Thursday, January 29, 2009

A VERY Belated GCC Post, plus health update

Thanks for the love, everyone. I'm finally feeling better! Yay! I'm making some major but temporary changes to revamp my health and send Lefty packing: no dairy, no alcohol, no sugar, no corn, no processed foods / baked goods / refined flours, limited wheat, no meat (we already knew that one), limited coffee, but gobs of supplements...this is what is known as the NO FUN diet. What will I eat? Oh, rocks maybe. Air. Dirt. For the next six weeks. I'll tell you how it works after the ultrasound.

(Please note: don't worry family, I have detailed, carefully-planned menus lined up, nutritionally balanced and all that jazz. So, no, I won't be getting anemia. But I will be kicking this cyst to the curb. Whatever it takes, baby!!)

And now, let me awkwardly segue into a VERY belated GCC tour stop for Melissa Clark, author of Swimming Upstream Slowly. It has such a fun premise, and I can't wait to read it!

About the author: Melissa Clark is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning television series, 'Braceface', and has written for shows on the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox. She received a master's degree from the writing program at U.C. Davis, and currently lives in Los Angeles. This is her first novel.

1. Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.
"Swimming Upstream, Slowly" is a novel about Sasha Salter, who wakes up one day to find she is pregnant. Only problem is she hasn't had sex in over 2 years. The doctor's diagnosis is that Sasha's body has been harboring a 'lazy sperm'. Sasha must now open up the Pandora's box of her past loves to figure out which of her exes is the father - and what the future holds in store.
The idea was born because I was having lunch with a friend and overate. I lifted my shirt to expose my bloated belly and the friend said, half joking, "Are you sure you're not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I went home that night and started outlining the idea for a movie. I decided, eventually, to write it as a novel instead.

2. Could you please tell us a little about your writing background?
My dad is a writer, so I was always playing on his typewriter and writing on legal steno pads. I wrote short stories from the time that I could write. I studied writing and literature in both college and graduate school. In my 20's to mid-30's I worked as a writer in television. I created a kid's show called "Braceface" which ran for 5 seasons. I loved that experience, but really wanted to write a novel, so I quit my own show and set out to write "Swimming Upstream, Slowly." It was the best risk I've ever taken!

3. Is writing your main job? If not, what do you do for your real source of income and how does it impact your writing?
I still consider writing my main job even though I'm now teaching at the college level. In between grading, preparing lectures, meeting with students, etc. I somehow manage to find time to write. When I wrote "Swimming..." it was my only job. I had the luxury of time and money from the TV show. Now, my writing time is more precious because it is limited.

4. What do you love most about this book?
I appreciate this question because I feel a little weird loving it so much. I feel genuinely tender toward my characters and feel very disconnected to the fact that I created them. I appreciate their personalities and foibles. Every time I reread the book, I enjoy going on the journey with them all over again. When I was writing the book I had that swoony feeling of romantic love. I couldn't stop thinking about it, I bumped into things all the time, etc. I've never told anyone this before!

5. What's the most surprising thing that has happened to you on your publishing journey? Have you learnt things about the industry you never knew before?
I was invited to speak at the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival. There is a famous food writer named Melissa Clark who writes for the NY Times and I was sure they meant to invite her. I wined and dined with the likes of Frank McCourt and Elizabeth Edwards. I gave a talk during which I explained that I thought they invited the wrong Melissa Clark. The audience thought it was hysterical. They were cracking up, but I was really venting my insecurity. The head of the program came up to me after the reading and said it was great, but never assured me... a few months later a friend, after hearing that story, told me she knew the other Melissa Clark - they had been in a wedding together - and gave me her email. I wrote about that experience and she replied, "That's okay, everyone thinks I wrote the lazy sperm book."
Thanks, Melissa! I'll be back to regular posts next week (and back to work, and back to life, back to do you have that Soul 2 Soul song in your head?)

