Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

Jess Riley Answers Our Questions!


A special thanks to Jess - Thank you so much for taking time to answer our questions. Your answers are so candid and we want you to know just how excited we are to be discussing 'Driving Sideway's' today.

MMBC readers: all discussion will happen using Big Tent today. I have posted some questions in the post below this to help guide our discussion.
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Q&A with Jess Riley:

How did you come up with the idea for this book? Did it evolve as you wrote the book or did you have the most of the storyline in your mind before writing?
The idea for the book arose after a conversation I had with a coworker about cellular memory. Like any story, it began with a “What if” scenario. Mine went like this: “What if a young woman has an organ transplant and convinces herself she’s channeling the traits of her donor—changing tastes in food, music, hobbies even, building the donor up in her mind—only to find she’s completely wrong about him or her?” Somewhere in there I decided to make it a journey story—a linear road trip with all kinds of wacky hijinks along the way. I definitely had most of the storyline in mind before I started writing, but of course a few surprises popped up along the way!

Do you have a personal connection to kidney disease?
No, not personally. In fact, I didn’t even know that I’d be writing about a character with kidney disease until I started researching organ donation and transplants. Now I do know many people with PKD or friends & family members affected by the disease, and I am humbled to hear their stories.

Have you taken a road trip? Did you stop at any/all of the destinations in the book?
I actually took the same road trip with my best friend as far as Moab BEFORE I wrote the book, and again as far as Cedar City, Utah AFTER I wrote the book. My editor got permission for us to include black and white photos in the beginning of each chapter, and I took all but two of the shots in the book, forcing my friend to pull over whenever I had a good shot. And we did indeed stop at nearly all of the same destinations: The Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, The Badlands, Cheyenne, Aspen, Arches National Park, and so on. I have so many photos of buffalo and prairie dogs in my computer, but I haven’t the heart to delete them! And yes, there is a photo somewhere featuring my face in the “Getting’ Corny in the Corn Palace!” sandwich board photo cut-out.

Also, so many of the incidents in the book really happened on our drive—running into the same Amish family throughout South Dakota, breaking down in the middle of nowhere, disgusting motel rooms, windy camping outside Arches National Park. We never picked up any strangers, though.

I just finished the book last night - it was REALLY good. I was amazed at the amount of references to actual places, shops, movies, actors, TV Shows/scripts, music, bands, etc. It works right now, because many of us are familiar with it and can relate, but in 20 years it may be difficult for a reader to connect with. Does Ms. Riley worry about the books longevity given these very specific references or does she suspect the story will supersede and be easily related to no matter the time in which it's read?
I’m such a pop culture junkie, I couldn’t help myself. And quite honestly, I’m not sure it’s a book WITH much longevity…if people read it twenty years from now, I hope they do so in a “Oh wow, this book is so kitschy! Look at all the Wilco references!” kind of way. Because it might be good for a laugh on a whole different level then. But I do hope people will always be able to relate to the story itself, no matter what the characters are listening to or wearing or watching.

The kayak and the highway… does this mean something more than the kayak being run over and an adventure lost?
Oooh, I love this question! Actually, I did plan that all of the accoutrements of Leigh’s ‘new life’ be discarded along the journey (symbolizing her journey toward believing in herself without any talismen, so to speak). But my editor wanted me to write a different ending, tossing out as food for thought an image of Leigh and Jillian kayaking off into the sunset somewhere at journey’s end. I decided not to go that route, because I really wanted to end at the PKD walk, so somewhere in the journey, the kayak had to go.

On page 215 Leigh says ‘I’ve become a tourist in my own life’. This statement was so impactful; do you see Leigh remaining a tourist in the pages/chapters after the novel ends?
I see Leigh really taking charge of her own life after the novel ends…despite her health challenges, she’s finally discovered the inner strength to do the things she always wanted to do, to break free of what might be comfortable but stifling toward the scary unknown—the highs and lows of a life well-lived all around.

