Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009? No Way.

So Happy New Year! If the Mayans were right, we've got three years left to whoop it up 'til the world ends.

I always like to begin on an optimistic note.

If you've had the TV on at all in the last few days, you've probably noticed that the stations are basically vomiting infomercials geared around diet & fitness products at us: the Total Gym, Bowflex, video systems including Hip Hop Abs and Crunchless Abs...it seems 2009 will be the Year of Abs. I have already boarded the New Year Fitness Bus, with mixed results:

1) I recently received a large balance ball so I can work my core while I watch TV (or just bounce around on it, that seems like fun too). I purchased a yoga mat and balance ball video and got down to business yesterday. As soon as I inflated the ball, I noticed a strange smell. Much like Daisy’s anal gland expressions. Not to be confused with “Glade Scent Expressions." I yelled at Daisy to get out of the living room, but after she slunk out, I realized it wasn't her. Apparently, the ball was off-gassing and it smelled like my dog's ass. I did the video anyway, inhaling all the tiny plastic molecules and likely offsetting any fitness results. Later I took a vitamin to deal with all the plastic gas I breathed, because I like to think that might have helped prevent some of my cells from getting all wonky. I'm already getting gray hair, for f*ck's sake. That's plenty wonky for ME, thank you very much.

2) I also purchased what is euphemistically called a "Body Band." It's basically just a giant latex rubber band, and you use it during certain pilates moves. Of course J and I broke it in horsing around in the kitchen, swinging each other around and pulling each other back and forth until I accidentally let go and the band snapped him in the neck.

Sorry, J. It's all fun and games until someone gets snapped in the neck with a giant rubber band.

3) I tried Zumba for the first time at the Y last week. Why didn't you guys remind me that a) I'm not coordinated, and b) I tend to space out in the face of complicated choreography? I spent half of the class looking over my shoulder and leaping around lamely in an effort to catch up to everyone else. As I engaged in a wild hip swivel I wouldn't even do in the privacy of my own home, my neighbor walked by the wall of windows with his kids. I hope he didn't recognize me, because I looked like an epileptic performing some kind of bizarre voodoo ritual. Now if we ask HIM to come look at our plumbing (because he's a plumber, and we need things plumbed), it'll be all weird and awkward for me. It'll be worse if he greets me with, "Hey, SugarHips!"

4) I joined Sparkpeople, which I haven't done much with. I just get annoyed at the thousands of emails they send me.

There you have it. Enjoy your New Year's Eve, and hey! We already have something to look forward to in 2009: VH1's Confessions of a Teen Idol.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Was Santa Good to You?

Has it been a week already since my last post? Wow. Okay then, a quick recap of the last seven days: food...snow...driving...more food...more snow...more driving in snow...gifts...wine...friends...family...more food and more snow. My snowblowing adventures succeeded, though I learned the hard way that one must wear a hat while engaged in such activity. Particularly if you have long hair and don't want to stop halfway through to use the hair dryer on your head so you don't catch pneumonia. We have about four and a half feet of snow piled near our sidewalks and driveway and are running out of room for the stuff. One month down, three to go...

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas...one random thing I concluded this holiday season is that whoever is dating or married to Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild is definitely crazy. Okay, yes, he is attractive enough, and there is that nice accent of his. But ... his name is BEAR. So if you're dating Bear and ever use the phrases "Bear with me" or "Bear down" or "Bear in mind" in mixed company, you might be implying something other than what you actually mean. Also, have you SEEN him urinate into a snakeskin and then drink his own urine??? Who wants to make out with a guy who drinks his own urine from a snakeskin??!!

That might appeal to some people, but probably not anyone even mildly keen on good oral hygiene.

In other holiday news, I finally achieved success with the Tom & Jerrys. Remember when I made them two years ago and they tasted like nail polish remover? I have fixed the problem, which was cut-rate booze one molecule off from another career as rubbing alcohol. Plus, you have to REALLY dollop in the frozen goo-mix.

There is also an epic battle being waged in my household over the purchase of a new ginormous flat-panel TV that we don't need. You would not believe the amount of begging, bargaining, badgering, buttering up, and bartering going on. There is also an excess amount of alliteration, as my last sentence illustrates. A certain sale is supposed to end soon, so the pressure is being applied liberally. I'm both annoyed and amused, depending on the moment. Wild pronouncements are being made. "So if I wanted to buy a purse costing $800, you'd be totally fine with that." ... "If that's what made you happy I would!"

Right now, I'm ready to give in just for some peace and quiet. J is supposed to go to the Y twice a week with me now (that was part of the deal), so at least we'll be in decent enough shape to fit in the TV box, which we will have to move into in order to afford the TV.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mick Jagger appears briefly as a drag queen

Last night we went to happy hour with 'the gang,' which turned into dinner and a reminder that drinks + crayons + paper tablecloths = you'd better leave the server a nice tip. We typically organize our get-togethers by email, and I kept noticing messages from a guy named "Greg Ran"* ... yet I'd never met Greg Ran. So we arrived at the bar and I turned to our pal Norm to ask, "So who the hell is this Greg Ran guy? I always see emails from him, and I've never met him!" Norm sighed. "Um, that's me."

So I've known Norm for a year, yet not known Norm.

Anyway, we sidled up to the bar and I noticed that the bartender was grubbing through a giant jar of black cherries (or black olives, who could tell). I was briefly disgusted by the idea that he took money crawling with bacteria from people and also handled drink accents with the same filthy fingers, but of course by the time I ordered I'd already forgotten. Drink #1 was a "Back in Black" martini that looked like a urine sample and tasted like Nyquil. It was two-for-one martini night, so I tried again. "I'd like a dirty martini. Make it really dirty. Filthy."

Later, as I accidentally stabbed my eye with the skewer of olives, it came back to me. "Ew," I said to J, "I just remembered that he touched money AND these olives with the same fingers."

J shrugged. "You wanted it dirty!"

Indeed I did, I mused, and chewed an olive thoughtfully.

This morning a snowstorm hit, and as I skipped through dreamland, J sat next to me and roused me with a gentle, "Honey? I'm running late for work. Do you think you could snowblow today?"

I groaned and pressed a pillow over my head.

"It's really easy."

"No," I moaned, wanting to return to the bizarre dream I'd been having: a biopic on the life of Geraldine Ferraro, who did not fall from political grace due to shady spousal business issues but rather, a leaked video of her smoking a doobie and doing a song and dance number with Liza Minelli at a party at Johnny Carson's house.

"Sweetie," J persisted gently, "It's really easy. All you have to do is...."

Here he said things about levers and start buttons and such, but I was already tuning out. Johnny Carson was starting a conga line, and I didn't want to miss it.

"And guess what else?" he cajoled, in the same voice you might use to convince your kids that cleaning their room will be an adventure, "You'll discover something men everywhere don't want their wives to know!"

"What, that they're lazy?" I mumbled.

"No," he said. "That snowblowing is FUN!"

Later, he even described deciding where to shoot the excess snow, which was my main concern, as 'like completing a puzzle!' But I've never been into Tetris or Jenga, really. So I'm going out to try this jazzy, exciting new activity shortly, and I can already tell you. It will not be fun.

*I've changed the name to protect the privacy of ... Norm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Racing Nowhere for an Hour

To offset the additional cookie intake this time of year (and because I'm apparently somewhat of a masochist, not to be confused with my husband's former band "Massakist"), I have been upping the ante for myself at the Y. Monday night, for example, I took my first ever SPIN class.

As we hopped on the bikes and began to warm-up, I turned to my friend Julie. "So how long does this last?"

"About fifty minutes."

My heart sank. Actually, it began to look for the exits, because I was about to demand a great deal of work from it. Around the fortieth minute, I noticed I was looking at the clock an awful lot. Ten minutes to go, I thought, allowing myself to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And just at that moment, the instructor shouted, "We usually go for just fifty minutes, but I thought we'd go a bit longer today. Is everyone cool with that?"

My foot fell out of the pedal holster and I would have kicked her with it, had I been able to do anything other than sweat, pant, or take giant, rubbery steps like a cartoon character from the thirties.

Surprisingly, my legs are not sore from the ordeal, although now I remember why bicycling isn't my favorite activity in any season.

Next week, Zumba and pilates. Although it's been so cold here lately that I think I'm getting a pretty good core workout just by shivering.

PS: It's my best friend Cindy's birthday today ... I based the character of Jillian on her in the book, and she was SUCH an incredibly good sport about it. The universe and I would like to wish you a happy birthday, Cindy!!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Hodge-Podge

Has anyone seen the movie "Away from Her?" Good LORD...cut me open, pluck out my heart, slap it a few times on the pavement like a wet towel, and hang it back in my ribcage. True, heartbreaking art. Bring your Kleenexes.