Monday, January 26, 2009

This post brought to you by

The finest generic Vicodin my HMO can provide.

Thank you everyone for your well wishes...Yes, I am alive! Thanks largely to my dear husband who made sure I didn’t gnaw my arm off during one of my daily pain seizures, or starve to death.* It was a rough weekend. You could tell just by what we had on: J was wearing plaid pajama bottoms and a camouflage shirt he found in a bag of free clothing years ago, and I was wearing…oh, who knows…a dry-cleaning bag? I was in too much pain to notice.

Anyway, it is a good sign today that we are both in fresh outfits. I’m still afraid of the shower, as my last cocky attempt at clean living was met with an hour of agonized writhing and shouting shortly thereafter. (Showering was painful because of uh, all the standing. Tricky stuff, that standing upright!)

Had my follow-up visit with an unfamiliar doctor this morning—and any time you visit a new doctor for ‘female trouble,’ your nerves are bound to get a workout. This one entered the exam room before I was ready, which was embarrassing enough, but then I had to sit and discuss my bowel habits with him afterwards. I can honestly say this is the first time I uttered the phrase, “I had a BM on Saturday” to another human being, as nonchalant as “I had a V8.” But what was I going to say, “I dropped the Browns off at the Super Bowl?”**

The verdict? I have a giant, intact cyst on my left ovary, but the stabby-stabby-pukey pain is on my right side…which led my doctor to guess that I’d also had a cyst on my right, and it got tired of the party and ruptured last week. Wheee! Best party favor ever! Anyway, I am praying that Lefty doesn’t also go piñata on my ass and model the inappropriate behavior of Righty. I have another appointment in six weeks, this one for an ultrasound, to see what Lefty’s up to. He will either ‘go quietly into the night’ on his own, or he may need a little help from the bouncers to exit the facility.

This is all necessary because I want a bun in the oven. Let’s just hope I have the self-cleaning variety.

*He even sautéed some mustard greens, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic for me! Mr. Supersecret Burger King Himself!

**So, have you ever ‘passed’ a Rubik’s Cube? Yeah. Fun lil’ side effect of the painkillers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Midnight Field Trip to the Emergency Room

So last night. After four hours curled in a fetal position, groaning, I finally gave in and asked to be taken to the ER. This was not gas, nor was it going away. J dropped me off at the door and I plopped myself into a wheelchair because the idea of walking across the lobby seemed like crossing the Sonoran Desert on rollerblades. But at that point, I still felt well enough to get irritated with a walk-in who entered at the same time as me, practically sprinted to the desk, and took a year to be processed.

The pain in my abdomen and side began to escalate while we waited…it felt like an army of mustachioed, middle-aged nerds was re-enacting the Battle of Antietam in my uterus.

Once in the exam room and my stylish hospital gown, a parade of nurses began to enter. My favorite was the one who gave me morphine. Because by then, I’d gone to the place where the pain is so intense that you are nearly hovering above yourself, having weird memories like the time you and your friend Wendy laughed so hard at Bo’s leather jacket on Days of our Lives (you used to watch this in college) because every time he moved, it creaked loud enough to drown out his conversation with Hope. Or maybe this was the morphine talking?

But yes! Ah, the pain. It also made me do exciting things like vomit into a plastic bucket as I was still being processed.


“Jessica, when is your birthday?”

This was the third time a nurse asked me. Hey, maybe they were planning a surprise party for me!

“Could you spell your last name for me?”

“R – I – (gag) L-E-Y.”

Punctuated by another hurl into the bucket. Yay, me!

A young, cute doctor came in, examined the fun, and surmised that I could have a kidney stone.
Wouldn’t that be something? Despite my writhing and groaning, J and I began to plan who we would give it to, after I had it set in a ring first. My friend Fee immediately came to mind. It would go well with the set of wisdom teeth earrings her sister had given to her for Christmas one year.

