Kevin Bieksa's Wife Katie Pens Acclaimed Novel, Newport Jane
Her first novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a character adjusting to new life in Californiaby AJ Manderichio @AJManderichio / AnaheimDucks.com
There's a Bieksa making a name for themselves in Orange County and beyond these days, and it has nothing to do with blocked shots or body checks.
Katie Bieksa, the wife of Ducks defenseman Kevin, published her first book called Newport Jane, soon after the team finished its playoff run in the Western Conference Final. The novel, her first foray into fiction, follows the main character Ellen as she adjusts to new life in California after moving from a Northern town.
The plot is a familiar one for Katie, who used her own experience from Kevin's trade to the Anaheim Ducks as a basis for the story.
"In my case, this was basically writing itself," she said during a recent phone interview. "This small-town Canadian girl moves into this neighborhood where it's literally the backdrop of Desperate Housewives. The guy who came up with the idea for Desperate Housewives grew up in the Port Streets (in Newport Beach), and it's very much like that. It was, like, culture shock."
When their time in Vancouver ended, Katie left a busy professional life behind. She worked for the Canucks Family Education Center, a high-school equivalency course, with a lot of new immigrants and some Canadian citizens who haven't received high school diplomas. She also taught Canadian citizenship courses and looked after the couple's daughter, Reese, who was in school part-time.
The move to California - and depending on an American visa - severely limited these opportunities.
"When I first moved there, because of my visa and the strict background checks of the kid's school, I couldn't volunteer for six months," she said. "I was really busy in Vancouver, and I came here and I could do nothing. I couldn't even volunteer at the humane society because I couldn't get a background check.
"We were in a condo in downtown and now we were living in suburbia. My neighbors were coming over all the time - which is nice - but it wasn't something we were used to. I had to grow up super fast and figure out something to do."
With a Master's degree and a background in academia, Katie easily began the writing process.
"Honestly, the first time I started writing I sat in front of my window in my new neighborhood and was like, What am I going to write about?" she says. "I just started writing my experience, but through a protagonist who was not me."
The process took about seven months to finish, but it came with its own set of unique challenges.
"Anyone - an artist, an athlete - has an idea in their mind of how they want to do something and what is working," she says. "Then, someone steps in and says, 'I don't really like this. Let's chop this, let's change this.' That's hard. That's really hard."
After finishing Newport Jane, Katie embarked on the next adventure - publishing. Sorting through the different Canadian and American publishing houses presented their own difficulties - "One publisher didn't want to release my book until 2019," she says - so she settled on an agency in Vancouver. It helped get the book published, but left the marketing to her.
Enter husband Kevin, and an ingenious idea involving other professional athletes.
Using #hotguysreadingmybook on Instagram, Katie and Kevin began crowdsourcing photos of hockey players posing shirtless with Newport Jane in their hands. Kevin's reading photo on the water - and the subsequent Twitter tit-for-tat with defenseman Hampus Lindholm - helped spread word about the novel to places like the TSN blog site Bardown and the NHL Players Association.
"These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that's where the idea came from," Katie says. "There was someone - it may have been Kevin - who said 'I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,' and I said 'Oh yes you are.'
"When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They've all been so supportive, and that's such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It's so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture."
Like a good defensive pairing, the Bieksas work well when they support each other. Katie praised Kevin for taking on more responsibility while she wrote the book, taking the kids to Disney while she wrote or getting them out of the house when she took interviews.
"He's a 50/50 parent," she says. "He's always been that 50 percent, hands-on guy. If I didn't have his support, I wouldn't have gone through with it."
The book has received rave reviews - including a star rating of 4.6 on goodreads.com with comments that include: "I couldn't put this book down! Newport Jane is a FANTASTIC read!!" and "That's not to say Newport Jane is all serious. In fact, it's almost all a lot of fun, with California-style glamor and intrigue, lots of laugh-and-cry-at-the-same-time moments, and a stop-your-heart scene it is impossible to see coming."
But Kevin also helped Katie brace for good - and bad - press.
"Him being in the league, bad press and good press…when you read things about your husband, it makes you so sad that people are writing this stuff," she says. "It's part of the business, and even that prepares you for any sort of bad review I get. That's life.
"Kevin says, 'Who cares if you do? You have to put yourself out there.' He definitely encouraged me to do that."
Katie is already halfway through her second novel, which she began just after Christmas. In the meantime, you can grab a copy of Newport Jane on Amazon (or Amazon.ca).