“SPOTLIGHT” Author Janelle Jalbert from the Rave Reviews Book Club
Writing Therapy Meets Life Purpose
There have been two constants in my life. First, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I love books. I mean I really love them (but not in a disturbing kind of way). I tend to gobble them up like a chocoholic on Valentine’s Day. In fact, it was my love of reading that made me first shout “I wanna do that!” when it came to writing. I was addicted to a Y.A. series that I clamored for as each book was released. One day it dawned on me that my favorite character’s desire to be a writer was also what I wanted for myself.
During that angsty pre-teen/teen time, I was also dealing with some incredibly serious circumstances in life…the kind no one should have to contend with. The way I coped was through writing. First it was stories that helped me process events and the aftermath. Eventually the joy I got from writing and seeing others enjoy what I created led me to start writing serialized stories for my school friends. In that way, the second constant in my life emerged: writing is my therapy.
Then, life got in the way
My enthusiasm for writing hit a roadblock of sorts when I proclaimed my desire to write (to a family filled predominantly with teachers and blue collar workers). I was told that was “nice” but I really needed to focus on something practical since one day I would have bills to pay.
I caved and became a cliché. I became a teacher. I found ways to let my inner scribe out through the years. When I wasn’t teaching or grading seemingly endless stacks of essays, I made time to follow my other passions such as travel and started a few side businesses. All of that doubled back to writing. My first book was an educational guide, SUCCESS SKILLS FOR MIDDLE & HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. Then I got a chance to contribute to business books thanks to my entrepreneurial streak.
In 2009 and on a whim, I was reporting on education when I pitched the idea of a motorsports post to my editor, who put me in contact with a sports editor. It may have seemed completely random, but I’ve always loved racing. The move paid off and within a week I was officially a motorsports reporter. Within a year, I was traveling the country, covering events in articles and photographs.
It was a busy and exciting time. I was juggling two online teaching positions, graduate studies, a fledging college admissions consulting business, and three reporting posts (one in education and two in sports). I even made the jump to move from California to North Carolina in 2010.
The day I moved into my apartment in Charlotte, I looked out over the woods and thought about my long ago dream of writing (as in fiction). I put it out there that I wanted that period in my life to resurrect that somehow and thought nothing more about it with all of my other activities.
When I returned to California a year later, I went through the most challenging years of my life. In the space of 4 years I had to leave my doctoral studies. My teaching career evaporated. I lost 5 loved ones, including my dad and my sister, and the list goes on.
Blessings and Lessons
The colossal life reboot taught me that life is full of blessings and lessons, and sometimes lessons and blessings come in the same package. I had all but given up on any form of writing except for an occasional addition to a would-be memoir about my time in Charlotte. It was more about therapy and processing things personally than it was about “writing a book.” Again, it was my love of writing and need for writing therapy that emerged.
In the fall of 2013, I was anxious and adrift. A month before the really big blows of from that dark night of the soul, I took the step to rededicate myself to writing when the idea for my first novel TRIANGULATING BLISS seemed to come as a gift from Heaven.
In the month that followed, I plowed through drafting. I was about 80% done when my dad was diagnosed with multiple advanced cancers. Dad was the one who gave me my passion for the written words, and ironically, he was the loudest voice from my youth about pursuing a more practical career. I jumped in headlong and began ghostwriting and copywriting in the months following his death as well. That momentum put me in the right spot at the right time to pitch a book concept for another one of my hobbies, wine, that led to WINE FOR BEGINNERS. The day that my wine book went to the publisher was the day that my sister died at the age of 38. Like I said…blessings and lessons.
While I do believe that you have to live life in order to write about life, it has to be balanced with understanding that life is short and you have to seize your dreams, your purpose. Ultimately, my quiet, almost fleeting request, on the day I moved to Charlotte – the one to reignite my writing – was what changed the course of my life forever. The experiences that I had during that time in North Carolina led to my current release, WINGDOG: SOUL PUP, and ultimately jump-started my writing career with numerous books published both as a ghostwriter and as a published, award-winning fiction and non-fiction author under my own name.
