Smiling in the Dark, a Writer's Most Meaningful Moment (+ a Giveway !)

(Three in a three-part series; I'm posting this one from an airport--en route to Albuquerque, NM for my first book signing!)

Summer came and went this year -- I survived The Dog Days of Self-Doubt, after walking away like a big horse from yet a second job inside two years at a time when other people are begging for work. I did it to finish this little thang called a book. The fam and I eeeked by on a dramatically reduced budget and bounty from our victory garden in the backyard. Lots of bruschetta this summer with the abundant basil and tomatoes. I won’t hold it against the squash for arriving a bit late to the party. The dogs still have kibble, I’ve still got coffee, wine and gasoline; three essential fluids. I have a real live publisher and last Friday, experienced a day I’ve been dreaming about since the sixth grade when I wrote,“Do Your Own Thing.” It was hand-written on construction paper, illustrated with pictures cut out of magazines -- photos of cute, leggy models I fantasized about growing up to be and irresistible Beatle boys I fantasized would fall in love with me, drawn in by a “foxy chick” who was also an accomplished, witty writer. I don’t know about all that. I do know I still have the stapled-in-the-middle paper book, the red construction paper faded now to a pitted, Easter egg pink.  

My new book, however has a white cover and my name is printed on the front versus scribbled on in Marks-A-Lot. There’s a dog, and a woman and the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing it for the first time, the book, not the bridge, made me feel as if I’d come home. Not only was it a literal representation of a journey which took me all the way back to the beginning of my life in San Francisco, it felt like coming home to the best person I know how to be, no longer hidden, haggard and disheartened by too many days, too many years, far too many excuses about not giving my dream my all.

Now, I’ve got to give my all to marketing my baby. You’ll find this out if you haven’t already: marketing a book far outpaces the rigors of writing it. Writers today have to be entrepreneurs more than artists. It is simply the world in which we live. Just yesterday, Barry Diller, the founder of the FOX Network, was on NPR talking about his impending foray into publishing. Diller said that the publishing industry is in the midst of a sea change the likes of which have not been seen in the last 100 years. I believe him. Just pick up any trade pub or read the She Writes news; marketing is heavy lifting. Publishing changes on a daily basis and this comes from an absolute novice. So how to cut through? Be a good writer, first and foremost. Write what you love. And when you’ve got something you truly love, stop for just one minute and celebrate that moment.

Then slam a cup of Joe, and be as creative as hell. Be open to every single way you can think of to skin a cat -- self-publishing, hybrid-publishing (which is what I’m doing and what She Writes Press is all about) maximizing social media, calling every single human being you have ever known you WHOLE life and tell them about your book once it’s done. Call you sophomore English prof and ask him to blurb your book -- (Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me Ultima) and your college journalism prof (Tony Hillerman, rest in peace, I reached out to his daughter) -- in short, fully invest yourself in no-holds-barred marketing. I have at least twenty marketing/promotion items on my punch list every day from skying book clubs to pitching reporters. This week, I booked a book signing in my other “hometown” of Albuquerque, and wormed my way onto the New Mexico Style Show “Book Club” segment on the CBS affiliate, (KRQE) by not taking no for an answer. There is almost always one more person you can call who might know somebody who might know somebody. That’s how this stuff gets done, my friends.  Then, you reach a point at the end of the day when you just say, “enough, I’ve done enough working on the next phase of my writing career for one day” and hopefully you go to bed before you collapse in a chair.

And if you’re lucky,  just before you fall asleep, you’re blessed with a singular experience that tells you deep in your soul you have done what you were supposed to do. Last Friday night, after I’d gotten my books, after I’d celebrated with an impromptu get together with some people I love, after I got back home and sat in my reading chair, scanning my book, running my fingers over the type, feeling the impressions of the fonts on the page, I cried. I felt so satisfied that I'd memorialized the people I have loved and lost. I crawled off to bed, exhausted but happy. I lay there in the dark, and felt myself smiling as I whispered out loud, “I have a book. I have a book! We have a book!”   It felt silly at first, seriously. But I could not wipe that grin off my face, the more I resisted, the more amusing it became. Here I was, laying in the dark, nobody around, and I’m grinning like a fool.

