Interview: Jess Redman

Hello, Jess! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village during your debut week! We’re very excited to have you here to chat about THE MIRACULOUS!

Thank you so much for having me! I love MG Book Village, and I’m so pleased to be here.

You’ve been here before — last month, when you shared the teaching guide for THE MIRACULOUS, as well as some how-to tips for authors interested in creating their own guides – but I don’t believe you shared much about YOU. Would you care to tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

Sure! I was raised in a house of readers, and I am a lifelong book nerd. I’m married to an English teacher, who is considerably better at grammar than I am, and we have two wonderful young children.

I’m also a therapist and an adjunct professor of psychology, although I’ve stepped back in both of these roles. As a therapist, I’ve worked with kids in the foster care system, in community mental health centers, and in private practice with girls and young women.

Has your work as a therapist and psychology teacher influenced your writing or the stories that you tell?

I think so. When I was first getting started as a therapist, I had a position as an intake counselor at a mental health center. In that position, I got to sit with literally hundreds of people in crisis and listen to their stories. That was pretty much my whole job—meet someone new and find out what brought them to us, what their life was like, how they were feeling, what they needed. Then I would go and think about that story and write up a report.

The hard thing about that position was that I didn’t get to spend much time with each person—sometimes just that initial visit. But the wonderful thing was that I was able to meet so many people and hear so many, many stories.

Recently, I’ve been talking with groups of therapists about the power of stories and literature, and it’s a topic I’m very passionate about. Therapy is about story just as much as literature—the story the client is telling in that moment, and the movement toward the story they want to tell.

Truthfully, I was drawn to the therapy field because I was already someone who was interested in emotions and big questions. But being a therapist has, hopefully, helped me understand those emotions and questions a little better, and that, also hopefully, shows up in my writing.

THE MIRACULOUS is your debut. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?

Reading and writing were my only hobbies when I was a kid, and I was fully devoted to them. I wanted, with all my heart, to be an author when I grew up, and I filled up notebook after notebook with stories.

From teenagerhood on, I assumed that I would end up writing Very Serious Adult Literature. But then I found myself working on a middle-grade fantasy while I was pregnant with my first child. And it became clear to me, very quickly, that middle-grade was where my heart was.

Then there was querying which brought much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but finally I queried something that agents wanted, and I signed with my extraordinary agent, Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.

The story that Sara signed me on, however, did not sell right away (although I have high hopes for it in the future). So while I was waiting and biting my nails and bemoaning my fate, I wrote another book and that was THE MIRACULOUS.

Sara loved THE MIRACULOUS, and after two weeks of submission, I was on the phone with editors, and shortly after MIRACULOUS found a home with FSG/Macmillan. I was very lucky to end up with my editor, Janine O’Malley, who connected with the story and brought much-needed clarity and new perspective.

And that is the nutshell story of how my biggest dream became a reality!

Do you have any tips for authors debuting either later this year, in 2020, or just generally in the future?

There is so much that you can do as a debuting author, and the vast majority of it is optional. I think debut year is like starting a really awesome new job—you will make mistakes and feel confused and uncertain, but you’ll also learn so much and feel exhilarated and wonderful.

Just know that there is a learning curve, like any new venture, and do the things that you know you’ll enjoy. Like, if you’re me, make three book trailers! Why not?

Also, join a debut group! My debut group, the Novel Nineteens, has been an incredible resource for me. I ask questions—where did you get those gorgeous stickers? Are you doing a cover reveal? What should I even be doing right now?—all the time.

Now, let’s get to the book itself. Can you give us a brief summary of THE MIRACULOUS?

THE MIRACULOUS is the story of a miracle-collecting boy named Wunder and a cape-wearing girl named Faye—two kids who have recently experienced great losses. Both 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. This book trailer that I created introduces with the cut-outs from the incredible cover illustration by Matt Rockefeller: 

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.

The book’s central character, Wunder, keeps a journal, and is an observer and recorder of the world around him. Setting aside plot-related reasons, were there any other reasons you included this element in the book?

I kept a lot of journals as a child, although I threw away most of them in my late teens. I was a pretty intense kid, and my journals definitely reflected that, and I was always petrified that someone would read them.

