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Preview: Riley's Ramblings

Jess Riley Writes

Jokes for folks who sing along to both TOOL and Gordon Lightfoot in the car.

Updated: 2018-03-14T07:37:57.654-05:00


We are DONE Remodeling!!


Some of you who know me may recall that we've been remodeling our house since before any of us were born. We've poured a driveway, torn down a shed, built a garage, sided, roofed, re-windowed, gutted the second floor, gutted the living room, and installed a pleasant little patio on which I have a semblance of privacy in which to drink my morning coffee.Well, guess what? We FINALLY tackled the last two rooms: the kitchen and first floor bathroom / laundry. This was a massive project, and we hired a real-life design & reno company to manage it all. (Mosquito Creek in Appleton--they seriously rock, y'all.) It all cost more than J paid for the entire house back in 1997, so I've been questioning my decision-making skills and stress-eating way too many baked goods lately. (Hint: carbs only create more anxiety once you're digesting them.) BUT--I no longer have to look at this (apologies in advance for the horrid lighting):Not overtly gross, but my only counter, which was like three inches long, ran into the window. More on that later...Hey, I have an idea! Let's put the fridge in this weird corner, practically in the living room, far away from the sink and stove. Work triangle, Schmirk Triangle!Love what you've done with the flooring, renters from 1920 - 1993! A squishy floor around your toilet is no cause for alarm whatsoever.Whee! Everything's gone. Including my sanity. Also, see that window? We have to DRYWALL OVER IT, because the city passed an ordinance last spring prohibiting removal of any windows or doors without a variance. So from the street? You'll see a dark window. From my living room? You'll see cabinets. Can't wait to explain this when we try to sell one day!More scary stuff. This is where the toilet & tub used to be. We considered leaving it like this and just turning the house into a Haunted Dungeon ... could be a real moneymaker each Halloween.Daisy is confused. And collecting asbestos dust, probably. See that hulking shape behind the plastic? That's our fridge. In the living room. It's like my old dorm room again in there, minus the Yo-J mixers and garbage music. What fun!So I skipped over a bunch of stuff--including pictures of us weeping, necks permanently twisted at weird angles while we paint all of the walls, ceiling, and trim--to the finish line. Ta-da! It's a real, live kitchen! Almost like one from the Hipster Farmhouse home decorating porn I subscribe to. Your move, Pinterest.There is an extra hole in the counter near the faucet, but that will soon be filled with a cute lil' soap dispenser. Which is a way better idea than a plug of spackle, don't you think?Also, farmhouse sink. Perfect for washing large heads of lettuce, cauliflower, fat babies, and Fiats.Pull up a stool and watch me load the first dishwasher I've ever owned! Also, here's a bowl of fruit. Feel free to pet the counter. It's so shiny. Also, that is a picture of the Green Giant holding a birthday cake. (Ho ho ho!) In case you thought you were losing your mind.J spent 7 hours refinishing this tub because he's a Super Hero. An extremely anal Super Hero named Never-Half-Asses-It-Like-His-Wife-Does Man. The tub was installed in the house in 1920 and badly neglected since.  He painted the clawfeet with a tiny brush, in two colors. Fancy!Don't you want to take a bath in it? I do! I also kind of want to lick the chrome. Or play telephone with the handheld shower: "Hello? What's that? Your bathroom no longer makes you want to puke? Hooray!"We went into Lowe's to buy paint stripper and came out with these. Well, we came out with the receipt. It's important to tell an accurate story.Why yes, that IS an Edison bulb! Also, do you like the tin of Shinola above the toilet? Just in case you forget the difference between ....? It's little touches like this that make it special. I ordered that mirror on Etsy--an antique refurb that was actually my second choice. More on that later.This is where the fridge used to be. Now, Bob Hope carrying a cake!!! And a bird's nest. (Put a bird on it! Don't have a bird? Put a bird[...]

Morning Visitor


Give me the treat already!The last 24 hours have been pretty exciting here at the Riley homestead. First, Daisy got her first-ever haircut! Isn’t she cute? It only took us twelve years to make her appointment…and the groomer walked away with all ten fingers and completely unbroken skin!It looks like the carpet is 6 inches tall and has swallowed her legs.Back fat roll!!! We never knew it existed...Maybe this is the place ... This morning I was doing my usual plant-watering routine when I saw a very elderly man park in front of my house. He was driving a beige four-door sedan. (What, you were expecting a bright orange Charger?) My front door was wide open to let some fresh air & sunshine in, and I peeked out to see what was happening. He shuffled up to my front steps and appeared to be admiring my flowers up-close…I went out the back door to continue watering and looked up just in time to catch him opening my screen door to walk right in my kitchen.I hustled right back in. “Can I help you?” Crap. This was the second time an elderly person had gotten lost and tried walking into my kitchen.  And what if he’d gotten in? He would have made himself comfortable on the couch, turned on the Xbox, and the next thing you know we have a new roommate leaving Cheeto stains on the furniture and hanging the toilet paper roll upside-down.The scene of the B & E, minus the B.The poor guy looked confused; he had to be ninety, maybe 264. He had an impressive hearing aid situation in place, with external ports and docks and gizmos and antennae. “Do you know Isabelle Somethingorother? I’m looking for 808 Eleventh.”Well, he was in the neighborhood, so to speak. But I shook my head. “Let’s go out on the porch so I can take a look at some of the street numbers a few houses down.”“The back porch?”“No,” I clarified loudly, “right here.” I peered down the street and gave a rough estimate of where I thought his friend lived, while he took a seat on the bench. “Where’d you get all these flowers?”"Stein's, Stuart's, Hrnak's, all over, I guess.""Ever go to Allenville? Buy some sweet corn?" Turned out his son still runs the farm, selling sweet corn and strawberries at local stands and the city farmers’ market. I promised I’d pick some up when it was ready. We talked about the weather, and how much Oshkosh had changed in the last 80 years (I was using my imagination here), and about how he lived at Bella Vista senior retirement community. He apologized for his confusion.“Things are so different today. I just get mixed up.”“It happens,” I said, thinking that one day it would probably happen to me, too. “I forgot to bring the directions, so I’ll have to go back and get them, I guess.” The idea of him driving through the busy city roundabouts to get back to the "home" gave me heartburn, but he'd made it this far, right? I helped him back down the stairs and told him to DRIVE SAFELY (with emphasis). Later I saw him still tooling around, doing a wide U-turn at my intersection and holding up traffic while he looked for house numbers.Sometimes you don't even have to leave the house to find the story. Sometimes it comes right to you.Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Peeking from the Grant Weeds


After one of the most unpredictable grant seasons ever, I am busier than ever at work--hence the silence on this trusty old blog. I am making serious hay while the sun shines. I do miss the novel I started last summer, but I've been adding to the tidbit folder. Ideas are percolating. Other developments:
  • We're considering remodeling our kitchen and downstairs bathroom this summer, after which we will have fully renovated our entire house. A human being can only take so much toilet so close to the kitchen for so long. Developing story, stay tuned ...
  • I've started my seedlings! Far too early, it seems. Every so often you can hear a soft, wistful sigh coming from beneath the grow lights ... it can only be the kale, looking longingly out the window.

  • We have something new to yell at in the house! It has one eye and watches us whenever we enter the living room. "XBox, turn! On!" "Xbox, go home!" "Xbox, choose this person! Off. TURN OFF!" We've named it Hal (because 2001 and utter lack of imagination), and it's only a matter of time before it develops self-awareness and kills us in our sleep.
  • I met with my Dad's freshman comp students two weeks ago after they read Driving Sideways as part of their required coursework (Teehee! Nepotism!) I also got a sneak peek at their response papers after my visit. Here are three of my favorite excerpts:
"After finishing up Driving Sideways, I thought it was an overall good book. It is a book more on the ladies side, but once you start reading there's no turning back (and it's required)."

"When Jess walked in the classroom, she was nothing as I pictured her to be. She was so pretty, nice and open about everything.* I thought she was going to be a little stuck up because she was an author but I was completely wrong" ... "I already told my mom she needs to read this book over the summer."

"Jokes like this are exactly my type of humor. The other day I was gibing a man for his hair style. I looked at my friends and said, 'Look, it's ChangesoneBowie.' I swear he looked exactly like David Bowie, but no one understood the reference. Leigh and I would have shared a laugh at that one."

"I just never knew of anyone that was an author ... and Jess seemed almost too human, too regular to be writing a book."

