Tuesday, May 20, 2008

With Coffee In My Left Hand and a Book In My Right, I'm

Congratulations to Jess Riley of Riley's Ramblings and The Debutant Ball. Her debut novel, Driving Sideways was released for sale today! I have been panting expectantly for this book and am tapping my foot impatiently waiting for my copy. This excerpt that I totally lifted off her amazon page should get you panting too:


I am alone no longer.

It’s strange how much you can change in just one year. Twelve months ago, I’d have laughed in your face if you told me I’d be packing for a road trip this morning. Not rudely, of course, but because traveling anywhere remote was a remote possibility for me at that point. I’d have sooner believed you if you’d said, “One year from now, you will become a Scientologist, learn the pan flute, and join a Bay City Rollers tribute band.”
But I’ve had a change of heart. Well, kidney, really. I’m leaving for Los Angeles this morning, about to do some things long overdue. My Saturn is idling in the driveway, stuffed with suitcases I’ve never taken anywhere but to hospitals. I feel as if I’ve just discovered that the cure for cancer is dark chocolate followed by two orgasms. I think I’ve forgotten to pack my toothbrush, but I don’t care. I can buy one on the way. The thought thrills me.
“So you’re really doing this,” my brother, James, says from behind me, sending me out of my skin.
I jump, making a hair ballish–noise like aak, and spin around to face him. He crosses his arms and fixes me with his practiced stare: one part condescension, two parts disbelief. It’s the same look James gives the paperboy when the Fond du Lac Reporter misses the welcome mat on the front porch by an inch or more. I lean back into my car, pretending to check my cooler of snacks and bottled water while trying to regain my pretrip composure. As my surrogate parent for the last sixteen years, James has always been able to sneak up on me—catching me in an innocuous act like reading and still making me feel as if I’d been caught stealing from a quadriplegic. “Yes, I’m really going.”

“Does Kate know?” he snipes.

“She will,” I reply. I shut the cooler and turn to face James.
“Leigh, why do you even care? She’s such an asshole. She’s a footnote.”
“I just do, is all.” Kate is our mother, who developed the curious conviction when James and I were younger that she would one day become a great actress. The morning she left us for Hollywood, she crouched next to me and whispered absently, “Never settle. Take big risks.” Then she stepped into her Ford Pinto and lurched away from the curb, her silver bumper glinting in the sunlight, the scent of Charlie cologne mingling with exhaust in the air. I was five years old. I sat on the curb waiting for her until Sesame Street came on, after which I returned to the curb to wait for her return. Twenty-three years later, I’m still waiting.

“You’ve got to be kidding.” James walks around my car and stands directly in front of me. He looks spooky without having had his first cup of coffee, a little like a B-list actor with an emerging heroin addiction. Not that James has ever done heroin. James actually times his alcoholic beverages—one per hour—to ensure he never “loses control.” Eighty percent of my friends have had a crush on him at one point or another. Even the guys. They all want to be him, until they spend more than an hour in his presence. “When’s the last time you even talked to her?” he continues.
I ignore him and pretend to examine my kayak, which I’ve secured with bungee cords to the roof of my car. Exhaust forms a foggy pool around my ankles. I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell him Kate has no idea I’m dropping by. Or that the last time I talked to her was about seven years ago.“And how well did that conversation go?”I ignore him some more. If I ignore him long enough, James usually gives up.

“Leigh, be reasonable. You’re in no shape for some . . . road trip . . . that will just disappoint you.”

