This week, we are so thrilled to welcome Jessica Strawser to the Debutante Ball! Jessica has joined us here before, when her book Not That I Could Tell came out last year, and we are so excited to have her back to talk about her newest novel Forget You Know Me.
Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit—in the friendship and the marriage.
When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.
What Liza sees next will change everything.
Forget You Know Me is a “twisty, emotionally complex, powder keg of a tale” (bestselling author Emily Carpenter) about the wounds of people who’ve grown apart. It’s also a book you won’t be able to put down.
Stephanie Jimenez: At the Debutante Ball, we often discuss the twists and turns of publishing our debut novels. FORGET YOU KNOW ME is your third book, and we’re dying to know how the process of publishing a book feels after you’ve already done it once, or even twice. What would you say is the biggest difference?
Jessica Strawser: I think it really is true what they say about the only constant in publishing being change: A couple months before Forget You Know Me was due, the editor who had acquired it left my publisher amid a restructuring and a new editor was assigned. So I was navigating that very important editor/author relationship from scratch again, and in that way the editorial process of this novel had more in common with my debut novel experience than even my sophomore novel did.
What’s different and wonderful about future books, however, is that they really do build on what you’ve already worked so hard to establish. It’s a thrill to see book bloggers who covered your debut title turn into repeat readers and fans, and to return to a book festival and realize how much more comfortable you are than when you started—you now have friends among the other authors there, and more than one book to display on your table. The hope is to learn and grow every time.
SJ: Tell us about your childhood — did you always know you wanted to write fiction? What first drew you to writing?
JS: I think I would have chosen it as a dream job at any age, absolutely. I was a big reader, never without a book (even when I was supposed to be, say, sleeping), and kept journals and notebooks on and off over the years. But as a straight A rule follower, I was practical minded enough that I chose to go into journalism: It seemed like a way to apply my passion for writing to a more stable, linear career path. And it did: I wrote my first two novels by night while working a day job as a magazine editor.
SJ: When you’re done writing a first draft, what’s the first thing you do? Do you have a regular first reader?
JS: I shudder at the thought of letting anyone read a first draft. I do have a few beta readers who generously offer feedback before I turn things over to my agent and editor, but what they see is probably more like a fourth draft.
When I finish a first draft, I like to take a little time away from the manuscript if my schedule allows, to get a fresh eye. If there are any fixes that I already know are needed and they’re going to drive me crazy, I’ll go ahead and address those first, and then stop and read the whole thing front to back to see what I think of it. I take notes, a sort of editorial letter to myself, and then embark on what is typically my heaviest revision.
SJ: In addition to being an author, you are also editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest, where you conduct interviews with fellow writers and spotlight fantastic books. What do you love most about being immersed in a writers community and how does it affect your own work?
The editor-at-large role is a way of staying involved at the magazine now that I’ve left my full-time role at the editor’s desk (a switch I made about a year and a half ago, when juggling the demands of dual careers became too much on top of my family obligations, with two small children at home who always come first). I find staying active in the writing community—whether as an editor or a teacher or a mentor or a peer or, with hope, all of the above—both instructive and inspirational. It’s integral to my work and to who I am as a person; this would be a lonely job indeed without it.
SJ: Let’s end with a fun question. In your book, two friends connect over Skype. What’s the most embarrassing Skype handle or screen name you’ve ever had?
JS: Nice try! My characters aren’t the only ones who take secrets to the grave. 😉
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Jessica Strawser is the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You, a Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick, and Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month selection now new in paperback. Her third novel, Forget You Know Me, released to raves in February 2019 (all from St. Martin’s Press).