Smiling in the Dark


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.  

Off the Leash-Jean Ellen Whatley

It’s not stapled in the middle.

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.


About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. The fun and work continues. Keep that smiling and laughing. I have found that laughing, belly laughing, is indeed the best medicine. Can’t wait to see you.

  2. Benny/Sue brown says:

    So-o right, being happy with yourself, most important.