It reminded me of when I went para-sailing off the coast of Maui many years ago. The boat skims along the surface of the ocean and you’re floating up above the water, pulled along in a tethered parachute. The boat driver speeds and slows, bouncing up when the tether is taught, down when it goes slack, toes just inches above the sea. Aloft, I was laughing. I threw my head back and laughed out loud. I recall thinking, “there’s nobody who can hear me laughing up here but me. I’m laughing like I don’t have good sense and nobody can hear me but me.”


In the end, that’s all that really matters.


Tell us what what nudged you! What was your epiphany, the point of no return, when you decided to give it your all? To nudge you to comment, at the end of this three-part series on October 3rd, we will be giving away a free book to three commenters chosen at random. Seems pretty, uh, random, right?)

Jean Ellen Whatley is the author of Off the Leash: How my dog inspired me to quit my job, pack my car and take a road trip across America to reclaim my life, published by Blank Slate Press, October, 2012. Whatley is an Emmy award-winning journalist cum author who has been featured on Salon,, and as a guest columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Winston-Salem Journal, the Albuquerque Tribune and KMOX (CBS) radio, CNN and ABC.  For more information about her ebook and print release events, please visit

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  • Suzi Minor

    I love smiling in the dark moments they are beautiful reminders of the feeling of joy. Looking forward to reading Off the Leash. Congrats Jean!

  • Jaye Markham

    Jean--you're an inspiration to us all. My epiphany was when I was ill earlier this year and while looking through some old journals saw a notation from six years ago about how miserable I was in my job. Well, things hadn't improved & I realized my illness was partly stress-related. So, I retired early and now am motivated to supplement my income & do what I'd been putting off.

  • Regina Y. Swint

    Congratulations!  That sounds pretty awesome.  I don't know that I had an actual epiphanic push. (Yes, I made up "epiphanic").  Just a few significant things happening in quick succession that made me say, go for it, already.

    An unexpected death in the family, a final, very hard dumping by my ex-boyfriend, a foreclosure on my house, and another death in the family.  2010 was not the best year, in many ways, but a good year to publish a book, apparently.  I guess that was my, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," year, pre-Kelly Clarkson anthem.  Eh.  Whatever the case, I still don't buy wine made in that year.  And I'm a very good place right now, so I count myself fortunate and blessed through it all  I hope to be publishing a 2nd Edition release of my book by the holidays.  If the rest of my life permits.

  • Suzanne McKenna Link

    Jean, thanks for sharing this moment with us. I imagine myself someday doing as you have - laughing and crying for finally reaching a life-long dream; for the affirmation of knowing we were meant to be published authors.

    What has brought me here? Years ago, after leaving a job I loved because I couldn't bear the negative atmosphere, I found myself with lots of time on my hands. I've always loved to write, but with a house, husband, kids and a less than healthy "Who do you think are" ego, it was shelved. But now, with older kids and jobless, I pulled out all the years of writings I had started and never finished. It was a now or never moment for me. I've been writing ever since. Getting published, having people read my words and connect with them is what drives me. 

    I work diligently on my manuscript, at times filled with doubts that it will ever be done, that it will get there. But then, I have an epiphany that comes at me with such force, passing all the negativity. It reaffirms my belief that I was meant to do this.

  • Jennifer Boire

    can totally relate. I spent the summer sidetracked by my 21 yr old son's accident in Greece, leaving him with broken jaw, (wired shut for 6 weeks) and cooking up liquid meals in the blender - so my recent book, The Tao of Turning Fifty (about my journey through menopause, and journaling prompts to help women learn about self-care), has been lingering on Amazon's lowest seller list. Back on track now, I have started going to meet-ups, arranging lectures at libraries, (one down, umpteen to go), and browsing the web for like-minded women in their forties and fifties who may feel like they're going crazy. What an ad that would make - feel like you're going crazy? read this book. Hmmmm, I already used that on the back cover....I paid for  Kirkus review, which just came out and three publicists have turned me down (they're charging too much anyway), so I guess it's back to the cold calls to local journalists and networking with women in my other home town of Ottawa for my Nov 15 lecture on Inner Wisdom and Mid-life.....good luck with the continuation of your tour! and hug that dog for me!