Confederate flag in Larry’s room – what does this mean and is it important to the storyline and Leigh?
I think I wanted to simply throw all of the things Leigh found distasteful into who her donor truly was because it completely contradicted who she’d built him up to be in her mind, sort of this artsy, peaceful hippie dude. I loved this juxtaposition.

What was your favorite scene and most difficult scene to write ~ why?
I’m not sure I have a favorite scene, strangely enough. I love the scene where she and James reconnect in the hospital…and I had great fun writing the Frontier Days scene. I think the most difficult ones involved the ER and later, the dialysis center, because I had to balance a very serious situation with Leigh’s honest and raw humor, finding the pathos and grace in the face of such fear.

Do you have an interest in comedy or stand up? The book is laugh out loud funny.
Aw, I’m blushing! I love when people tell me they laughed at things in the book. When I was in middle school I briefly dreamed of doing stand-up, and I wrote some jokes involving a family reunion and lots of baked beans. That’s about as far as my career as a comic got. I totally respect and admire people who can do stand-up, though. They put themselves out there in such a brave and vulnerable way. I’m much too big a wimp to risk real-time public hecklers.

Tell us a little about yourself, have you always wanted to write a novel?
Oh, I’ve told stories since I was a little girl, and I’ve always wanted to write a novel. My Dad’s a writer, and when I was four I’d sneak into his study and scribble in his journals to “practice” writing. The biggest treat was to be granted time with his electric typewriter. In college I fought this inclination, because I knew how tough it would be to earn a living writing fiction. But eventually I settled down and majored in English and history. I found a job grant writing for public schools upon graduation. The job gave me my summers off, and I sat down at my kitchen table with my laptop and wrote my ‘first’ novel in 1999. It was the worst novel ever written, because I had no idea what I was doing. So it was rejected by agents around 120 times over the next three years. During that period, I attended writing conferences and worked on honing my craft, learning how to structure and pace a novel. Still, I was pretty demoralized by the rejection, so I put the dream on hold for awhile, but in 2004 I had the idea for Driving Sideways, and I got back in the writing saddle. I had no idea we’d sell the book at auction just a year later!

Writing Style: do you write everyday?
I still have my grant writing job, so it’s hard for me to write every day when I’m working—50+ hours / week of technical research and writing can really drain your mental energy. But I’m always thinking about story possibilities, brainstorming during long drives and tossing bits of interesting overheard conversation into my idea files. During summer when I’m not under contract, I try to write every day, with a daily page or scene goal. Five pages a day is a good day.

Are you working on a new book or have an idea for one?
I actually have two ideas and can’t wait until May when I can play with them and see if either has the potential to take off. They both deal with relationships (romantic and friendship), and I’ll try to inject much of the same warped humor that made Driving Sideways so much fun to write.

What do you think of the electronic book forms? Kindles and sush?
I think e-books could be the future of reading, but there will always be a demand for a good old-fashioned book printed on paper. Something you can have signed, can read in the bathtub or on the beach without worrying about getting it wet. A format you can store on bookshelves. I do see the attraction of Kindles and other e-readers, though. I’m still a fan of traditional books, though. I love the smell and feel of them. Plus, I have to stare at a screen so much for my regular job that it’s a nice break to curl up in a cozy chair with a good book.

What is one tip that you can share for people interested in writing?
Read, read, read! It’s the best form of professional development.

Who are your favorite authors and who influenced your writing?
Oh, so many! David Sedaris, Haven Kimmel, Jennifer Belle, Jonathan Tropper, Elizabeth Berg, Shannon Olson, Garrison Keillor, Steve Martin, Jennifer Weiner, Wally Lamb, Lorrie Moore, Sherman Alexie, Jill Davis…when I was younger I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, and later, Stephen King.

What are you reading right now?
The Seventh Well, by Fred Wander. It’s totally depressing, so I’ve been taking breaks to read all the garden catalogs coming in the mail lately. Beneath that you’ll find The Godmother by Carrie Adams, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Save the Cat—the ultimate screenwriting bible. I have more than two dozen books on my to-read pile.

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