Jessica Strawser had the perfect job to launch a career as a novelist.
As the editor-at-large for Writer's Digest, the Moon Area High School graduate has interviewed renowned writers including Alice Walker, David Sedaris, David Baldacci, and Khaled Hosseini.
“The whole time I was working at Writer's Digest full-time, that was my dream job,” says Strawser, who appears Feb. 15 at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley to promote her third novel, Forget You Know Me. “I guess the only thing I could think of doing better was getting to do what [the writers] did. And now I'm able to do that too, which is amazing.”
Strawser, who lives near Cincinnati and is currently the writer-in-residence at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, has carved a niche for herself through in-depth stories about young women facing life-altering situations. Her debut, Almost Missed You, is about a woman abandoned at a beach by her husband. Her second novel, Not That I Could Tell, chronicles a group of women who, after a night together, find one of their friends has disappeared.
“I don't write stories based on any one thing from real life, but I do think I tend to draw from general themes I've been thinking about from real life,” Strawser says. Forget You Know Me follows a similar psychological/mystery theme; a longtime friendship between two women is torn apart by a bizarre video chat.
“I'm approaching 40, and I think I'm surrounded by people who are moving to this new phase together where relationships you thought were going to be true, are not,” she says. “You kind of move from that phase where everyone you know seems to be getting married and having kids, to suddenly people are getting divorced. And the people you think of as your best friends are people you haven't seen in years.”
Strawser admits she's still finding her own unique voice as a writer. But the more she writes, the more her voice emerges, and she still draws from her former gig at Writer's Digest.
Each interview was an opportunity to learn from some of the best literary minds working today. “There are lots of times I'll find myself in a jam with a story or a situation,” she says. “And I'll think back to advice from one of the interviews that I've done. I'll use that as my guidance for finding my way through.”
Between the Lines
One of the most celebrated new authors, Ottessa Moshfegh will appear Mon., Feb. 18 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland as a guest of Pittsburgh's Arts & Lectures. Moshfegh, whose influences range from Jim Jarmusch to Nirvana, set her most recent novel in New York City, circa 2000.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, about a young woman who attempts to sleep for an entire year, is a memorable novel that lingers long after the final page.
7:30 p.m. Mon., Feb. 18. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. pittsburghlectures.org.