Thursday, June 19, 2008

Interview With Jess Riley!

This is so exciting. I have a celebrity guest on my blog today!! You've all heard me gush about Jess Riley's book Driving Sideways. Jess took time away from her crazy-busy schedule to answer a few questions I had about the book. So, without further ado... Here's my interview with Jess!

M: Hope and serious disappointment are juxtaposed in this book so brilliantly. Tell us about a time in your life when you were anticipating something and your hopes were dashed with crushing disappointment. (For me it was when the love of my high school life, Brad Johnson, sent me a postcard. I was sure he was going to profess his love for me at last. Instead, he taped a piece of calloused foot skin to the back of the postcard and wrote "Yum, yum, foot scum" on it. I. Was. Devastated.) But, sorry… this is about YOU… What happened to you and what did you do to make you feel better?

J: Thank you for the kind words! But oh, I simply can’t top the Foot Scum story. That’s just plain painful. Early on, my attempts at getting published were frequently met with crushing disappointment. I just kept writing and reading, determined to make the next story better. Drinking helped, too. (I’m kidding. Mostly.) Writing aside, I have a plethora of entertaining stories involving romantic dreams dashed, from junior high on. I was super-homely in eighth grade.

M: What is it about eighth grade? I was super scary looking when I was 13. I wouldn't go back to junior high for a million dollars!

J: Yeah, that was a rough year. My ‘love life’ essentially involved me falling on the balance beam during gym class, bruising (as Ms. Vollendorf put it) “my pubic bone.” The whole class loved that one.

M: Ouch...

J: And now that I think about it, isn’t Ms. Vollendorf an excellent name for a PE teacher?

M: It is!! I had one named Mr. Bumann. That's pretty good too.

I love how you depict the complications of friendship. Did your inspiration for Jillian like the character when she read your book?

J: Yeah, my best friend is VERY much like Jillian, except as she puts it, “I don’t have washboard abs and I can’t dance.” Nor is she married or about to be married to a schmuck. She is, however, a very, very good sport. She’s got a great sense of humor, and I’m quite lucky to have her in my life. I’d love to email you a photo of us posing at one of those crystal / gemstone shops (I was the one not taking things quite so seriously), but she’d kill me.

M: For part of the novel, I was hoping that Leigh would hook up with her friend Wes. Do you really believe men and women can be friends without at least one of them harboring some kind of secret thoughts about the other?

J: Wes is slightly based on a friend I had in college…we’re actually meeting up again in a few weeks for lunch. I haven’t seen him in ten years, so I’m looking forward to that. I think Leigh is too smart for Wes’s BS, actually. But I loved writing about their friendship dynamic. I think that if men and women attempt to be friends, they both have to find one another mildly repulsive on some level. Because if one of them has even the mildest attraction (especially if it’s physical) for the other, there might always be that slight twist, that slight imbalance. I noticed that most of my male friends disappeared after I got married, as did most of my girlfriends’ male friends. I can only think of one who is still friends with a male friend she had in college, and I know his wife had a great deal of trepidation over their very platonic friendship for a long time.

M: I had no idea that PKD affects as many people as it does. You were recently interviewed by the PKD foundation. How did you decide to write about PKD?

J: I worked backwards from my story premise and accidentally discovered PKD. Given its prevalence (more common than muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, and sickle cell anemia COMBINED), I was shocked that I hadn’t heard of it. Ultimately, I picked it both because it was a good fit for the character’s situation, and I wanted to put it on the map for others like me who hadn’t heard of it. Since then, I’ve discovered that it touches the lives of people important to me in myriad ways.

M: Did your editors ever balk at the 'eating a pube' content? That part had me giggling out loud.

J: Not at all! In fact, my editor was writing little “Ha ha!” notes in the margins near some of those incidents. Such as the infamous hot wings-fueled romantic interlude. Which really happened to one of my friends, by the way.

M: Oh, wow. You have some wacky friends. Mine are all boring. (just kidding!!)

Tell me about Denise. Her story was a little mini-mystery throughout the book, and I like the conclusions that were drawn with her. Do you think Denise got what she was looking for out of the road trip? Did you have an inspiration for Denise? A somewhat annoying little sister, cousin, or neighbor kid, maybe?

J: People have told me that Denise is their favorite character in the book. She’s not really based on anyone I know, actually—not even a composite of several people. But she’s someone I’d LOVE to meet: a larger-than-life person with those proverbial brass balls and a sense of adventure rivaled by none. If Larry served as the catalyst to help Leigh start her journey, Denise was the fuel that helped Leigh shed the many inhibitions and fears holding her back from living the kind of life she’d always wanted. Together, they are one wacky pair of ruby slippers.

M: Yes, they sure are... Ok, last question for you: I'm letting my 14 year old daughter read the book. Does that make me a bad mom?

J: Ha! I don’t think so. There are no actual sex scenes—just lots of jokey innuendo. Nothing much worse than things I’ve seen on Family Guy. Fourteen is eighth grade, right? Hmmm…by that age, I’d already read all of Stephen King’s novels. But what do I know—I’m a childless dolt—I have no idea what’s age-appropriate for kids. (When my friends had babies, I actually bought them SAVINGS BONDS. WTF?)

M: Hey - savings bonds are cool. They're the gift that grows in value!

J: Fun story: My coworker’s nine year-old daughter read the first page (in which I reference an orgasm—better let people know what they’re in for right away) and said to her mother, “Hey mom! I know what an organism is! We just learned about them in science class!”

Ha! That was fun! Thanks, Jess, for the interview!


WebGal said...

Now I'm even more excited to read the book! (I'm starting it this weekend!)

Monnik said...

you won't be disappointed!

Barrie said...

Great interview! I'll be at B&N later today and must look for this book.

WebGal said...

Well, I just finished it (couldn't put it down)!! Wonderful book!

Swishy said...

Jess is wonderful and her book is wonderful, too! I loved it!

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