"Instead of selling this novel back to the school at the end of the semester, I plan on keeping it to offer to others for a fantastic read."**

So that's the news from Yawn City. Back to the Grant Cave for me. Got to chase the million-dollar donuts...see you in June, kids!

*I love that student!!!

**I have signed the same book multiple times, because some students sell their inscribed books back at the end of the semester. Yeah.

Gifts for Writers. (Hint: They're Not Books This Year)


Posting with the Girlfriends today, on gifts for writers and cutting-edge technologies. (Note: this no longer includes the Neo Alphasmart. Sounds like a fun learning toy for intelligent kids, right?) Stop by and tell us what you write on, what you want for Christmas, what you're giving the writers on your list: Skin-thickening cream, a unique little personal crisis (for inspiration), Famous for a Day treatment (it's like a spa day but far more entertaining).

"My name ... is Neo."

Cat in a Cold Stone Cistern


(Which is really the opposite of a Hot Tin Roof.)My parents live in an old farmhouse they bought at a real estate auction in the early eighties for a song. What song, I don't know--maybe it was that old favorite, "You Will Never Stop Remodeling This House (and one day your son's friends will Saran Wrap a dead possum to the porch)."Anyway, it's a farmstead, which means it came with a garage, outbuildings, and an actual barn with hay and Official Farm StinkTM in the actual barn. At the time, a local farmer still housed his cows there and pastured them in adjacent fields; the fence that ran the eastern length of our front lawn was electrified. An electric fence, oh what fun! I still have an eye twitch from that game.Because it's a farm, there are lots of cats roaming around. This is just how it is. They're not pampered indoor cats with immunizations, sterilizations, toys, and fully functional limbs. Nope. It's a rough life for a farm cat--at least it used to be. I can't tell you how many abandoned litters I tried to hand-raise when I was a kid, only to have most of them ultimately crawl behind major appliances to die, which is a memorable day in any eleven-year-old's life."This kitty smells funny!"Anyway, there is now a fairly stable herd of cats at my parents' homestead. (I don't know what you call a large group of cats--a flock? Gang? Audience?) And most of them get along just fine. My mother nurses the sick ones as best she can, taking them to the local vet as needed. The latest to need such treatment was an adorable kitten named Molly, who was originally named "Malcolm McDowell," after the actor in A Clockwork Orange. I'll let you digest that for a moment.After Molly's visit to the vet, she was allowed to recuperate in the basement. Recently, my mother went down to feed Molly, but the kitten was nowhere to be found; beyond some disembodied meowing, she could have vanished into thin air. Turned out Molly had gone exploring and gotten trapped in the old cistern adjacent to the basement. (What's a cistern? A kind of well where old timey folks stored rain water. A good place to bury the bodies in modern times.) My mother cobbled together a kind of stick/fishing line device to try and rescue the kitten, but the entire contraption fell into the cistern.(Hang on ... I'm having a Baby Jessica flashback ...)"I was so heartbroken," my mother continued. "I was ready to crawl into the hole to rescue her, but I wouldn't fit. You could hear the kitty just meowing and meowing, and it was so sad. Dad said it would probably take four days to die of thirst down there. I was too depressed to even listen to Garden Talk on Saturday morning."Well, there's no way my mother was going to endure four days of progressively sadder / softer meowing and another week without Garden Talk, so my parents called A Guy (we all know A Guy, right?) who helped secure their barn's foundation and is good at "lifting rocks and things." The plan was to strategically remove a few of the rocks cemented into the wall between the old cistern and the basement so my mother could crawl in and retrieve the lost kitty, but it turned out that would put the entire house's foundation at risk. Plan B: cut a hole in the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen, which covers the cistern. So The Guy strategically cut into the tile floor, and there was the kitty! My mother lowered an old sheet into the hole, hoping the kitten would claw its way up, but instead it just rubbed its head on the end of the sheet. So, The Guy made a tiny ladder from some wood scraps, and the kitten eventually clambered up. "The bad news is, there's a hole in the kitchen floor," my mother added. "The good news is, Dad's going to make the hole bigger--"(I interrupted here with an outburst of laughter.)"--and turn the old cistern into a root cellar, with a trap door in the floor to get in."Jesus, this is getting long. I don't really have a good way to end this story, other than to say: a) the cat made i[...]

Is Your Husband Trying to Tell You Something?


From time to time, J comes home from work with a box of “product.” It’s a perk of the job. These freebies have included cases of paper towels, toilet paper, dinner napkins, full-sized boxed tissues, travel-sized tissues, disposable hand towels, and pre-moistened “cleansing wipes” when you have a sticky poo. It’s a little like Christmas any time he comes home with a giant bag o’goodies. What will it be today? What’s in the box? Will it be anti-viral tissues in Hanukah-themed boxes? Paper towels that smell like cinnamon and pork? Now, I don’t mean to humble-brag, but last night J brought home 24 bottles of feminine wash. #feelingblessed! #Parabenfree!He introduced the day’s haul by eloquently saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but it’s wash for your coochie. I guess you squirt it in your hand and just kind of wipe it on?”#soromantic! #justkindof!Ladies, has your husband ever come home from work with 24 bottles of feminine wash? I know I let personal hygiene slide from time to time when I work from home, but this is more than a hint.  This is like signing your scurvy-riddled cousin up for the citrus fruit of the month club. This is like mailing your ex-boyfriend a case of extra-small condoms and a tube of Abreva. Or like offering a coworker with severe halitosis a stick of gum, bottle of Scope, package of floss, sample-sized toothpaste, gift certificate for a SonicCare toothbrush, and full-color, framed caricature of him or her walking through a car wash with his or her mouth wide open.I started to make a list of things a person might do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, but this is all I could come up with: 1) Offend every woman on my Christmas gift list.2) Start a hilarious new chain letter. I guess I’ll have to research the ingredients. Can I wash dishes with this stuff? Do laundry? Give my dog a bath with it? (She’s already endured many indignities as a pet in the Riley household, what’s one more?)   While I’m figuring out what to do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, I have a grant proposal to finish. Also, All the Lonely People will be re-launched NEXT WEEK with a new cover, special sale, and a giveaway. And if you would like to give an autographed paperback copy of any of my three novels to a reader on your holiday gift list, please email me. Ten bucks for each signed book, including postage (Sorry, U.S. addresses only.) I'll get the signed copies to you ASAP! Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Pearls of Wit and Wisdom from Our Nation's Future


The other day I was digging through some old files and I stumbled across some old anonymous journal excerpts from my Dad's college students. They're freshmen, and one of their assignments is to maintain a journal about their first year in college. Some of the things they write are hilarious, insightful, sometimes heartbreaking, cringe-inducing, and utterly (and perhaps unfortunately) relatable. I picked a few gems to share below. Enjoy! ~~~~~"I went tanning today and burned the shit out of my skin. Gotta love it. Go skin cancer!""I think my roommate hates me. Almost everyone hates me. At least my boyfriend kind of likes me at times.""God, I feel so fat. Damn the fucking freshman 15. What is that shit all about? I still need to lose about 10 pounds. I want to be either a 7 or a 9. I haven't been that since the 7th grade.""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.""To his credit, he was completely hammered.""Maybe it's me, but I can't stand it sometimes.""To make a long story short, we started kissing, kissing turned to touching, and touching turned to penetration. I regret that night, but regrets are just reminders of our mistakes. I don't think anything like that will ever happen again. I was a thief. She was a virgin.""I really want to be either 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 yes, even I get sick of the one night stands. I really hope I can find just one decent girl on campus.""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.""Today is Nate and I's one year and nine month anniversary.""I called my teacher for alcohol class. Wow, does he seem like an asshole! What do you expect, though, he's there to punish us for what we've done and 'educate' us about our 'problem.' How about this: I don't have a 'problem.' I drink for fun!""I have a 5-7 page research paper coming up. I'm doing it on Charles Manson and his awesomely fucked-up life. Hope it goes well.""I had breakfast for the second time since I've been here. Then I had gay as fuck Biology.""I have no idea who I am even. Oh yeah, I got my belly pierced today!""Studying seems to pay off.""Mom picked me up and on the way to Clarks she told me she might have lung cancer...She's not trying hard enough to quit smoking....Anyway Halloween was good. I was a cereal killer.""So I met this girl the other day. She's alright, nothing really spectacular, kind of just someone to fuck around with until something better comes along.""I was just thinking today about one way that I changed since I've been in college. I don't hate gay people anymore. Most women like gay guys so they can hook you up fairly easily.""As of right now I have a boyfriend. I HATE that word & I hate the fact that I do have one. It seems once I get what I want, I want something else. I just like the chase, I think. I just don't know what to do about all of this.""College would be much better if an education wasn't involved.""This is going to be my first weekend not drinking since I've been here, and I'm more excited for the weekend than I've ever been.""Journal assignment: What am I passionate about? I am passionate about sex. I have had sex with 33 girls now and I just love it.""I feel like I have to be the mom in this situation. My own mother is being childish and ridiculous. She is only thinking about herself. Why would she find someone else to bring into this fu[...]