Does anyone have any good Christmas cookie recipes? I love almond paste, chocolate & mint combos, and peppermint.

Every morning on my way from the parking ramp to my office I walk by a 'dry' night club for teens. The windows are scribbled with various colorful messages advertising specials, events, etc. Frequently, they are hilariously misspelled. Today "Ladies' night" had three lines drawn through it; a new note had been written above: "Every 10th person gets in free!" Now I'm trying to imagine the young man who bitched about ladies' night being unfair to guys. Something tells me he practices dance moves in front of his bedroom mirror. I'm also guessing he was quite the playground tattletale in elementary school. I fear for his future colleagues.

Last night I left to meet some friends for happy hour, calling D to confirm the location because I am a space cadet and forgot. After I asked D replied, "Um, we're meeting NEXT Thursday. But at least you're not at the bar already, waiting." Because yes, I did that last winter. Have I mentioned I'm a space cadet?

So J and I decided to go to dinner instead. On the way there, we listened to the Ben Merens show on Wisconsin Public Radio. The theme was good holiday reads (or something like that, we were jabbering on and didn't hear), and all of a sudden I heard "polycystic kidney disease, and it's about a roadtrip. It's heartbreaking and also hilarious." I screamed, and it turns out my friend Hope called into the show to recommend my book. Squee for Hope!! Her birthday is the day after Christmas. Happy birthday!!! Sometimes I hear her husband calling in on the WPR morning shows, and it always makes me smile. Especially when I hear their little girl babbling in the background.

And, as promised, a few more anonymous college journal entries. Funny, sad, poignant, cringe-inducing, ironic, titillating, always revealing:

"If that goddamn car of his doesn't get fixed then this relationship will be over sooner than planned."

"Ew! Ew! Ew! Bailey has herpes! My f*cking roommate has herpes! I'm so grossed out...it just freaks me out. I better not get it. I don't think I can. I'm almost positive I can't unless we have 'contact,' which I won't."

"So I'm 19. No different. Getting older sucks. I didn't believe those words when I was younger. But they held true. I don't regret my life one bit."

"She's a ho who is doing a 34 year old. Good luck."

"To his credit, he was completely hammered."

"I am crabby and these two kids who sit in front of me are annoying the shit out of me. One girl is bragging that she only wore a sweatshirt to class. I hope she gets frost bite and is unable to speak. She obviously was not hugged enough as a little girl."

"I finally brought a b*tch back. I don't even remember her name, but oh well, it was a great f*ck. I woke up this morning and she wasn't even in bed with me. She used me. AWESOME. I love getting used."

"I'm going to hook him up with one of the girls I know. She's too ugly for me to f*ck, and I know Chase will f*ck anything that walks. As long as he get his nut, he's happy."

"To make a long sotry short, we started kissing, kissing turned into touching, and touching turned into penetration. I regret that night, but regrets are just reminders of our mistakes. I don't think anything like that will happen again. I was a thief. She was a virgin."

"I really want to be an author, interior designer, coach, wedding planner, or a photographer, it's hard to tell."

"I'm starting to realize that a lot of college girls are quite slutty. Not that I'm complaining, but even I get sick of the one night stands. I really hope I can find just one decent girl on campus."

"I called my teacher for alcohol class. Wow, does he seem like an a$$hole! What do you expect, though, he's there to punish us for what we've done and 'educate' uus about our 'problem.' How about this: I don't have a 'problem.' I drink for fun."

"Today I had two exams and was raped by both. :("

"I really wanna strangle my sister. First off, why did I get stuck being a twin? Second, why is she so much smarter? So I'm the dumba$$ f*ckup of a daughter and my twin is amazing! You watch, I'm going to kill that B*TCH and solve all my problems. Peace, Magz."

"I have a 5-7 pg research paper coming up. I'm doing it on Charles Manson and his awesomely f*cked up life. Hope it goes well."

"I had Chinese again tonite and I wanna kill myself. LOL. I'm getting too fat! I repulse myself. :( I gotta lose weight so my boyfriend doesn't puke. I used to weigh 115 lbs and now I weigh 125 lbs."

"I wish I could fast forward my life."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sit n' Reach

I’ve never been a very flexible person. Physically speaking, at least. I’m usually fairly calm and laid back (though J would probably beg to differ), but what I wouldn’t give to be able to touch my toes on a regular basis. Why, you ask? Because, I vaguely reply.

To that end, I’ve begun attending pilates class again. I was a regular last spring, but slacked off in an epic and astonishing way all summer (preferring instead to crash certain cocktail parties and stuff my face with tiny cream puffs).

So here I am, back in pilates. There is a semi-creepy guy who always sets up mat next to me…have you ever seen the Three’s Company episode where Janet is taking dance lessons and her leotard-clad instructor hits on her? Well, my mat mate looks like THAT guy. Creepy gray-bearded leotard dance instructor. All he’s missing are the leg warmers. I absolutely hate it when we have to lie on our sides doing the leg-swingy moves, because inevitably, we end up facing one another. But I’m not sure I want him looking at my flip side, you know?

Last week there was a woman in front of me who quite possibly spent her formative years in the circus. Seated, she had her legs splayed wide apart, split at exactly 180 degrees, and she was bending easily forward, then left and right, nose completely meeting her knee or the floor. Whatever she pushed her face against, it met. Imagine that kind of flexibility! When I tried bending over to touch my toes in a seated straddle, I was lucky to achieve a 45 degree angle, straining, red-faced and pathetic. Because my hamstrings have the flexibility and length of a plastic spork from a kitchen play set. They always have…I was probably the only kid in gym class who had to practice the Sit-n-Reach each night for a week before the Presidential fitness award testing so I wouldn’t get an F. Let's not even discuss the rope climb or Flexed Arm Hang.

Now, before you men think, “Oh, that’s so hot!” imagining Stretchy Pilates Woman all spread out and bendy, know this: she looked like a man-boy with a terrible haircut, and she was wearing a turtleneck embossed with Christmas wreaths, plus brown socks. She was also dancing to the seventies tunes played by our instructor. Well, ‘twitching, bobbing her head, and scrunching her toes while showing off’ is more like it.

So I’ll continue to work on touching my toes. I won’t be wearing a holiday turtleneck, though.

I’ll be back tomorrow night with more Fun with College Students.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Book Clubs and Freshmen

One of my favorite things to do is getting together with book clubs. I've met some fabulous women this way:

They are all so lovely and sweet. I wish they would adopt me in some sort of time-share arrangement.

I adore them all!

We may be planning a trip to Tunisia together.

Last but not least...No, he's not a book club, but I couldn't resist. Look at that hat!! Could there BE a cuter hat in the history of head warming? My sister said she had a dickens of a time finding a good winter hat for him, because they were all too tight for his generous cranium. But this one seems to work. At being exceptionally adorable.

So I promised you an early Christmas present last week, and I'm still preparing it. But as a teaser, here are a few anonymous journal entries from my favorite college freshmen:

"Can someone tell me why I attract the ugly girls. I was at this party this weekend and I was talking to this group of girls, most of them very good looking, when a girl comes up and starts grabbing my nuts. I don't know her at all. I was scared and she wasn't good looking at all."

"I sit there, literally sit there with my thumb up my ass."

"It's 12:19 a.m. and that means me and Sam have officially been together for one month."

"I had breakfast for the second time since I've been here. Then I had gay as fuck Biology."

"The Brewers are in the playoffs. Yay! I had a good / terrible weekend. I dumped Dustin early Sat. morning. I have never cried so hard in my life."

More to come!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


First, J would like everyone to know he's fine, just a few bruises to his person and pride (thank you for your concern), and that it most definitely was NOT he who had the funky balls. My mother was so concerned about the ER incident she emailed me this helpful bit of advice:

"Thank God I check your blog everyday or I wouldn't have known that J collapsed at work! I'm glad it turned out to be as simple as no breakfast. But even that seems like something he should check out further. He should do what I do and eat a bowl of oatmeal every day for breakfast. I just put 1/3 c oatmeal in a bowl with dried cranberries and add 2/3 c water. Then I put it in the microwave for 1 min 20 sec (1 min 18 sec when I'm running late) and voila out pops a nice healthy breakfast that will also help lower cholesterol."

(Mom, I know you didn't say if I could blog about this or not, but it was just so adorable I couldn't help myself.)

Second, yesterday I saw something else that truly tickled my funny bone. Our neighbor is a large man who rides around in a souped-up motorized scooter...we got some snow yesterday, and I happened to glance out my kitchen window at one point to see this:

I shot this through a window screen, so I apologize for the poor quality. That is his SON on the Rascal scooter, cruising down the sidewalk while holding a plastic shovel in front of him to push the snow. Another view:

I don't know whether to file this under "Laziest people alive" or "Redneck ingenuity on parade."

