This December as the winter weather descends, what better way to spend an evening than wrapped up in a blanket and a tale of romance? Elizabeth Ann West is an author and former military spouse who writes charming Jane Austin fan fiction and variations. Elizabeth talks with us about how her work and life as a military child and military spouse helped prepare her for life after Dependent status. She candidly shares how her work gave her a sense of stability, strength, and identity during her recent divorce. Elizabeth has fostered a career as a writer that is portable, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. Now, join us as we get to know Elizabeth and her work…
MilspoFAN: How did you become a writer?
Elizabeth: [My husband, stepson, and I] moved across country twice in the span of six months as part of a change of homeport and I was trying to start a virtual assistant business. There was a link to write articles for money, back in November 2007. I told myself if it cost any money to do it, I wouldn’t. Instead, they paid me $7 for my first article, long distance relationship tips from a military wife, and I made $1.50 for every additional 1,000 people who read it. Within six months I was writing enough articles to make four-figures a month, but I had a steep learning curve on the technology and business systems. I had majored in Political Science Leadership and minored in English Literature.
The career was super portable, I could literally write anywhere in the world! I set about learning everything I could about making websites, HTML 5 apps, designing graphics, etc.
In 2009, I gave birth to our daughter and my ex-husband gave me the idea to try writing a book. Articles were fine, but it’s very speculative and there’s very little passive income to it. You sell a license once in most cases and you have to write more to make more. So I began researching novel writing and set about writing my first, a contemporary romance from a male point-of-view.
Back then, I thought the goal was to be as unique as possible, which it turns out isn’t always the most marketable. I didn’t even query the book, as I realized from the guidelines my novel would not fit anyone publishing company’s title slate needs. By mid-2010, as I was revising the first draft, more and more talk online revolved around Amazon’s new publishing platforms and places like Smashwords.
I watched one early interview by Joe Konrath, about Be the Monkey, Not the Frog (and don’t look up what that means, it’s NSFW). As I was folding laundry and listening to the two men lament all the digital skills needed to self-publish that most authors don’t have, the lightbulb went off in my brain. I have those skills! I have ALL of those skills!
Eighteen titles later, I’ve made over $200,000 on my writing since 2011, with the bulk of the money earned since 2014 when I moved to Jane Austen Fan Fiction.
MilspoFAN: We had planned to do this interview this summer, but in true military spouse fashion, you had a major life change. How are you doing now?
Elizabeth: Yes, my military spouse of 13 years, 15 years together, asked me for a divorce this summer three days before our wedding anniversary. Naiively, I ignored the advice of everyone and believed we were separating to work on our marriage. I moved to just four miles away to keep life as consistent as possible for our two children. Our oldest is from his first marriage and our youngest is our shared biological. And in the most cliche fashion, when I held to wanting counseling and a year-long separation, he confessed it was actually an affair with a woman from middle school who had contacted him out of the blue after twenty plus years.
Suddenly, I found myself tackling all kinds of milestones I had skipped because I had met him at 21 and married at 23. Two deployments, five duty stations in five states and eight moves total, at 36 I signed a lease with just my name for the first time. The first time. My writing income was enough to secure the apartment, though I do also get alimony and child support, it was a huge personal victory in such a crummy, defeating time.
I’ve enrolled in therapy, specifically a program for betrayed spouses. Now, I’m writing again, moving in February 2019 to Texas with my two children to be closer to their family on his side, and learning each day I am stronger than yesterday.
So yes, this summer I was still struggling to eat and sleep like it was the first month of deployment. I was just still in trauma. Now, almost six months later, I’m finding my own path forward, in a similar vein to what he and I planned as we were spitting distance to retirement. I wish he had made different choices, but in this process, I’ve learned all I can control is myself. I filed for divorce and the judge signed our final order in mid-December.
MilspoFAN: Wow. That’s a lot of change in a short time span. A divorce, a move, and a whole new life. What does life after military marriage look like for you? What worries and excites you the most?
Elizabeth: It’s a whole heap of change! But one of the programs I enrolled in for betrayed spouses helped me realize just how much I was prepared for this season of life. If there’s one skill I have in spades it’s adaptability. My father was active duty Navy growing up and I was a military spouse for 15 years. I can standby to standby and my backup plans have backup plans.
The first few months, I barely remember. I just did. I had MANY great friends and family members, including my parents and my in-laws, help guide me as I functioned at the most basic levels. Eat one meal a day. Talk my plans to them and they listened and gave their best advice. This saved me from making many mistakes like taking up unhealthy habits or trying to get any kind of revenge for satisfaction. His life choices will catch up to him in time, that’s not my concern. My concern had to be me first so that in turn I can be strong for our kids.