Excerpt from Wingdog Soul Pup
Yes, I slept with him on our first date. It felt so good to have his warm body against mine. He was gorgeous and sweet as slumber set in, and I couldn’t help but curl up closer. We were already doing our own version of spooning, just hours after meeting. Everything was once again right with the world thanks to his warmth by my side. It was a case of love at first sight that grew deeper in the darkness of the bedroom around us.
I couldn’t help but run my fingers through his fur as his brindled coat rose and fell with deep, sleep-filled breathing. His fur was the perfect texture, not too course but without fluff. The hairs behind his bouncy ears were already my favorite, so silky fine. He sighed as I continued rubbing up and down his side before once more scratching behind his ear. With the ear rubs, he pushed closer into me. His sixteen pound body firmly tucked at my hip.
Ah, I’m home.
I wasn’t sure if it was my thought because it could have easily come from the pup at my side. For the first time in weeks, I began to doze off, peaceful and content. The neighbor problems that plagued my previous weeks faded away with his comforting presence.
Sometimes it does all work out. Bad things can lead to great opportunities.
The stress of moving from California to North Carolina evaporated. The distress that plagued me eased. It was what I’d been craving: a chance to forget and to enjoy life again. It was what my soul needed. I sighed and let go. All was good, at last.
The day started like most of late when I got sidetracked by my inbox after clicking on the message. A small, brown puppy snuggled face-to-face with a tabby kitten appeared. The expression in the picture wasn’t curiosity. It was more like a big brother protecting a younger sibling. The other picture was of the same puppy looking up at the camera. His brown ears were as big as his head. The look in his eyes was that of questioning intelligence, and only the slightest hint of his blue left eye opposite the brown one showed. He seemed to know it was not simply a picture being taken.
It took less than thirty seconds. I was in love.
Immediately, I hit reply. He’s adorable. I’d love to meet him!
With that, a flurry of emails was exchanged. I rushed out into the silvery, fall day, filled with clouds. I stopped at the ATM before getting on the highway for the trip down to Rock Hill from Charlotte. It felt odd to pull money out to buy a dog. Granted, I rescued pups before, but this felt different. Then, it hit me. There’s something not all together right about exchanging money for a living creature’s spirit, and that thought caught me off guard.
“What’s that all about?” I muttered as I turned down the onramp to Highway 85, heading south. I shook off the feeling with the thought that it helped pay for his care rather than buying him per say.
As I made the transition to the 77 near uptown Charlotte, I started thinking of names for the pup. Angie named him ‘Ace of Spades’ or Ace for ease, but that wasn’t right. I knew that instantly. My dogs have always named themselves. He’ll let me know. I thought, but still names flitted through my mind.
What do I want from all this? That made me laugh. It’s a dog adoption, not a marriage. The truth was already apparent. This was going to be bigger than a simple custody transfer. The anxiety over recent events with neighbors at my apartment complex threatened to rear up again. I needed someone…something…to help watch my back. I wanted a right-hand man…a wingman…or, in this case, a ‘wingdog’.
That’s it! Goose. Like the wingman in Top Gun, he’d be my extra pair of eyes and ears. I loved it immediately and settled on it before remembering that the dog does the choosing.
“Okay, just keep it in mind,” I mumbled as I got off the highway and made a convoluted trip to the apartment. I texted Angie from the parking lot because I couldn’t make sense of the numbers in the complex, so she agreed to bring him down to meet me. I waited in the car for a few minutes, laughing at myself for having a bit of ‘first date’ jitters about meeting a puppy.
They seemed to appear out of nowhere and stopped at the end of the walkway.
I got out, and as soon as I cleared the bumper, he spotted me. It was magic – a connection in an instant – as he leapt towards me despite his leash. His eyes lit up like I’m sure mine did. With a big smile and open arms, I walked up to him at Angie’s side and said hello. He barely reached my kneecap, but his eyes were wide and bright. I dropped to my knee. Given my earlier thoughts about marriage, I chuckled and shook my head to clear the whole proposal analogy from my head. He nuzzled into me immediately and toppled me onto my rear.
Who are YOU? I haven’t seen you before. He did a once over with his nose. Yep, you smell nice. You’re a good one. How ya doin’?