I have a REALLY nice early Christmas present for you next week...'til then, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the scars!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

GCC Presents: Malena Lott (plus something for you to do)

Today is my birthday, and I can think of no better way than to celebrate with GCC Author Malena Lott, whose new novel Dating da Vinci was recently released (from Publishers Weekly: "Written smartly...satisfying and uplifting"). I met Malena in San Francisco this summer, and she is such a doll. She kindly invited me to guest blog at Athena's Bookshelf last month, and I'm happy to return the favor by featuring her here today.

About the book: Ramona Elise is in a rut—a 36-year-old widowed mother of two, she can’t seem to find what makes her truly happy in life. Making sure her kids are happy isn’t the hard part; Ramona’s looking for the passion she lost two years ago when she lost her husband and her world turned upside down. When a handsome Italian immigrant walks into her English class, Ramona never expects to find la dolce vita (the sweet life) in a younger man—or in her self.

Word Candy describes Dating da Vinci as "a Texas-based hybrid of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Under the Tuscan Sun." Which is a pretty irresistible description. To learn more, visit her website at: http://www.malenalott.com/.

You can also learn a little bit more right here:
1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
I definitely treat my writing as a job. I’m either marketing, writing or editing every day. It’s a commitment I make to myself and my future, but yet I love it so even on the tough days, it’s still better than any other job I can think of!
2) Do you listen to music while you write?
Sometimes. For Dating da Vinci, I was really inspired by the Italian Café CD. The tunes were just so catchy even though I had no idea what they were saying. On the manuscript I just finished writing, I listened to a lot of jazz like Ella Fitzgerald because I wanted a 1940s vibe in the story. But I can write well without anything at all, and sometimes silence (which I rarely get around my house with three kids), truly is bliss.
3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
Being an author definitely makes me read and watch with a more critical eye, I suppose, but I never let that get in the way of just being the watcher/reader and enjoying the story. Thing is, you know it’s great when you just get swept away in the story and you don’t think at all. Then you reflect on it, and you’re like, “yeah, this and this and this is really what made everything click.”
4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
I can really write anywhere and I’m pretty “tied” to home since I have three young kids, but any new experience adds to your brain file that you can retrieve later for a story. For my fourth novel my characters are traveling, so I’d love to go where they are going. Right now I have them in Mexico visiting the pyramids and the cathedrals and I’m pretty jealous of them.
5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
I really enjoy getting to meet readers so I love author events. I’ve had six events for Dating da Vinci, with one more scheduled for January. One such event was in Woodward, OK where I graduated from high school. My middle sister lives there and after about the third “exuberant/excited” reader had come and gone, my sister looks at me with the strangest look on her face and says, “I don’t get it. Why are they so excited to meet you?” I just had to laugh. To your family, you’re just “you,” you know? The whole author thing is like a different persona, I guess. And it felt a little surreal having to explain to her that some people are thrilled to meet authors, even her own big sis.
Thanks for the interview, Malena! Congrats on the book release; here's to "la dolce vita."
Something for you to do: Tomorrow (Thursday Dec. 4) I will be at my alma mater, UW-Oshkosh, at the University Bookstore at 748 Algoma Blvd in Reeve Union from 5-6:30. It's my last public book signing this year, so if you want a personalized, signed copy of Driving Sideways to give as a gift for the holidays, stop on down!
I'll be back on Friday with a new post, kiddos.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Prostate with Grief

First, if the title applies to you, eat some tomato soup! Now, on to the goods.

Spent the entire afternoon in the emergency room after a frantic call from J: "You need to come home and take me to the hospital. I passed out at work." Apparently, he was discussing Thanksgiving with a friend during lunch, began to feel lightheaded, and the next thing he knew he was lying on the floor, his friend shaking him and yelling in his face.

So off to the ER we trekked. J was strapped onto a gurney, hooked up to various monitors, placed in a large plastic neck cuff, and given a barrage of tests...he's fine, but he WILL be eating breakfast from now on. Right, J? I hung out with him in his wired & semi-bionic state waiting for the results. To add insult to injury, I tuned the TV in our room to Wife Swap. It proved dysfunctional enough to distract him from the regular auto-inflating of the blood pressure cuff on his arm, painful enough to make him wince each time the compressor kicked in. "Listen to that," he'd say, a whiff of panic in his voice as the cuff squeezed his bicep, "You can hear the VELCRO ripping it's so tight!!! If they put this on old people, it'd turn their bones to DUST!"

The doctor whizzed in, pulled off the neck brace and poked his neck a bit, then said, "Okay, let's get your hickey protector back on." And J was again uncomfortably bound in the massive plastic brace for another two hours.

"This is SO uncomfortable," he'd say, staring at the ceiling. "It feels like someone is picking me up and dangling me by the head. I feel like I'm choking!" To distract him, I made jokes about the unfortunately named "Cavi-wipes" sitting on the counter. Only one step up from "Cadave-wipes."

The doctor said I had to give hourly neck massages and eliminate the "honey do" list for a week. Pffft! On our way out five hours later we each had to pee so bad we went in separate directions to find the nearest restrooms. When I came out of the bathroom, I got lost in the ER and wandered around a bit. A nurse had to show me the way out.

I remember all of this because I jotted the best parts on a receipt I found in my purse. On it was an old note I wrote to myself in early October, meant either for a future blog entry or bit part in a novel: "You could tell just by looking at him that his balls were funky."

The end.

Friday, November 28, 2008

GCC Presents: Jessica Brody

Today I'm pleased as punch (how pleased can punch be, you ask? Plenty, I reply!) to present Jessica Brody, author of The Fidelity Files (St. Martin's Press, June 2008). Jess interviewed me for her other site (Free Book Friday) about a month ago, and is just an absolute sweetheart.

About the Book: The Fidelity Files (Jessica's debut novel) hit the Denver Post bestseller list as the number two bestselling paperback in Colorado last June. Now she’s aiming her sites at the global book market with a recent release in the UK and upcoming releases in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia and Taiwan.

The provocative novel strikes a sensitive chord in readers, telling the story of a charismatic, young woman who goes undercover as a “fidelity inspector” to test men’s loyalty.

Jessica recently flew to London to promote the November release of the book’s UK edition (published by Random House UK) which debuted in WhSmith’s (one of the country’s leading booksellers) top 100 bestselling paperbacks list. The title continues to sell across the pond, gearing up to outperform even the American release.

The Fidelity Files confronts the thorny issue of infidelity head-on with its controversial main character Jennifer Hunter. Operating under the code name “Ashlyn,” Jennifer leads a double life. Her friends and family all think she’s an investment banker who’s too busy to date. In reality, Jennifer is hired by suspicious wives and girlfriends to test the faithfulness of their partners. Her job has made her pretty cynical about her own love life. But just as she’s ready to swear off men forever, Jennifer meets sexy, sophisticated Jamie Richards, a man who might just pass her fidelity test. However, before she retires her secret agent self forever, she takes on one last assignment – a job which will permanently alter her perceptions of trust, honesty, and love.

A gripping story of one woman’s quest to come to terms with her past, find her future, and—most of all—rediscover her faith in love, THE FIDELITY FILES was chosen as one of USA Today’s hottest summer reads and has recently been optioned for television. St. Martin’s Press and Random House UK have already purchased the sequel (yet untitled) to be published in the fall of 2009 and Jessica has recently sold two young adult novels to Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Juicy! Congrats on your successes, Jessica...Well-deserved. She graciously provided a peek at her behind-the-scenes habits below:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
I hate to say it, but I tend to procrastinate a lot more now than I ever did before I got published. I think there’s something about that desperation for a book deal that keeps you on track. Now, I just find so many other things to do. It’s really bad! In terms of actual writing, I think I’ve definitely grown as a writer since I got published and I’m learning to trust my instincts more when it comes to what is working and what isn’t. I used to fight that voice inside that says, “This scene really sucks,” convinced that I wasn’t experienced to know what I was talking about. Now, when I hear that voice, I listen and start pounding on that delete key.
2) Do you listen to music while you write?
I am so envious of people who listen to music while they write. Something about that just feels so poetic and wonderful. For me, on the other hand, it had to be absolutely silent otherwise I get all flustered. Plus, whenever I listen to music, I tend to really focus on the lyrics and the meaning behind the songwriter’s message, so clearly you could see how this would interfere with my ability to form a sentence. In fact, I tried to turn on music when I set out to complete this interview, but that idea went out the window pretty quickly.
3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
Oh my gosh, DEFINITELY! I am the worst person to watch a movie or television with. Just ask my boyfriend. I sit there and tear things apart. Especially story development. And I’ve found that I have a certain knack for completing character’s sentences when we watch TV. I guess when you write dialogue for a living, you start to get a sense of where other writers are going with their dialogue. I’m sure it’s terribly annoying. I’m actually surprised my boyfriend is still with me.
4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
Well, I’ve always wanted to rent a house on the beach in Hawaii and write there. There’s something very glamorous and romantic about writing on the beach. Although, I have to say, if I did have the funds to be able to pull that off, I doubt I’d get much writing done!
5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
Hmm…this is a tough one. The only thing I can think of is how I tend to be psychic when it comes to knowing when my agent is going to call. She claims I have a sixth sense about that. Like I’ll send her an e-mail inquiring about the status of something just as she’s receiving a phone call with news. It’s really weird. She calls it psychic, I call it desperate writer syndrome.
Thanks, Jessica! Her award-winning book trailer follows:

I'll be back on Monday night, after I've recovered from Thanksgiving a bit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shopping and First Snow

First, a spot of good news: I saw the first copy of Driving Sideways that included my AUTHOR PHOTO in the back! And here I thought they forgot. Aw, gee. Now I'm all warm and fuzzy. (Or is it the booze?)