Gnomes, Fairies, and General Mayhem


We had such a fabulous response to Samantha Stroh Bailey's giveaway! Congrats to Ananda. When I say "Check's in the mail!" it means "Ebook's in your inbox!" Let's make that a thing, k? This will be a regular feature on the blog, so stay tuned for more cringetastic author teen memories and giveaways in the future.In other news, OnMilwaukee gave me one of my favorite interviews ever, and you can read it here. There are still ten days to win one of FIVE signed copies of Mandatory Release: just "like" my Facebook author page here. I don't post that often, usually to highlight a friend's book release, link to an interesting article now and then, the odd excerpt or recipe, that sort of thing. Nothing too spammy.  Zero photos of politician peen, guaranteed. Random drawing from all the "likers" on August 11.Also, if there are two things I've learned in life, it's that my nose will run any time I jog on a treadmill, and also that my dad will wear a T-shirt completely at odds with his activity du jour. Case in point, last weekend he wore a tee featuring a screenprinted picture of Charles Bukowski above the quote, "It's not that I hate people. I just feel better when they're not around." to the crowded Fairy and Gnome Festival at Bookworm Children's Garden in Sheboygan.Truly, it was a festive day, as evidenced by this photo of my niece and nephew.The happiest children on earth.Auntie Jess nearly derailed the day when, like a total idiot, she removed the straw from a juice box before her niece could do it herself. Luckily, ingenious Grandma stuck the straw back on the box with some chewed gum, restoring darling niece's desired DIY opportunity for straw/juice box detachment, and calm again pervaded the universe. Happy ten-year anniversary to my patient, supportive, best-sport-ever husband; I still can't believe you've put up with me for this long.Showing off my non-manicure and weirdly highlighting the Nike swoosh. I *am* working on a new book, but at my current rate, it won't be out until 2023. Not to mention that reading other books outside is much more fun than writing them in my dumb house. Here Daisy joins me, looking in my direction only because there's a squirrel on the fence behind me. She typically has her back to me, which is Terrier for "I Show You My B-Hole Because You Can't Tell Me What to Do...also, I'm still ashamed from when you clipped dingleberries from my hinder."It's hard to look you in the eye...And here's some good news: one of our goldfish has survived in the pond for more than a month! Let's go celebrate by getting ice cream and later listening to me complain about how the older I get, the more lactose intolerant I become. Ciao!Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Now Presenting: Samantha Stroh Bailey


I am thrilled to have on the blog today the adorable and sweet Samantha Stroh Bailey; her charming debut novel Finding Lucas was released last April, becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. She's giving away an e-copy of Finding Lucas to one lucky reader; as always, just leave a comment with your email and you're entered to win! Entries open until Friday, August 2.And now, on to the interrogation interview: 1) Tell us about Finding Lucas, and what inspired you to write it.I always get my plot ideas late at night just as I'm falling asleep. So, one night, I was lying in bed and thinking about my "friends with benefits" from high school and early university. I hadn't seen or spoken to Jack in almost ten years, and I wondered where he was and how he was doing. I'd never thought of him as the one who got away, like Jamie does in Finding Lucas. But, Jack had been a big part of my life as I navigated my late teens and early twenties, and I wanted to know that he was happy. Suddenly, I realized so many people must wonder "what if" about their exes. With Facebook and Twitter, it's much easier to find them. And Finding Lucas was born.Can you ever really go back to the past?After five long years of living with Derek, her former bad-boy-turned-metrosexual boyfriend, Jamie Ross finally reaches her breaking point. She's had enough of his sneering disdain for her second hand wardrobe, unusual family and low-paying job as the associate producer of Chicago's sleaziest daytime talk show. When her new boss plans a segment on reuniting lost loves, Jamie remembers Lucas, her first love and the boy she'd lost ten years earlier. Spurred on by her gang of quirky friends, Jamie goes on a hilarious, disastrous and life changing hunt to track Lucas down. But are some loves best left behind?2) What one piece of writing advice resonated most with you?Keep writing. I've been writing for thirty years, and though it does take me a long time to finish a manuscript (I have two young kids and own a freelance writing/editing business), I never stop writing. I'm not always happy with what I write, but I keep going until I am.3) If you had to design a menu around Finding Lucas, what three dishes would be featured?Steak, for sure. Both Jamie and I share a love of meat, and I think a huge T-bone, medium rare, with a Caesar salad, topped with crunchy croutons and shaved parmesan is a must!Jamie's mom, Leah, and stepmom, Katie, are both in the field of holistic wellness. So, a dish featuring quinoa, sprouts and a ton of veggies would definitely be on the menu.Because Jamie works for a sleazy daytime talk show, another dish would have to be fast food. Unhealthy, full of grease and fat, this "dish" would represent the stories Jamie produces on "Tell It Like It Is."4) Always feared, always entertaining: share your favorite cringe-worthy teenage memory.This is totally cringe-worthy. Well, in high school, I wasn't the most attractive of teens. I had glasses, braces and no boobs (thankfully, those came a bit later and then promptly disappeared after I had kids). There was this guy who all of the girls were in love with. I thought I was being subtle when I stared at him in the halls, even timing the seconds between stares on my watch. Yeah, well, I wasn't as subtle as I thought. One day in the school cafeteria, filled with hundreds of students, the object of my affection stood up and yelled, "Would somebody tell that ugly girl to stop looking at me?" Before you wince too much, I did get my revenge. Years later, I saw him in a bar, and having no clue who I was, he asked for my number. I gave him the wrong one.5) If you could have any superpower, what would it be?This is an easy one. I'm only five feet tall. Well, okay, barely five feet tall. So, I would love the superhero power to stretch to five ten whenever I felt like it. I could finally see over people's[...]

A Tale of Two Johns


Hi! Sorry to disappoint those of you who came here expecting me to share titillating anecdotes about how I secretly put myself through college as a call girl. This obviously didn’t happen, for several reasons. First, a basic analysis of my student loan debt would show that my part-time college jobs paid just enough to cover beer, pizza, and purple hair dye. Second, you have seen my house, right? If I’d been a “high end” hooker in college, I’d live in a much nicer house with a hot tub. Or at the very least, I’d have a permanent scar and/or limp and an impressive collection of chips from Narcotics Anonymous. Third, gross.So, feel free to click off the page, creeps.*Whispers* Are the creepy guys gone yet? Thank God! *brings out the string cheese and Triscuits*Today I want to talk about publicity. Wait, don’t run away! Have a beer. Relax. It’s kind of a funny story. Anyway, I fracking HATE self-promotion. Hate it more than war or cilantro or adults that use the word “selfie.”  The challenge is that my latest book is a bit of a tough sell. Because, prison much? (And infidelity and toxic friends and horrible secrets and paralyzed sex jokes and racial imbalance in the criminal justice system and 80s hairbands and a scruffy little dog named Avis, after the car rental company.) To help get the word out, I’ve employed some macro-level stuff. *Barfs at own use of word “macro.”* This included hiring a publicist, booking a blog tour, and yelling about my shit on Facebook and Twitter and then running away with the cold sweat of self-loathing clinging to my torso. The first sunflower to bloom in my yard.All of which may or may not be working. So it’s time to shake things up, get micro, reach out and touch someones who enjoy books remotely like mine. I decided to visit the Amazon sales page for Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, because I feel (hope) that readers who like his novels will also like mine. I scrolled through the five-star reviews, looking for a few kind souls who may be open to reading and reviewing Mandatory Release. Ultimately, because most people are afraid to connect their email addresses with their reviews (I can’t imagine WHY), I ended up with two guys named John. I emailed both the same brief, kind-of-grovely pitch, explaining who I am and why on earth I was writing to them. I heard back from John #1 almost immediately: “No, thnaks.”Not even enough interest to spellcheck his rejection. However, I heard from John #2 a few hours later. He said it sounded right up his alley and he enjoyed the four sample chapters he read. He finished by saying I didn’t even have to send him a free copy, because he wanted to help support my career. Seriously! My first reaction was, Wow, people can read four sample chapters online? My second reaction was, Thnak you, Thnak you! So there we have it, on the micro-level. A tale of two Johns. One a vaguely dickish poor speller, the other a kind soul who restored my faith in human generosity, all on the same day. Goodreads JT fans, you have been warned. PS: If you post an online review and email me the link by August 10, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card.  I’ve also got bookplates—I’d be happy to inscribe one for your paperback copy, just let me know if y’all want one. With sticky backs, like John Goodman on July 18.Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Now Presenting: Dina Silver!


