‘Writer’s Digest’ editor scores with debut novel

“Like many writers, I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. Parents and friends tell stories of me walking around with a notebook,” says Jessica Strawser, whose debut novel, “Almost Missed You,” comes out on Tuesday, March 28. “I even left pages out for my teenage baby sitter to critique!”

In addition to pursuing her own writing career, Jessica is the editorial director of "Writer's Digest" magazine, published just down the road from Dayton in Cincinnati.

Jessica, who grew up in Pittsburgh, lives in the Cincinnati area but has writerly ties to Dayton. Writer's Digest has provided sponsorships to both the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop and the Antioch Writers' Workshop at University of Dayton. Jessica has been a speaker at the Bombeck conference, and will kick off this summer's Antioch program (www.antiochwritersworkshop.com) on July 8, at the workshop's "Saturday Seminar," discussing "10 Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Interviewing International Best-Sellers."

Jessica gives two examples — Lisa Scottoline and Patricia Cornwell. "Lisa talked about protecting your writing dream. It's so easy for life to encroach on your writing time and energy, but no one will protect except you," Jessica says. "And Patricia talked about the importance of creating a writing routine, yet seeing your writing as a relationship and not just a job."

Getting a start in journalism

Certain of her own love of writing, Jessica attended Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. After graduation, she joined “Writer’s Digest” as an editorial assistant. After a job in marketing and communications at Xavier University, she became an editor at Emmis Books in Cincinnati. In 2006, she returned to F+W Media, the parent company of “Writer’s Digest,” and served as managing editor for two of its book lines. In 2008, she took on her current position as editor-in-chief of “Writer’s Digest.”

“Landing with ‘Writer’s Digest’ reunited with me with first love, good fiction writing,” Jessica says. “I was inspired by interviewing authors I’d admired my entire life. Reading and editing articles about fiction writing make my own fingertips start to itch to give it a try.”

Jessica spent several years writing and re-writing her first novel; it didn’t find a publishing home, but the experience taught her even more about the writing business, she says.

Scoring with book No. 2

“Almost Missed You” is the second novel Jessica wrote, and it did find a publisher with St. Martin’s Press. The novel is book-club fiction with elements of suspense.

"The idea for 'Almost Missed You' comes from my own fascination with the idea of fate and the importance people put on meeting 'the one,' and on what's supposedly meant to be," Jessica explains. "We place such cultural importance on how couples meet, how paths cross and fates intertwine. I wanted to explore if that's always for the best."

As for her own advice for writers, Jessica says, “Read about writing while you have a work in progress. Don’t study up and then write; do both simultaneously! Think about how what you’re learning applies to your characters and plot. Also, build your writing community. Reach out to other writers, and find a mix of writers to spend time with and learn from — writers who are beginning, writers who are where you are if you’re farther along, and writers who are ahead of you, where you want to be, so that you can both give and get help in fostering one another’s growth.”

Jessica’s book launch for “Almost Missed You” will be on Tuesday, March 28, 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion, 2692 Madison Road, Cincinnati.

Learn more about Jessica and her work at https://jessicastrawser.com/

Upcoming Literary Events

Tuesday, March 28, 7 p.m., Books & Co. at The Greene — Marsha Therese Danzig, a Dayton resident, will introduce her memoir, "From the Roots: The True Story of How I Beat Death and Learned to Live."

Thursday, March 30, 7 p.m., Wright Memorial Public Library, 1776 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood — Harvey Haskell will discuss "Maiden Flight," his book celebrating Katharine Wright. This event is part of the activities surrounding the area Big Read of "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough. Books & Co. will have copies of both books available for sale at the event.

Thursday, March 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Oakwood Starbucks, 2424 Far Hills Ave., Dayton — Word's Worth Writing Center (www.wordsworthdayton.com) offers "Empathy & Antagonists" with author and creative writing instructor Katrina Kittle. This class will explore how to use empathy to create antagonists who are interesting, complex and real rather than caricatures. See the website to register.

Friday, March 31 is the deadline to enter the annual Sinclair Creative Writing Contest. The contest is open to adult and high school writers of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. The best in show recipient wins a full scholarship to the summer program of the Antioch Writers' Workshop at University of Dayton. Other prizes will also be awarded. Learn more and enter at https://www.sinclair.edu/academics/divisions/lcs/eng/writing-contest/

Sunday, April 2, 2 p.m., Wright Memorial Public Library, 1776 Far Hills Ave., Oakwood — Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin, poet and Professor Emeritus at University Dayton, performs the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a friend of the Wright brothers and the first African-American poet to be nationally recognized for his literary work.

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