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Jessica Strawser’s sessions are FULL of takeaways!

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 bestsellerForget 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.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Jessica!

“You CAN improve your writing skills,” says Angela Jackson-Brown

Meet award-winning author Angela Jackson-Brown

Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She has published her short fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and poetry in journals like The Louisville Journal and the Appalachian Review. She is author of Drinking From a Bitter Cup (WiDo Publishing, 2014), House Repairs (Negative Capability Press, 2018), and her latest novel, When Stars Rain Down, which will be published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the spring of 2021.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, interviewed Angela about her writing and what she will present at MWW21.

MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?

AJB: A worker bee. I am a productive writer because I am a hardworking writer who, much like the worker bee, realizes being a writer isn’t, most times, a very glamourous job.

MWW: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

AJB: The first time I learned that language had power was when I wrote my first story. I saw the impact it had on the people I shared it with, especially my daddy. I realized then that storytellers have the ability to transport other people to another place, even if only for a short period of time.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching?

AJB: Improving our writing skills can be taught. There are some aspects of writing that are innate and either the person has “It” or they don’t BUT so much of writing can be learned if we are willing and open vessels. THAT is the one thing I hope everyone walks away believing. They can improve their writing skills. They just have to be willing to put in the hours/days/weeks/months/years needed to elevate their skill set.

MWW: Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?

AJB: Writers need to know that writing is not just this mystical act that depends on some mysterious muse. Writing is back-breaking, sweat-inducing work. Every day, to be successful at being writers, we have to show up and put in the effort it takes to take our work to the next level. It is not for the faint of heart.

MWW: How do you channel real life experiences in your fiction — or do you? 

AJB: I primarily write historical fiction, so I am constantly weaving in the historical past into my fictional worlds. I can’t imagine writing without paying attention to what was happening when my novels are set. How do I write about politics in 1948 without mentioning Truman, Civil Rights and the Dixiecrats? Historical details are the bread and butter of any story, regardless of when it is set.

MWW: I’ve read Drinking from a Bitter Cup and can’t wait for When Stars Rain Down. In your writing, what are some themes that arise again and again?

AJB: Family relationships and spirituality almost always show up in my work. If a writer knows the intricacies of their characters’ relationships with other characters, then they have the tools to write a complex plot. Spirituality is something all of my characters grapple with because they, like us, are trying to figure out how they got here and what their purpose in life is going to be.

MWW: Do you deal with them differently in your separate works?

AJB: The outcomes are different but the strategies are the same in most of my work.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Angela!