I smiled ear to ear as I situated myself, sitting cross-legged so the little guy could sniff away at will. If that isn’t an enthusiastic yes, I don’t know what is. My heart swelled as his furry little body shivered with excitement. His wild tail matched the leaping in my chest. I looked into his wide, trusting eyes: one brown, the other blue. It was a match. You choose me too! I thought as I wrapped my arms around the brindled bundle showering me in warm wet pup kisses.
“We found him on the highway. He was in bad shape, but we nursed him back to health. He’s been dewormed too.”
He sat listening to the conversation like he would chime in at any time, sneaking glances at me as Angie debriefed me about his circumstances.
How could someone be so evil to such an adorable boy?
“Several people have come to look at him, but the brindle coloring gives the impression of a pit bull.” Angie sighed. “He’s incredibly friendly, but the people who’ve come to see him have scared him as well as my husband and me. It’s like he knows they’re not right. My husband and I figured they were looking for fighting dogs, or even bait dogs, when they start asking about his bloodlines.”
A chill traveled down my spine at the thought of people looking to sacrifice a loving creature for a blood sport.
Angie continued, “That’s why we’ve been saying that he’s a Jack Russell mix. We’re not sure though, and we can’t keep him anyway.” Angie went on to explain about their impending move as Goose scanned the yard of the apartment complex.
Hold on. His name isn’t Goose yet. I thought as my mind and heart made the leap. He gets a vote. Remember?
“He’s big into sticks,” Angie stated as she reached up into the branches of a small, almost bare tree near us and broke off a branch for Goose. He immediately plopped down to tackle his new toy. “I was going to name him Lucky, but that’s too common. So, I thought that the Ace of Spades is a lucky card. That’s how he got his name.”
I noticed that he wasn’t too fond of the name either, since he didn’t even twitch when he heard her say it. Good boy! You’re definitely a smart one. I thought. I could tell Angie was stalling a bit with her continued chatting.
“He’s still damp. I was cleaning the bird cage in the bathtub, and he jumped right in too. He loves water.”
“Perfect! I’m a surfer girl who needs to be around water all the time.” I said with a laugh and smile. “Yeah, I know Charlotte’s not near the ocean, but we’ll be at the lake a lot.” I felt like I was selling myself to win favor.
“He loves going for rides too. My husband has to take him every time he goes to the store or wherever.”
“That works out perfectly too. Though I am teaching online classes fulltime, I’m a bit of a road warrior right now with a side gig as a motorsports reporter. That’s what brought me to NC. We’ll be going to California in a couple of weeks for the Phoenix race, Thanksgiving, and Champ Week. He’ll get the ride of his puppy life.”
Angie’s shoulders slumped as we transferred his things to the car, and I handed Angie a hundred dollars for both the pup and all of her supplies. There wasn’t much: a used cat collar, a small leash, some food and a bowl, but it was a start. The supermarket dog food was going to be replaced immediately.
You’ll be eating way better than that. I vowed silently. I could tell that Angie was both happy and sad. I passed the test. He was going to a good home, but it meant that he was leaving her.
Whether it was Angie’s demeanor or plain puppy energy, he grew restless, starting to explore the yard as much as he could while still on a leash. After Angie ran out of things to chit-chat about, I opened the passenger’s side door and cradled him in my arms. His warmth traveled to my core as the soft bundle of brown, black and white fur rested close to my heart. A sigh escaped as I held him to my chest before placing him on the seat.
Shotgun! He perked up and sniffed the interior, which was already filling with the smell of kibble.
His investigation stopped abruptly and he stared at Angie and me. He knew something was different. This wasn’t a casual, meet-someone-on-a-walk encounter anymore. It was a strange new car. He looked at Angie. Thank you. I’m happy. She’s a good one.
Angie sighed. “Bye, Ace. You’re a good boy.”
He seemed to smile as he stretched, puffing out his puppy chest. Then he got distracted by the straw to my iced coffee. He was at ease, and inside of two hours, I became a pup mom. Life wasn’t going to be the same again.
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/JanelleJalbertRRBC
Twitter handle: @JustJJWriting
WINGDOG: Soul Pup has been released on Amazon, as of March 7, with full release across most major retailers in June 2016