Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Author Interview: Jess Riley & Book Giveaway

Yesterday I posted a review of DRIVING SIDEWAYS by Jess Riley. I have to say that it was one of my favorite reads so far this year -- I loved this book. You can imagine how excited I was when Ms. Riley agreed to answer a few of my questions.

Booking Mama: The main character Leigh is diagnosed with PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease) and even has a kidney transplant at a very young age. Why did you choose to write about this specific disease? How much research did you conduct about PKD and transplants before/during the writing of this book?

Jess Riley: I did a TON of research on kidney failure, organ donation and transplants, cellular memory, and PKD itself before I even wrote a word. Working backwards from my premise and character needs, I stumbled across PKD almost immediately. I was shocked to learn that it affected more people than muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, Down syndrome, and Cystic Fibrosis COMBINED, and there is no cure. I’d heard of every one of these other conditions, but I hadn’t heard of PKD. So I decided to do my small part to help put it on the map for others like me, who hadn’t heard of it.

Since then, I’ve become friends with two amazing PKD patients, and I’ve discovered many more friends and colleagues affected by the disease. It’s now one of the causes I support.

Booking Mama: I loved all the 70s and 80s references in the book -- it was like reliving my childhood. I especially liked all of the sitcom references. You also wrote a very cute post on The Debutante Ball about loving the 70s. I might be a little off on your age, but I think you were actually a child of the 80s. Why do you think you have such an affinity for the 70s?

Jess Riley: Yes, you got me…I was born smack-dab in the middle of the seventies, so I truly came of age in the 80s. We didn’t have much money growing up, so I had lots of 70s hand-me downs, and my mom drove a Ford Pinto ‘til I was eight or nine. So, maybe it just FEELS like I grew up in the seventies. I love the kitsch of it all: the macramé plant hangers, the wild decorating color schemes, the fondue, the handknit outfits, the sitcoms, the music. My husband will be embarrassed that I am about to tell you this (since he was a big metal head in the 80s), but one of our favorite local stations plays all kinds of those smooth hits from the seventies. We sing along in the car and call it ‘our station.’

Booking Mama: I loved the character of Leigh! Is she based on either yourself or someone you knew? Is there any autobiographical aspects to this novel?

Jess Riley: Every friend or family member who has read the book has called to say, “Leigh is SO. YOU.” So I’m happy you like her. J Many of the anecdotes really happened, as well as some of the scenes…my friends were treating it like a scavenger hunt while they read, looking for the ‘true stories.’ I included many of them because not only did I want to remember them, but I also found many of them quite amusing. But the main storyline is not autobiographical at all. (Although my best friend is basically Jillian, with a few twists. She was such a good sport about it, too.)

Booking Mama: How long did it take for you to write DRIVING SIDEWAYS? What is your writing process? Do you write everyday for a few hours?

Jess Riley: I have summers off from grant writing, which is when I do the bulk of my writing: every day, starting around 8, and stopping when the muse loses interest and wanders away to paint her toenails. I’d say it took around four months to write the book, if I wrote eight hours a day every week day. But really, it all happened in fits and starts over the course of a few years, and then there were tons of revisions even after we sold the book.

Booking Mama: I really enjoyed the pictures that were at the beginning of each chapter -- they kind of made me feel like I was along for the ride! Whose idea was it to place those photographs throughout the book?

Jess Riley: Thanks! That was actually my editor’s idea. I took the Driving Sideways roadtrip for a second time not only to make sure I had the details right, but also so I could take most of those photos. I was making my best friend crazy, stopping constantly so I could get out of the car to take photos of the road and scenery. I have about a thousand photos of prairie dog towns and buffalo, and I can’t bring myself to delete them. And yes, there is a photo of me with my head in the “Getting Corny in the Corn Palace” sandwich board cut-out.

Booking Mama: Is there any possibility that we'll be seeing DRIVING SIDEWAYS on the big screen?

Jess Riley: I’m hoping! The moment I have that kind of news, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. And then probably being arrested for violating a local noise ordinance.

Booking Mama: I am a huge fan of THE DEBUTANTE BALL (a grog for debut authors), and I read it everyday. How did you become involved with THE DEBUTANTE BALL? What has it meant to be a part of this group this year?

Jess Riley: Oh, this has been one of the absolute BEST parts of the publishing ride. I was actually asked by Allison Winn Scotch to take her slot on the BALL back in 2006, when we both had books scheduled to be published in 2007. Unfortunately, I’d just learned that my book’s release would be delayed ‘til 2008, since my editor left HarperCollins for Random House (and I moved with her). So I passed the opportunity along to a new writing friend of mine, Eileen Cook. She planned to pass the baton back to me when her book was published…but her book’s release ended up being pushed into 2008 as well. She was gracious enough to share her posting day with me so I could be part of the fun anyway. I am so, so grateful to her and Kristy Kiernan for the opportunity to be a Deb, and for the friendships I now have with the other Debs.

Booking Mama: What are you working on now? When will your next book be available?

Jess Riley: I’m currently working on a story set in a medium security men’s prison, told through the eyes of two people who work there: A social worker in a wheelchair and the teacher he falls for. It’s got plenty of the same warped sense of humor that found its way into Driving Sideways and examines the binge drinking culture of Wisconsin, the class divide found in resort towns, and how you rebuild your life after a horrid heartbreak, all through that lens of pathos mixed with humor.

