Please join me in welcoming Jess Riley today for a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Q&A on her debut novel DRIVING SIDEWAYS!!
Her book 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. When she’s not reading or writing fiction, Jess is reading or writing school grant proposals in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and their neurotic terrier. She's hard at work on her second novel.
It's a delight to have you here, Jess! Thanks for visiting today and answering some questions :).
Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role? YES! Wilco and Aimee Mann feature prominently in the book. Mostly because, well, what road trip is complete without a decent soundtrack? I also mention Radiohead and Coldplay, Jack Johnson…but there are so many more, because when you’re driving through six or more states, you can only listen to so much local radio and audio books. (I'm a total road trip music junkie...and a fan of Coldplay...so I'm sure I'll be singing along with Leigh in the car!)
Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? Well, it’s not a person, but I actually first told my dog. I’d just returned home from a meeting when I got The Call. It was winter, and I almost hit a flock of turkeys driving home through the snow. I got off the phone with my agent and smiled at my dog and said, “Well, we did it!” Then I called my husband, of course, and we celebrated by going out to dinner that evening.
Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist? No way—I wrote like mad in high school. Mostly moody poetry or embarrassingly personal ‘humor’ pieces I hope never resurface. And I was always passing notes, making Top Ten Lists and drawing cartoons, trying to make people laugh. Some of my old friends have contacted me since the book’s been out, telling me they always knew I’d publish a book someday. I love them for that.
What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? You always hear ‘never give up,’ and there’s definite truth to that. But the most eye-opening thing about all of this has been how different writing is from the publishing side of things. Luck and timing plus talent and perseverance…they all come into play. One of my smart author friends has said that “writing is a craft, publishing is a casino,” and there’s some definite truth to that. Also, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been an invaluable guide through all of this. The whole book is one amazing piece of writing advice. (Oh, I LOVE Anne Lamott, too! Everything she writes in that book has the ring of honesty wrapped in humor.)
What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why? I love my protagonist’s best friend Jillian, and her new-agey optimism. I love people who are willing to suspend disbelief on a daily basis—who are open-minded, curious, and big-hearted, yet still willing to make raunchy jokes with you in the back of the classroom.
Congratulations on the success of your first novel, Jess! I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about DRIVING SIDEWAYS and about your upcoming books in the near future.