Interview With Jess Redman

Interview With Jess Redman

Introduction: About You

3 Little Known or Interesting Things About You

1. I have very little sense of direction. Even if I’ve visited your house many, many times, odds are good that I will ask you how to get there, and then drive the wrong way when I leave.

2. In college, I spent about 6 months backpacking around the world. It was the most perspective-shifting and enlightening experience of my life, and I highly recommend it to everyone (although I will be an absolute wreck if my children take me up on that recommendation some day).

3. I’m a therapist, and I have spent a lot of time surrounded by big emotions and helping people work through big questions.

Hogwarts House

I’m a proud Ravenclaw! I’ve tested myself many times because I love all things Harry Potter, and this is, without a doubt, my house. I love learning and thinking and books.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I don’t know how interesting it is, but I read everything out loud. In day to day life, I already talk to myself a lot, but it can be pretty intense when I’m writing!

I also write out of order at first. I jump around as I get ideas and add bits of dialogue or descriptions. Eventually, I have to buckle down and make myself work from beginning to end.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Oh boy, I don’t know the first one but I do remember crying and crying after BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (like everyone else!), and it remains one of my favorite books of all time. It is one of my favorite books of all time becauseI cried and cried while reading it. I cried for Leslie and her parents and Jesse but also because it felt like that story pulled out some of my own deepest fears and losses and named them for me. As young as I was, I felt changed by that story, and by many other stories I read at that age that did what good literature does: helped me to feel—and to understand what I was feeling.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

When I have a good writing day, there is nothing more energizing. I am giddy when I daydream about a new idea or tease out a knotty plot problem or perfect a passage that’s had me stumped. There are parts of writing that are boring and some that are really excruciating (I’m looking at you, revisions!) but for the most part, I love the process of writing.

About Your Book

If you or one of your books was the answer on Jeopardy, what do you imagine the question would be?

This middle-grade book features a miracle journal, a spiral-covered house, and a magical tree.

Praises for The Miraculous:

“Redman explores faith, the intertwined nature of sorrow and joy, and the transformative process of grief through Wunder’s eyes in a part-fantasy, part-realistic adventure with genuinely humorous moments…Layered, engaging, and emotionally true.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Exquisitely crafted, serious, yet woven through with wry humor, this story’s miracles are its fierce and tender characters. I loved this extraordinary debut.” —Leslie Connor, author of the National Book Award Finalist THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE

Tell us MORE about your book, The Miraculous:

THE MIRACULOUS is my debut middle-grade magical contemporary. It’s the story of Wunder Ellis, a miracle-collecting boy, and Faye Lee, an outspoken, cape-wearing girl. Both kids have recently experienced great losses; Wunder has lost his newborn sister, and Faye has lost her much-loved grandfather. Together, they are drawn to the mysterious DoorWay House in the woods where an old woman has recently appeared. The old woman—who Faye is convinced is a witch—sends the two new friends on a series of sometimes-magical quests. These quests take them through graveyards and forests, to police stations and town halls, by bike and by train. It’s a journey filled with friendship, healing, magic, and miracles.

THE MIRACULOUS is the story of my heart. It’s a story about grief and belief, about friendship and community and searching for truth and about how there is brightness to be found no matter how dark the darkness.

Describe your path to publication

I spent several years writing middle-grade stories, querying middle-grade stories, having my middle-grade stories rejected. Then I wrote a middle-grade story that lots of agents wanted, and I was SO HAPPY!

But that book didn’t sell (although I love it deeply and have high hopes that it is a Someday book). THE MIRACULOUS was written while I was on submission. I was pregnant with my second child when the idea came to me, and there were medical complications for both of us. I was thinking a lot about loss, recent ones, past ones, feared ones. And I was asking myself a lot of those questions that are so linked to loss—The Big Questions about meaning and goodness and truth. THE MIRACULOUS was part of my answer to myself.