So we launched into a battery of tests: a CT scan, bloodwork, and urine sample came first. No kidney stone…and they couldn’t even FIND my appendix. So on to an unanticipated pelvic exam (of course I hadn’t showered and was wearing my most disgusting underwear) and an ultrasound for the hooha.

You don’t even want to KNOW what that test entailed. Let’s just say I didn’t ask for any souvenir photos.

Back in the private little curtained room, I began to worry. We’d only recently started talking seriously about having children, and it was quite clear during my pelvic exam that the pain was radiating from my uterus.

A nurse came in and gave me another dose of morphine, because despite feeling 'Lisa Simpson “I am the lizard queen!”' out of it, the pain was still marching across my gut. I asked J to tune our television set to The Golden Girls, which is for me, the equivalent of TV comfort food. Soothed by the rerun where Dorothy might discover that Sophia isn’t really her mother, J crawled onto the gurney next to me and began to snore.

Floating on the edge of sleep, I wondered: we were finally in a place to talk about trying for children...what if we’d waited too long? A commercial came on featuring an adorable baby and I felt like I’d stepped into a dark, empty room. Had we meant it when we said we’d be okay if we couldn’t have children possessing our genetic material? Had I meant it when I said I would be fine if I couldn’t get pregnant someday? Maybe it was the morphine, but I didn’t panic at the prospect. I would accept whatever the answer was. Still…no high chair, no crib, no tiny shoes, no tiny snowpants, no tiny jars of pureed plums, no baby giggles…pangs of regret began to squeeze my heart.

And then my overactive imagination REALLY kicked in. If it’s cancer, that’s the least of your troubles. I used to think now and then on really good days that if I died the next day, I would die happily. Even though I’d never gone to Nepal or Africa. And then I thought, what am I, f*cking NUTS??!!!!!!!

Around two in the morning, the doctor came back. He told us that I have a LARGE cyst on one of my ovaries, and it burst or started leaking or had engaged in some kind of funny business that made me vomit and hallucinate about old soap operas. I also had a UTI. And they were still worried that my appendix was wonky. Basically, I was … AM… a mess down there. Today, we fill my new prescriptions and I make an appointment with my doctor to follow-up. Funny, even though I was groggy with exhaustion and morphine, one of my first questions to the doctor was, “Can I still get pregnant?”

And he said, “Uh, that’s not really my department. Most women come to me when they DON’T want to get pregnant.”

A Bob Dylan lyric suddenly streamed through my mind. “Nah babe, that ain’t me, babe.” So ... there you have it.

(Wow, I can hardly wait to see what kinds of posts I’ll be writing when my new Vicodin prescription is filled!)

ETA, Friday: Not out of the woods yet. The only position that isn't making me cry in pain is the child's yoga pose. Appendix, is this YOUR doing?? Will be returning to the doctor...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What NOW?!?!

Okay, I promised a new post today, and it looks like there may be a delay. I am having some really entertaining pains in my side/lower back/abdomen plus nausea and it could be any number of jolly conditions, based on my ill-advised attempt to self-diagnose online. Another trip to the ER could be in order for the Rileys over the next 24 hours, depending.


Monday, January 19, 2009


First, congratulations to Tootie, the winner of the Brenda Janowitz book giveaway. Tootie, email me your address and we'll get that novel in the mail to you stat!

Second, thanks to all who weighed in on my vacation conundrum. Right now, it looks like a compromise of sorts may be in order: Hawaii, plus a modest kitchen upgrade from 'absolute hovel' to 'functional enough.' I picked Hawaii because they have several things I want from a vacation (whales, baby turtles, and clean sheets) and things J wants (beaches and drinks with umbrellas...oh, and getting leied).

I must say that Costa Rica is still possibly in the running, based on some feedback from a recent visitor.

