Book Birthday AND a Feature on Middle Grade Author Jess Redman

Book Birthday AND a Feature on Middle Grade Author Jess Redman

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY! Today Jess Redman’s second novel, Quintessence, is out in the world! This is a perfect book to escape into and devour. You can purchase here.

Shall we get to know the author now?

All About Jess

3 Little Known or Interesting Things About You

  1. Right now, I’m mostly a writer and a mom, but before THE MIRACULOUS came out, I was a therapist. I’ve worked in lots of settings—in private practice, in the foster care system, in community mental health centers, in drug and alcohol rehabs.
  2. I live in sunny Florida in a little house near the beach, and my whole family surfs. I’m slightly better than my 4 and 7-year-olds, but no where near as good as my husband.
  3. I sing all. The. Time. The latest hits, classic rock, moody indie-folk tunes, Disney songs, 90s commercial jingles…it’s all fair game.

Hogwarts House

Ravenclaw for life! Yay learning!

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Major revisions. Oh how I loathe revisions. I’m a slow drafter, and I edit a lot (probably too much) as I go. By the time I turn a story in to my editor, I love it through and through.

But then my editor sends me an edit letter full of questions and musings and insights. And then I have to take apart that much-loved story and put it back together. The story is always better after I do this—much better.

But it’s such hard work, and I know I’m going to cry and feel completely lost at least three times during revisions!

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I was fortunate enough to become friends with tons of amazing authors in my 2019 debut group. Just a few are Sarah Baughman, Lindsay Lackey, Rajani LaRocca, Mariama Lockington, Gillian McDunn, Dan Haring, and Lisa Moore Ramee. My Novel19s group continues to read one another’s new stories, boost on social media, and offer encouragement. I’ve also connected with many other writers on social media and at conferences. I’m a bit of a lone wolf writer, but I’ve grown to value this community of authors so much.

I was also friends with Gail Shepherd, who suddenly passed away earlier this year. Gail wrote THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, an absolutely beautiful story about a spunky Southern girl’s search for truth and healing for her family. It’s a story I highly recommend from an author I greatly admired. 

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I loved Sarah Baughman’s THE LIGHT IN THE LAKE. I know it’s been well regarded and has an audience that loves it deeply, but I feel like it deserves even more love and praise.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

This is such a great question! It’s also one I think a lot of readers (and reviewers) disagree on. I like stories that allow readers to come to their own conclusions…but I also like stories that share beautiful messages in a clear way.

I rely on my editor and my own awareness of my young readers’ needs to help me with this balance. Where am I being vague or unclear? Where am I spelling things out too much? 

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot or avatar?

I have a logo that a designer helped me make a few years ago. It’s a tree, and my name is part of the roots, and I think it’s pretty much perfect for me.

All About the Books

Tell us about your book(s)-length of time it took to write, journey, publishing, release dates, etc.

My new middle-grade contemporary fantasy is called QUINTESSENCE. It’s the story of an anxious girl’s quest to save the star that falls into her backyard.

QUINTESSENCE is a fast-paced quest story with a magic-infused town, a book of alchemy, elements that readers can “sort” themselves into, exploration of STEM topics, supernovas, plot twists, and lots and lots of biking around in the middle of the night.

It’s also a story about friendships, family relationships, mental health, and finding your place in the universe. Alma, the main character, learns to identify and express emotions, develops positive coping skills, and reaches out for help when her anxiety overwhelms her. I hope QUINTESSENCE will lead to important conversations about mental health, self-care, and empathy.

How did QUINTESSENCE come to be?

After I finished revisions on THE MIRACULOUS, I worked on outlines and beginnings for three different stories. QUINTESSENCE was the one my editor chose.

I had about six months after that to get a draft to my editor. It was a tricky story to write sometimes. I turned the magic up, then turned it down. I added new point-of-view chapters, then took them out. I was so relieved when, after revisions, I felt like I had finally figured the story out.

The book was scheduled for a May 19th release date. And I thought, Yay! I can get this book into the world and then have the summer to work on something new. I made plans.

And then, of course, the world changed with the pandemic. My book tour was cancelled, and the release date was pushed to July 28th.

But I am making the best of it! I have a preorder campaign going on, a teacher’s guide, and a book trailer on my website www.jessredman.com. I have virtual events happening throughout July & August and into the fall. I am not able to meet readers face-to-face, but we are connecting nonetheless! 

Favorite line or quote from one of your books.

Alma stood high above the burned fields as the wind howled, and the rain fell, and the stars shone. 

“I am Alma of the Growing Light!” she called to all of it, to everything. “And I am here for Fire!” 

She lifted the jar into the air. 

This quote comes during my absolute favorite scene in the book, a scene I wrote rapidly and euphorically. It’s part of the big, intense, fast-paced ending the story has built up to, and it’s a powerful moment for Alma. I don’t want to give away all the ins and outs of the scene, but there is a storm and a star and a near-death plummet off of something very high and an unexpected twist that changes the course of the story.

Describe the character that is most like you.

Alma is definitely the most me-like character. Like Alma, I moved across the country when I was twelve, and, like Alma, I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks from a young age. Alma and I are definitely not the same person—Alma keeps her anxiety and her anger hidden while I was very vocal! But I feel a strong connection to her and telling her story was sometimes very emotional and even healing for me.

I know reading about an anxious girl who goes on fantastical adventures would have meant so much to me when I was young, and I hope young readers who feel anxious, lonely, or out of place will connect with Alma’s story.

Advice From Jess

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

I continue to be a very disorganized writer. I don’t have a real system. My process often feels random and messy. I’m always interested in hearing how other authors do things—especially those who have a very clear process with word counts and charts and color-coding—but I doubt I’ll be adopting those methods any time soon. I don’t know if I could.

So I guess that’s my advice. I think there are as many ways to be a writer as there are writers. Find your right way to write. Try a system and see if you like it. If you don’t, scrap it. A lot of writing, for me, has always been trail-and-error and trusting my intuition. The joy is in the journey of creating as much as in the finished product.

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

Read wide and read deep. There are so many voices from so many different perspectives ready to share their stories with you. Read about characters from different countries, from different ethnicities, with different religious beliefs, with mental health issues. Read for fun. Read for comfort. But also read to learn and to grow and to challenge yourself and to become a better human being.

Where can we follow you and buy your books?

Check out my website to see upcoming virtual events, teacher’s guides, book trailers, a character quiz, and more! www.jessredman.com

You can buy QUINTESSENCE here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374309763 or from my indie bookstore, Books & Books here: bit.ly/QuintBB

And come say hi on Twitter: @Jess__Red https://twitter.com/Jess__Red and Instagram: @Jess__Red https://www.instagram.com/jess__red

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

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