Monday, July 28, 2008

Driving Sideways by Jess Riley

I love having guests and especially when they are talented and funny. Today Jess Riley author of Driving Sideways joins me.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Let’s assume it’s summer, since attempting to write fiction during the school year (“grant season”) would likely make my brain melt and leak right out one of my ears. I get up around 8, pour a cup of coffee and head right to the computer, and find ways to procrastinate: I check email, comment on a few blogs, write a blog entry, watch an amusing YouTube video, expand my To-Do list, check email again. BUT: when inspiration finally hits (or when the story is flowing well), discipline sets in and I write first thing when I get up, every day of the week.

If you could only own and read 5 books for the rest of your life, (excluding your own) what five books would you choose?

The Stand, by Stephen King (I used to read this nearly every summer—a truly sweeping, complex, riveting story.)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (I devoured this book in a matter of hours—a chilling and critical book.)
I Like You by Amy Sedaris (never fails to make me laugh: eye burrito, anyone?)
Complete Home Gardening (yeah, I’m a gardening nut)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (well-written, interesting, and has fantastic recipes).

Do you have a vice that you’ve given up, but long to continue?

I pretty much let my vices run around like they own the place, but I have begun to wean myself from candy. The crash I feel after even just a few pieces just isn’t worth it. I never smoked, but a glass of wine in the evening or a half pot of coffee in the morning? I’m so there.

For you, what is the most difficult part of being an author?

Honing my time-management skills. I haven’t figured out how to juggle the researching and writing of one novel with the promotion of another. This is a tie with “learning to let go” when you put a story out there. You feel so naked and vulnerable right after a novel is released, because who knows how people will react to it. (Well, that’s been my experience, anyway.) But many authors I know are sensitive, somewhat introspective and even shy people, so I don’t think I’m alone in this. So time management, and learning to thicken my skin. To me, they’re two of the most difficult parts of being an author.

What do you love about being an author?

I love hearing from readers who were affected by something I wrote. I love making people laugh or cry, and I’m honored whenever I hear from a reader who took the time to tell me they liked my book. I also love the act of creating a story…getting started can be daunting, but once the story is unfolding and the characters are taking you in directions you never anticipated, or when just the right turn of phrase comes readily to mind, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Okay, second-best.

What’s next for you?

I’m wrapping up my next novel, tentatively titled Mandatory Release. It features two characters who work in a medium-security men’s prison: a social worker in a wheelchair, and the teacher he falls for. I was a teaching assistant at just such a facility back in college, and I always wanted to revisit the setting for a writing project someday, because it was just ripe with the full range of human emotion: boredom, pathos, rage, warped humor, fear, confidence, anxiety, love, hate, even joy. It’s got plenty of the same dark sense of humor that made Driving Sideways so fun to write, and it also examines the binge drinking culture of Wisconsin, the class divisions in resort towns, and how broken people can find healing in the most unlikely of places. I’m about to send it to my agent this week, so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Deja Book? by Julie Kenner

Sometimes I have a bad case of author envy, and my guest blogger today, Julie Kenner, inspires a HUGE amount of author envy in me. Not only does she come up with fantastic ideas for books (Carpe Demon) plus she has the chops to execute. I read Carpe Demon first as a screenplay when I was still a motion picture literary agent and the premise knocked my socks off, so I then picked up a copy of the book; Carpe Demon: Adventures of A Demon Hunting-Soccer Mom which I loved even more. A big Thank You to Julie Kenner for her guest blog today!

Deja Book?
by Julie Kenner

I have a new book out this month - (a brief pause while I gaze lovingly at its snappy yellow cover) – and Maggie was kind enough to suggest I offer up a guest blog. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity (thanks, Maggie!) but, of course, the possibility of blogging also raises that most notorious of questions: what the heck shall I blog about?

It’s shades of déjà vu all over again. That ever-present question that arises with every guest blog (or, for that matter, every entry on my own pathetically un-updated blog). That staring blankly at the screen waiting for inspiration and thinking, dang, writing a novel’s easier than a blog entry! Never fails. It’s always the same. That desire to be witty and interesting. Readable. Memorable. (And speaking of Déjà Vu, my husband and I watched it on Encore the other night. Great flick. Time travel thriller. Denzel Washington. ‘Nuff said. But I digress …)

But tonight, I have found inspiration along Interstate 35. No, seriously. Bear with me, and you’ll see: The book I have out this month (Deja Demon – get it? It’s like a blog theme!) is the fourth in a series staring Kate Connor, demon-hunting soccer mom. A woman who I have grown to absolutely adore. Honestly, it’s a shame Kate doesn’t live next door to me, because there’s a woman I could totally hang out with by the pool with a wine spritzer. But since Kate is a figment of my imagination, I must instead make do with spending a few months out of every year getting inside her head and, yes, tossing bad things her way.

What does this have to do with the deja factor, you ask? I’ll tell you: when writing a series, the book may not be the same, but the trappings of the release often are. Right now, for example, I’m in the DFW area (having arrived here by driving up I-35). I’m writing this from a hotel because later this week I have an interview at a local television station. I’m excited about the interview, but I’m not nervous. Why? Because I’ve appeared on this show with the release of the previous three books. It’s like stepping back into a familiar world!

Ditto the process of stopping in to all the local bookstores to sign stock. And my father and stepmother who live in the area have gotten with the program, too. “Be sure and tell us when the show will air,” they say, without needing prompting. And, “isn’t that too early to plan lunch? There are a lot of bookstores up Central Expressway corridor!” They know my routine; it’s become as familiar to them as it has to me. That’s the deja part.