  • Sioux Roslawski

    Jean--Linda O'Connell got me hooked onto you. I would love to win your book (and if I don't, I'll have to buy it on my meager teacher's salary, which means a month of not being able to afford panty liners or chocolate--two necessities for a menopausal woman--but hey, don't feel guilty if I don't win, ; )


    I'm doing a Chicken Soup for the Soul book signing, and I'm excited about that, so I can kind of imagine the incredible high you're on. Your baby is born! And there's throngs of people clamoring to admire it. Enjoy!

  • Barbara Amaya

    Congrats Jean, what a feeling it must be. As I sit here on the couch looking down at my own dog, 16 year old Scooby, I remember the night last spring when I had my own aha moment and knew that I had to write about being trafficked as a 13 year old girl for 8 long years. I knew that it was a subject that would get different reactions from different people, and I also knew for me the writing of my memoir would be both cathartic and very, very scary. So much has happened while I began writing my book, I have started speaking out about my past in different venues from the D.C. Stop Modern Slavery Walk to the Womens Peace Federation only yesterday, which by the way was covered in the Washington Times newspaper. One thing I do know how to do is market my story and my upcoming book, so congratulations again to you Jean, and thanks so much for the chance to tell you and also talk about my own book!

  • Janie Emaus

    Congratulations!  I know how you feel, as my first book came out few months ago.  That first book signing was one of the happiest days of my life.

  • Kasey Arnold-Ince

    Congratulations, Jean, not only on writing and publishing--but on having the courage to HAVE the adventure and reclaming your life in the first place.  (And kudos to your dog for inspiring you to work less and wag more!)

  • Beth Camp

    Thank you for sharing your writing journey. You made me smile at the image of you laughing out loud -- parasailing or laying in bed in the dark, simply joyful over your new book. Congratulations. And thank you for sharing the marketing details. For those of us who are learning the way, these comments are gold! 

  • Deborah Batterman

    Congratulations, Jean :-). I always loved the premise of your book (and the snippets I got via your blog). The cover is beautiful and very inviting.  Re: that thing that nudges me along -- it boils down to this: the play of words, the discovery of what takes shape when I sit with them -- I can't imagine my life any other way. Yes, the frustrations of rejection, what we think of as success, the marketing of one's work, etc., have a way of wearing down the spirit. Then I just get back to work. And I take heart when a fellow writer hits her stride.  Wishing you much success. 

  • Jayne Martin

    Congratulations.  I suck at self-promotion.  Always have.  My book is sitting on Amazon for whoever stumbles across it.  Looking forward to reading yours since my hometown is San Francisco and I love dogs.

  • Diane Hendricks

    Writing is about loving life enough to quit a job, pack the car and take a road trip. Where we find the inspiration to do so comes from within. I love the depths of "Off the leash" it inspires us to reach outside ourselves and once again reclaim life...

  • Petrea Burchard

    I love your exuberance. And I'm glad you cried! It made sense to me. I know I'll do the same thing.

  • Therese M Handley

    I'm thrilled for you, totally and completely.  You did it!  Yeah for you! 

    Funny connection too - I had Rudy Anaya when I was a sophomore at UNM, and though I was never fortunate enough to take any classes from Tony Hillerman, I do love his books.  I can't wait to read this book, and I'm hoping to get a good dose of Albuquerque in there somewhere, and it will always be my "other" home. 

  • Jobi Harris

    Congratulations - you must be very excited! Wishing you the best success with the new book.

  • Claire Lopez

    Wooohoooo and congratulations! I'm right behind you in this process and sooooooo excited!

  • Pat Sabiston

    It's Oct 4th, and I hope I'm not too late to enter.  I'm grinning right along with you, because from one coffee-chugging, wine-swilling, ever-loving dog person to another -- THIS is my moment!  YOU provided the ephiphany.  Although I can't quit my job (I own it and my boss LOVES me), I CAN begin to get more balance in my life in order to finish my first novel ... a promise my family has long-sense given up on, and I've quit mentioning in the Christmas newsletter.  Boy are THEY going to be surprised!  It's a promise made between just the two of us.  Don't tell anybody!