This weekend I spent some time shopping, which reminded me that sometimes, despite the crowds and germs and lines and other irritating hindrances, in-person shopping can be preferable to online. How else would I have seen the woman--despite the 25 degree temperature--in short shorts and high heels at Fleet Farm? And how else would I have seen the woman in fur, crimped hair, heeled clogs and baggy gray sweatpants at Target? And finally, I would have missed such a delightful exchange between a forty-something woman and her eighty-something male companion (her father perhaps?) in line to check-out at Festival Foods. As they loaded their purchases onto the conveyor belt, she turned to him and said, "How are you at sacking?"

He was wearing a hearing aid, and the store was quite loud, so you can't blame him for saying, "What?"

"How are you at sacking?" she repeated.

He looked puzzled. "What?"

"SACKING," she said again, patiently but loudly. "How are you at SACKING?" This time, she accompanied her question with some awkward hand gestures.

He appeared to get it. "Oh. BAGGING."

Now here's what I'm wondering. Who refers to this process as sacking? The guy at the end of the line is not called the "Sack Boy." (Although don't you kind of wish he was?) The guy at the end of the line, the one carelessly tossing pineapples and gallons of milk on top of your eggs, is called a "Bag Boy." Because you BAG your groceries. You do not SACK them. You can sack a quarterback, but you can't sack a can of Spam.

This is the rule.

Also, look what we woke up to this morning:

It's all very lovely, but my back muscles are already bracing for the shoveling. Also, my potted sage and thyme had been eking out the final days of their lives near the garage, but now it looks like curtains for my herbs for the season. So I'll have to return to Festival for a sack of sage before Wednesday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

GCC Presents: Saralee Rosenberg

First, about my last post? I'm not referencing a FUNNY event, rest assured. And I probably will disclose everything here in a month or two, depending. Now, let me move on to the next GCC author in the queue, Saralee Rosenberg. I've heard lots of wonderful things about her fourth novel, Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead. And apparently, good things come in fours, because the book is now in its fourth printing!

About the book: Nora Ephron Hates Her Neck. Big Deal! Mindy Sherman hates her whole body. In Mindy's yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin' Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane. It's another day, another dilemma until Beth's marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be "friended," and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year old miracle that altered their fates forever. Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it's worth finding out.

I haven't picked this up yet, but now I'm really looking forward to it. Plus, Saralee provided some of my favorite answers thus far to a selection of GCC interview questions:

Q. What was the inspiration for your new novel?
A. Of my four novels, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is the only one that was inspired by, well, me! This story is based on my first novel, ALL IN THE CARDS, which was never published, but did take a very exciting journey to Hollywood. Back in 1997, Bette Midler optioned it for a feature film (she was looking for a follow up comedy to “First Wives Club”). Exactly! Wow! First time out and it’s a homerun. Sadly, the reason you never heard of it is because ultimately, Bette and her partner couldn’t get financing or find the right screenwriter to adapt it. Bye bye Bette... Now fast forward to a few years ago. My novels, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT and FATE & MS. FORTUNE had done very well but were about single women looking for love in all the wrong places. I wanted to write about my “peeps” in the suburbs and pitched my editor on letting me rewrite ALL IN THE CARDS. She was hesitant because she wasn’t sure Avon was the right publisher for a suburban/soccer mom story with bickering neighbors. Then came “Desperate Housewives” and suddenly it was, get me suburban/soccer mom stories with bickering neighbors. Timing is everything.... So although DEAR NEIGHBOR is an incarnation of my earliest novel, it is a much richer, deeper, funnier story and is resonating with readers of all ages.

Q. When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?
A. Phew. You can’t imagine the relief. I had given up a successful career writing non-fiction, which had sent me on two national book tours, including an appearance on Oprah (heaven!!!!), only to have my writing life come to a screeching halt when I switched to working on a novel. It took me three years to write A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, another year to find an agent, and the agent a year and a half to make the sale to Lyssa Keusch at Avon. In theory, the sale should have been one of the greatest events of my life, if not for the timing. I got word that the deal was done exactly two days after 9-11, and because I live in the New York area, the grief and shock was all I or anyone could think about. I let family and friends know, of course, but run out and buy diamonds or book a cruise? Didn’t happen. And interestingly enough, all of my book celebrations since then have been, not subdued as much as put in perspective. I’m sure that my joy and satisfaction will always be tempered with the memory that life is so full of yin and yang. And maybe that’s for the best.

Q. Do you put friends in books? Have any of them recognized themselves?
A. I get asked all the time by family and friends to be in one of my novels, but I tend not to go there unless they’re willing to buy several dozen books in appreciation for being immortalized (if Girl Scout Moms can bribe, so can I). Once I did give in and named a character after a friend, only to describe the character as a philandering shoplifter. She was horrified and wanted to know how I knew? I didn’t know, I made it up, but boy did that make things interesting afterwards... Also, my husband’s business partner had been prodding me for years, to which I would say that a character who sold insurance, played golf and visited his grandkids in Florida would not exactly be memorable. But finally, in Dear Neighbor, to get him to stop bugging me, I did name a minor character Steven Hoffman. I made him a lawyer in Portland, and it really made Steve’s day... then he asked why he wasn’t a major character and could I feature him again in the next book? Men!!!!

Q. If Oprah invited you on her show, what would the theme of that show be?
A. Sigh. I’ve actually had the distinct privilege of appearing on Oprah to discuss my non-fiction book, 50 FABULOUS PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY, and I gotta tell you, it was awesome. She was soooo nice and I and my husband/co-author were treated like royalty. We got the limousine, the fancy hotel, the nice dinner out, hair and make-up and a souvenir coffee cup that still sits on my desk as a pen holder. And Steadman was there, too (he smelled so good!) Would I love to be a guest again? Are you kidding me? It would be a dream come true to be invited back as a best selling novelist. In fact, I had a dream scene in DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD that involved my character Mindy being on the show to talk about what it was like to live next door to Beth, the bitch. It had to be cut because of space limitations, but trust me, Oprah is always on my mind. Nobody sells a book like her.
Q. What is one of your strangest/most quirky author experiences?
A. My first three novels are a trilogy in that they all deal with the super natural. All of my main characters have funny and intriguing encounters with the other side, the after life, and/or a ghost. But never did I expect that I would personally have a strange encounter with the spirit world while I was hard at work. And yet... I had been writing my debut novel, A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE over a three year period, and as you can imagine, was very very tired. All I wanted to do was cross the finish line, have a good cry and eat a box of Mallomars... One night, I was working on the final pages and was so bleary eyed I convinced myself that the ending was terrible but maybe my editor wouldn’t notice, or would say to me, no, this is great, don’t change a word. But just as I was fixing the last page, we had a power outage and the whole house went dark. It was so strange. There was no storm, no reason to lose power. But when the lights came back on a minute later, I had lost the latest version of the ending. It literally disappeared and I freaked out and cried. How could this happen? On a whim I called my neighbors to see if their power had gone out but it turned out ours was the only house that did... Clearly it was a sign from above. The next morning I started over on the ending, and when I finished, it was so much better, so much more rewarding. This time I cried from joy. I had finished and it was great.
Thanks, Saralee! Who was on Oprah..................swoon.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Fine ShArt of Blogging with Boundaries

Once again, I find myself wanting to blog about something very personal, but I CAN NOT because I have very stupidly been writing a PUBLIC BLOG for the past three years. (At first I typed "Yars," like a pirate, but all that Somali pirate shit isn't FUNNY. You need eye patches and peg legs and striped hankies tied around your bald heads for that.)

So because this is a public blog, and the people who control my paycheck and the seating arrangements at family holiday gatherings read this, I must censor myself, which stinks worse than the shared bathroom on the third floor of my office building. I can't tell you when I'm really ticked about something (unless it's innocuous, like ridiculously imcompetent waiters or how my hair looked like a giant owl pellet at an important event). Nor can I tell you certain hilarious things that happen in my day-to-day because I might end up divorced and penniless, sleeping at my parents' place on a cot under a blanket knit from cat hair.

