The Sweetest Debut: Jessica Strawser on Trolls, Sharks, and Her Debut ‘Almost Missed You’

Welcome to the Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies. This time around: Jessica Strawser on her debut Almost Missed You.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

The story took shape in about nine months, from concept through revision, while I was (unsuccessfully) shopping another project. After treading water on my hard drive for another six or seven months while I transitioned to a new literary agent, Almost Missed You ultimately sold in a preempt after only two weeks on submission.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

At the risk of sounding like a puritan, I really can’t. I’ve devoted much of my career to working on behalf of writers at Writer’s Digest, so I try not to cut down any writer.

Name a book you’ve read more than twice.

As a teen, I think I read everything I owned more than two times! A few that stand out in my memory: Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Judy Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together.

Name a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.

Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

Right now I’m loving Z: The Beginning of Everything, the Amazon original Zelda Fitzgerald reimagining starring Christina Ricci.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Trolls, with my five-year-old, which we both loved. With two jobs and two littles, I usually end up waiting for the DVD on just about everything, so any movie in the theater is a treat these days.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

I wish I could, but I find it too distracting.

Who is your fashion icon?

Audrey Hepburn — though she’s way out of my league. Then again, she was out of everyone’s league.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Probably Santorini … or Rome! … ooh, or Key West? I’m extraordinarily bad at picking just one of anything.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?
Either a writer — books have always been an essential part of my life — or a marine biologist. I had a childhood fascination with sharks and marine mammals, but it turns out I’m not the best at science — and get kind of seasick, too. I also might have turned right around and gotten back on the boat the first time I encountered a shark in the wild. (In my defense, it was huge!)

What freaks you out the most about four years of Donald Trump as US President?

Is this a trick question? Did he put you up to this? [Pffffft we only accept checks from George Soros — Ed.]

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

I love the buzz of a coffee shop, but have to begrudgingly admit I get more done in silence.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Late-night, though by necessity more than by choice. I prefer midmorning on the rare days I’m not at my day job or with my kiddos.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I try not to get bogged down by my perfectionist tendencies as I draft — though I will backtrack and fix bigger issues that become clear to me as I go. I finish a first draft feeling satisfied that the story finally exists outside of my brain, but knowing it still has quite a way to go.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I’m the editorial director of Writer’s Digest, where I serve as chief editor of the magazine, pen many of our feature interviews with bestselling authors, have a hand in programming our conferences, and do other fun stuff.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

Given that I also have a three-year-old and a five-year-old, I wish I had a trick! In the absence of one, I’ve learned to live on less sleep.