I am so excited to showcase today the beautiful and hilarious Dina Silver, whose third, heartstring-tugging novel Finding Bliss came out last week. Dina is one of the rock stars of the indie publishing world, signing as an in-house author with Amazon last year. She's sweet, inspiring, and she's worked her ass off to get to this point. She is offering one lucky reader a signed paperback--just leave a comment about how you find bliss. And don't forget your email address so we can get you your copy if you win!What it's About: Chloe Carlyle has always longed for the perfect family. Growing up with an alcoholic single mother, she has seen her share of heartbreak and disappointment, and is striving to build a new legacy for herself. After graduating from college, she takes a job working as a summer girl for the Reeds—a wealthy, accomplished family that personifies her American dream. Her summer takes an unexpected turn when the Reeds’ eldest son, Tyler, the star quarterback for Notre Dame, shows up and turns her life upside down.An ambitious young woman with a wry sense of humor, Chloe never imagined herself as the type to succumb to the looks and charms of the hometown hero, but she falls hard for Tyler, and is devastated when they part ways at the end of the summer. As she heads off to law school, Chloe tries to convince herself this was just a fling, but she can’t quite get over him. It’s not until Tyler contacts her out of the blue late one winter night that everything changes. After doing everything in her power to build the perfect life, Chloe soon learns that there are things beyond her control. She must draw on inner reserves of strength as her life takes unpredictable—and sometimes heartbreaking—twists and turns, and she finds herself faced with decisions she never thought she’d have to make. Poignant, heartfelt, and emotional, Finding Bliss is a reminder that you don’t have to live a fairytale life in order to have a happy ending. 1. Tell us about Finding Bliss--what inspired you to write it?Finding Bliss is a spin off of One Pink Line, and tells the story of, Chloe, who was Grace's best friend in OPL. Chloe grew up with an alcoholic mother, and has sort of always longed for the perfect family. The story begins as she's about to start law school, and follows her through those years and into married life and as she struggles to have children.I really wanted to challenge the HEA concept with this book, and give readers something to ponder in the end. Hopefully I did!2. What do you find most challenging about the writing life, and how do you cope?For me, it's creating the story from beginning to end. Once I have it plotted out in my head, it usually flows onto the page pretty easily.3. Who are some of your author idols?Oddly enough, I'm in a complete true crime frenzy right now and reading everything by Ann Rule and Joe McGinnis. I'm also an old school Jane Austen goober. 4. What songs would be on the Finding Bliss playlist?I love this question! Hmm…I think Chloe would listen to Maroon 5 and Fall Out Boy. Sort of angsty rock, but not too hard.5. What teenage memory makes you cringe?Putting concealer on my lips, then covering them in a pink-frosted Loreal lip gloss. Thanks Dina! Entries remain open until Thursday, noon CST. Because why not? Enter soon, and enter often, because you want this book!!!~~~ A graduate of Purdue University, Dina Silver has spent the past fifteen years feeding her red wine habit by working as a freelance copywriter in the advertising industry. After seeing the bulk of her professional prose on brochures and direct mail pieces, she is delighted to have made the transition to novelist. She currently lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Additionally, she enjoys cheese frie[...]

More Book Hijinks from Your Favorite Schlemiel


Whew. Another release week in the rear view mirror, and this one was a doozy.  Launch day is always a roller-coaster: will people buy my book, if they do will they LIKE it, will I stumble across a terrible review that will emotionally cripple me for days … It’s a bit like watching someone juggle your newborn baby and a live chainsaw.We’re all works in progress, and I’m no exception. Always learning valuable lessons. This year, I learned two very valuable lessons—perhaps the most important one about vetting something you read at an author event. I was honored to participate in this year’s Fox Cities Book Festival, at which I read a scene from my novella Closer Than They Appear. It’s a cute little tale about missed connections, featuring two characters who meet at the same stoplight every morning during their commutes. I write from each character’s perspective, male and female. You should know that I don’t believe in tidying up the male point of view. Guys are crude. They’re raw, real, and warped, if they’re being honest.  (This is important for the story.)The scene I chose to read was from my male character’s point of view, and he’s in a particularly miserable, heart-broken frame of mind at a bar with a friend. Oh, and did I mention it takes place in Oshkosh, the city in which I live? (This is also important for the story.)So I’m reading, and everyone is laughing and enjoying themselves. Excellent! I think, and file the piece away for another day. I whistle a jaunty tune on my way home.Fast-forward to Tuesday night, launch night, and I’m giving a chat in Oshkosh at a fundraiser for the Winnebago Literacy Council. I know, I say to myself, I’ll read the same piece that got such a great reception at the Book Festival! It takes place in Oshkosh; people will like that.  This is the best idea I’ve ever had!The Literacy Council is a terrific organization, and that night they introduced five young men, recent refugees from Burma, Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Pakistan, to showcase and put faces on the great work the council is doing.  They’re sitting in the front row, listening to me very politely. I finish my author spiel and begin the reading.And I get to the part on the very first page where my main character, annoyed at being jostled around while trying to order a drink, says to his friend, “Jesus Christ, remind me why we came here again? I feel like I’m in some third-world country waiting for bags of rice to be tossed out the back of a United Nations truck.”A few people laugh in a kind-of shocked way, like you do in church when an elderly woman in the pew behind you audibly farts. My blood turns to ice in my veins. Oh dear GOD, how did I forget about this line? I very nearly stop reading. There are almost fifty faces staring at me, waiting to see how this plays out, waiting for the juggler to drop the chainsaw on the baby. A small voice in my head says, No—you have to keep going. Own it! Be real! And never, ever write from the male point of view again!” I continue, and so does the fun, because soon we get to three song references that are totally unfamiliar to the crowd, followed by a reference to “Pretentious Asshole Bingo,” which I forgot to set-up before the reading, and a reference to an ex-girlfriend who used to send really dirty texts.I begin to feel faint. I’m sweating profusely. The words feel like rubber in my mouth. Ah, and then I remember how I end this scene: ___    From somewhere behind him: “Hey, if it isn’t Steinbeck 2.0!”    Zach gritted his teeth and manufactured a smile for the second time that evening. “Matt Nelson. What’s up?”    Matt Nelson was another local writer. Priva[...]