Initially, I worried a lot about what if? What if he makes good on his threats? What if that woman comes up to New York to live? And so on. Every awful fear you didn’t have as a parent when you thought you had a stable family structure suddenly becomes front and center on a loop.
My therapist helped me realize I can address a fear, write it down, and then trust in myself. She pointed out how I was stronger than I thought: I moved out, I found the lawyer, I made things better, I bought a new car, new furniture, and worked on a new book that should release in January.
Basically, I took the methods I knew as a military kid and military spouse of use your resources when you’re going through the suck, like the FRG (Family Readiness Group) or Navy Relief or Fleet and Family Support or the Ombudsman (I was one of those for one of our submarines, so I have a lot of training on using military programs).
I used my resources. I put up the flag I was in distress, my life was falling apart. The book Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life magically arrived in my mailbox from an author friend who saw the distress flag and knew what I needed. The night I learned of the betrayal I cried out again, and it was the middle of the night. Well, the world never sleeps and I have friends around the world, from other military spouses in Japan to author friends in the UK and Israel and Australia. That night, they kept vigil over me, so I could cry and gnash my teeth, and wail in despair. Then the morning came and there were things to do.
I tackled my divorce like you do a deployment. I accepted the strong emotions and physiological symptoms that come, and I made a wellness plan. I took up dance. I took up watercolor. I bought a lamp for my bedroom that has a pink sparkly lampshade, because it was only MY bedroom. And there’s a pink sparkly shag rug to go with it that I just love to wiggle my toes on.
Life after being a military spouse looks to me like I get to go be a Super Civilian.
MilspoFAN: You write in a really unique, delightful niche: Pride and Prejudice variation novels. How did you land there?
Elizabeth: JAFF or Pride and Prejudice variations and sequels was my guilty reading pleasure since 2003. The genre is actually quite old and comes in and out of vogue as interest in Jane Austen fluctuates. There are variations going back over 100 years ago, but the modern wave is most attributed to the 1995 BBC miniseries, which is when many online communities formed for fans and writers alike. A few still exist today from that wave, and then a second wave, which is when I learned the genre existed, was in 2003 when the feature film released in theatres. And people are still arguing who is the best Mr. Darcy. 🙂
I absolutely hated Pride and Prejudice in high school. I didn’t come to appreciate the storyline until I had married and realized while 17-year-old me couldn’t see it still relevant, 22-year-old me acknowledged many things still had not changed. Perhaps I am not in so restrictive of a society as Elizabeth Bennet, but I would argue marrying “well” is still a very critical component of success or failure as an adult.
MilspoFAN: What does your writing process look like?
Elizabeth: I outline- slapdash notes about each scene on notecards or in a composition notebook. I wake up early, usually before my kids are awake, as I homeschool my youngest who is 9. We start school about 9 or 10 AM, so getting up at 5:30 AM, I can typically dictate two to three scenes before anyone else is awake, and maybe edit one. Otherwise, I edit in the evening or afternoon the day’s writing. I use Dragon to transcribe or I use sprints to type and edit. This year, I also invested in an iPad and the Apple Pencil and using MyNebo app, I can write on the iPad and tap it, turning the handwriting into text. If I take myself out to dinner, I usually get 700-1,000 words using the Apple Pencil, allowing me to write when I need to be quiet and only use one hand.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Elizabeth: I love listening to soundtracks for BBC series, movies, and video games. I also watch Moving Art on Netflix, and I read books outside of my genre for inspiration. I do also read JAFF, but I find I can bring new ideas and situations from reading other genres and then translating those to 1812 England.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Elizabeth: What’s next for me is a few years of getting to know myself. I have a completely new adult identity and lifestyle ahead of me, and I’m excited! I am going to a writer’s conference in March and go to NINC in September for the third year in a row. I have many writing friends ready to help cheer me on as I write like the wind, publish it all, and hopefully step into a new genre later this year as Liz West.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Elizabeth: Remind yourself “Nobody died.” If something has a typo or you’re worried something isn’t good enough, who cares? Nobody DIES when we have a bad day at work. And I use that all the time to give myself the courage to tackle something new.
Thank you, Elizabeth for sharing your story with us here at MilspoFAN. Your candor, strength, and perseverance are inspiring. MilspoFANs, remember to comment below or over at our Facebook group.
You can find out more about Elizabeth’s work and read some sample chapters of her work at: elizabethannwest.com
Not a MilspoFAN member yet? Just reach out! Request an add to the Facebook Group, message me from the Facebook Page, or contact me at milspofan.com/contact.
See you there!