Author Jessica Strawser will be at this year’s Books by the Banks Oct. 20 at Duke Energy Convention Center.
Why did you set your book in Cincinnati?
I’m a Cincinnati transplant—a job offer brought me here from Pennsylvania in 2001—and I came to know and appreciate the city slowly, neighborhood by neighborhood, just as the characters in Almost Missed You do. Setting the core of the novelhere seemed a fitting tribute, and as the story itself is a bit complex, spanning multiple points of view and timelines, it helped to ground it in a place I know well.
My second novel, Not That I Could Tell, required a more intimate setting to frame the storyline, and is thus set in nearby Yellow Springs—a favorite weekend destination of mine—but my February 2019 release, Forget You Know Me, returns to Cincinnati with prominent roles played by the Cincinnati Nature Center and Lunken Airport.
What special challenges come with setting a book in your hometown?
I anticipated that hometown readers would be discerning (and rightly so), and also know that everyone’s experience of a place is individual, unique. So I took care with the details, and made notes of any creative liberties I took in my acknowledgments (the timeline of Lumenocity, for example, had to bend a little to fit a plot point).
Did you have to do any research, or did you just rely on your memories?
Almost Missed Youdid require some research into FBI procedures surrounding parental kidnapping, but the local portion of the story drew upon elements of the city that have been a meaningful part of my own experience here. (For Forget You Know Me, I delved deeper into the nature center—even writing thousands of words of the book onsite—and had a good excuse to have an extra lunch or two at Sky Galley.)
I’ve had readers across the country remark that Almost Missed Youmade the city really come alive beyond the more widely known oddities of cinnamon-spiced chili and an airport across state lines. (They’re often disappointed to learn that Lumenocity is no more, as well.)
What are you looking forward to this year at Books by the Banks?
I travel to a number of book festivals every year, but none is as special as the one in my own backyard—and not just because of how well-attended it is, and what a well-rounded lineup of authors it brings. I look forward to the chance to meet more local readers face to face, as well as to help introduce author friends to our wonderful town.
Any advice for struggling writers?
What writer inspired you and why?
Given that I served as editorial director of Writer’s Digest for almost a decade and remain on the masthead as editor-at-large, that’s a loaded question! I’m most inspired by writers who consistently push their craft to new heights (Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah), those who conduct themselves with grace and class (Chris Bohjalian, Brad Meltzer), and those with a wonderful sense of humor (Lisa Scottoline, Anne Tyler) and keen eye for the human condition (Maggie O’Farrell, David Sedaris).
What book(s) are you reading right now?
I’m listening to the riveting audio edition of The Broken Girls by Simone St. James, which caught my eye after it was named to a number of “Best of” suspense lists alongside my own new release, Not That I Could Tell. And as I love being swept away by historical fiction, I just finished Susan Meissner’s As Bright as Heaven, a heartrending fictionalization of a Philadelphia family’s experience with the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest, where she also served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth interviews with such talents as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She is the author of Almost Missed You,Not That I Could Tell, and Forget You Know Me(coming in February 2019). She has written for The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and others, and is a popular speaker at writing conferences. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.