Let's Make it Official, Kids: Mandatory Release is Here


I spy, with my little eye, A BOX OF BOOKS!Hi! How are you? I'm a nervous wreck, thanks!Well, I could whip myself into a neurotic frenzy over the last bottle of discount ranch dressing on double coupon day, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I'm distracted, which leads me to do things like wish my husband's late aunt a happy birthday on Facebook. You know how this works. You see the birthdays up there in the corner, and you absently click through them all (Happy birthday, Dave! Have a great day, Eleanor! Enjoy your big day, Steve!), get your daily post-liking frenzy out of the way, and then you whisk your palms together and head off to tackle the day, feeling so accomplished. Just look at everything you've already achieved. Maybe you'll work out. Shave your legs in the shower! Make a home-cooked meal for dinner! And--could it possibly be--actually get some writing done? Oh, the joys! Your day is a rainbow-hued quilt of possibilities sewn with spun gold. One hour later, you get a call from your beloved husband: "You wished my dead aunt happy birthday on Facebook."Individually-bagged Doritos. I told you I was neurotic.And you crawl under the couch and die a little and eat an industrial-sized bowl (the bowl you'd give your kid to puke in if he stayed home sick from school and you had a kid) of stale granola with chocolate soy milk and can't stop shivering.Also, you have a book in the "soft-launch"* phase on Amazon, the book you've been working on for 14 years, the book that people cock an eyebrow over when you explain the plot ("It takes place in a prison? And the main character is a guy in a wheelchair? And it's a really weird love story with a sex scene and everything? But it's HILARIOUS, trust me!") and people are finding it and buying it which is awesome, but you haven't made it official and you're already feeling slimy and spammy as hell for uploading your cover art and linking to blog reviews on Facebook and just want to crawl back under the couch again and where did you leave that spoon, anyway?So yes, let's just make it official and put me out of my misery. Mandatory Release is now available on all platforms: high and low diving boards, ceremonial award stages, all of them. Also Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble. I'm also giving away two signed paperback copies on Goodreads, if that's your flavor of choice. I love this book, I miss these characters, and there's something in it to offend just about everyone, so let the games begin!If you'd like to celebrate with me, I'll be doing a reading at Becket's Restaurant in Oshkosh on Tuesday, July 16 from 5-7 pm--it's a fundraiser for the Winnebago County Literacy Council, so we won't get TOO out-of-hand. Unless it's decided by popular vote.A lovely woman in a book club I met with last week asked me what happens at my launch parties, and here are your multiple-choice options:a) I sweat through my dress and have trouble remembering the word "orientation."Gene Simmons? Is that you? (Guy in front: "We're number one!")b) A bunch of us end the night at the gay bar AND the strip club.c) Everything I eat gives me diarrhea except cheese and wine, which works out fine because those are my two favorite food groups.Thanks for reading. If I could buy all of you ponies and peonies, I totally would. *Soft-launch is just a fancy way of saying 1) that you've uploaded your book and haven't announced it yet; and 2) you're playing some kind of kinky sex game with a Nerf replica of the space shuttle.Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Now Presenting: Dana Bate!


Congratulations to Bonnie, who won a signed copy of Brenda Janowitz's Recipe for a Happy Life! Let's keep the party rolling with more recipe-related reads:Today, I'm so thrilled to present Dana Bate, whose first novel The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs released this past February. This is an absolutely adorable book, so clever and funny. She and I share an acquiring debut editor, Jill Schwartzman, who obviously has excellent taste. Dana is giving away one signed paperback copy to a lucky reader--I'll pick a commenter at random this Friday at midnight. Leave a comment with your email address to win! 1. Tell us about The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs--where did you get the idea?The book is about a twenty-six-year old woman named Hannah Sugarman who is having a quarter-life crisis. On paper, she seems to have it all: impressive job, brilliant boyfriend, famous intellectual parents. But all Hannah cares about is cooking, and unfortunately, no one takes her passion seriously. So when her relationship falls apart, she decides to start an underground supper club out of her new landlord's town house – a secret venture that is both wildly successful and highly problematic, given that it isn’t exactly legal. Suffice it to say, not everything goes as planned.The idea came to me after I’d quit my job and moved to London with my husband for a few months while he worked on a project there. I had been toying with various ideas for a novel, when one morning I came across an article online about a woman called MsMarmitelover who hosted a secret supper club out of her London flat. Total strangers would come from all over and pay to eat her food, even though the whole operation wasn’t technically legal. I thought the idea sounded really fun – and risky – and that sort of became the launching pad for my novel.2. Were there any things about the publishing world that surprised you?Oh, boy. Lots. I was definitely surprised at how slowly the publishing machine operates. I sold my debut in late June/early July 2011, and it didn't come out until February 2013! Apparently that's fairly standard, and the long lead time allows them to create an implement a publicity plan, but in the digital era it definitely feels very slow. I also didn't fully appreciate how much of the packaging and marketing would be out of my control. My original title was THE DUPONT CIRCLE SUPPER CLUB, but my publisher changed it to THE GIRLS' GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS because they felt the original title was too DC-centric. And the cover, while delicious and adorable, is a bit pinker than what I'd envisioned. But I'm not a marketing or PR specialist, so understandably I didn't get to make the final decision on those things. That's why publicity and marketing departments exist!3. What teenage memory makes you cringe?Just one? Because I'll be honest with you: there are many. Several involve extremely questionable hairstyles and makeup choices. But one particular doozy of a memory involves a guy I briefly dated in the summer between high school and college. His friends called him "Mole Man" because he kind of looked like a mole, and the only reason I dated him was because when I met him, he told me I looked like a movie star (I do not). But who doesn't like a little flattery now and again? Frankly, after being the nerdy A student for so many years, I was thrilled to have a guy notice me. But he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and after we had a heated debate over whether or not the government had shot down JFK Jr.'s plane (he believed they had), I realized I had made a huge mistake. That I dated him almost the entire summer based mostly on his interest in me is not something I'm proud of.4.D[...]

Now Presenting: Brenda Janowitz!


I "met" Brenda via the fabulous circle of women bloggers and writers in the Girlfriends Book Club, and she is every bit as sweet, thoughtful, and funny as her writing implies. I adore her! She recently re-released her first two novels Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist, and her latest, Recipe for a Happy Life, was just released by St. Martin's Press this week! Brenda is offering one signed copy for a lucky reader--just leave a comment with your email address, and you're entered to win! 1) Tell us about RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE. How did you get the idea?RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is about three generations of women with a culture all their own.  When Hannah finds herself spending the summer with her glamorous grandmother, a widow six times over, at her sprawling beach-front Hamptons estate, she learns that there’s more than one recipe for happiness.  A story of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is a quirky story about correcting the mistakes from your past and trying to create a future for yourself. As for where I got the inspiration, that would be my own grandmother, of course!  One summer, when I was single, Grandma Dorothy informed me that she would be renting a house in the Hamptons.  No more of these silly share houses I was doing with my friends each summer.  They were getting me nowhere (read: still single and over thirty).  Instead, I was to stay with her and she would help me meet someone.  The only problem with this scenario was that I was sure she’d meet a man before I did.  She had sparkling crystal blue eyes and a killer figure.  My own hazel eyes and good birthing hips were no match for her easy glamour and style.When she found out that a Hamptons summer rental costs more than the gross national product of some countries, the idea sort of fell apart.  But it gave me an idea—what if a young woman spent the summer out in the glamorous Hamptons with her even more glamorous grandmother?Both of my own grandmothers really inspired me to come up with the character of Vivienne, the glamorous widow six times over.  Neither was a widow six times over, but both of my grandmothers were very glamorous ladies.  When I think of my childhood memories, I’m not likely to picture them in aprons baking cookies.  I picture them in evening gowns.2) Does the book include recipes, and if so--which is your favorite?Alas, no recipes.  But I did love the recipes in YOUR short story, CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR!  I’m going to try the spicy peanut noodles and the nostalgia risotto.I usually cook by feel, so I don’t actually have any written recipes!  But one of my biggest regrets in life is not writing down the recipe for my grandmother’s chicken fricassee.  One of these days, I’m going to start experimenting and figure out how my grandmother made it so delicious!3) What's your best piece of advice for an aspiring author?I have lots!  Here goes:Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.
There will always be excuses to avoid writing-- I have no free time, I have little kids, I have big kids, I don't have kids yet, my job is too demanding, I need to find a job...  you fill in your own.  If writing is really your dream, make the time.  Start with a writing class, and then find a writer's group.  Once you commit to taking the time to write, you'll be able to find the time to put pen to paper.  (Or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be.)Edit![...]

Odds & Ends


Every ounce of my creative energy is being sucked into my new novel, which is probably the hardest thing I've ever written. New genre, multiple POV characters, major world-building....but great fun. So to keep from horribly neglecting the blog, I'll be featuring some fabulous weekly author interviews and giveaways over the next month with Dana Bate, Dina Silver, Brenda Janowitz, Samantha Stroh-Bailey, and more. Stay tuned, y'all!What I'm reading: Laurie Notaro's latest, The Potty Mouth at the Table.What I'm watching:We just saw World War Z, and I was pleasantly surprised! A smart take on the zombie genre.What I'm listening to:Anything and everything eighties on Spotify.What I'm eating:Yesterday I made a pan of homemade granola bars:  Melt 1/2 cup agave syrup that the elderly bagger made fun of me for buying, 1/4 cup brown rice syrup, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup coconut oil in a small saucepan on the stove. Pour it over the following, which you've dumped in a large bowl: 2 cups oatmeal, 1 cup Rice Crispies, 1/3 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup coconut shreds, 1/3 cup dried cranberries, 1/3 cup pepitas, 1/4 cup ground flaxseed, 1/4 cup hulled hemp seed, and 1/4 cup chia seeds. Mix well. (It was kind of a hodgepodge of everything I had in the cupboard.) Press into a 9x12 greased Pyrex pan, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, and cut into bars when cool. Try not to inhale them all in one sitting.Adorable things my two-year-old niece said recently:"Come on guys, it's time o'clock!"And, about Daisy: "Him so cute!"Deceptively adorable.The 2013 season of Monarch ranching is also underway:See those teeny white specks on the flower buds and leaves? In four weeks, they'll be Monarch butterflies, with any luck. (It took me only five years, but I finally learned how to use the macro feature of my camera.) We're also on Week Two of our CSA pick-ups--strawberries, kohlrabi, sugar snap peas, lettuce, asparagus, potatoes ... and I've got to cut this blog short because J wants to drag me down to South Park to a car show. Which, as you all know, I'm hugely into.Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Now Presenting: Dee DeTarsio!