I did salvage a few recently, and it showed me how much I have always used writing and reading to understand the world and myself. Writing, to me, is so closely tied to the search for goodness and truth. I would love for readers to be inspired by Wunder and to journal, to observe, to search on their own.

Why do you think it’s important for kids’ books to tackle tough topics?

The truth is that kids are already tackling these topics, even if adults like to imagine they’re not. During those middle-grade years, kids are interested in absolutely everything. They are just starting to look out and beyond themselves. What children’s books can do is provide language and new perspective for these explorations that are already beginning to happen.

I don’t think that kids need to be exposed to everything, of course. I’m very careful about what my young children read and watch. But stories can be opportunities. Stories can begin conversations. Stories can frame some of the realities of the world in a way that can give kids confidence and tools, in ways that can promote healthy coping and grow empathy.

Another author, Marcie Colleen, once told me during an interview that she typically doesn’t read books for audiences older than MG, because she prefers books that end with at least some note of hope. I’m curious to hear what you make of that.

I love this! For me, this speaks to what makes middle-grade literature so special. There are tough topics addressed in middle-grade, to be sure. But there is also wonder and hope and a belief in the goodness and creativity of humanity. When I read and write middle-grade, I do feel like I am the best version of myself, and it is easier for me to love this world and the people in it.

I think it also speaks to knowing yourself. Here’s a little story: When I was around 10, I got my hands on LORD OF THE FLIES. I felt very grown up reading it—until the “hunt” got out of hand and they almost killed poor Robert. I was horrified and sick to my stomach, and I took the book to the basement and buried it at the bottom of a hamper of dirty clothes. Who knows, maybe it’s still there to this day.

I wasn’t ready for that book.

I think that kind of self-monitoring can come naturally, but I also think it’s something we can help teach kids. When you’re 10 years old, you don’t always know what you need or what you’re ready for. I think that’s where parents and teachers and librarians and other adults who know and care about the reader can help.

Where can readers find you, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

My website http://www.jessredman.com is a great place to learn more about me, THE MIRACULOUS, and my next book, QUINTESSENCE. The teaching/discussion guide, book trailers, and pre-order campaign info (just a few more days left!) are all there.

I’m also on Twitter quite a bit at @Jess__Red and on Instagram less often at that same handle. I love hearing from readers!

Jess Redman has wanted to be an author since age six, when her poem “I Read and Read and Read All Day” appeared in a local anthology. It took a little while though. First, she did things like survive middle school, travel around the world, become a therapist, and have two kids.

But then finally, her childhood dream came true! Her middle-grade debut, THE MIRACULOUS, will be published by FSG/Macmillan on July 30, 2019. Her second middle-grade novel, QUINTESSENCE, will be out on July 28, 2020. You can find her at www.JessRedman.com.

In the tradition of heartwrenching and hopeful middle grade novels such as Bridge to Terabithia comes Jess Redman’s stunning debut about a young boy who must regain his faith in miracles after a tragedy changes his world.

Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracle-collector. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. And he believes every single one. But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles can’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. He stops believing.​

Then he meets Faye―a cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an abandoned house by the cemetery and a mysterious old woman who just might be a witch. The old woman asks them for their help. She asks them to believe. And they go on a journey that leads to friendship, to adventure, to healing―and to miracles.

The Miraculous is Jess Redman’s sparkling debut novel about facing grief, trusting the unknown, and finding brightness in the darkest moments.

Praise 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

“Redman’s gorgeous debut uses a cozy world of bright characters to tackle themes of death, grief, and doubt with gentle compassion and a light touch…a moving lesson for young people learning to cope with both the good and the bad that life has to offer.” —Booklist


“A stunning story expressing the complexities and mysteries of love and death in all of its light and darkness. A beautifully rendered and meaningful read for young readers asking deep questions.” —Veera Hiranandani, author of Newbery Honor-winning THE NIGHT DIARY

“Filled with longing, love, hope, and wisdom, THE MIRACULOUS is a small miracle of a book.” —Alison McGhee, author of SHADOW BABY and the NYT Bestseller SOMEDAY

“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

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