I recently told a book club I met with (see how I dropped that in there, all nonchalant, like I'm cool?) about an embarrassing event I once wanted to blog about because I found it disturbingly hilarious, and based on their semi-horrified responses, I'm glad I didn't write about that one. So sometimes the censorship ends up being a good thing. For everyone, really.

Anyway, I am experiencing something right now that is the emotional equivalent of enema by nailgun: painful, mildly humiliating, and quite possibly my own damn fault. I may end up telling you about this in the weeks and months to come. I may end up starting a new, completely anonymous blog. I may end up doing nothing at all but eating a bag of Sun Chips in front of a Big Love marathon.

I'm going to pilates tonight, and I really hope someone rips one during class.

When I'm in a mood,
It'll take something crude
For a new attitude.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GCC Presents: Kelly Parra

I don't know how it happened, but I got way behind in my author guest-touring commitments.* So today I am presenting Kelly Parra, now promoting her second novel, Invisible Touch.

About the book: Kara Martinez has been trying to be "normal" ever since the accident that took her father's life when she was eleven. She's buried the caliente side of her Mexican heritage with her father and tried to be the girl her rigid mother wants her to be. Not even Danielle, her best friend at Valdez High, has seen the real Kara. Because Kara has a gift -- one that often feels like a curse. She sees signs, visions that are clues to a person's fate, if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle in time. So far, she's been able to solve the clues and avert disaster for those she's been warned about -- until she sees the flash of a gun on a fellow classmate, and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Kara does her best to follow the signs, but it's her heart that wanders into new territory when she falls for a mysterious guy from the wrong side of town, taking her closer to answers she may not be able to handle. Will her forbidden romance help her solve the deadly puzzle before it's too late...or lead her even further into danger?

And now for the author Q&A with Kelly:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
I used to write whenever I felt like it. There would be weeks when I wouldn't write at all. Now I can't go more than a day before I itch to write or the current WIP is calling to me.

2) Do you listen to music while you write?
Funniest thing, I never used to. Silence was fine with me, until I got my iPod and was able to make playlists that I enjoy. Now my music can really set the mood I need for a particular scene.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
I used to be able to watch a movie and just enjoy it! Now I babble to my husband about ordinary world, conflict, and journey. LOL. He just nods his head and tunes me out. Books, I can still manage to lose myself in, but every once in a while I'm nitpicking a choice for a description or how I would have wrote a scene. I annoy myself.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
Actually, just the outdoors inspire me. I'm closed off to the world so often that I lose connection to my basic sensory of vision, scents, and touch. I can get inspired by going to the beach and taking the atmosphere in.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
I'm not sure, but overall I think readers or some people I've come in contact with have a strange perception of authors. That maybe we're eccentric or moody. I'm just a regular gal and sometimes people are shocked by that. :) Thank you for having me on your blog, Jess!
Doesn't Kelly sound like a real sweetheart? Best wishes with the book!

I am returning to pilates class tomorrow after a six month hiatus, so I'll report back late Thursday night. (I'm sure to pull or bruise something.)

*I suspect this is because I am LAY-ZEE.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My New Health Kick

There have been a few things going on lately that are frustratingly beyond my control, so I have retreated to my usual chaos-inspired attempt to regain control in my life: a health kick. You might be thinking, what are you, f*cking crazy? You are a VEGETARIAN! Your colon probably greets every day with song and dance!

Oh, how wrong you would be. So after spending a delightful day with my sister and 14 month-old nephew (dear GOD is he cute....of course, I forgot my camera), we stopped at the Outpost Co-Op and I stizzocked-the hell up. When the checker rang up the total I had to do a double-take, but you don't expect my health kick to include red wine made WITH sulfites and pesticide-laden grapes, do you?

Anyway, some of the healthy items in my cart included: kefir, omega-3 capsules, Tofurkey, brown basmati rice, dried cranberries, "perfect protein salad" and "Thai peanut pasta," baby spinach, two kinds of dark chocolate (one with lavender and blueberries), two containers of organic soup (cuban black bean bisque and sweet potato), almond milk, a homemade granola bar, and some other healthy shit I can't remember right now.

All of these grand efforts probably mean I'll still contract some horrid debilitating disease (related to stress, no doubt) and die before the rest of you, but at least I'll have fun torturing my husband while I'm still here.

Why, here's an example: on Thursday I made some garlic-bean and spinach chowder for dinner. We made the mistake of watching the Food Network while we ate (which is akin to watching you-know-what while doing you-know-what), and unfortunately, Paula's "Deep Fried Thanksgiving" was on, featuring a parade of deep fried meats on sticks, deep fried veggies, and one very rotund Walter Payton (as helper, I assume). At one point, his low-fat/high-fiber soup balanced pitifully on his lap, J turned to me with giant Precious Moments eyes and whimpered, "Can we change the channel please?"

Now, I'm not vegan (because Wisconsin might revoke my state citizenship if I gave up dairy), but I just discovered a new blog that has me salivating: Post Punk Kitchen Blog. The shot of those savory tomato rosemary scones has me reconsidering my ban on scones-as-gifts for the coming holiday season.

Family and friends, consider yourselves warned.

EDIT: thanks to Manic Mom and J, who just informed me that Walter Payton is DEAD. It was actually Refrigerator Perry. Who will probably die soon too, after consuming all those deep-fried meats on sticks.

Oh, the humanity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Winner and An Offier

Hey, Pumpkin Pie! You guessed closest to the grand total in the Price is Right Piggy Bank Signed Book Giveaway Contest, at $92.44. The actual total was $100.07, which shocked the hell out of me. So Pumpkin, to claim your prize, shoot me an email at jess(at)jessriley.com, and be sure to tell me your address and who I'm signing the book for.

I had been dreading the actual discovery of how much money those piggy banks contained, because they had no stoppers in the bottom, and I'd have to break them with a hammer to get the coins out. So I devised a very inefficient method of busting each bank with a hammer in an open gallon-size bag, sifting the coins with a slotted spoon to get rid of the thousands of tiny glass shards, and finally depositing them in another bag. I unwisely did this on my kitchen counter, getting bits of glass and glass dust all over the place. So if I die of intestinal bleeding this weekend, it's because glass dust found its way into my mac and cheese.

After I stopped at the bank with my sack-o-coins, I went to the post office to mail a box of 18 signed books to someone. I was hoping to use the reduced media rate, so I told the woman at the counter that my package was full of books. "Anything else in there?" she asked, surprising me.

I thought for a minute. A small sheet of bubble wrap and a handwritten note, which I included almost as an afterthought. "Um, just a card?" I added.

"Oh, then you can't use the media rate," the postal worker said smugly, applying the higher shipping cost.

The next time I mail books anywhere? There will be no handwritten notes accompanying them. *wink wink nudge nudge*

A final note: for anyone having trouble finding Driving Sideways in bookstores, I'm sad to say this is probably going to be more common than not...we have already sold 80% of all copies in print (Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!), leaving about 5,000 copies in bookstores or warehouses nationwide. Typically, books have a 3-month shelf life at stores after their release; after that point (unless a title is selling really well), bookstores will start shipping books back to the publisher, because they have to make room for new books. I heard that there are something like 17,000 new books published EVERY DAY in the U.S., so if this figure is remotely close to the truth, you see what bookstores have to contend with. (Authors as well--you tend to feel an obscene amount of pressure to load all of your publicity activities into the first three months of your book's release, because you know the clock's ticking.)

Some major bookstore chains will continue to carry one or two copies of a particular book if it sold relatively well, and re-orders are driven by sales data.

SO. If you are looking for a copy of Driving Sideways to give to someone for the holidays, your best bet is to order online, or ask your local bookstore to order it for you. And if you want that copy signed, email me: I can either send you a signed adhesive bookplate, or you can send me your copy of the book plus a self-addressed, stamped return envelope and I'd be happy to sign the book itself and pop it back in the mail for you.

Have a fanfreakingtastic weekend....Cheerio!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hey Economy!

Quit being such a dick!

Here's what I will do to prepare for hard economic times:

1) Learn to make my own yogurt and cheese. Hey, it could happen!
2) Grow more of my own food. This is already happening, with mixed results. Despite a hard frost a few nights ago, tonight I picked some fresh sage leaves to toss with my pumpkin gnocchi, walnuts, and maple/brown sugar/butter sauce. (Yes, it was delish. We had roasted brussel sprouts as the side, and I'm still stuffed.)
3) Downsize. The next step down for us is 'Large Box.'
4) Telecommute to work more. This will not only save on gas, but also on personal hygiene products.
5) Watch more YouTube videos of puppies playing, to cheer myself up. Daisy sat on my lap and watched a few with me tonight, growling and punching the screen with her nose.
6) Think of happier times. Last night as I was falling asleep an old babysitter of mine suddenly popped into my head. Her name was Vicki, and she had a son my age. He and I would watch GI Joe, Jem and the Holograms, and Scooby Doo while playing with Hot Wheels cars. I was always the black Trans-Am, and I constantly tried to get his car to go on dates with mine.

