Wondering where you’ve heard the name Jessica Strawser, but for some reason, you can’t remember? I ask that for all of my non-writing friends. Because my writing friends know exactly who Jessica is. Former Editor in Chief for Writer’s Digest (and now Editor at Large), Jessica has stepped away from that role to concentrate on her novel writing career. And frankly, I’m glad (selfish, but true). I read her first book, Almost Missed You, in just a few days and I’m looking forward to reading her most recent novel (as in, it came out last month!), Not That I Could Tell. I had the pleasure of first meeting Jessica in person last May, when she was a part of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop Lit Salon. Prior to that, I’d only corresponded with her via email, thanks to her involvement with a Literary Mama profile. And about a week and a half ago, I was lucky enough to see her again. With such a busy schedule, I’m thankful Jessica had time to answer a few questions of mine.
Christina: Your vast experience in the writing world can be intimidating on paper, but you’re such an approachable, affable person. (I’d join you for a drink if we both weren’t so busy.) What keeps you grounded?
Jessica: Well, I drive a minivan . . . Need I say more? Truly, thank you—that’s so kind of you to say. I was going to try to straighten up and follow that with some real insight, but in all honesty, I think that sums it up pretty well, figuratively as well as literally.
Christina: I don’t want to give anything away about either of your books, but your novels are rich, layered narratives. Can you give a little bit of insight into your writing process?
Jessica: My writing process is a bit of a mess—but I’m very disciplined about making forward progress on the mess, one way or another, at least five days a week. I write what I can feel or visualize most clearly on any given day, even if it isn’t the scene that comes next, even if I don’t know what comes next. I’m an organic writer who wishes I was a more skilled story planner, but I do stop periodically and try to map out as much as I can see of where the story is headed. My process is evolving, I’m finding that it’s different for every book, and I’m doing my best to learn as I go.
Christina: Your process sounds familiar! If you weren’t a writer and an editor, what other profession could you see yourself pursuing?
Jessica: I was a journalism major at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, where students in my program were (wisely) required to choose two areas of “specialization” in which we’d earn almost enough credits for a minor. This would give us a head start into certain areas of coverage we might pursue, as well as broaden our skill sets beyond writing and reporting. Mine were theater and psychology (fields which have indeed served me well in my round-about path) and both still draw my interest enough that I might start there.
Christina: You’ve given plenty of advice to readers over the years in your role at Writer’s Digest. What is the best piece of advice you can give would-be writers or the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Jessica: To persevere in following your dreams, whatever they may be, and not to be swayed off course by the nay-sayers. It might sound trite, but I know of few authors who did not at some stage have to doggedly pursue their goals, against sometimes significant obstacles, in order to get their break.
Christina: Do you have a favorite novel that you feel has been completely under-appreciated?
Jessica: I adore the work of Maggie O’Farrell, a U.K. writer who is not quite as well known here in the U.S. Her most recent novel, This Must Be the Place, had me completely enthralled. Just thinking about it makes me want to read it all over again.
Christina: What does your writing desk look like?
Jessica: It’s a little wooden corner desk that was left in my house by the previous owners—and fit so well I kept it right where it was. I have a few framed photos (including one I took from the top of a lighthouse in South Carolina), an engraved desktop pen I received for volunteer work with the YWCA, my MacBook, and some meaningful artwork gifted to me by my husband.
Thanks to Jessica for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.