Interview: Jess Redman

Hey there, Jess! Welcome back to the MG Book Village, and thanks for being willing to chat a bit about your upcoming release, QUINTESSENCE!

Thank you so much for having me back!

Before we get to the new book, I’d love to hear about how your year has been since your debut, THE MIRACULOUS, published this past summer.

Well…it’s definitely been a memorable year for everyone! And a very busy one.

THE MIRACULOUS came out on July 30, 2019. It was thrilling and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

It was also a lot of really hard work! I had copy edits for QUINTESSENCE due around THE MIRACULOUS’s pub date, and then I jumped into revisions on what became my third book.

I was chugging along pretty well though until—schools closed in mid-March. In so many ways, we’ve been very fortunate throughout this pandemic, but it has been a tricky balancing act for my husband and I working from home with two very active young kids. I’ve spent many nights working until after midnight, and I’ve had to make peace, over and over, with life as it is in this moment.

And now? I’m working on copy edits for my next book, THE ADVENTURE IS NOW! It’s a super fun, fast-paced story about magic and the environment and hidden treasure on a remote island, and I can’t wait to share more about it in the coming months.

We can’t wait, either! Now, what’s the new book, QUINTESSENCE, all about?

QUINTESSENCE is the story of twelve-year-old Alma Lucas and her quest to save a fallen star.

Alma and her family have recently moved to the town of Four Points. She is homesick and lonely and, worst of all, she’s been having panic attacks.

Then one afternoon, Alma is given a quintescope (a sort of magical telescope) and this message: Find the Elements. Grow the Light. Save the Starling.

That night, through the lens of the quintescope, Alma watches as a star—a star that looks like a golden child—falls into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to feel lost and afraid, to long for home, and she knows that it’s up to her to save that star.

But she’ll need the help of the enigmatic ShopKeeper and three new friends from Astronomy Club to do it. Together, they’ll have to gather the four classical elements—Earth, Wind, Water, Fire—and use them to create the fifth element, Quintessence. It’s a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and their whole selves.

I’m curious about the title, QUINTESSENCE, as you seem to have a habit of using big, bold, single words for your novels’ titles – words that some of your readers might only have a slippery grasp on. Is there a reason behind this? How did you arrive at this book’s title?

I love words. I’m a bit of a word collector á la Felicity Pickle in SNICKER OF MAGIC, and quintessence was one of my favorite words long before this story. I guess miraculous was too, come to think of it. There are some words that just feel like magic, that feel powerful all on their own, and quintessence and miraculous are two of them.

Hopefully when kids read these titles, they think the same thing. And hopefully, even if they don’t know exactly what the words mean or how to pronounce them, they’ll want to find out more.

The protagonist of QUINTESSENCE, Alma, suffers from panic attacks. What led you to write a story in which you explored this?

The most direct connection is that I too was an anxious kid. In this story, Alma moves to a brand new town and begins experiencing panic attacks shortly after. When I was twelve, I moved from Philadelphia to Florida, and the anxiety I’d been dealing with for several years increased dramatically.

As an anxious kid, I read constantly. I gravitated toward protagonists who felt different and mixed-up inside, my favorite being Meg Murry. I know reading about a character like Alma would have been a revelation to me. I would have felt less isolated, less alone. I would have felt seen.

Another connection is that I am a licensed mental health counselor. Right now, my focus is on writing and being with my two little kids, but I’ve worked with many anxious clients—young and old—over the years.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from QUINTESSENCE?

First and foremost, I hope they enjoy the story itself. QUINTESSENCE contains so many things that I love—magical telescopes, astronomy, supernovas, curiosity shops, alchemy, unlikely friendships, plot twists, characters who are more than they seem, and lots and lots of kids biking around in the middle of the night on adventures. I hope readers want to find out who the ShopKeeper is, where the Starling could be hiding, which kid goes with which of the four elements, and how the story is going to end. The ending is, in my opinion, the best part.

Beyond that, I hope readers who feel anxious or lonely or overwhelmed connect with Alma and her friends. I hope seeing Alma shifting her negative self-talk, practicing breathing exercises, learning about anxiety, and seeing a therapist helps provide these readers with the language to explore what’s happening inside them and the reassurance that it’s okay to ask for help.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add QUINTESSENCE to their classroom libraries?

Teachers, you all have been on my heart, especially these last months as we’re faced with so much uncertainty with this coming year. I’ve been fortunate to get to know so many of you through conferences and social media, and I know how much you love your students and how passionate you are about connecting your kids with books.