I remember Vicki bought products from Shaklee and Avon and Amway and the Schwann's man. She had a mini-trampoline in the living room, and I would dance on it to The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited" and Eddie Rabbit's "I Love a Rainy Night" while Vicki watched The People's Court.

Can you believe nobody punched me in the face during this phase of my life?

Oh! I almost forgot: I was also a compulsive hand-washer during these years. I didn't know it, but I was trying to pre-emptively wash away years of bad taste in music.

7) Stop buying shit I don't need. Unfortunately, the nearest Target is only about a mile from my house, so this is not likely to happen.

What are your penny-pinching hints?

PS: Speaking of pennies, you still have 'til midnight on Thursday to enter the Price is Right Piggy Bank Signed Book Giveaway Contest. (You can enter in comments for this post, or scroll down and comment there. I'll check 'em all.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Something to Do on Tuesday, plus a Contest!

This weekend I was invited to do a signing at my first 'trade show' type event, and overall, it went well. The strangest thing was that 40% of the books I sold were to people with kidney transplants (or loved ones with kidney disease), which became a bit unsettling after awhile. Forty-percent! What are the odds of that???

Most shoppers were very friendly, many had bangs sprayed into angles and dizzying heights not seen since the late eighties, and one woman in particular will be memorable to me for a long time, and not because of her Extra Large, Extra Pouffy hair:

"Oh, I love to read!" she gushed. "I read everything."

She picked up a copy of Driving Sideways and began to read the back cover.

"What are you reading now?" I asked.

"She Who Laughs Last. It's really inspirational, such a good Christian book. So moving, so inspiring."

Just as she said that, it was as if I could hear a distant countdown to the point where she'd reach the line about the swingers in my jacket copy and carefully back away from the potty mouth before her.

Ten...nine...eight....AAAAAAND we have contact!

She looked up at me and smiled. She blinked. "Well good luck to you," she said softly, and drifted off to visit the swingers-free zone at the nearby Mary Kay table.

J spent most of the day in the sports bar attached to the banquet facility, watching college football and drinking beer. Thank God for that, because he would have probably withered and died in the presence of so much estrogen had there been no ready masculine escape hatch.

Speaking of J, I gave in yesterday on the Pile of Change Stand-Off. It was day seven, and that pile of filthy pennies may have been the catalyst to a day-long cleaning frenzy the likes of which our house has never seen. I vacuumed the walls and ceilings. I scrubbed behind the toilets. I married half-empty bottles of lotion. I watered plants, put away laundry, packed Halloween decor into boxes, and organized a pile of bills that was beginning to growl at me whenever I walked past. (I didn't pay them, but their overall appearance on my kitchen table is much improved.)

Hey! What are you doing Tuesday night? I'll be at the West Bend Community Memorial Library for a chat and reading at 6:30 pm. It's Veteran's Day, so if you are a vet (or in a relationship with one), go get your free dinner at Applebee's and come down to see me afterwards. And thank you for your service to the country! If you're not a vet, you won't be getting anything in the mail tomorrow, so why not spend the time you would normally dedicate to tearing up credit card offers or flipping through the Money Saver at the end of the work day with me instead?

PS: The filthy pennies are now in this gallon-size Ziploc bag, next to two completely full piggy banks. I will be taking the piggies and the baggie to the bank on Thursday. Want to guess how much all of this comes to? The person who comes closest will win a signed copy of Driving Sideways. For you, or I'd be happy to personalize it so you can give it to someone else as a gift. You have 'til midnight on Thursday to enter!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Resistance to Change

J has off this week, so of course my inner dictator came out. When I got home tonight, it appeared that my house-minion had only achieved half my plan towards world domination: the living room was vacuumed and the dishes were done, but I was greeted at the door with, "Hey, what's for dinner? Are you hungry? And just look how clean the kitchen is!"

I gave the room a cursory inspection. "I see that pile of pennies is still on the kitchen table."


"Are you leaving that for me to clean up?"

"But I voted for that change! That's change I can believe in!"

I had to hand it to him. It was cute. "I'm so going to blog about that."

"No, you're not."

"Yes I am! I don't have any good blog stuff to put up."

"Why don't you write about how poopy you feel again?"

"Will you get my camera so I can take a picture of that pile of pennies for the blog?"


So there you have it. My cold is back, which is screwing with my creativity (aka "making me feel poopy") because a conversation about a pile of pennies on the kitchen table actually seemed amusing enough to blog about. I also had a lovely and mildly interesting conversation with our office cleaning lady Dorothy Salter, who is 86, constantly perplexed by foolish people in her life, and probably in better health than me. Apparently, another woman in the city was also named Dorothy Salter, and she recently died. Unfortunately, some of OUR Dorothy's acquaintances got confused by the obituary and began to spread the news that our Dorothy was the one who passed.

"Yah," Dorothy shouted at me today, "This neighbor lady sez to me, 'I thought you were dead! They said you died a month or so ago!" She shook her head and dropped her voice. "She sent me a Christmas card this week. I think she's losing it. Not so right in the head." The conversation then abrubtly segued to a pear tree she planted with an unknown accomplice many moons ago, and the fact that it bore very hard fruit this year, a dozen or so of which she gave to our office. (Click on Dorothy's name for an adorable photo of her. She was recently featured by the local paper, and is horribly embarrassed by all the attention.)

Tomorrow I'll be speaking with a local businesswomen's networking group, followed by a meeting with this lovely woman's book club, and on Saturday I'll be at the Suamico Ale House all day hawking my wares. And by hawking my wares, I mean selling that book with the feet on the cover. Mr. Riley will be my lackey for the day. Isn't that nice of him? And I didn't even tell him about the Pancake and Porky breakfast in the morning!!

PS: For a real post, Malena Lott invited me to guest-blog about "la dolce vita" at Athena's Bookshelf this week to help celebrate the launch of her new novel Dating da Vinci. (I'm the one wearing green on hump day, blabbering on about George Bailey and David Sedaris.) Congrats, Malena!!

PPS: The pile of change is still on the table. Let's see how long it stays there, shall we? It is now day three.

Monday, November 03, 2008

It? Has been Busy

Hello there! Do you hear that dragging noise? That's my ass! In the last week, I met with two book clubs, gave presentations to roughly 60 college freshmen in three classes, attended two work meetings, carved three pumpkins, handed out candy to 66 trick-or-treaters, enjoyed a night out with 10 other women (one of whom was subjected to an incredibly humiliating birthday treatment at a local Mexican restaurant), and along with 140 other people, attended a baptism party for my friend L's son. Unfortunately, we didn't all fit in one vehicle.

I was half an hour late for the Tuesday night book club meeting because I got Horror Movie Lost due to the fact that my Mapquest directions were butt-cobbled together by blind, insidious elves and I am an idiot who did not remember to ask for my host's phone number. Luckily, just as the light was fading from the sky, I finally found the address, and the attendees were simply gracious and wonderful. We had an absolute blast despite my tardiness and my sweaty pits and the slightly-crazed look in my eye from driving around and around like a maniac looking for the correct turn.

I know I promised some Halloween-related photos last week; they're a little late, but Daisy insisted I show the world what a mean dog mom I can be.

The only way Daisy will let you brush her or pick dingleberries from her bum or put her spider Halloween hat on is if you lift her up onto the washing machine. This way, her mobility is completely dependent on you, the human. So is her dignity.
Two of our jack o'lanterns. Yes, we cheated and used patterns. Eight years ago I actually designed three original carving patterns. Do you know how much work that was? It was a nutty amount of work. Absolutely nutty.
The cartoony version of Vlad. Hey, is anyone watching HBO's True Blood? Did anyone else laugh hysterically after last night's episode like I did? (So ... Sam is a ... COLLIE?!?!)
Daisy, without her spider costume but with some of her dignity restored.

