Photos by L.G Patterson
When a loved one is suddenly hit with a medical crisis, it can upend everything. But for local author Elaine Strawn, such a crisis also helped inspire a new novel. Strawn’s latest novel, Strokewaves, was inspired by her own experience after her husband suffered a catastrophic stroke two years ago, shaking their lives to the core. “It was very much like an earthquake,” Strawn says.
Sleepless nights and constant worries about insurance, family matters and work-related concerns became the norm. The earthquake had caused shockwaves that reverberated through their lives and Strawn turned to her creative outlet in order to find solace. Using her own experience to help craft the backbone of the completely fictional tale, Strawn began to create the characters and narrative of Strokewaves. “I use my characters as a distraction,” she says.
Beginning in 1999, Strokewaves follows Katherine and Thomas, two seniors at the University of Missouri. One is a journalism student, and the other is an engineering student. After meeting at Murry’s, the couple embarks on a journey through graduation and into the challenges of the real world, with Katherine striving to establish a successful career while pursuing her dream of becoming a recognized writer.
Their path eventually leads them away from Columbia and, as the story unfolds, both are revealed to have a bit of a dark past. After 10 years have passed, Thomas is accused of embezzlement, with a staggering sum of $1 million missing from an engineering project. The mystery deepens, and just as the truth starts to emerge, Thomas suffers a stroke, which adds an unexpected twist to the tale.
As readers get immersed in the story, locals should begin to notice some familiar spots and descriptions, as Strawn wanted to ensure the novel gave an authentic feeling of being in Columbia, working to capture the vibrant atmosphere of the community. “I really want it to feel authentic,” she says of the novel.
Strawn says she worked to skillfully weave together elements of mystery, romance and history in order to draw readers into the web of intrigue and keep them captivated and emotionally invested in not just the story, but the characters themselves. In fact, Strawn is already planning future novels that will connect back to Strokewaves, using the book’s epilogue to introduce a character who will become central in the next book, she says. “I want to create characters that people get attached to,” Strawn says.
Strawn is incredibly passionate about storytelling, and that passion has extended beyond her own work. (She has previously written three other books, from a guide for new teachers to the story of her grandparents in 1920s New York. “I’m not good at staying in my lane,” she says.) Aside from her full-time job as a teacher with Columbia Public Schools, Strawn founded Off & Running Publications in 2019 as a non-traditional publishing company that supports and nurtures aspiring authors. Drawing from her own experience of having a mentor guide her through the self-publishing process, Strawn says she wanted to provide a platform that allowed writers to share their stories. The company’s mission is to help authors achieve their dreams, without taking ownership of their work. “We don’t want to own our clients’ books,” Strawn says. “We just want to help people get started. We give them the push, the support and, sometimes, love.”
The company name harkens back to Strawn’s own roots, as her grandfather was Bill Corum, journalist, sports announcer and former president of Churchill Downs who is credited with coining the phrase “Run for the Roses” to describe the Kentucky Derby. Corum also published an autobiography called Off and Running in 1959.
With the release of Strokewaves, Strawn says she hopes readers will not only get immersed in the story, but that they will leave the book having learned something about the warning signs for strokes. “People need to take care of themselves,” Strawn says. “I want to use (Strokewaves) as a platform. Take your health seriously.”