Cincinnati Author Jessica Strawser’s Fifth Novel, ‘The Next Thing You Know,’ Is About Death, Hope, and an Independent Musician | cultural | Cincinnati
Hope can be a strange and capricious thing. Some days it’s hard to miss, and other days it appears out of the blue, ready to change our lives.
That’s certainly true for the characters Nova Huston and Mason Shaylor in local author Jessica Strawser’s latest novel, The next thing you know, which was published March 22 by St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Grounded in present-day Cincinnati and moving seamlessly between past and present, Strawser’s latest work explores the power of human connection and the promise of hope against thick and thin.
The contemporary work of fiction – Strawser’s fifth novel – centers on the relationship between Nova, a dying doula with a free spirit and a deep well of compassion, and Mason, a gifted independent singer-songwriter whose the rising star was cut short due to a debilitating medical condition. Their paths cross when Mason seeks advice from Parting Your Way, a holistic practice that helps terminally ill patients find peace with their destiny. Mason seems to possess more skepticism than faith in the practice, but then he begins to work with Nova, who is quietly struggling with her own challenges, and hope unexpectedly arises.
The next thing you know weaves emotional human drama with romance and touches of mystery (with plenty of nods to Cincinnati life). St. Martin’s compares the story to “me before you meets A star is born.”
Through the character of Nova, Strawser references a burgeoning career (or vocation) from the start: the end-of-life doula, a role that evolved from the hospice movement of the 1960s. a different story when she heard about the practice.
“I stumbled upon the existence of doulas at the end of life and I was so interested,” she says CityBeat. “I thought it took a really special person to do this job, someone who has really personal reasons for wanting to do this job. And I also thought that such a person could easily be misunderstood, which, for me, had the makings of a great protagonist.
Strawser describes the nature of end-of-life doulas in the opening pages of The next thing you know. In the first chapter, Mason arrives at Parting Your Way to find out more about their services. Nova’s business partner explains that end-of-life doulas help clients achieve “peace of mind as they approach end-of-life,” both emotionally and logistically, “so you can be as fully present as possible for your loved one’s remaining days.”
Strawser says she got information and ideas from Doulagivers — an online training program for end-of-life doulas — and Ask a Doula Deatha weekly podcast that chronicles the “death doula movement” through interviews with leaders, patients, families, and death doulas around the world.
“If you mention (end-of-life doulas) to other people, I think their first reaction is that it sounds really sad, it’s a sad thing to do,” Strawser says. “But in fact, they are so hopeful. It’s really about finding peace and purpose. Everything I learned about them had so much positivity.
In The next thing you knowNova isn’t based on anyone in particular, but it does represent Strawser’s imaginings of what a character in such a role might look like.
“To be a dying doula, I think you have to have personal reasons, and (Nova is) very private about her reasons for doing what she does,” Strawser says. “I think a lot of people think they have her number and she’s this free spirit. They’re not necessarily wrong, but they don’t know the whole story at all. And that’s OK with her. she doesn’t want anyone to know the whole story. For her, I think Mason is her most difficult client for many reasons, but a big reason is that in order to help her, she has to share what she has crossed.
Mason, like Nova, keeps tabs on the details of her life. But as she guides him on a path to inner peace, their personal stories unfold, giving way to undeniable moments of connection and, deeper, hope.
The next thing you know received critical acclaim from the start Weekly editors, who called the story “incredibly beautiful.” The post says, “The author deftly maintains plot twists, leading to a bittersweet but ultimately heartwarming finale. Strawser sensitively handles the grief and pain that surrounds a death, and backs it up with a strong cast of supporting characters.
Strawser’s previous novels include A million reasons why, Forget that you know me, Not that I can say and I almost missed youall published by St. Martin’s Press. I almost missed you was named to Barnes & Noble’s “Best New Fiction” shortlist, and Not that I can say was a book of the month selection for March 2018. A million reasons why was recently released in paperback and includes a discussion guide for book clubs.
Signed copies of both A million reasons why and The next thing you know are available from Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Rookwood Commons. The Bookstore, located at 2692 Madison Road, will celebrate the launch of the latest novel with an in-person discussion, book signing, and specialty menu from Brontë Bistro at 7 p.m. on March 22.
In addition to her fiction writing, Strawser serves as an editor for Writer‘s Summary and wrote for The New York Times‘ “Modern Love” series, Weekly editors and others. In 2019, she was writer-in-residence at the Cincinnati Public Library. During her tenure, she met with book clubs at branch libraries across the city, spoke with local and emerging writers, and participated in various literary events around Cincinnati. She says she hopes for the publication of The next thing you know will spark more connections and interactions with the local community – something it has sorely lacked after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into the community and seeing the readers face to face again,” Strawser said. “In 2019, I was very involved locally and it was great. I liked it. Then it all came to a halt in 2020. It was a little disorienting and disconnecting, but over the past few months I’ve been hitting up book clubs again and looking forward to a few library appearances down the road. I’m really grateful for all the support from local readers, and I can’t wait to get back to that side of things.
In-person and virtual book-visiting events for The next thing you know run through September, with events added over time. The book is available as a hardcover, ebook, or audiobook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Bookshop, Indiebound, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, and Penguin Bookshop.
Discover other events for The next thing you know and more about Strawser at jessicastrawser.com.
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