Daisy and I would like to wish everyone a Happy Election Day on Tuesday...I still remember my mom taking me into the voting booth with her when I was a kid--it felt like we were going into a curtained phone booth to turn into superheroes. I vaguely recall that she let me push a few of the buttons for her (we were probably the only family in our county to vote for Carter back in 1980), and now that I think about it, I may have been so enamored with the whole process that I 'played voting' with my Barbies afterwards. God only knows what THAT entailed.
So vote on November 4 (if you haven't already ... and don't forget to pee first and maybe pack a snack, in case the lines are long). Also, it's NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. Butt-in-chair, five to ten pages a day, and you'll have a novel by December first. Or, at the very least, a series of frustrated journal entries with chapters titled "What should I write about today?" (week one) or "BlahblahfartstinknothinginspiringpoopwhydidIdothistomyselfIhatewriting!" (week three). Have fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

GCC Presents: Allison Winn Scotch

I am so excited to introduce the latest author to tour my blog as part of the GCC, Allison Winn Scotch, whose second novel Time of My Life (released on October 7) has already garnered much well-deserved buzz. I had the pleasure of reading an advance review copy of Time of My Life this summer, and I could NOT put it down. I absolutely loved it, but don't take my word for it...People magazine called it "a clever, entertaining look at the compromises women make – and the dangers of getting what you asked for," and it's one of The Today Show's Top 10 Must-Reads for the Fall Season. Not only that, but The Weinstein Company just optioned film rights! *SWOON!*

About the Book (From Publishers Weekly): "In her latest novel, Scotch tackles an oft-asked question—what if I had held on to the one that got away?—with an engaging, fast-moving, high-concept drama. Endearing Jillian Westfield seems to have it all: a loving lawyer husband, a healthy infant daughter, and a lovely home in Westchester County, N.Y. But cleaning spit-up and dealing with her husband's long office hours have begun to wear on Jill, and it hardly helps that she's just learned that her post-college boyfriend, Jackson, is getting married. The day after a deep, chi-clearing massage, Jill wakes up and finds herself seven years in the past, giving her the chance to revisit her life with Jack in Manhattan, when she worked as an advertising executive. Hindsight, of course, is anything but 20/20, and Jill's new choices hold unforeseen consequences for herself and those she loves. As Jill, through trial and error, rethinks her biggest decisions—such as her choice not to reconcile with her estranged mother—Scotch keeps one dexterous step ahead of page-flipping readers eager to guess the outcome."

Love the premise, no? Allison is not only talented, she's also durn nice, as her answers to my question sampler platter reveal:
1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?

Nothing, really. I still procrastinate as much as possible, and I still find it torturous to actually sit down and write! Okay, I guess something has changed, and that is that I write with more confidence because I actually think I know what I’m doing. So while the routine itself hasn’t changed much, the process behind it has, because I feel like now, I’m not just throwing something against the wall and seeing if it sticks. Now, whatever I write – since this is my second novel – had a good chance of ending up in a bookstore, which is both liberating and terrifying.

2) Do you listen to music while you write?

No. It’s funny: in college, I couldn’t write or do ANY work without music playing. I always either had my stereo or walkman on. (Walkman! Ha! That shows you how old I am.) But now, I find that I start listening to the lyrics and they block up my mind. I’m not capable of making up my own words while listening to someone else’s. In fact, I was just about to launch Napster while answering these questions, but decided against it because I thought it might throw me off. I dunno. Maybe I’m just getting old.

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

Yes. Definitely. I have a very, very difficult time reading a book now for the pure pleasure of it. Don’t get me wrong – I read plenty of them. But as an author, I’m much likelier to examine them like a mortician might a body: I pick them over, examine the choices the author made, the dialogue, if I can assess where the plot is going, etc. I think it’s harder to surprise me now because I sort of know what goes on in a writer’s mind. Which isn’t meant to sound negative! I think that if you asked this same question of any author, he or she would tell you the same thing.
4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?

A combination of relaxation (on a beach) and rejuvenation with things like hiking, exercise, massages (though not one that sends me back 7 years!). I’ve discovered that my best ideas often come to me when I’m working out – it’s almost like my body gives my brain a chance to turn off and just roam free, and in some way, I’m able to tap into my creativity. So that would definitely be important for said vacation. I’d also need some time to just vegetate and catch up on my sleep! I guess the other option would be to explore an entirely different culture: travel to Asia or Africa, which I’d LOVE to do, but in terms of pure writing, to be honest, I really write about characters and issues that feel intrinsic to me…I’m not sure that my next book will be Out of Africa or whatnot, so while exploring new places and things is always good brain fodder, I don’t know if it would actually inspire a new book. But you never know. Hmmm, now that I’m thinking of it, maybe that’s just what I need!

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

How lame am I? I don’t really have any strange experiences. Maybe my readers are just too normal? Ha! Gosh, I trying to think of something really quirky and fun, but…I got nuthin’. I do get a lot of random mail from my blog, but I wouldn’t call these people strange: just aspiring writers who want tips on how to make it in the biz. Actually, I think anyone is nuts to try to make it as a writer…so do these emails count?
Thanks Allison! And now go buy yourself an early Christmas present: Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch.

I'm back with a new post on Halloween (there's a scary thought, huh?) And I might bring my little dog, too.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rotary Phones and a Recipe

Some disturbing news. I was at a bar on Friday night, and one of the patrons paid GOOD MONEY to play the song "Mambo Number Five" not once, but TWICE.



On Saturday I attended a Halloween get-together hosted by my good friend W, who related a story from her high school days that made me laugh so hard I nearly wet myself. We were discussing concerts we attended in our youth. Not only do I remember my first concert (Joan Jett at the Fond du Lac County Fair, 1987), but I even remember what I wore (strategically-ripped acid-washed jeans and a blue and white-striped sleeveless turtleneck sweater). I went with a neighbor (Sara) and a boy she liked, and I rode in the backseat, right next to a giant subwoofer blasting Appetite for Destruction.

But I digress. W's parents were not keen on her attending a rowdy concert with friends, but they did tell her that if she could ever call in for tickets when they went on sale, they'd drop her off at the show. Unfortunately, they had a rotary phone...so every time W called Ticketmaster, the line would be busy and she NEVER. EVER. GOT THROUGH. She believes to this day that it was one of those passive-aggressive things parents do when they know that a particular outcome, however seemingly random, couldn't possibly go against their wishes.

Also, the only way you could ever win a radio contest with a rotary phone was to call in at least two hours before they even played the song which you had to be the tenth caller to correctly identify. And then you just had to guess. "Um, is it Styx 'Come Sail Away?' No? How about Eddie Rabbit 'I Love a Rainy Night?'"

The dish I brought to the party on Saturday won rave reviews, so I'll share the recipe here. It's from my mom, doctored a smidge because I just can't leave well enough alone.

Tuscan White Beans with Sage and Butternut Squash

1 whole butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cubed (1/2 inch cubes)
2 cans cannellini beans rinsed and drained
3 T chopped fresh sage
8 - 10 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
4 T balsamic vinegar
1 T brown mustard
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Shredded parmesan cheese
Drizzle truffle oil

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; toss the squash & garlic with about 2 T olive oil on a baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.
2) Pour beans into large bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds, or until just warm.
3) Whisk 2 T olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and sage and pour over beans.
4) Add the squash & garlic; flavor with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with truffle oil. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese before serving.

I omitted the mustard and increased the sage to 4 T, so feel free to play with your food. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Crystal Pepsi Questionnaire

Okay, I had my coworker close her eyes and draw a name from my lunch box (I don't wear a hat), and she picked Shelly. You win an ARC of Cutting Loose, signed by Nadine Dajani herself! Shoot me an email (jess(at)jessriley.com) and I'll hook you up.

That was fun! We should do that more often. But first, some photos from last week at the Wisconsin Book Festival:

Me, Danielle Younge-Ullman, and Gail Konop-Baker at The Orpheum in Madison. They have delicious red wine, but it is apparently so strong it gives you the illusion that your kidneys are trying to run away from your body, so you must hold them in when you pose for photos.

Stacks O'Books at A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore, where the sh*t went down. (And by that I mean 'profanity-laced readings' from all three of us. Kidding just a little bit.)

I'm back at work full-time now, so of course my muse has been yammering away like mad. He's like a fickle boyfriend that way--when I have time for him and want some attention, he's distant and evasive. When I'm too busy for him, THEN he wants to hold hands and talk all night and shop for a snowblower together. So I've got tons of ideas swirling around my brain, but more limited time in which to explore them on paper. As I attempt to winnow them into some semblance of order, I'm recognizing certain storylines that sound too familiar to me, so I immediately scratch them off the list.

The problem with avoiding the familiar is that I end up going too far in wild, even risky directions. You have to strike a balance between 'different' but 'not too different.' (Remember Crystal Pepsi, anyone? Way too different.)

Anyway, I do want to avoid cliched storylines. What are some that drive you nuts? What plots in books and movies are you sick of seeing?

I recently heard that during past recessions, the public's taste in music veered away from fun pop songs to longer, slower, more emotional songs. (Think Air Supply vs. Britney Spears.) Which brings me to my final question: in tougher economic times, what do you want to read? Something light and escapist or something darker and a bit more serious?