Whatever form this school year takes for you, I hope you’ll consider adding QUINTESSENCE to your classroom library. It has short chapters, lots of action, magic, science, exploding stars, secret identities, elements that readers can “sort” themselves into, and lots of heart.

Also, it’s a story many of your students may need right now. Anxiety is the number one mental health concern in the United States, and I’ve heard from so many teachers already who were drawn to this story because of the rising anxiety rates in their classrooms. QUINTESSENCE will speak to readers struggling with anxiety and to anyone who has ever felt lonely or unsure about their place in the universe.

When can readers get their hands on QUINTESSENCE?

QUINTESSENCE will be sold in all the usual places, and you can find links on my Macmillan page here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374309763

My personal recommendation? Order a signed copy from my independent bookstore, Books & Books! You can do that here: https://shop.booksandbooks.com/book/9780374309763

And I’ll be doing a launch event with Books & Books on July 28th along with the amazing NYT bestselling author Natalie Lloyd (SNICKER OF MAGIC, THE PROBLIM CHILDREN series), so come spend some time with us! Details here: www.jessredman.com/events

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work? And do you have any events scheduled to help celebrate the new book?

A great way to connect with me right now is through Twitter & Instagram. I’m on both as @Jess__Red. There will come a day when I step back from social media to do more writing, but today is not that day.

You can also visit my website, www.jessredman.com to check out my pre-order campaign, book trailers, teacher’s guides, character quizzes, and other fun things. Like I mentioned above, I’ll be doing a launch with Natalie Lloyd, and then I have a whole series of virtual events coming up with super awesome middle-grade authors.

So follow me on social media, swing by my website, and come hang out at one of my upcoming events. I’d love to connect with you!

Jess Redman is a therapist and author of books for young readers with FSG/Macmillan. Her first book, The Miraculous, was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2019, an Amazon Best Book of 2019, and was called “layered, engaging, and emotionally true” in a Kirkus starred review. Her second book, Quintessence, releases on July 28th.  The book was featured in OwlCrate Jr.’s subscription box and described as “a fanciful adventure with a rich emotional core and a fairy tale” by Publishers Weekly. Her third book, The Adventure Is Now, is scheduled for publication in May 2021. Redman currently lives in Florida with her husband, two young children, an old cat named SoulPie, and a fish named Annie. Visit her at www.jessredman.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @Jess__Red.

. . .

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she told her parents that they did. And every day she feels less and less like herself. 

Then Alma meets the ShopKeeper in the town’s junk shop, The Fifth Point. The ShopKeeper gives her a telescope and this message:

Find the Elements. Grow the Light. Save the Starling.

That night, Alma watches as a star—a star that looks like a child—falls down from the sky and into her backyard. She knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home. And if a star really is stranded in Four Points, Alma knows she has to get it back up to the sky. With the help of some unlikely new friends from Astronomy Club and the mysterious ShopKeeper, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self. 

QUINTESSENCE is a stunning story of friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

PRAISE FOR QUINTESSENCE

“A wildly imaginative tale full of wonder and hope that is grounded in our everyday world and the very real problems that today’s children face.” —Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of The Story Web

A magical, wondrous book. . .The story is beautifully written and gave me chills almost constantly—with that magic-just-around-the-corner feeling.” —Gillian McDunn, author of Caterpillar Summer

“A fanciful adventure with a rich emotional core and a fairy tale flair. An emphasis on Alma’s mental health and circular thought patterns proves an effective complement to the story’s magical elements, as her new endeavor and friends grant her the resilience to navigate her needs. Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, this is a clever, entertaining story with its own distinct identity.” —Publishers Weekly

“…a cozy contemporary fantasy that balances fresh, cosmic world building with painful personal challenges…Short chapters and tight pacing keep things moving at a brisk clip, and readers will no doubt enjoy following Alma and her new friends on their fantastical treasure hunt of sorts. A warm, engaging adventure.” —Booklist

“Redman’s writing shines [in] the portrayal of Alma’s mental health and its effect on her sense of self and on those around her. . .Reassuring, especially to kids struggling to articulate their own feelings in the face of lingering stigma about mental health.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“As bright and magical as a falling star, Quintessenceis a beautifully told story that collided with my heart and set it aglow.” —Heather Kassner, author of The Bone Garden

“While firmly grounded in real-world issues, Quintessence shimmers with the perfect amount of magic. Redman’s deft, sympathetic portrayal of anxiety, a welcome and important addition to the middle grade canon, blends with scientific references to astronomy that are sure to engage young readers. Well-rounded, relatable, and resilient characters working together in a captivating setting make this the perfect read for fans of STEM and the stars.” —Sarah Baughman, author of The Light in the Lake

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