By Kim Mills
I actually never intended to be a writer. Never in my entire life did I look to writing as something that I could do for a living. . . and yet here I am.
In 2011 I started a blog, and for the next couple years I treated it as a way to tell funny stories to my family and friends. By mid 2012, it had become something far more than I had expected, and She is Fierce was born, a Canadian military family blog that far exceeded anything I envisioned when I first started writing.
The blog led to requests for public speaking,and eventually I started looking at my writing as an actual job. I couldn’t keep brushing it off as a fun hobby when it was taking up so much of my time and bringing me all over the country and even into the US to speak. Eventually, I starting fielding a few requests to write out the blog stories, our stories, in a book. It seemed like a great idea. So I sat at my computer one day. . .
Trust me, I didn’t see that coming either.
After 17 years of military family life, writing about my family’s story on She is Fierce had been cathartic for me. When I started trying to put the whole thing on the page as a book; however, I was stuck. I sat for hours, days, writing and rewriting first pages. One day I opened a new page and started writing something different. I made something up. A story of an infantry soldier and the girl he loves and the trials that they face, especially when a deployment to Afghanistan brings distance, loss, grief, and the challenge of learning to keep living, both apart and together.
It was still about military families. Still about the war. Still about deployment and reintegration and all the things I usually write about, but it wasn’t my own story. I could put to words emotions and experiences I wasn’t comfortable connecting to myself. I could let out the feeling without making it about me. For years the blog had put focus on us; I embraced the chance to step back.
One of the most unexpectedly emotional parts of the process was when my husband would read a chapter or two for me as I wrote. Neither he or I are particularly emotionally driven people and my husband, especially, is not known to talk about feelings. In fact, he’ll insist he only has the one and he’d prefer if no one touched it. The book, however, was a safe way to put out 17 years and four deployments worth of emotions and fears out there between us. It opened a lot of wounds; it made us really reflect on what it had all looked like for us. It helped us grieve a decade of war and lost time and lost friends and hard transitions.
When I finally put the completed manuscript out to beta readers, I was blown away by the positive response. Up until then, I had honestly felt like it would be something that only really impacted me and my family; that it was very likely no one else would have interest. Instead, I had almost 100 offers for beta readers and of the ones I randomly chose, all of them had positive reactions to reading it.
There were aspects of the story that I was intent on keeping, like the timeline and the nationality of the characters. Finding Canadian characters is next to impossible when reading military romance and I wanted to represent them! When I queried traditional publishers, however, the feedback I had received tended to see those as the first options to change. They–I’m sure–were probably right in that making those changes would have likely opened up the audience or improved the story line. However, I wouldn’t have felt like it was the same story that I wanted to tell. So I took some of their other useful, constructive criticism, made some changes, and then made the slightly terrifying decision almost exactly one year after I first put Tavish and Juliette’s names on paper to go ahead and self publish via Amazon.
The weeks that followed working with the editor and and choosing cover designs, were some of the most stressful I’d ever had. Putting something out there, completely on my own to succeed or fail, was terrifying. I was sure that it would flop, that no one would read or that, even scarier, people would read and the reviews would be scathing.
In the end, after the book went live and I regained my sanity, it ended up hitting number one in military romance on Amazon Canada and that was more than I had ever hoped. My husband and I had joked that I’d have a party to mark breaking even, since I’d never make it rich, but I ended up having that celebration the first weekend after the release. Currently, I’m writing a novella, book 1.5 in the series that will, if all goes as planned, have five books altogether.
I’ll never be a famous author or the next Nicholas Sparks. I did, however, write a story about average Canadian soldiers and their spouses during the war in Afghanistan and people read it. Really, that’s all I really set out to do.