After “geeking out about finance” with a former colleague, Meg Little Reilly, once the deputy associate director at the White House Office of Management and Budget, prepared herself to switch gears entirely. In 15 minutes, she would get in front of a crowd to talk about her debut novel and not the latest budget report.
Somehow the established politico managed to do what so many of Washington’s burned-out power players can only dream of. She got out. She wrote a book. And, no, it’s not about her old boss.
“We Are Unprepared,” Reilly’s novel about a superstorm that threatens not only a fragile marriage but the entire Eastern Seaboard, debuted earlier this month, and the buzz is already tornado-worthy. So how’d she do it?
“I just woke up one day and realized I’m not getting any younger,” said Reilly, who has been writing since college. With time as a driving force (plus one 70-hour a week high-powered job) Reilly adhered to a strict (she would say “insane”) schedule, waking up early enough each morning to get 90 minutes of writing in before dialing into the daily White House communications call.
She told no one about her before-dawn activities for more than a year. Because the first rule of writing club is to not talk about writing club, at least until you’ve written something someone might actually read.
“I really had a completely irrational plan that I would keep doing this day job for as long as I had to until I found a publisher,” said Reilly, who quit her job in 2012 and has been writing full time since then. “I thought, ‘I’ll just keep doing it quietly and furiously, and if it takes 10 years, that’s fine.’ I felt totally whole when I had that as part of my regular routine. So I was happy with it.”
And thankfully, Reilly did not have to wait a decade. After staring down that first blank page in 2011 the first-time author kicked off her book tour in Washington at Kramerbooks on Wednesday night.
Filling out the packed crowd were a gaggle of Reilly’s Washington insider friends including Natalie Wyeth Earnest, a former Treasury Department official and the wife of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and Michael Steel, former press secretary to former House speaker John Boehner. Everyone got their book signed.
Funny thing is, according to Reilly, folks in the District’s industry of choice do not actually read fiction.
Reilly joked, “So many of my friends said, ‘Yeah I’ll buy your book, but I probably won’t read it.'”
That’s fine with her, she said, as long as these well positioned folks give the book prominent placement on their rich mahogany desks. You know so the important people will see it. As back up Reilly also sent her friends from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. back to the West Wing with a whole stack of copies.
One last piece of advice for anyone planning to follow Reilly’s footsteps straight out of this town:
“I had never experienced such sustained door slamming, even working in politics,” she said of the path to getting published, “and it’s horrible, and then you’re just like, ‘Hey, I’m still standing.’ So whatever novel or album you have in you, just buckle up for some failure and embrace it.”