Stefanie Bridges-Mikota never intended to become an author.
She just wanted to get her kids into books. So she went to the library, hoping to set an example for her two youngsters.
“My kids were getting bigger, and I realized reading is important,” said the Napavine resident. “They need to see me reading.”
Before she knew it, she was checking out five or six books a month, immersed in literature in a way she never had been as a high school student reading below her grade level.
“I don’t know what it was, but something finally clicked with me,” Bridges-Mikota said. “I was just devouring books. I could see the picture.”
As her two children got older, she started to have more free time — her substitute teaching schedule wasn’t enough to fill her calendar. Then, she had an idea.
“I had extra time on my hands, and I had this idea in my head, so I thought I would just start typing,” said Bridges-Mikota. “I'm not a person who likes to just sit and do nothing.”
She kept the project secret, not knowing what would come of it.
At best, she assumed, it would be a nice keepsake to give to her kids when they got older. Over two years, on and off, she kept working at it, developing her characters and her story.
Her tale follows the path of Allie, who’s fleeing an abusive situation, set the amid the Great Fire of 1910 that burned through the Northwest. The intertwining of history and fiction was spurred by Bridges-Mikota’s genealogical research, tracing her great-grandfather’s death as a railroad worker in Montana. The region and its past proved fertile ground for her creative energy.
When the story was complete, a few family members — writers and editors themselves — read the book and encouraged her to try to get it in print. Not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, she quietly reached out to publishers and agents for more than a year.
“I got rejection letter after rejection letter,” she said.
Eventually, she learned about independent publishing. With the help of several Facebook groups, she tracked down an editor and an artist to design the cover. When she got back her edited manuscript, she said, she learned to trust herself. She’d been using a thesaurus to “decorate” her word choices, but her editor prompted her to stick to her own voice.
“I just had to laugh, because the majority of the editing were these word choices that I searched out that just needed to be changed back to my original,” said Bridges-Mikota.
Once the book was finalized, she sent it to CreateSpace, a print-on-demand service that produces books when they’re ordered on Amazon.
Through that system, authors can fulfill orders without any overhead costs. Her book, “By His Hand,” has been in print for about two weeks.
“When you actually hold the book in your hand, it’s just a feeling of completion,” she said.
Because she’d been so uncertain about the process, Bridges-Mikota had only told a handful of people about her book until a week before it was published. She and her husband Daniel celebrated by inviting their parents over, then presenting a cake with the book cover printed on it.
Both of her kids are reading above their grade level — the payoff of all those trips to the library — and they’re excited to see their mom become a published author.
They’re part of the team now too, helping edit children’s books on the self-publishing Facebook pages Bridges-Mikota is involved with.
Whether or not her book is a commercial bestseller, Bridges-Mikota isn’t done writing. She has a sequel that she finished in February currently undergoing edits, and she’s busy writing the third book in the series.
“My goal is to try to turn this into something I can do long term,” she said. “I have a lot of different ideas of different books I could write.”