Kristin Beck first learned about World War II from her grandmother, who served as a Canadian army nurse, fell in love with an American soldier in Belgium, and married him shortly after VE Day. Kristin thus grew up hearing stories about the war and has been captivated by the often unsung roles of women in history ever since. A former teacher, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Washington and a Master's in Teaching from Western Washington University. Kristin lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. This is her first novel.
In this post, Beck shares what it was like to write her historical fiction novel Courage, My Love, why she was so thankful for a slow publishing process, and more!
Name: Kristin Beck
Literary agent: Kevan Lyon/Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Title: Courage, My Love
Publisher: Berkley (PRH)
Release date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: When the Nazi occupation of Rome begins, two courageous young women are plunged deep into the Italian resistance to fight for their freedom.
What prompted you to write this book?
I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories about her life as a nurse during World War II, so I’ve long been interested in women’s unsung roles in history. One summer, I found myself wanting to know more about women in the resistance during the war. I waded into some research, not even sure I was looking for an idea when I came across a newspaper article about Italian women in the resistance during the German occupation. I was hooked. I’d lived in Italy twice in my twenties, and I’ve been in love with the country ever since. I began reading everything I could find about the Italian resistance, captivated by the role women played in it. Women of all descriptions, from students to grandmothers, fought back against both the Nazis and Italian Fascists during the war. They inhabited a variety of roles, acting as couriers, saboteurs, spies, and safe havens for endangered people. Their stories took hold in my imagination, and within a few weeks, I knew that I wanted to write about them. Courage, My Love is the result.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
Research for Courage, My Love began in the summer of 2018, and the book sold in the spring of 2019, which was startlingly fast. Looking back, I feel as though I was under the spell of this book when I was writing it. For most of that year, I thought of little else; I woke up pondering scenes and fell asleep with research material in hand. This story began with characters, and the plot grew up around them. Lucia, a struggling single mother from a Fascist family, and Francesca, a polio survivor from a rural area who is deceptively strong, emerged as rounded characters almost from the start. Once I followed their lead, the story took shape. After the book sold, it underwent the typical revision process, but the story didn’t change dramatically.
The gap between the sale of Courage, My Love and publication has actually been the longest part of the process, landing right at two years. Because I wrote the book so quickly, I’ve been thankful for the long lead-up to publication. It has given me ample time to revise, revise some more, and prepare for the next phase of this journey.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
The biggest surprise is probably a bit obvious since it surprised us all! The pandemic has certainly impacted some of the processes and events involved in launching a debut novel. While moving everything to online platforms has been an adjustment, I’m thankful for the opportunity to connect with readers using the tools we have available.
As an aspiring author, I spent most of my time and energy thinking about craft, and not much about promoting and selling books. This has been a shift as I’ve moved from being a writer to an author. In the past, I wasn’t very active on social media, so I’ve been scaling that learning curve in the months leading up to publication. Luckily, I’ve found some amazing author friends along the way, which has made this part of the journey fun.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
Like most authors I know, my debut novel is not actually the first book I wrote. My first attempt took several years to finish, and it never did find a publisher. At the time, I was raising a toddler and a preschooler, which definitely slowed things down a bit, but I also wrote and rewrote that book more times than I can count. My attempts to get it right never fully met with success. That first book did, however, allow me to sign with my extraordinary agent, for which I will always be grateful. I was devastated when it was finally time to move on from that story, but now I’m so glad that I did. Shortly thereafter, I found myself reading about women of the Italian resistance, which led to my debut novel.
The big surprise with Courage, My Love was how quickly the story emerged, especially compared to my first experience. Now I see how much I learned in writing and rewriting for a handful of years, and I have no regrets about that shelved book. As it turns out, it was one of my greatest teachers.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
After this tremendously difficult year, I hope that readers might find comfort and inspiration in my novel. Fictional Francesca and Lucia spring from the ordinary people of Italy who lived through unthinkable events during World War II. They navigated uncertain times with incredible courage and prevailed. I’ve always loved stories of bravery, but this year such stories have sustained me more than ever.
Also, sometimes a good, gripping novel is just what we need to pull us out of the everyday routine. If readers can find that escape in Courage, My Love, I will be overjoyed.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Keep going! The path to publication can be paved with both euphoria and heartbreak, but every part of it will teach you something. Persevere, no matter what. Also, always hold tight to the reason you started this journey to begin with: the writing. Whenever I have felt consumed by rejection or disappointment, I’ve forced myself to recenter my focus on what I love about this journey, which is, of course, writing. If you can continuously pivot back to the joy of creating, of falling in love with characters, and getting lost in a scene, you will be okay!