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Interview With Jessica Strawser, Author of Not That I Could Tell

I am all kinds of delighted to be able to interview one of my writer heroines this week. Jessica’s Strawser’s debut novel, Almost Missed You, was named to Barnes & Noble’s Best new Fiction shortlist upon its release in March 2017 and it was one of my favorite books of the year. I’ve admired Jessica for years at the fantastic Writer’s Digest Conference held in New York City each summer; she’s the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade, becoming known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker.

Jessica’s new novel, Not That I Could Tell, releases this month, and y’all are in for such a treat. It’s suspenseful, it’s insightful, and I was losing my mind wondering what had happened to the woman at the center of the novel. This novel is racking up accolades from literary luminaries much more accomplished than me, but I’m happy to offer my humble opinion: I loved it. (And I also LOVE her answer at the end of the interview to the question about whether anyone’s ever mistaken themselves for one of her characters…

Here’s a bit about the novel:

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce―and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her―and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions―especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors―and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.

Without further ado, meet Jessica:

KM: Talk about one book that made an impact on you.

JS: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi changed the way I thought about faith and spirituality. Which is to say that, as I didn’t grow up in a very spiritual family, I’m not sure I’d thought about it enough. My husband and I have very different reading tastes, but it’s one of the few titles we’ve both adored. The year we read it, we ended up giving copies to half of the people on our Christmas list, and a few years later we spent a memorable New Year’s Eve at the theater seeing the film adaptation. I’m fortunate to now own a beautiful special illustrated edition of the book, gifted to me by my former Writer’s Digest colleague Zac Petit after I geeked out over interviewing Yann Martel for a cover story. I especially love books that connect me in a meaningful way not just to the story, but to others who’ve appreciated it as well.

KM: Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?

JS: I read a great tribute to Anne of Green Gables recently, and it struck me that I’d almost forgotten how much I loved her as a young girl. She was gutsy and smart and bold and imaginative and earnest, all at once—a blend of everything I was and everything I wanted to be.

KM: Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.

JS: My kindergartener is learning to read, and it’s pure joy to witness the magic of that world opening up to him. We’ve always snuggled up for bedtime stories every night, and now it delights us both when he starts calling out lines not from memory, but from sounding them out. (His little sister is less impressed, often interjecting with a “Let Mommy read it!” … but it’s fun while it lasts!)

KM: Where do you love to be?

JS: I’ve always felt most at peace by the water—especially the ocean—though as I get older, I find myself relating more to that old John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I guess it comes down to an urge to be grounded in the natural world, under a large swatch of sky, with some unscheduled freedom to breathe it in (not unlike Izzy in Not That I Could Tell, come to think of it)—and, ideally, my family at my side.

KM: Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?

JS: In college, I had a guy friend who I never dated, but hovered with for a while in the will-they-or-won’t-they zone. After Almost Missed You was published, he messaged me on Facebook concerned that I’d named a fleeting but horrible ex-boyfriend character after him. He has a super common name, the association never even having crossed my mind—and when I told him so, he wrote back, “I’m so vain.” It was such a perfect response I still laugh every time I think about it!

Jessica has written for The New York Times, Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.

Learn more about her here:

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