I worked as a teaching assistant in a prison in college, and my parents actually ‘met’ while both working in the same prison. So, you could say it’s the family business. (Although now my Dad is an English professor.)

I don’t know when the next book will be available, as I haven’t even shown it to my agent yet. If my publisher likes it (fingers crossed), I’m hoping it could be in bookstores as soon as July or August 2009.

Booking Mama: Who are some of your favorite authors? What books are on your nightstand right now?

Jess Riley: Oh, I love this question! I adore fellow Midwesterner Shannon Olson, and for a twisted sense of humor, you can’t beat Jennifer Belle. Jonathan Tropper is on my auto-buy list whenever he has a new book out, as is Haven Kimmel, David Sedaris, Paul Feig, and Jen Lancaster. The books on my nightstand include Emily Giffin’s latest, Julie Buxbaum’s debut, and I still have STACKS of other books-to-be-read in other parts of the house. I just finished Suzanne Finnamore’s Split: A Memoir of Divorce and absolutely loved it.

Booking Mama: What do you want your readers to take away from this book?

Jess Riley: I hope they laugh a bit, I hope they cry a bit (or maybe just get that tight ‘cry-feeling’ deep in their throat once or twice), and I hope they feel like reading it was time well-spent—a little mental road trip vacation without spending a fortune on gas or dealing with traffic. I think each reader will take away very individual feelings and impressions from the book, and I look forward to talking with readers to see what those will be. I love surprises. :)

If you are interested in winning a signed copy of DRIVING SIDEWAYS, please leave a comment on this post (with your e-mail) before Friday, June 27th at 11:59 EST. If you would like to double your chances, mention this contest on your blog with a link back to this post. I will randomly select the winner and post his/her name on Saturday. This contest is open to citizens of the US and Canada only -- sorry!


Anonymous said...

Please throw my name in the hat for DRIVING SIDEWAYS!! Thanks so much!

Anna said...

Please enter me in the drawing. I'd love to read this book.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

anna_begood AT hotmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

me too

Cheryl said...

Ooh really great interview. Pleae enter me and I blogged about this contest on my blog at http://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/

Thanks Cheryl

clbstitch at yahoo dot com

lauraknight said...

I want to win! Please enter me. Thanks for the contest.

lauraknight AT comcast DOT com

Does anyone know if this book is for sale at Target? I think I read that bit of info. somewhere else, but I haven't been to Target yet to check. Has anyone seen it there? Can't wait to read this one!!

Julie P. said...


I think it's supposed to be a breakout book at Target, but I haven't been there this week (yet) to see if it's there.


Karlie said...

Great interview! This book sounds like a good read. Sign me up to win.

LisaMM said...

Terrific interview Julie! Sounds like a great book. Jess, congratulations, your book sounds great!

jkluginbill said...

Great interview. :) Would love to win the book!

Katrina W. said...

thanks! Would love to read it.

Michele said...

I just requested it at the library. Sounds great!

Anonymous said...

What a great interview! I now not only want to read Driving Sideways, but I want to meet Jess Riley. Please enter me in the drawing!

Jess Riley said...

Thanks Julie! I had so much fun with this...and yes indeed, the book is at Target; and I just got the news an hour ago that based on first week sales at that wonderful retailer, DS is going back for a second printing!!! (Me = over the moon)

Cheryl said...

Throw my name into the mix as well ... I'd ♥'d to win!

The Bookworm said...

Great review and interview too...this book sounds like a great read.
i'd love to be entered

Bree said...

Great interview! I also want to meet Jess now. Please enter me. Congrats on your wins this week!

Amy said...

I actually did see this book at Target and thought it looked great! Please enter me, I'll be blogging about it later this week.
(i have the same last name as the author...that counts for something right?)

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

Great interview! I'd love to win! Also, here's a link to my blog post that mentions your giveaway.


Thanks for the chance!

Stacie said...

I would love to win a copy of Driving Sideways. Thanks! Stacie

kamewh said...

Great interview! Please enter me and thank you for the giveaway!

Rashmi said...

What a nice, thoughtful interview! Loved it and blogged it :) You'll find it here - Books and More Books

Count me in as well. Thanks!

windycindy said...

What an inspirational, informational interview. Thanks for the author's take on her book and the book review. Please enter me in your delightful drawing. Thanks, Cindi

pixiemama said...

Great interview - great blog!

Please enter me in the drawing - I'd love to read "Driving Sideways"

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interview. It's always interesting to get a little background on the author and/or a book's origin. I'd love to win this book!


Unknown said...

This was the funniest book I've read this year. I really enjoyed it and recommended it to all of my freinds. : )


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Thanks for dropping me a note, Julie! I'm glad to meet you and help spread the word. Great interview, too.

(and please, no need to enter me in the contest. Spreading the word and helping good books get notice is enough winning for me. Seriously.)

photoquest said...

Enjoyed the interview sounds like a wonderful book !! Please add my name into the drawing!

Unknown said...

I'd love to win this book and will also link back to this contest at my blog!



My Two Army Brats said...

I want to win! I posted about your contest on my blog.