In this week’s edition of “Sub Spouse Small Business,” meet Samantha Brown, a submarine spouse currently stationed at University of Kansas – NROTC! She took her love of writing and her unique experiences as a submarine spouse to publish Sub Wife: A Memoir From The Homefront.
To learn more about her experience and book, read our Q&A below:
Name: Samantha Otto Brown
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Branch of Military: Navy
Current Duty Station: University of Kansas NROTC
Q: How long have you been with your sailor? How did you meet?
We have been together since 2008 and got married in 2015. We’ve known each other since middle school but didn’t become friends or start dating until later in high school.
Q: Tell us about your sub spouse experience. Where have you lived? What common challenges have you faced as a sub spouse?
My sub spouse experience has felt like a surprise at every turn. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out the playbook changes overnight. We’ve lived in Charleston, SC, Jacksonville, FL, and now reside in Lawrence, KS.
In general, I’ve struggled a lot with geographic distance from family. When tricky situations come up (which, of course, thanks to Murphy’s Law, is not infrequent) I miss having them as “backup” and, in the good times, I miss spending quality time with them.
Q: What inspired you to write a book?
From the get-go, I had a lot of big feelings about living a Navy lifestyle. I knew objectively what sorts of things to expect but was emotionally unprepared for how difficult it would be to stand off to the side and “support” (whatever that meant) while my husband dove headfirst into this new world of nuclear submarining. Day by day he adopted an entire new language which I couldn’t—and wasn’t allowed—to speak. At the same time, the information I did absorb drew me further away from my mostly civilian family and friends who knew even less of the military life than I did.
All of a sudden, I was an island: not privy to the servicemember’s world but not able to relate wholly to civilian life anymore. We were at the nuclear training command in Charleston, SC where there simply isn’t the spouse network that you’d find at a seagoing command. I turned to books and sought out memoirs by submarine spouses hoping to glean some perspective……except there weren’t any. Something had to be done about that.
Q: Tell us about your memoir and what you hope milspouses will take away from it.
My memoir is an account of the first few years of my life as a submarine spouse, specifically focusing on the first three years my husband spent in the Navy (one year in training, two years of his first sea duty.) It comments on military culture, the submarine/sub spouse lifestyle, and the conflicting nature of love and duty. Rather than focusing on my husband and his service, I wanted the memoir to be about the incredible spouses who became my family over the years he spent on the boat. Military memoirs tend to hone-in on the servicemember and give passing treatment to families. It was very important to me that my book acknowledge his job, as it is the driving force behind most everything, but keep the focus on the homefront.
I hope the milspouses who read Sub Wife walk away feeling less alone. I hope my book allows them to honor the sacrifices they make—the big ones and the small—as well as acknowledge the painful growing process it takes to “become” a military spouse. No one is born knowing how to do this and so often we do not give ourselves enough time and space for the process of growing into the role we assumed when we said, “I do.” More than ANYTHING else, I hope my book empowers other spouses to start sharing their stories too, be it by writing their own book, a blog, social media, or even just through open, honest conversations. The wide gap in understanding between civilian understanding and military reality is only going to be narrowed when spouses allow themselves to be heard.
Q: Walk us through the writing/publishing process. How did you get started?
I have always been a writer. There’s no way to stop myself, not that I’ve ever tried. I studied English as an undergrad and, in 2018, earned my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. I’d always planned to write a book, I just never intended to be the main character! (Moment of silence for my spouse who, as I never thought I’d be a milso, probably thought he’d never be the subject of a highly-personal book—sorry, honey, but you knew what you signed up for right? 😉)
The original version of Sub Wife was an essay collection that served as my Masters thesis. About 60% of what you read in the published version is my thesis. After graduation, I partnered with a literary agent who worked with me to revise Sub Wife from an academic/highly literary manuscript to a more commercially appealing memoir. Sections were removed in favor of more “plot driven” chapters. This process took a long time because 1. writing takes a long time and 2. I had a baby right in the middle of that process. My agent started querying publishers in mid-2020 (lol timing) and we had a few nibbles but no contracts until March 2021 when I was offered a Spring 2022 publication with MilSpeak Books, an imprint of MilSpeak Foundation. Once I signed the contracts, Sub Wife went through one more major revision under the direction of one of MilSpeak’s editors, three or four rounds of proofreading, design formatting, then more proofing until it reached its final version which is available for purchase as you see it today.
Q: How did/do you manage the work/life balance as a military spouse?
When I wrote Sub Wife I was working as a middle school reading teacher in Jacksonville, FL—a job for which I had to certify since I didn’t have an education degree. I focused on my teaching/certifying during the day, then switched to grad school work (aka Sub Wife) at night and on weekends. Fortunately, my spouse was deployed or working long hours through 90% of this time so I didn’t have to carve out much space for him (sounds heartless, but it’s true!) Being so busy made the separations more bearable on my end.
Nowadays, professionally, I’m in the “active marketing” phase of book publishing (as you can tell) and I also work part time as an assistant editor. On top of that, I’m a full-time mom to our three-year-old daughter (affectionately called, the Tiny Tornado) There’s a lot of crying, a lot of unfinished to-do lists, and a lot of feeling in over my head. I try to maintain some semblance of balance by staying physically active—I love to swim laps—and using preschool/naptime wisely. Right now, we’re staring down the barrel of our next move, so I’ve added job searching, house hunting, and house selling to my “oh shit” list. I try to approach things the way my old yoga teacher used to coach us: “The struggle is the practice, if you’re falling over and trying to get back into a pose, you’re doing it right!”
Q: Favorite thing(s) to do in your current duty station?
We are in Lawrence, Kansas which is about as un-Navy of a duty station as you can get. My husband is the submarine LT for the University of Kansas NROTC program. We are both Mizzou Tigers—our rivalry with the KU Jayhawks goes back to the Civil War HOWEVER we’ve been pleasantly surprised by Lawrence as a whole. It’s not the “boring, flat Kansas” that you might think of.
Lawrence has dozens of fantastic parks that we frequent, and its downtown area, “Mass Street,” is consistently voted among the best “college downtowns” in the nation. The city hosts tons of festivals and parades so it’s very rare we don’t have some kind of fun plans on the weekends. It sounds crazy but my absolute favorite thing to do here in the middle of Kansas is paddleboard yoga—yes, you read that right. Paddleboard yoga in the middle of Kansas. There’s a large number of beautiful lakes just outside of town that are perfect for sunset paddles. I don’t know why all those years of coastal living didn’t bring me to it, but now that I’ve started, I’m completely addicted!
Q: Where can we support and learn more about your book?
Read and Review! MilSpeak Books is a small press. Most of our “marketing” relies on word-of-mouth. If you read the book and like it, post a review on Amazon or Goodreads! Ask your local indie bookstore to order a few copies! Buy a copy for your Grandma! Your babysitter! Your mailman! All of this supports MilSpeak’s greater mission which is to give a platform to servicemembers, veterans, and families who want to share their stories.
Sub Wife: A Memoir from the Homefront is available for purchase anywhere books are sold.
- Amazon: Sub Wife: A Memoir From The Homefront
- Barnes & Noble: Sub Wife: A Memoir From The Homefront
- Indiebound: Sub Wife: A Memoir From The Homefront
My website: www.samanthaottobrown.com
My publisher, MilSpeak Books: Milspeak Books – Milspeak Foundation