Let's keep this party rolling with another author interview and giveaway! I am so happy to welcome the lovely Dee DeTarsio to the blog today, to help celebrate the recent launch of her latest novel, All My Restless Life to Live (isn't that a fabulous title?) I "met" Dee online when she contacted me after reading All the Lonely People--turns out she's a fellow Midwesterner, and she's damn funny, with a huge heart to boot. (Did I actually just type "to boot?" Moving on...) Leave a comment below and you'll be entered to win a signed paperback copy of her new novel!!About All My Restless Life to Live:Life is a soap opera, especially for Elle Miller, who writes for one. (Ellen dropped the "n" in her name in hopes of finding a better ending for herself.) When her laptop crashes, she borrows her recently deceased dad's computer and gets way more than she bargained for.Elle unravels mysterious communications from his computer, while her mom decides to give Internet dating a try. As Elle tries to save her career at I'd Rather Be Loved with a storyline featuring a trip through Atlantis, she takes a trip to the Emmys, and finds herself in the middle of a romance between a real doctor and a hunk who just plays one on TV. Friends, family, and clues from "the other side" all help Elle figure out the difference between living the good life and living a good life.Fans of Marian Keyes and Jennifer Weiner will delight in Dee DeTarsio's sparkling prose and lively dialogue as she takes readers into the heart of women's lives. Filled with friendship, love, loss, betrayal, and challenges that force her characters to find their place in the universe, Dee's novels give us that hopefully-ever-after we're searching for. ~~~1) Tell us about All my Restless Life to Live. (GREAT title, by the way!) Where did you get the idea? I always wanted to be a soap opera writer. (Even though an 8th grade career aptitude test indicated I would make an excellent farmer’s wife.) Of course, I also wanted to marry one of my junior high crushes, Jim Flower . . . which would have made me Dee Flower! (I need to write that book someday.)2) What do you find most challenging about the writing life, and how do you address it? Distractio . . . 3) What teenage memory makes you cringe?I had Scoliosis and wore a Joan Cusack Sixteen Candles back brace. So, there I was, buying feminine hygiene surfboards. The gum-snapping cashier was clicking her extra-long fingernails on the register keys. “Aw, did you have an accident?”  With every ounce of teenage angst I possessed, I shuddered. “Yes.” “What happened?” She wanted to know. And in that moment, when the universe decided, Nope, still not humble enough, I realized she wasn’t referring to the incident in my white Jordache jeans. There wasn’t enough Midol in the world.  4) Writing humor is tough, but you make it look effortless. What's your secret? I grew up in Ennui, Ohio, and only wish I had started taking notes earlier—some of the funniest people I know are from the Midwest. (Have you met Jess Riley?) I think it is constant fear of tornadoes or being trapped in a snowstorm that forges a delightful melancholy of the absurd. Plus, I come from a long line of teasers where NOTHING is sacred. (And yes, my whole family totally made fun of my back brace.)5) If you could have any super power, what would it be? I wish my super power was the ability to get by on four hours of sleep. Who are those freaks of nature and how can I become one? I am all about the recommended eight hours, and occasionally experiment with nine! [...]

Now Presenting: Stephanie Elliot!!


Today on the blog I am super-excited to welcome Stephanie Elliott, one of my best friends, writer or otherwise, to celebrate the recent release of her debut indie novel, What She Left Us: a tender, insightful story about the relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters. We've got redemption, forgiveness, family secrets, and hot guys to fall in love with: what more do you need?!About What She Left Us: Jenna and Courtney are dealing with the unexpected death of their mother in different ways. Jenna broke off her engagement to the man she thought she'd love forever, while Courtney headed back to college to take charge of a dorm-floor full of college students as a resident assistant.Six months later, Jenna is fueled by panic over the news that the sisters may have the same disease that caused their mother's death and she makes an irrational decision - she packs it up and heads to college to be with Courtney. The timing couldn't be worse for Courtney, who's discovering love for the first time with Mitch, a sexy guitar player who may just be off limits.Emotionally unstable, Jenna wonders if she made the worst mistake of her life by breaking off her engagement with Darren, and when he shows up to make amends, she can't help but second-guess her decision. But then there's Clay, the compassionate bartender at Klippy's who seems to understand everything Jenna's going through. And those hazel eyes just seem to see right through to Jenna's soul… As the girls maneuver through their unpredictable futures, trying to manage their new health risks as well as tumultuous love lives, Courtney finds a disturbing photograph that indicates there may be more to their family than she ever imagined. ~~~~~~~~Steph (of the popular blog "Booking with Manic") has got THREE copies of her novella The Cell Phone Lot to give away to three lucky commenters with e-readers. Don't forget to leave your email with your comment! I'll randomly pick a winner on Saturday. ~~~~~~~~  1. Where did you get the idea for What She Left Us?The idea for What She Left Us actually came to me after I read Gwendolen Gross' The Orphan Sister, which is about two identical twin sisters and the third odd sister. It made me wonder about the dynamics of sisters and what it would be like to grow up as individual 'only' childs... like if one child were 10 years old and then another child came into the family some way, some how later in life, and how the family would turn out. (My sister and I are Irish twins, the same age for two weeks out of the year, so it was interesting for me to think about two sisters kind of far apart in age as young children.) That was the original idea, and the original title was The Only Other Child, but the story turned into something so much more than that after that first idea. 2. What songs are on the What She Left Us playlist?This one is easy because these are the songs that played in the background at the bar, Klippy's, and the songs that Mitch played on his guitar. Totally random."Gravity" by John MayerFlorence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over""Your Body is a Wonderland" by John Mayer"Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison"Stay" by RihannaSugar Hill's Rap  3. What teenage memory STILL makes you cringe?OK, I was 16 and babysitting my 5-year-old brother. My mom was working and my boyfriend was over. (For the record, my sister and other brother were home and I probably told THEM to watch him while I was 'busy!) It was summer and probably around 11 a.m. My boyfriend and I were fooling around in my bedroom, with the door locked, or so I thought[...]

You're Terrible.


I am married to a very funny guy whose humor is delightfully subtle. He’s incredibly laid-back, nonchalant, sweet, and unassuming, and then BAM—he’s delivered the perfect, understated one-liner that has me gasping for breath. Much of his humor is incredibly inappropriate. For example, while watching The Voice, I’ve averaged three “You’re terrible!” comments per episode in response to his twisted jokes and observations. A strong case can be made that I’m just as terrible, but we balance one another here; two terrible people in the household at the same time is too much. At any rate, this is how it goes:J: (warped, sick comment about some poor contestant)Me: “You’re terrible!”J:  “In a hundred years, the future Ghost Hunters team will come through this house with their EMF detectors and MEL meters and FLIR thermal cameras and discover a residual haunting loop of your disembodied voice saying, ‘You’re terrible!’ over and over.”Me: (long pause) … “You’re terrible.”~~~~Other breaking news:I have managed to recreate most of the 1,500 words lost in the new novel when my flash drive died last week, though something about the *new* version still bugs me. My garden is waterlogged but mostly happy, and I'll do a photo diary soon.I have been downsized at work, but there are many silver linings--we'll be tightening our belts, but I'll have more time to write ... hopefully the new material doesn't revolve around double coupon shopping trips or a taste-test of ALDI wines or cat food. We are now 33 days from the release of Mandatory Release. I can tell because my insomnia and nervous pukey feelings have been increasing daily. If you'd like to help me celebrate launch day on Tuesday July 16, I'll be doing an event at Becket's Restaurant in Oshkosh for the Winnebago Literacy Council's. Reading, chat, and book sales from 5-7; tickets are $25 and include snicker-snacks. All proceeds go to support the literacy council.Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Now Presenting: Amy Sue Nathan!


