Wednesdays with Writers: Have you ever wondered about your ‘soul mate?’ Jessica Strawser, editor of WRITERS DIGEST explores this, as well as guilt, redemption, forgiveness, motherhood in her debut fiction, ALMOST MISSED YOU, plus writing tips you don’t want to miss (see how I did that?!)

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALMOST MISSED YOU is smart women’s fiction with a slight suspense bent, questioning the ties of fate. 

ALMOST MISSED YOU

Violet and Finn have it all: a wonderful marriage, good jobs, and adorable 3-year old boy. When they go on their first family vacation to the beach, Violet can’t help but feel completely at ease…if not a bit spoiled. But then the worst nightmare happens: Bear (her little boy) and her husband are missing, just wiped clean out of the hotel, as if they never existed. What happened to Bear? Did he ever exist? Is Violet a little nuts?

What unfolds next is an examination of deep entanglements, friendships, love/romance, guilt/redemption. And fate, a lot of fate. 

Told in alternating POVs and time periods (jumping from ‘present day’ to five years earlier)  we get a hefty dose of backstory, how these characters Finn and Violet came to be, and some secrets along the way.

 I so wanted to know the reasons Finn had for taking Bear and kept turning the pages, frantically trying to piece together this tale of secrets, lies, and more.

One of the major themes I found completely compelling was this idea of fate/coincidences in relationships and how we might be destined to end up with the one we do, for various reasons. Haven’t we all wondered ‘what if’ or ‘how come’ when it comes to the one we’ve fallen in love with?

Book groups will find a HUGE amount to discuss, and I’m so excited for Jessica Strawser, editor of my favorite writing publication, WRITER’S DIGEST on her debut! Please join me in welcoming her to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Jessica! It’s so great to have you here. I read WRITER’S DIGEST cover to cover every month and when I learned you wrote your first book, well I was all over it. Congrats! How does it feel to be on the other side of the publishing world? Or, maybe I should say, another facet of the publishing world?

Jessica Strawser: Thank you for your kind words about WD—all of us on staff really do put our hearts into those pages, so it means a lot to hear that our work resonates! I’ve written nonfiction for the length of my editorial career, but transitioning to fiction is an exciting leap and a lifelong dream. Novels have been my constant companion and comfort since I was old enough to read them. I admit I was a little nervous, at first, about how my efforts would be received, but the writing community has been warm and welcoming, and I couldn’t feel more grateful for their support.

L.L.: Relationships naturally have unique origins, and this goes with the very nature of people: transient, unpredictable, and yet…we wonder if there’s a stronger force at hand (i.e. fate, destiny, serendipity), drawing us together. What drew you to this story? What was haunting you enough to take pen to paper?download (9)

Jessica Strawser: I’ve always been drawn to the idea of fate, of what’s meant to be—or meant not to be. Is there such a thing as a soulmate—and what if you’re convinced that yours is “the one that got away”? What then? I think our culture places not just emphasis but pressure on these questions—I’ve heard Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond say, on the “Dear Sugar” podcast, that angst over finding “the one” is the No. 1 question driving letters to the popular Rumpus column. In particular I think we place a lot of importance on how people first cross paths—go to a 50th wedding anniversary party, and chances are, people will still be asking the couple how they met. (“How I Met Your Mother” was a question that drove a sitcom for how many seasons? Not surprisingly, I loved that show too.)

L.L.: I’ll admit it: I think my husband and I were meant to be. Not that it’s all roses and ponies every day, but I ‘almost missed’ him. Had circumstances been slightly different, I would have been 6 months away in another state…but things changed. I stayed. Our paths crossed. We’ve been married almost 14 years, have two girls. Are you hearing a lot of stories like this now, with the publication of ALMOST MISSED YOU? What’s your ‘relationship’ story?