I sent the story to my agent, and she loved it. Within two weeks of being on submission, I was on the phone with editors, and shortly after MIRACULOUS was bought by Macmillan. After waiting so long, that part happened so fast.

And even though I love the other story, I am so glad to be debuting with THE MIRACULOUS. It is a story that holds a lot of myself, and I’m very proud of it.

Describe the month leading up to the release.

If writing is energizing, marketing and all the extra writerly activities are exhausting! There’s so much to do! I love the communities that I’m a part of on social media, but it does take a lot of time and effort to keep up with. I’ve written blog posts and essays, mailed out ARCs, visited libraries and schools and bookstores and planned the launch event. I have a dozen To Do lists (although if I were a more methodical, organized person, I could probably just have one).

It’s a lot! But it’s all good things. Dream things. So I’m busy, busy, busy, and also trying to savor, savor, savor.

What will you be doing the day it is released?

My launch event at the Book Cellar isn’t until Saturday, August 3rd. So on the book’s actual release date, July 30th…I don’t know what I’ll be doing! Maybe I’ll head to a few local bookstores to see if The Miraculous is out in the wild there yet.

Tell me how your role as a therapist shaped your path to writing about mental health. Why is this an important topic to include in middle-grade literature? Do you think MH is represented fairly and adequately?

I think that being a therapist has helped me understand and relay the emotions of my characters. I mean…hopefully! Therapy is about story just as much as literature is—the story the client is telling in that moment, and the movement toward the story they want to tell. I find more and more common ground between these two fields all the time.

In my stories, I do sometimes include therapeutic skills and ideas. There’s usually a therapist-like character in my stories—Mariah Lazar runs a grief group in THE MIRACULOUS, for example. In my next book, QUINTESSENCE, the main character has an anxiety disorder and she is able to learn some coping skills and explore what it means to her to have this disorder.

I’ve been very pleased with the way mental health issues are featuring more frequently and with greater accuracy in middle-grade literature. The truth is that mental health issues are not rare. They are not uncommon. And it is powerful for young people who struggle to see themselves or their family in a story, to feel that they are not so different, to know that they are part of the world too.

Favorite line or quote from your book.

A quote that has been shared quite a bit by readers is one that Faye, Wunder’s new friend, says. “Sometimes the brightest miracles are hidden in the darkest moments,” she tells Wunder as they walk through the woods of Branch Hill. “But you have to search for them. You can’t be afraid of the dark.”

I love this line, and it’s the central theme of the story. No matter how dark it seems, there is always light. And sometimes it is this impossible light, this hidden light, that brings the most hope and transformation.

Describe the character that is most like you. 

I think I’m probably a mix of Wunder and Faye. Both of them are fascinated by the magical and the unseen, by what people believe and why. They are questioners and they are intense, in their own ways, and that description fits me pretty well. I’m not nearly as optimistic as Wunder, however, and I’m not nearly as outspoken or wonderfully quirky as Faye is.

I also related to Wunder’s mother, even though I think a lot of readers—particularly adult readers—may not feel positively about her. They don’t have to—the story is from Wunder’s perspective, after all—but I have so much empathy for her.

Advice

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Truthfully, I’m a very disorganized writer, and I don’t have any real methods or techniques. I think it’s good to read a lot, of course, but my best advice is to just write and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to write something awkward and choppy. Don’t be afraid to write something ugly and cheesy. Don’t be afraid to write something you hate. In my experience, you have to write a lot of things you hate before you write something you love.

So just do it. Write the thing and know that it won’t be perfect at first (or ever).

Leave us with some wise words. What advice would you give the readers of this interview?

Read books. Seriously. I don’t know of any better way to become more empathetic, more creative, more loving, more inspired and aware and open than reading.

Follow Jess and read more about her at the links below! Thanks for stopping by, now head to the nearest bookstore and get your hands on The Miraculous (or order here through Macmillan)!

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I am a middle school English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher.

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