His tone makes my stomach contract into a fist. “I’m in fine shape. Dr. Jensen said so last week.” I adjust my kayak one last time. Why couldn’t I have just gotten up ten minutes earlier? I suddenly hate the snooze bar. I wish I could think of something clever to say, but the best I can do is, “Besides. I’ve been reasonable my whole life. That’s the problem.” James rolls his eyes: Give me a break. Even now, he knows exactly how to make me feel like a twelve-year-old who still can’t read a clock.
“People wait for years on kidney transplant lists. . . . You’re lucky enough to get one, and all of a sudden you’re Peter Fonda in Easy Rider?” He shakes his head, almost knocking me down with a sonic boom of disappointment. I think he’s more upset by the fact that I’m growing as a person—his little sister is changing from un- assuming, vanilla Leigh, with a spine like a warm Twizzler stick, to independent, empowered LEIGH, with a firm handshake and excellent posture. I once was lost, but now am found, thanks to a kind stranger named Larry Resnick.
But more on him later.
“James,” I say, “Peter Fonda had a motorcycle filled with drugs and money. I’ve got a Saturn with a kayak on the roof.” I also think of asking James if he would prefer I join a convent and sew my lips shut, but instead I say, “I’m tired of living vicariously through everyone else. I want my own life.” And really, that’s the meat of the matter. I want a life. I try to sound rational and convincing as I explain this to James, but I know if this conversation goes on much longer, my voice will grow higher and tighter until it sounds like I’m sucking helium. As the person who used to sign my report cards and once met with my ninth-grade principal to discuss the lewd cartoons I’d drawn in my math book to amuse friends, James has always had that power over me.
“What if you get sick again,” he says, challenging me. “Then what?”
“Then I find a hospital.” Simple logic, right? I think James is just afraid of change. Either that or being left behind with his wife, Marissa, who makes hot tuna casserole every Tuesday and leases a new beige Volvo every year. As if on cue, Marissa opens the back door. In a gauzy lilac robe, her hair in purple rollers, she looks like she’d be much more comfortable had she been named Mimi or Lady Bird.

“Everything alright?” she asks timidly.

James crosses his arms and glares at me. “Leigh still thinks she’s going to California.”
Marissa appears confused. “Oh?”

“I’m just taking a trip. People take them every day,” I say, trying to sound calm. Would James ever just let me breathe? I feel chest-deep in a vat of pudding and sinking fast.
“Leigh, you are not going alone.”
“I’ll be fine. I’m only going for two weeks,” I insist, but I don’t sound too convincing. I’m growing claustrophobic and sweaty, so I decide to just take action before I change my mind completely. “James,” I say with as much finality as I can muster, “I’ll call you from Sioux Falls.” With that, I slide into the driver’s seat, shift from park, and begin my journey. It’s one of those hyper, surreal moments where you might escape after all, where you think for a minute that you’ve actually convinced the Jehovah’s Witnesses peering through your front window that you’re not home, even though they clearly saw you streaking through the living room and diving behind the couch wearing nothing but a towel.
I leave James looking hurt and perplexed in the driveway, and suddenly I feel guilty. But not guilty enough to stay, and not guilty enough to quash my excitement.
I’m really doing it. Two left turns, a series of intersections, and one long graveyard on my right (which I drive past holding my breath, to add a day to my life), and I’m leaving Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Good-bye, Tucker’s Hamburgers, Gilles Frozen Custard, Lakeside Park, and the Miracle Mile, where a dozen people bought winning lottery tickets and thousands more bought losing ones. I wish I had a convertible, so I could wear Jackie O sunglasses and a scarf over my hair and carelessly toss something fluttery and symbolic into the wind—maybe a love letter from an old beau, or ancient to-do lists, or just bundles of money, because if I had a convertible and Jackie O sunglasses, it stands to reason that I’d have a much more exciting life involving a surplus of inherited or ill-gained money.

I turn my stereo up and Jefferson Starship assaults me: “We built this city . . . !” I rush to find something that won’t trigger my gag reflex. (Ah, yes: “London Calling,” by the Clash. For some, not just a band, but a way of life.) I suppress a delirious giggle. I’m really doing this. I begin to sing along and ease onto Highway 23. My MedicAlert bracelet glints in the sun, looking much more like a sterling silver Return to Tiffany™ heart tag bracelet than the old-school stainless steel plate the kid with diabetes wore around his wrist in fifth grade. Humming down the highway with the rising sun at my back, I snake a hand down my side to touch my scar. I can almost feel my new kidney jouncing around in me. It feels less like an alien jelly bean and more like an old pal. I decide to name it Larry. After its namesake. I am alone no longer.
Betcha after reading that, you're hooked too. When my pre-ordered copy arrives (glance at my wristwatch, tap my foot even more furiously), I will be sure to post a review and give away another new copy to one of my readers. With writing this good, I gotta share the love.