Our 2019 Writer-in-Residence, Jessica Strawser, is no stranger to the writing community—whether on the national stage, through her work as editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest, or in her own Cincinnati backyard, where she has set much of her fiction.
A graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Strawser has been both writer and editor for her entire career, so brings to the position perspectives from both sides of the desk. Local readers might know her for her domestic suspense novels: The book club favorite Almost Missed You, bestselling Not That I Could Tell, and her latest, Forget You Know Me, released just this month (all from St. Martin’s Press). The mother of two lives with her family in Loveland.
In the year ahead, she’ll be sharing insights from her time as WIR here on the blog. But first, a Q&A, by way of introduction:
Why did you want to be the Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County?
This role combines so many of the passions that have fueled my literary career: outreach to fellow writers, real-life interactions with readers, and a chance to give back to the library community, which has enriched my mind and spirit since childhood. It’s an honor as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m humbled and thrilled to have been selected.
What are some of your goals as the Library’s Writer-in-residence?
With my background at the helm of Writer’s Digest, which has been North America’s leading publication for writers since 1920, I’m bringing something unique to the program in the sheer scope of my experience working directly with aspiring and emerging writers across genres. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned on that national platform and share it with the writers and right here in my own backyard.
Likewise, readers and book clubs all over Cincinnati have so warmly received my novels, particularly with Almost Missed You and Forget You Know Me both set here in town, and Not That I Could Tell set nearby in Yellow Springs. I’ve loved my many visits with local reading circles, whether in cozy kitchens or wine bars or library reading rooms, and look forward to the chance to connect with even more of them through this program.
What advice would you give a writer who is just starting out, or one that is feeling discouraged?
In starting out, give yourself permission to take your writing seriously—even if no one around you seems to. Carve out the time and the space in your life; it isn’t easy, but it is worth it. And when the doubts and frustrations creep in, hold tight to what you loved about the craft in the first place. That is what will help you persevere.
What do you love most about being an author? What’s the most challenging thing about it?
There’s not much in the writerly life that beats the high of a good writing day, when the words are flowing and the pieces of the story you’ve been puzzling together start to fall at last into place. The biggest challenge, I think, is how lonely the work can sometimes be, particularly when it isn’t going quite so well.
Why do you think the Cincinnati writing community is unique?
Having been a staff writer and editor for various locally based publishing venues in addition to my authorial work, I know how few degrees of separation there seem to be between virtually anyone with a similar job title in town. Beyond those close-knit circles, we’re fortunate to have thriving independent bookstores, first-class libraries, and the annual Books by the Banks festival bringing a steady stream of visiting authors; those literary experiences are here and accessible for most anyone who wants them.
Which fictional book character would be the worst to meet in real life?
What an impossible question—fiction is full of characters who I can only hope are worse than anyone I’d actually encounter! And my answer will likely reflect the fact that I don’t read much in the horror genre. The husband in B.A. Paris’s Behind Closed Doors was one of the most disturbing, soulless psychopaths I’ve ever read. And who would want to cross paths with Amazing Amy from Gone Girl? There’s no escaping her.
To you, what’s a good piece of writing?
In the simplest terms, a good piece of writing pulls you in with a unique voice or hook, and compels you to keep reading until the end. Whenever something reads effortlessly, I can appreciate that it very likely required a great deal of effort and skill to get it there.
What are you currently reading, and would you recommend it?
I’m reading fellow Cincinnati novelist Leah Stewart’s latest, What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw. I’ve read all of her previous novels, and this premise might be my favorite of all—I can’t wait to see how it ends.