Monday, July 21, 2008


Jess Riley, author of the debut novel, DRIVING SIDEWAYS, is my guest on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour. Jess got the idea for the book because of her fascination with cellular memory. Is it possible for our organs to retain our energy if donated to another person? Can we really channel someone else’s tastes in music, food, or hobbies? And what happens if you’ve had a transplant and simply convince yourself this is true?

Driving Sideways tells the story of Leigh Fielding, a twenty-eight year-old kidney transplant recipient who—six years, hundreds of dialysis sessions, and a million bad poems after being diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease—finally feels strong enough to pursue a few lofty goals she’s been mulling for years: find herself, her kidney donor’s family, and the mother that abandoned her over twenty years ago.

And what better way to do just that than a solitary road trip across the country? Well, maybe not entirely solitary, because Leigh suspects she may have inherited more than just an organ from her deceased donor. It’s this sneaking suspicion that takes her trip down some unexpected detours—and the juvenile delinquent who blackmails Leigh into giving her a ride is only the beginning.

DRIVING SIDEWAYS (Random House, May 2008) just went into its second printing and has been hailed as ‘hugely entertaining and genius’ by Marian Keyes, and “a hopeful and hilarious debut” by New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster.

Here are some other great blurbs:

“Smart and funny without being forced, sentimental without being maudlin, Riley’s funny, picaresque vision of America will make readers wish they could go along with Leigh on her next trip.”

“Brilliant…Jess Riley proves herself a huge new talent.”
--Kristy Kiernan, author of Catching Genius

DRIVING SIDEWAYS was also selected as a Target “Break-Out Book” for display June 19, 2008 – August 9, 2008

When Jess isn't reading or writing fiction, she'd reading or writing school grant proposals—which some would say are still pretty fictitious. She lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her husband and their neurotic terrier. Jess is currently hard at work on her next novel, but took some time off to answer a few questions:

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of your book.
I actually put together an iMix of songs that comprise the soundtrack of the book. It’s a roadtrip story, so I felt I had to—what roadtrip is complete without a soundtrack? But if I had to pick the top three, I’d say “Driving Sideways” by Aimee Mann (of course), “Girl on the Wing” by The Shins, and “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
How different publishing is from the craft of writing. When it’s just you and your story unfolding, that’s a craft. It’s art. After your book is sold, that art becomes a commodity, subject to change based on economic indicators. Depending on how your publisher is positioning you, decisions will be made to maximize appeal to a certain audience and sell books. It’s a business, and you can’t get sentimental or attached to things like covers, titles, or even certain scenes in your book. (Wow, that sounds really harsh!) But really, it’s best to adopt a very professional attitude when it comes to publishing. Your book is now a product, and you are its best advocate in the market. All of that said, I still believe in the power of language and stories … I adore the writing and reading side of it all. The promotion and marketing end of things, not so much!

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, The Girls by Lori Lansens, and a galley of Cancer is a Bitch (*or, I’d Rather be Having a Mid-Life Crisis) by Gail Konop-Baker. I love them all!

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
Learn everything you can about the craft, about making your novel the best it can be, first. Then move on to the agent querying stage. If you pitch agents too soon, you might burn some bridges. (I learned this the hard way with my ‘practice’ novel.) And never give up! It can be a heartbreaking, discouraging process, but the more you write, the better you’re getting, and with a little luck (plus your innate talent *grin*), your perseverance will land you that book contract you dream of.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?

Oh, great question! My favorite restaurant is Water City Grill, just a few blocks from my house. I love the atmosphere, my husband loves the Friday night perch, and they used to have the BEST roasted vegetable alfredo lasagna. I’m thinking of begging them to put it back on the menu. I’m a vegetarian, and it’s hard to find many options at local restaurants (other than a baked potato or fries and an iceberg lettuce salad). So when I find a restaurant with SEVERAL delicious vegetarian entrees on the menu, I spend a nice chunk of change there on a regular basis. And they have fabulous martinis.

Think I'll just set off on my own road trip and mosey on over to Jess' Web site and join her for one of those martinis.

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