Today on the blog I'm so thrilled to be hosting Amy Sue Nathan, debut author of a fabulous new novel, The Glass Wives (St. Martin's). Amy started the popular Women's Fiction Writers blog two years ago, and it's a wonderful place to find interviews with some of the best voices in the genre today. Amy is a kind, generous, and talented person, and she's giving away a signed copy of The Glass Wives to one lucky reader--just leave a comment below to enter! Synopsis for The Glass Wives: Evie and Nicole Glass share a last name. They also shared a husband. When a tragic car accident ends the life of Richard Glass, it also upends the lives of Evie and Nicole, and their children. There’s no love lost between the widow and the ex. In fact, Evie sees a silver lining in all this heartache—the chance to rid herself of Nicole once and for all. But Evie wasn’t counting on her children’s bond with their baby half-brother, and she wasn’t counting on Nicole’s desperate need to hang on to the threads of family, no matter how frayed. Strapped for cash, Evie cautiously agrees to share living expenses—and her home—with Nicole and the baby. But when Evie suspects that Nicole is determined to rearrange more than her kitchen, Evie must decide who she can trust. More than that, she must ask: what makes a family?  ~~~~~~1) What inspired you to write The Glass Wives?My life! In the novel, the main character is a divorced mom whose ex-husband dies leaving her with two kids and a mortgage and a big mess. That happened to me in 2004. But, I turned the truth inside out and upside down to write fiction because I wouldn't write about my real life kids or our real hardships. It was fun to write with "what if" in mind. 2) Who are some of your author idols?Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman. But really my idols are the authors around me who are talented and generous who I'm proud to call my friends. 3) What teenage memory makes you cringe?I wore a lot of blue and pink eye shadow. I had very long nails and very tight jeans. Oh c'mon. It was the early 80s and it was awesome. 4) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?Don't give up. You can't have a book published if you don't write it, rewrite it, rewrite it again, polish it, and put it out there for others to critique. 5) You’ve been asked to bring a dish to a summer potluck. What’s your Go-To Recipe?Now that's when I cringe! The best thing anyone ever brought to one of my backyard barbecues was a bag of ice cream novelties for dessert. I thought it was so clever! And it was so much fun to just pass around the bag and let everyone pick their own treat.  If I had to cook and it was summer, I like feta, watermelon, and mint (or basil) on skewers. ~~~~~~Thanks, Amy! (I too LOVE Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Hoffman...) Don't forget to leave a comment that includes your email address* below to win a SIGNED COPY!!! Tell us YOUR Go-To summer potluck recipe. You have until midnight EST, Friday June 7 to enter. *Don't worry, I won't spam you, but I do need to get a hold of you if you win!UPDATE: Contest closed. Congratulations Jess Bair!  Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

It Came from 1991


A lot of truly angsty things have been happening here lately, most of which I'm loathe to blog about (there's enough depressing stuff on the news)...but I WILL be posting at the Girlfriends Book Club on Thursday about "Writing through Trauma," so head over there for a bit of TMI and such.

In the meantime, I've got new author photos (whee!) and behind-the-scenes activity underway before the launch of Mandatory Release. Two fabulous author blurbs are in, and I can't wait to share more on all of this. In the meantime, if you add it to your Goodreads queue, I'd be ever so grateful! (Just click on the cover to the right.)

But you know what's REALLY been on my mind lately? All of the horrible movies I dragged my long-suffering high school boyfriend to. (Can I end with a preposition there? Ah, who cares.) How many seventeen-year-old guys do you know who would have patiently sat through:

1) Hook.
2) Dying Young.
3) Sleeping with the Enemy.
4) My Girl.
5) The People Under the Stairs.
6) Regarding Henry.
7) A Few Good Men.
8) Wayne's World.
9) Candyman.
10) The Last of the Mohicans.
11) A League of their Own.
12) Patriot Games.
13) Single White Female.

Do you notice a trend there? Right. With some exceptions, they are all movies that post-menopausal women and men with Low T might enjoy.

(A bright note among the garbage was Silence of the Lambs, but we saw that in the theater on EASTER SUNDAY, so I still had to make it all weird.)

And then there were the movies I picked when we rented a flick: The Fisher King. Dead Again. Fried Green Tomatoes. Driving Miss Daisy. King Ralph. The Prince of Tides. Thelma and Louise. Rush. L.A. Story. Far and Away. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Malcolm X. Of Mice and Men. A River Runs Through It. Shining Through. Unlawful Entry.

Seriously. Why not just spin the wheel and skip over the interesting years, landing right on "cholesterol medication, reading glasses, receding gums, and you may want to reconsider attending that comedy show because you now have a shady, unreliable sphincter." We were sixteen and nearly eighteen!!! Practicing to be sixty and eighty!!!

I don't know why all of this came to mind earlier this week. Maybe I'm getting contemplative as I get older. Maybe I caught the beginning of Sleeping with the Enemy on OWN and it triggered something in me other than a) gratitude that I hadn't married an abusive yuppie; and b) amazement at how young Julia Roberts looked in that film. Regardless, that boyfriend of two and a half years was exceedingly patient, and it still blows my mind how easygoing he was when it came to Things I Wanted to Do, including break up the week I got to college because like 95% of my girlfriends at the time, I wouldn't be ready to love a truly nice guy until I grew up a bit first.

Now Presenting: Leslie Lehr


I'm so happy to have the luminous, TALENTED Leslie Lehr on the blog today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, What a Mother Knows: an unsettling, emotional and suspenseful novel of the unshakable bonds of motherhood, in which Michelle Mason not only loses her memory after a deadly car crash, but can't find her 16-year-old daughter, the one person who may know what happened that day. But the deeper Michelle digs, the more she questions the innocence of everyone, even herself. A dramatic portrayal of the fragile skin of memory, What a Mother Knows is about finding the truth that can set love free.NYT Bestselling author Caroline Leavitt called it an "achingly moving suspense drama. Dark and unsettling, but with a ray of hope like a splash of light, and a knockout ending you won't see coming."Leslie has stated that it will be a few years before her next novel is available, so savor this one--I know I plan to! 1) What inspired you to write What a Mother Knows? When my daughter was in middle school, she started crying at night, every night - and I felt so helpless. I imagined the worst. I wrote an essay called “Parenting Paranoia” that Arianna Huffington excerpted in her book, On Becoming Fearless. But I was still afraid. Then I had jury duty on a manslaughter case in which two women were suing the driver of a car that crashed into a sports bar and killed their sons. We had to decide on the value of their loss. And so, in the worst of what-ifs, I started worrying about what my daughter’s value was to me, who I was without her…and how far would I go to protect her. 2) Who are some of your author idols?  Different novelists inspire me for different reasons. Starting out, I idolized Carolyn See, Margaret Atwood. and Isabelle Allende. I love current authors who combine beautiful language with solid storytelling, like Leslie Schwartz and Carolyn Leavitt. I love Jane Porter for writing as if she’s my best friend telling me a story. I like Heather Gudenkauf and Jillian Medoff for sucking me into their worlds and making me race to the end. I love Megan Abbot for being so snarky and Megan Crane and Emily Griffin for making me smile.  And I’m loving all the authors in the Girlfriends Group Book Club – so much diversity and talent like you, Jess, in this one group, it’s hard name everyone! I do favor women authors, not just because I can relate, but also because I do think it’s harder to carve out writing time, let alone a career. 3) What teenage memory makes you cringe?Tumbling down the stairs in front of my first date and his hunky big brother, who was driving us to the Eighth Grade Dance. My girlfriend sewed a new dress for me  - a short flowered number – and I had a new pair of platform shoes that I forgot to buckle. I’d been crushing on this boy for months and was so excited that he asked me instead of a girl with bigger boobs. I thought I’d make a grand entrance when he arrived, and did I ever. He ended up being my boyfriend all through high school, but I could never look his big brother in the eye. 4) Are you a cat or dog person?Both. I adopted a cat and named him Puppy when I started out on my own, because my apartment didn’t take dogs. My younger daughter had several kittens - Buttercup, then Cupcake - a friend asked of number three would be named Cup ‘O Soup. But they died tragically, so my older daughter adopted a black lab and named her Scout after the girl in To Kill a Mockingbird. When she left for colle[...]

