Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rehab Addict 2.0 with Jess Riley

I think my husband and I have lost our minds. Hot on the heels of the total re-do of the second story of our house, we are embarking on three NEW remodeling projects: a gut and overhaul of our living room and office, installation of central air conditioning, and installation of a brick patio in the backyard. 

I think I’ve mentioned that our house was built in 1885, so really, these things happen. Carpet gets funky. Trim gets beat to shit. Floors buckle. Ceilings start to cave in.

Oh, those last two never happened to you?

So the month of May just got a lot crazier. On top of this, I am gutting and overhauling a novel I originally wrote in 1998. YEAH! I know! 

Original title? The Cool Side of the Pillow. Now it’s Mandatory Release. It has always been a love story, but it’s undergone several massive edits over the last decade and a half … mostly because the first draft was a giant, steaming turd. Anyway, first it took place in Ireland. Later the setting moved to a prison. Because when I think romance, I think PENAL SYSTEM! I originally killed the main love interest, then I brought him back to life. Later I changed main characters entirely, writing from a male point of view for the first time.  Then I made it a love triangle. Then I added some twisted subplots and truly warped humor. I also wrote my first sex scene. *blushing* 

It was fun.

Most recently, I applied for a Creative Capital grant to help me make this novel the best damn thing it can be. I want to interview correctional officers to see how the recent elimination of collective bargaining has affected workplace safety and morale. I want to add a riot. I want to tighten up the writing, trim the fat, shade the characters, change one character’s point of view and tense entirely. (First person present? Nah—second person past, is more like it!)

When I’m done, hopefully later this summer, this damn novel will have gone through more incarnations than Shirley MacLaine or the recipe for Coke. 

My point it this: like an old house, any novel you write is destined for some remodeling…even if you think you’re done with it. Live in it long enough, and you stop seeing the imperfections. So take a brief vacation. When you come home, you will wonder how long that funky odor has been around, and whether anyone else has noticed it. (The answer is: 2 years or more, and yes.) You’ll decide the linoleum / secondary character with the club foot has got to go.

And remodeling a book or house is never as easy as you think it will be. Sure, you could just slap a coat of paint on it to hide the problems, but if there are major structural issues, it’ll collapse eventually.  Don’t be afraid of a major tear-down. Do it right and avoid the leaking roof / hack reputation. You’ll thank me later.

Jess Riley is currently over-thinking something, somewhere. Probably here.


  1. Good luck with both revisions Jess--you sound so cheerful!

  2. Love this post, Jess. You are so, so right. Even the most fabulous novel needs lots of tlc by way of edits. So, I think it's amazing you are re-hauling a long dead project. As for the house reno, I'm scared for you! I hope both go well!!

  3. Great post! I need to tattoo your advice to my bicep because I always forget it. In too much of a hurry.

  4. Your house stories crack me up! And I love the cool side of the pillow!

  5. Your house stories crack me up! And I love the cool side of the pillow!

  6. Good luck with all the various revisions, Jess!