On a completely unrelated note, I was shocked and saddened to hear today that my favorite independent bookstore in Wisconsin is closing. After 82 years in business, Harry W. Schwartz will be no more later this spring. They hosted one of my readings this summer, going to great lengths to promote the event and make me feel welcome. It's a depressing day for readers and writers alike, although I can take some heart in the fact that two of the store's locations will re-open, under new ownership. If you value the services provided by your local independent bookstores, please give them your business. (We'll miss you, Harry!!!!)

And I have just the book for you to buy the next time you visit your Indiebound store! My friend Eileen Cook's second novel, What Would Emma Do? I was fortunate enough to read a copy of this fabulous story while it was still in draft form, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED it. This will make a lovely Valentine's Day gift for the teen reader in your life. Or yourself.

Here's another thing to do: donate blood and enter Manic Mommy's Virtual Blog for Blood contest! You could win a trip to Florida AND save a life...what more can you ask for??
Finally, the day job is getting nutso-ipso-facto, which means I can't be held responsible for the coherence of posts between now and mid-March. Like, I could end this with the random observation that sometimes, playing pickle-in-the-middle with a travel-size bottle of lotion is the height of hilarity to a seventeen month-old.
More incoherence on Wednesday...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bora Bora vs. The Kitchen

The other day my parents called me from their cell as they drove home from a visit with my Grandma (who is turning ninety in March—yowza!) My favorite part of the story about their visit was the fact that Grandma was sitting in front of one of those ‘sunlight boxes’ when they arrived, so they all gathered ‘round the sunshine box during their visit. The modern equivalent of ye olde hearth, I guess. My Dad ended the conversation with one of the more amusing excuses I’ve ever heard (“Well, we’re at the mall now—have to run in and get some calendars”), to which my mom added, “Yeah! We don’t know what day it is ever!”

Someone needs to give them their own sitcom. They even have a new household pet for even MORE hijinks: an abandoned kitten my mom rescued and bottle-fed. They call him Mr. TeeTee, and he is deceptively adorable, because he’s the biggest asshole ever. We all have the scratches to prove it. Daisy has yet to meet Mr. TeeTee, but I suspect the meeting won’t go well, because my 15 pound dog is terrified of… kittens. And her own shadow. And sneezes, and certain public radio show theme music, and water.

She does, however, have a very special fondness for her doggie bed, if you catch my drift.

Question for you all: Mr. Riley and I are contemplating our very first "real" vacation together EVER. Nearly nine years together, and we've never had a honeymoon or vacation 'just because.' So, it's time, don't you think? The destination at the top of my list is Bora Bora. Sure, it'll eat our bank account in one lovely, week-long, romantic chomp, but they say if we bring an underwater camera, at least we'll have PROOF that we enjoyed ourselves. (Scuba diving! Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Anyway, right now we (and by "we" I mean "mostly I") have been looking at Bora Bora, Costa Rica, and Hawaii. Kenya and Bhutan also top the list, but they'll be there for the ten-year anniversary, barring some unfortunate national turn of events in either country.

Bora Bora vs. a decent kitchen remodel. What do you think? Meh, dishwashers and fridges that don't make horrid, shuddery noises every twenty minutes are SO overrated!

Oh, also: is anyone watching the third train wreck Bre t Michaels has brought MOBILE? This is our latest guilty pleasure. You can't help but feel better about your own life after watching.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

GCC Presents: Brenda Janowitz and a Book Giveaway

I'm so pleased to showcase the latest author to tour on the GCC, Brenda Janowitz, who is currently promoting the release of her latest novel, Jack with a Twist. Look how fun the cover is!

About the book: Planning a wedding can be a trying experience… A little prewedding anxiety is normal for every bride, and Manhattan attorney Brooke Miller isn’t worried. She’s got the loving support of the world’s greatest guy, so planning her nuptials should be a piece of cake. But that was yesterday. Today, Brooke’s landed her first big case and has just discovered that the opposing attorney is none other than her fiancé, Jack. But that’s okay. These two professionals aren’t going to let a little courtroom sparring get their legal briefs in a bunch.… Right? Wrong! Now Jack’s pulling every dirty trick in the law books, and Brooke’s starting to suspect that maybe he isn’t the man she thought he was. Warring with her fiancé at work and at home, Brooke realizes that she’ll have to choose between the case of her life, or actually having a life.