Jessica Strawser: I hope to hear a lot of stories like that—I love stories like that! I don’t think of my own relationship as one of near-misses, but then again isn’t everyone’s story one of choices made that led us to where we are today? I moved from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati for a job out of college largely on a leap of faith. I knew no one but I also assumed it would be 130719-Eventually-Soulmates-Meet-For-They-Have-The-Same-Hiding-Placetemporary and I’d soon make my way to New York or Chicago, where there are more opportunities to work in magazine publishing. If I hadn’t come here I never would have met my husband. And I’ve stayed in large part because I did. Likewise, if I hadn’t fallen in love with Writer’s Digest I might have moved on to work at a glossier title that had nothing to do with fiction writing, and perhaps would never have written this novel.

L.L.: Being the editor of WRITER’S DIGEST, I bet you have a bevy of writerly tips and advice. What would you say is the top three lessons learned while working on your own novel?

Jessica Strawser:

  1. Read instructional books or articles about writing while you have a work in progress. So many people study techniques first and then try them out second. But the applications will be clearer, the lightbulb moments brighter, when you’re already muddling through with your own characters, themes and a plot.
  2. Make an effort to connect to a network of fellow writers in three camps: Those who are more beginner than you, those who are at your level, and those who are ahead of you in their careers. All three will enrich your writing life in different ways.
  3. As a working mom whose schedule would be full even if I wasn’t writing, I found it really helpful, especially early on, to treat the writing like a relationship (not a hobby or a job). This is something Patricia Cornwell talked about when I interviewed her for WD years ago, and it’s particularly helpful when developing a routine that is seriously committed and yet not more regimented than necessary/manageable.

L.L.: Oh, and your agent—Barbara Poelle—is the WD columnist for “Funny You Should Ask.” How fun is she! Can you illuminate the author-agent relationship a bit and tell us what we should look for in an agent when the time comes?

Jessica Strawser:  She’s fun and also smart and incredibly good at her job. I think it’s fairly normal to feel a little intimidated by a prospective agent, at least at first—but be sure to talk with the agent enough to get a sense of whether you’ll feel comfortable asking questions (because you will have questions, and often you’ll wonder if they’re dumb questions, and the more you wonder that the more you’ll desperately want answers but fear asking). Be sure you can tell the agent is well-read in your genre, even if he/she is newer and doesn’t yet have a track record of sales in your wheelhouse. And never skip the step of asking for client referrals—and don’t just ask the agent’s top clients what they think of her. I got a glowing endorsement for Barbara from a client of hers who she’d been shopping with no takers for quite some time. That spoke volumes.FYSA-1024x407

L.L.: You’re a busy momma of two young kids, an editor, author…how do you do it all?!

Jessica Strawser: As well as I can, in as many hours a day as I can muster, and with no small amount of worry that I’m not doing it well enough, but also no small amount of support from my wonderful husband.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now? What has your attention? For me, it’s redecorating my bedroom. I find it a fun balance between working on my literary pursuits and letting my brain ‘wander.’

Jessica Strawser: I’m wrapping up a revision on a second stand-alone novel, due out next spring, and that’s getting all of my spare attention right now. But a couple of months after this book launch, there’s a family-friendly resort on a white-sand beach calling my name. I love counting down to a vacation—it’s a total carrot-on-a-stick incentive for me when I’m working in overdrive.

For more information, to connect with Jessica via social media, or to purchase a copy of ALMOST MISSED YOU, please see: 

Jessica_Strawser_credit Corrie Schaffeld.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  By day, Jessica Strawser is the editorial director of Writer’s Digest magazine, North America’s leading publication for aspiring and working writers since 1920. By night, she is a fiction writer with a debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, forthcoming in March 2017 from St. Martin’s Press and another stand-alone novel to follow in 2018. And by the minute, she is a proud wife and mom to two super sweet and super young kids in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans more than 15 years and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. She blogs at WritersDigest.com and elsewhere (if you’d like a guest post, contact me!), tweets fairly regularly @jessicastrawser (please do say hello), enjoys connecting on Facebook, and speaks at writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hang-outs. Love to see you around!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of soulmates from Anita’s Notebook: Life is better with stories]

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About leslie1218

Author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) frantically working on a novel that should be ready for submission this fall. Mom of two spritely redheads & one chubby basset hound whose stories & images appear in my writing from time-to-time.

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