Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Where Writers Write: Jess Riley

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Jess Riley. She is the author of three novels --Driving Sideways, All the Lonely People, and Mandatory Release (July 2013)—as well as a novella, Closer Than They Appear.

She lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her husband and a nutty Cairn Terrier that despises public radio. She blogs at; follow her on Twitter (@jessrileywrites) or Facebook (

Where Jess Riley Writes

I’m fascinated by where writers write. I love, for example, hearing that Sara Gruen basically wrote Water for Elephants in a tiny closet. I’m not in the closet, but I did write all of my novels at this sensible, particleboard desk that my husband and I somehow assembled years ago. I’ve got my PC, he’s got his Mac, and we share the same screen. All of my reference books are handy in two cozy little bookshelves: Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Save the Cat, Roget’s Super Thesaurus, several dictionaries and style guides, and 35,000 Baby Names because those characters don’t name themselves.

If I get writer’s block, I can spin around and play guitar. Well, I can look longingly at this wall and dream of a day when I might know how to play guitar.

If I’m feeling uninspired, I can turn to my right and stare out the window, listen to the birds singing and take in the vista: lush maples, a stately old white pine we’ve nicknamed Harold, my neighbor’s disintegrating rooftop. This is perhaps the most inspiring thing to look at, because it says to me, “If you don’t finish that novel, you will always live in this neighborhood and look out this window at your drug-dealing, degenerate neighbor’s crumbling shingles and clogged gutters.”

Every so often I wistfully cruise the Pottery Barn office collection, but there’s no direct link between a better desk and a better novel. And I honestly don’t want to be the smug jerk who writes a novel at the standardized, overpriced, bourgeois Pottery Barn desk. I want to inherit the desk in my father’s office, because it was handmade by inmates in a carpentry program. I want to find a desk at an old estate sale that’s made of reclaimed barn planks, that bears four generations of ink stains and scuffmarks and cheerful graffiti from three-year-olds.

Until then, I’ve got my utilitarian, pragmatic MDF cockpit--coffee-stained, watermarked, lumpy veneer and all. Close the door, turn on some tunes, write 2,000 words a day. Works for me. 


  1. I'm so glad you've featured Jess here today :) I have a total girly crush on her because she's wickedly hilarious. She lives in Wisconsin, like I do. I'm a sucker for a tale set in my home state.

    All the Lonely People was laugh-out-loud funny. I have Mandatory Release on my tbr pile and I can't wait to dig in.

  2. Thanks, Lori! This was fun. And Jen, thank you so much for reading MR; I will be a sweaty mess until I hear your verdict! :)

  3. Love the wall of guitars! You are so organized. I write at my laptop wherever it is.