But like each book in a series -- which has its own plot, character arcs, mysteries and crises -- each book release (and corresponding publicity travel) has its own personality, too. Not everything’s déjà vu this go round. For example, did I mention that my location in the DFW area is across the street from Six Flags? And that tomorrow morning I’m going to take my two little girls to ride roller coasters? When the first book came out, my daughter was almost four. Now, she’s almost seven. When the second book came out, my husband and I were one short month away from receiving our travel approval from the Chinese Government to go over to China and adopt our second daughter. When the third book came out last year, our youngest daughter had been home with us a mere eight months! And now, with the release of book four in the series, I’m taking two very excited little girls, ages 6 and 4, to an amusement park.

I confess that as I’m writing this, I have tears in my eyes (the good kind). Not until I really sat down and put those release dates in the context of my life did it hit me how much has changed in such a short time. Last year at this time, Isabella was still clingy and shy. Now, she’s a little spitfire who is determined to ride the loop-de-loop roller coaster while her older sister stands back, shaking her head and telling the little one that she’s crazy.

Déjà vu? Maybe a little, but not in the ways that matter. Each book in the series stands on its own, Kate’s life and story becoming richer and more complex even as my own life does the same. Things have changed. Life changes. Life happens. Sometimes good, sometimes bittersweet, but always moving forward. And how wonderful I can look back and mark the passage of time with my books on the shelves and the memory of where I was when my good, albeit fictional friend, stepped out into the world with her stories.

Julie Kenner’s demon hunting soccer mom series started with Carpe Demon, currently in development with Warner Brothers and 1492 Pictures. The fourth book, Deja Demon is on shelves now! She writes across a wide range of genres, and you can read more than you could possibly want about Julie and her books at her website,

Sunday, July 6, 2008

MoonPies and Movie Stars

MoonPies and Movie Stars by Amy Wallen

Over this fun-filled holiday weekend I am excited that Amy Wallen, a member of the GCC, stopped by to tell me about her latest book. Looks like some great summer reading!

Tell us about your latest book.

MoonPies and Movie Stars is the story of Ruby Kincaid, the owner of six-lane bowling alley in Devine, TX. When Ruby spots her runaway daughter on a ButterMaid commercial on TV she sets off for Hollywood to find her and make her own up to her responsibilities. Violet, the daugther, left behind two small children. So Ruby loads up the Winnebago and with her rattlesnake rattler earring wearing sister, Loralva, and the runaway daughter’s mother-in-law they make a journey across the Southwest, in the bicentennial summer of 1976.

What pulled you into this story, and as a writer made you think ‘I have to write this’?

I was tired of writing in my journal and so one day I just pulled out a character from a monologue I had written based on my grandmother who lived in a small town in Texas and ran a honky tonk (beer joint). From that day, Feb 3, 1998, I never wrote another journaling entry and the novel just poured out.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline or are you more organic?

More organic. About half way into the story I make up notecards with scenes that I’ve already written so that I can keep track of what I’ve done. I have a horrible memory, so these help me not only keep up with myself, but I can also tack them on the wall next to my desk and rearrange them as I go.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I usually start my writing day at 9am. If all goes well, with a lunch break, I can write until 7pm or until the cats just won’t put up with me ignoring them any longer. But most days there are interruptions. I am working on other projects besides just my own writing. I teach and read student papers, and I’m putting together a national public radio show so my partner and I are busy reading submissions. It’s all fun, but can distract from hours of just writing.

If you could only own and read 5 books for the rest of your life, (excluding your own) what five books would you choose?

Catcher in the Rye. I’ve read it about 7 times. All at different times in my life, and it means something different to me every time. Judy Reeves book, Writers Book of Days. John Irving’s The World According to Garp. I’ve read it twice, but could read it again. David Sedaris, anything by him, because you have to have something that you can laugh at over and over. And my very favorite author is Irish writer, Roddy Doyle. I’d probably take The Woman Who Walked Into Doors of his collection. Tough decision, I htought when I read this question, but I came up with the five I know I would take right away,there must be some truth to it.

If you had to watch only five films for the rest of your life, what five films would you choose?

I let my boyfriend pick the films. He always picks great stuff that we both love. Usually something artsy, funny and a little odd. Like Edward Scissorhands. But this one I can’t answer as easy as the book one.

Do you have a vice that you’ve given up, but long to continue?

Coffee. I had to give up drinking coffee because it was giving me horrific stomach problems. It’s been about two years now and I have become a tea fanatic. I’m a tea connoiseur now, I have all the Kenyan and Indonesian teas, and steep the teas for their respective proper times, etc. But I still long to go to Starbucks for a tall latte.

How do you promote your books? Are you going on tour for this book? Any upcoming signings?

The publicist at Viking says that blogs are the best way to get the word out any more. I also write reviews for the LA Times, so my bio blurbs my book. I went on a tour for the hardcover of my book and that was a lot of fun and I sold a lot of books. And now I’m visiting book clubs or other womens’ groups and that’s really where I have the most fun. I would travel all over the country to go to book clubs. I have yet to meet a boring group of women. I love the questions they ask. And the food they serve!

For you, what is the most difficult part of being an author?

Getting over thinking that it’s all just a fluke.

What do you love about being an author?

That my dream has come true. That no matter what happens from here on out, my dream has come to fruition and no one can ever take that away from me.

What’s next for you?

I have a contract with Hyperion for another book. I’m about half way through. I had an absolute blast writing MoonPies and Movie Stars, but this current project is ten time as much fun. I hope it always just keeps getting better.