You know the drill: next up, a peek into Brenda's writerly habits via the Question Sampler Platter:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?

Not much, I’m afraid to say! I still just pretty much write wherever and whenever I can. I write on my laptop which means that I can pretty much write wherever I please! I love to write on my couch at home, or, if I’m too distracted, at a nearby coffee shop. A fun thing for me is to meet my writer friends and have coffee or breakfast and then put our laptops on the table and write the rest of the day away!

2) Do you listen to music while you write?

Generally, I don’t. Music always inspires me, and can put me in the mood to write, but when I actually have to put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop, as the case may be), I have to turn the music off. I just listen to the lyrics too much to be able to concentrate on my own writing.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'

Absolutely. And I wish that I didn’t! I would be so nice to be able to just enjoy a silly movie without telling my husband that the ending was totally deus ex machina.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?

Since I honeymooned in Hawaii this past summer, I’d have to say Hawaii. It’s such a beautiful and quiet place. There’s a rich history there, which is so much fun to explore. And, of course, there’s just something for me about the beach—feeling the sand under my toes, listening to the crashing waves—that relaxes me to the core and allows my creative juices to flow. What could be more inspiring than a place like Hawaii?! (Does this mean that I get to go there again now?)

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?

Speaking at conferences is always a blast for me. It’s so great to be a part of something for a weekend, or even a day. Walking around the hallways, it’s always fun when people you’ve never met before know your name. There have been quite a few crazy stories from all of the speaking engagements I do.

More about Brenda: A native New Yorker, Brenda Janowitz has had a flair for all things dramatic since she played the title role in her third grade production of Really Rosie. Brenda attended Cornell University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Human Service Studies. After graduating from Cornell, she attended Hofstra Law School. Upon graduation from Hofstra, she went to work for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, followed by a federal clerkship with the United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York. Since her clerkship, Brenda has worked as a career counselor at two New York City law schools. She currently lives in New York with her husband. Brenda is the author of JACK WITH A TWIST (Engaging your adversary and other things they don’t teach you in law school) and SCOT ON THE ROCKS (How I survived my ex-boyfriend's wedding with my dignity ever so slightly intact). You can learn more about Brenda at and check out her blog at

But wait, there's more! As a special treat, she's graciously offered to send a free signed copy of Jack with a Twist to one of my blog readers, who will be chosen at random. All you have to do is enter your name in the comments below, or email me at jess (at) You have until midnight on Tuesday to enter. Go do eet, and be successful weeth eet. Thanks, Brenda!


This week will be chockablock with book posts: one more GCC post, plus some of my recent recommended reads (including my good friend Eileen Cook's debut young adult novel, What Would Emma Do?).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How to Never Get Yourselves Invited to Another Party With the B’s Again

(or, Reason #475 Why I Love The Guy)

Hey! How was your New Year's? Back to work and all that jazz? We spent New Year’s Eve with good friends, one of whom I recently reconnected with after ten years. Her husband is the son of a fairly strict minister, so he was the most outspoken agnostic among the group. The subject of children came up…well, children in the context of God. You know, the usual light conversational material for a party.

My friend’s husband made a skeptical comment about the existence of a higher power, and one of the guests, a surgeon we just met that evening, replied: “Well, that’s your opinion, Mr. Cynical Atheist. I know there’s a God, because I see him in the faces of my two children every day. They are just so innocent and beautiful ... where else could they have come from?”

J piped up. “I’m pretty sure they came from your nutbag!”

Regular posting to resume shortly, with some catch-up GCC updates.