Also, did you ever actually ever DRINK Crystal Pepsi?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend Miscellany

Thanks to everyone who entered the Nadine Dajani book giveaway on Friday--I'll be picking a name at random tonight and announcing the winner on Wednesday. Also, thanks to everyone who came out to see my presentation with Gail and Danielle on Thursday at the Wisconsin Book Festival, but particularly to Denise (love the name!) and Sandra. I've known Sandra in a blogging capacity for a few years, and it was lovely to finally meet the woman behind the words.

I spent the rest of the weekend with my family, and I must say: when my mother makes beds, she tucks the sheets into the tightest hospital corners in THE WORLD. My feet involuntarily spent eight hours in the en pointe position Saturday night. It was like sleeping in a narrow manila envelope. She also makes the best autumn dinners in the world: supper in a pumpkin and spicy squash soup on Saturday, and white beans with sage, swiss chard, and butternut squash AND a wild rice, cranberry, and celery salad on Sunday.

Which reminds me of another word I truly despise: medley. Isn't that a prissy, self-congratulatory, smug word? MEDLEY. Please, dear copy writers who compose descriptive language on menus and food labels: stop using this word to describe fruit plates and pasta primavera. Food is only musical when it exits our bodies in gaseous form, per the old ditty. Any time you offer a 'medley' of any food item, I immediately suspect it of costing too much and arriving in a portion that would leave even Lara Flynn Boyle hungry. So stop it.

Finally, I'd like to give a shout-out to GCC author Deborah LeBlanc, who is currently promoting her latest release, Water Witch.

Deborah LeBlanc is an award-winning author from Lafayette, Louisiana. She is also a business owner, a licensed death scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams.

She is the president of the Horror Writers Association, president of the Writers’ Guild of Acadiana, president of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter, and an active member of Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Women Writers, and International Thriller Writers Inc. In 2004, Deborah created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read, and soon after founded Literacy Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy in America’s teens. Her latest novel is WATER WITCH. For more information, please go to http://www.deborahleblanc.com/ and http://www.literacyinc.com/

About the book: Dunny knew from an early age what it meant to be an outsider. Her special abilities earned her many names, like freak and water witch. So she vowed to keep her powers a secret. But now her talents may be the only hope for two missing children. A young boy and girl have vanished, feared lost in the mysterious Louisiana bayous. But they didn’t just disappear, they were taken. And amid the ghosts and spirits of the swamp, there is a danger worse than any other, one with very special plans for the children—and for anyone who dares to interfere.

Kinda gets me in the mood for Halloween...good luck with the newest release, Deborah!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

GCC Presents: Nadine Dajani and FREE BOOKS!

First, a reminder that I'm giving away TWO signed copies of Driving Sideways over at Free Book Friday, the brainchild of the gracious and talented Jessica Brody. Again, these books are FREE. If you have a first name, a last name, an email address, and an appreciation for a good booger joke, you have what it takes to win. It's that simple.

Second, I'm pleased to be a tour-stop on the GCC today for the fascinating Nadine Dajani, whose new novel Cutting Loose is in stores now. But wait!!! There's more!!! I have a SIGNED ADVANCE COPY of that very same book, which I will give away FOR FREE to a commenter on this post plucked at random. (If you don't want to comment and publicly admit to actually reading my blog, which--I can't really say I blame you--please email me at jess(at)jessriley.com and say, "Hey Tootyacker Breath! Enter me in that contest, aah-ite?" Or something like that.)

About Nadine: Born in Beirut, Lebanon to Palestinian parents, Nadine spent the first nine years of her life in Saudi Arabia before settling in Montreal. While Nadine could definitely think of better ways of spending a year than devoting it to mastering the French language, the experience (and all that duty-free terminal shopping) would turn Nadine onto the wonders of world travel and the quirky, unexpected (and usually hilarious) ways cultures meshed (or stubbornly refused to). As an adult she moved to the Cayman Islands to pursue a career in, what else – offshore banking. And while Nadine has yet to see her “golden parachute” she did get to reap the rewards of Caribbean relocation by island-hopping to nearby Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras and Miami whenever the travel bug bites.

Nadine’s travel articles have been published in Atmosphere magazine. Cutting Loose is her second novel. For a beefier bio, author pics, and assorted trivia, please visit
http://www.nadinedajani.com/, and Nadine’s blog, where she feels free to pontificate on whatever strikes her fancy that day.

Praise for Cutting Loose: “Dajani spins a tale of three women and their individual journeys to find happiness. Through strong writing and distinctive characters, readers are drawn into their lives, their loves, and their internal struggles. Dajani wraps it up nicely in the end, leaving us with a delectable tale that is hard to put down”Romantic Times

“Engrossing”Publishers Weekly

Finally, Nadine provided some great answers to my Question Sampler Platter:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
Now I write on deadline, which is a whole other animal! It’s more stressful but I’m still one of those people who thinks she does better work under pressure (I don’t care what the studies say!). I don’t have much time for “error” so to speak because it still takes a while for the plot and characters to percolate in my head… many, many months as a matter of fact, which doesn’t leave much time for getting the words down on paper and revision. Luckily, once I’ve put in a lot of thinking time, I can write quickly and fairly “clean” as well.

2) Do you listen to music while you write?
No – I get so lost in the music that I don’t feel like writing anymore! I’m the same way with picturing the characters or pinning the roles on real life actors – I prefer to keep writing in that weird, intangible, subconscious world, and when I listen to music or picture real characters, it tends to ground my imagination and the feelings I’m trying to tap into.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
ABSOLUTELY! And sometimes I’m really obnoxious and I’ll explain to one of my siblings in mid-movie that what hero just did was actually a plot device, which is designed to make him more sympathetic, blah, blah, blah. But what’s fun is seeing that those mechanics we read about in the craft books really do work.

(Jess jumping in here: I TOTALLY DO THIS TOO!!!)

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
I get inspired from a change of scenery, no matter how big or small. I find that when I’m stuck in a writing rut, just going away for the weekend will make me see things in a different way, and suddenly I’m dying to get back to the keyboard. Having said that, my first trip to Cuba many years ago is probably responsible for my being published (or even writing at all!). It was one of those “Aha! Moment” inducing trips (as Oprah might put it). It was after this trip that I decided I wouldn’t put up with bleak Canadian winters anymore (nothing against people who like winter, I wish I did but I just don’t) and when I started looking at my life a lot more actively, rather than just letting life happen to me. I moved to the Cayman Islands , started work on my first novel, Fashionably Late, and now my second one is coming out! I’m ready to move onto my next “inspiration vacation” and I’m going eco this time – I found a fabulous-sounding hacienda in the wilderness of Honduras, at the foot of the ancient Mayan city of Copan, where they use little electricity (so no iPod that weekend…), the food is supposed to be great, and you can do yoga at 8 am every morning, overlooking the Mayan ruins… I have a feeling this is going to be a very inspiring trip!

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
I feel bad telling this one but it was funny, so here goes. At the RWA Nationals this year in San Francisco , I was signing copies of Cutting Loose. Browsers would pick it up, flip it over, and raise an eyebrow in what I assume was interest, at the bio. One lady (and she was really, really nice), after chatting for a minute or so and seeing that my bio stated I was born in Lebanon , commented about how I spoke English “beautifully”. I laughed and said: “I should hope so, that’s my first language”. It just burst out of my loud mouth… I think the lady blushed and backtracked, so if you’re out there nice lady, I wasn’t being mean, and it’s a totally legit comment given the quirky bio, but it still gets me every time to hear how great my English is… I did manage to write two books in that language after all, so I must be doing something marginally right. I suppose, technically, I did learn Arabic first, but it only has a 3 year edge over Shakespeare’s language… as soon as I was old enough for pre-school, it was English all the way – except for a brief interlude of French junior high school in Montreal because I had no choice – and then back to English for senior high and University. And for the rest of my life since. If I hadn’t figured out English by now, then I probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote : ) A great many Canadians are at least bilingual (English, varying degrees of French), with a huge chuck of Montrealers trilingual (Perfect or near-perfect English and French, and varying degrees of fluency in their mother tongue), so though we do have “accents”, it’s not because English isn’t the dominant language for many of us, but because gets injected with a lot of other linguistic influences too.

Nadine, I think I have a girl-crush on you. Can I tag along on your trip to Honduras? Thank you so much, and best of luck with the book release!

Reminder: FREE BOOKS, EVERYONE! Get all up in that! Get some on ya!

Double reminder: For those of you in the Madison, Wisconsin area this Thursday, October 16, I will be at A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore with Gail Konop-Baker and Danielle Younge-Ullman at 7 pm as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. They're letting me sit with them despite the fact that I only have one last name and my book contains not one but TWO sex jokes involving carrots, which I think speaks very highly of their character.