Meet award-winning author Jessica Strawser at MWW21
Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest, where as editorial director she became known for her in-depth interviews with such talents as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She is the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You, named to Barnes & Noble’s Best New Fiction shortlist; Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month bestseller; Forget You Know Me, now new in paperback; and A Million Reasons Why, released in March 2021 (all from St. Martin’s Press). She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly, and others, is a contributing editor at CareerAuthors.com, and is a popular speaker at writing conferences. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati, where she was named 2019 Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Connect with her online at jessicastrawser.com, on twitter @jessicastrawser and on Facebook and Instagram at @jessicastrawserauthor.
MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet novelist Jessica Strawser who discusses her writing and what she will present at our virtual summer conference.
MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching? Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?
JS: I’m teaching two sessions that are designed to be full of takeaways! In “Surprise and Delight Your Readers on Every Page,” the overall goal is to give you tools and tips that can literally take your stories to the next level one page at a time—which I find so much less intimidating than the prospect of tackling an entire book-length manuscript. In “10 All-Time Best Writing Lessons From 10 Years of Interviews with the All-Time Best Writers,” my favorite takeaway is pure motivation: inspiration to keep going after your writing goals with renewed energy and perseverance.
MWW: What do you love most about writing suspense? On the flip side, what is the greatest challenge?
JS: I’ve found that I quite like writing toward a twist: Being in on a secret that a reader is not, and knowing where a story is going without quite knowing how I’m going to get there. Of course, sometimes, the not knowing how to get there becomes the biggest challenge, too.
MWW: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
JS: My new novel, A Million Reasons Why, is my most research-intensive book to date, as it deals with sensitive health-related topics that haven’t affected me personally: matching through mail-in DNA test kits, chronic disease, and live organ donation. The book I just completed for release next year was very heavy on research too, as the characters’ lives are consumed by their work in a profession that is both new and unfamiliar to many readers. For both of those stories, I needed to do a lot of legwork up front to be sure my plots and characters were even plausible before diving in.
MWW: In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says “Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work.” Talk about a time you edited something out of a book that was difficult. Why did you make the decision to remove it and how did it change the story?
JS: I think I’m less adverse to editing than a lot of writers simply because I was an editor first. That doesn’t mean I find editing painless or easy—not at all—but it does mean I’m always looking for something I can remove from a story to make it stronger. I tend to write long and then cut back. Those edits are always difficult in progress, but in the end it’s satisfying to cut 5,000-10,000 words from a story and find that what remains is a sharper version of itself.
MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?
JS: Maybe something magical that everyone wants to believe really exists, like a unicorn.