil on the barbecue grill. The grill was under a shelter, but it was small, the coals weren't remotely hot, and with the entire rack crammed with foil bundles, the burgers were never going to cook. In desperation, hungry and chilled to the bone, I finally took my burger off the grill, went to a circle of rocks out the rain where a campfire clearly belonged, and put all that book-learning to work. I built a fire. Tending a fire is a great way to get dry and warm. I kept it up and I got the fry-pan attachment out of my camping kit. I cooked my own burger (sans foil). 

Soon other girls were attracted by the fire and the smell of food cooking. “You built this fire?” “Yeah.” “Are you sure this is okay?” “Of course it is. This is a fire pit, right?” They started going to get their burgers and I cooked them for them one at a time. I probably cooked half the troop's meals that night. It seemed like the right thing to do. No adult scolded me or praised me for what I did that night until after we got home. They had been watching. Our troop leader awarded me the camping badge and told me the most important thing I had demonstrated wasn't fire safety or wilderness know-how, but self-sufficiency, leadership initiative, and a willingness to help others. 

I was hooked. Girl Scouts was everything that elementary school wasn't. It was empowering and give me a space to explore and do things I was curious about. And as it turned out most of the things I learned through the Girl Scouts weren't particularly “girly.” Clowning, ropecraft, horseback riding, and more. The next big camping trip came when I was in junior high and we had our “Survival Weekend.” I basically gave that memory wholesale to Eric, my hero, for Watch Point

Chase sounds worried. “You’ve slept outside?”

“In a shelter I built myself? Yeah.”

“In the military or something?”

“No, dude,” I say with a laugh. “Told you. Boy Scouts.” I decide I’m going to tell him about Boy Scout camp after all. “Two Army Rangers and a SEAL came to our camp and taught us stuff. The idea was if you were stuck in the wilderness with nothing but a Swiss Army knife, could you survive? They taught us to build a shelter, how to make it warm enough to survive in . . . if your clothes aren’t wet.” I get my boots and socks off as I’m saying this and lay them out on the slab in front of the woodstove. “And how to build a fire that won’t burn out. Serious Jack London shit.”

On that “Survival Weekend,” the military guys also taught us to read military coordinates and use a compass. After the fire-building lessons, each squad had to follow a map we were given to find where the Rangers had hidden our food. It was a teamwork exercise to figure out how to extract it from whatever predicament they'd put the food cache in (ours was hanging from a tree 20 feet off the ground). And then we built our own shelters and slept in them. It rained that night, but if you built your lean-to right, you didn't get wet. It was fun. 

I never imagined that decades later I'd be using that know-how to write a romance novel. And I gave that spirit of self-sufficiency, leadership, and helping others to my Navy SEAL. 


Learn more about or order a copy of Watch Point by Cecilia Tan, available now:

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ecilia Tan writes about her many passions, from erotic fantasy to baseball, from her home in the Boston area. She is the author of many books, including the award-winning books Slow Surrender, Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, and The Prince’s Boy. She has edited over 50 anthologies of erotica for Red Silk Editions, Thunder’s Mouth Press, Blue Moon Books, Masquerade Books, Ravenous Romance, and for the publishing house she founded, Circlet Press. Her short fiction has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Best American Erotica, and many other places. She has served as publications director for SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) since 2011. Follow her blog at

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1 comment
1. Kareni
What a fun post, Cecilia; it sounds like you truly did find you niche. Now I'm hungry for a burger .... (A few Girl Scout cookies wouldn't come amiss either!) Congratulations on your new book and with your next writing project.
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