Gearing Up


If you're an avid reader of this blog (stop laughing), you may have noticed a few changes to the layout. Yes, things are happening! A new header is in the works, and I'm also going to tackle my disaster of a website in the next few months.Spring cleaning, yes, but also because I'm gearing up to launch Mandatory Release this July. *breathes into a paper bag* I have cover art, and I am DYING to share it with you all....soon enough. Julie Metz designed it, and guys: she did the cover for Judy Blume's Summer Sisters. Recognize any other names in her portfolio? She's amazing, amazing. More on this soon...Mandatory Release is "officially" my third novel, but I actually started it fourteen years ago, under a different title, with a different plot and different characters. I've read the opening chapter at several book events years ago, so some of you may remember it.I don't know if other authors are like this, but my novels feel sort of like my children; I always worry, at least a little, when I release them into the big, wide world. But with Driving Sideways and All the Lonely People, I felt they could take any kind of heat. Strangely, the book with the toughest setting and darkest themes and most vulnerable, honest, and raw characters is the book I'm most protective of. It's the book closest to my heart. It's the book that felt like opening a vein and bleeding onto the page.Mandatory Release features my favorite character ever; if you liked Driving Sideways, I basically took Leigh Fielding, gave her a spinal cord injury, a crush on a coworker, mild anger issues, and a job in a prison. Oh, and I made her a guy. Okay, that sounds a little weird. But I think you're going to like Graham. He's got a sick sense of humor, lots of hope, and lots of heart.It's a crazy mash-up of dick lit and women's fiction, written in alternating POV chapters. Maybe my tagline can be, "Throws like a girl, writes like a boy." My editor said it reminded him of Tom Perrotta, and I had to lie down when I heard that because The Wishbones is only one of my FAVORITE BOOKS EVER.So. New author photo next week. Cover reveal soon. Blog and website overhaul underway. Final copyedits in process. If you're in the Appleton, WI area this Wednesday April 17, I'll be at the Little Chute Public Library at 6:30 pm, for the Fox Cities Book Festival. I'm not sure what exactly I'll be talking about, but bring some questions--let's play "Ask Me Anything!" (Er, sort of.) Sneak Peek: Yesterday I created a playlist featuring songs that would be my soundtrack for Mandatory Release. There's one key song that I didn't include, because if I did, I'd give a huge plot point away. I was all proud of how I figured Spotify out until I saw that a few songs didn't make it over on the embed, so you'll just have to pretend "Pursuit of Happiness" by Kid Cudi, MGMT, and Ratatat is there. Also, if anyone wants to make MR into a movie? I always thought "Vaya Con Dios" by Les Paul and Mary Ford would be a fun backdrop to a riot scene. Just sayin'. allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="380" src="" width="300"> Subscribe with Feedburner[...]

Bad School Musical


Spring is in the air, and for me that means Grant Crunch Season: late nights, poor personal hygiene, sleepless nights, and the attention span of a cricket born in a fuel refinery. When I was a kid, I liked spring a lot more. Except for our spring concerts. Every year, my entire elementary school put on an all-school musical in the gymnasium. The themes changed annually. When I was in second grade, we sang “Up, Up, and Away” and “The Trolley Song” for a transportation-themed musical, because there’s probably nothing more exciting for young girls than singing about cars, planes, trains, trucks, boats, and motorcycles. The next year my class dressed up like ragamuffin orphans to sing “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” for the school’s version of Annie. We did The Sound of Music in fourth grade, Peter Panin fifth grade.It was during that performance that the second-ugliest picture of me ever was taken.  Look at this!  Music Teacher: “Hey kid, you have a nice, fat head and look like a prepubescent boy. Want to be Captain Hook?”Me: “Sure! I’ve always wanted to wave around a plastic hook hand while singing an off-key solo before a hot, crowded gymnasium full of parents forced to sit on hard, metal folding chairs. I'm going to look so awesome in that hat!” The next year could have been somewhat redeeming. Our sixth grade class (the far-flung Eden Elementary contingent) would meet all the other sixth grade classes from Campbellsport at the annual 6th Grade Spring Camp experience--sort of a “meet & greet” before they threw us together in the junior high blender the next school year. And we were sure to make a great first impression with our medley of Beach Boy tunes. We earnestly practiced for weeks. Everyone had a part to play. Me? I pretended to ride in a car, bopping my head and doing some kind of hand motions to “California Girls” with three other kids from my class. We sounded awesome. We were so psyched. The day of the camp performance arrived, and we donned our surfer shorts, pastel tops, Swatch watches, leis, and dorky smiles. Each song had a carefully choreographed dance routine, accompanied by piano.  Jazz hands may have been involved. The other sixth grade classes? Lip-synched to Bon Jovi in acid-washed jean jackets and sunglasses. They were accompanied by a boom box and somehow, a kick-ass laser show.  No one was told to smile. No one flashed jazz hands, but there may have been some rudimentary break-dancing.Afterwards, we felt as if a trick had been played. At least I did. I’d spent years lip-synching into the mirror in my bedroom, only to never have the opportunity to publicly display my talents. Lip-synching was actually an option? As was maintaining some sort of cool factor in the critical weeks before the first day of seventh grade? Also, it’s a miracle none of us were beaten. Fast-forward two years to the eighth grade spring chorus concert. I vaguely recall singing a bunch of shitty rock songs (“R.O.C.K. in the USA” comes to mind), and the show was to close with a stirring rendition of White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” All of us were supposed to sit on the edge of the stage, our legs dangling into the void before the front row—to make it more profound or intimate, maybe, or so the audience would have more difficulty seeing us…it’s hard to say. Our chorus teacher revealed the true extent of some childhood head inj[...]

More Home Reno, Before and After


Last year was a big year for remodeling at our house. In the winter of 2011-12, we gutted our second floor and rebuilt it from the studs up, moving walls and creating a bathroom that didn't make guests recoil in horror.Then, because we hadn't yet had enough, we took on two more projects last summer. I haven't posted the Before and After photos yet (something about a book release and five grants due in a few weeks or whatever), but I'm finally getting around to it.As some of you know, our house was built in 1885, long before things like electrical and plumbing codes or symmetry and safety existed. Our primary entrance does not lead you to a foyer, because that would make too much sense. Instead, you open the front door and land right in the kitchen. Which has FIVE doors: to the back hall, upstairs, downstairs bathroom, the porch, and the living room. When we finally tackle our kitchen remodel, this will actually make our job easier, because there's only so much room to put new cabinets when you have five freaking doors and two windows in a small room shaped like a box. But back to my story. So you arrive at my house. The first thing I used to say when I took your coat was, "Welcome to the hovel!" The second thing I still say is, "She only pees when she's really excited. Sorry about that."When you turn to your right, you enter the living room, which until last summer looked like this (minus the furniture):Teeny-tiny. And don't you just love the blue carpet? It was probably installed in the early seventies--a used remnant from some shagadelic van. When it got really humid and hot in summers, it would smell like moldy, rotting death. This used to be my office. Without the desk, you can get more of a feel for the delightful, stained orange carpet, which was a nice contrast to the blue in the adjacent living room.  I don't know what that big black blob in the upper left-hand corner of the photo is--it's either my thumb, or the ceiling finally caving in. Last winter I was showing some friends a funny video on the computer in that room--the video of the mullet guy playing "Careless Whisper" on sax? Anyway, at one point one of them looked up and asked me, "Uh, is this safe?" I honestly had no answer to that. We're all lucky to be alive.In May, the contractor who'd worked on our second story emailed again, offering a deal if we had a project for him. Did we ever! Let's start by tearing up the carpet (put your gas masks on) and blasting the wall out between the living room and office. Don't forget to fix the ceiling! We took everything down to the studs again--all new plaster. So purty.Did I mention we don't have a basement, so our furnace was in a little closet in the old office? Oh well, no basement means no flooding! And no place for J to arrange his ugly beer can collection!Things are progressing. Look, new window trim, paint on the walls, and a fun light fixture! Also, holy damn am I sick of painting!At the same time, we hired a crew to dig up our backyard and install a patio. There's pretty much no lawn to mow now. I read Gone Girl in the chair in the upper right-hand corner. And here's the living room After. No more blue or orange carpeting! This couch is the best ever. J's already making impressive progress on his Indent. My old Hope Chest, which my Dad used to call my "Hopeless Chest." My Godfather made it for me out of pews from the church in which I was[...]