I was able to get an ARC of Quintessence through NetGalley a month or so ago. I read this book and it is one of my new favorite books! I reviewed it a couple weeks ago here.
Quintessence is an extraordinary story from Jess Redman about friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.
Find the Elements. Grow the Light. Save the Starling.
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’s told her parents that they have. She’s homesick and friendless and every day she feels less and less like herself.
But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star—a star that looks like a child—fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and she knows that it’s up to her to save the star. And so, with the help of some unlikely new friends from Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self.
I reached out to Jess Redman, and she graciously agreed to an interview! I’m so excited to share this with you!
Interview with Jess Redman
Are you more of an outliner, discovery writer, or in between the two?
I’m an in-betweener. I used to be more of a discovery writer, but now that I’m often writing on a deadline, I can’t be quite as footloose and fancy free.
Usually, I think for a long time before I write anything. I just turn over ideas and grow the plot and get to know characters in my head. Then I do some experimental writing to search for the tone of the story, which is very important to me. I usually write third-person, but each story has its own voice and feel. After that, I’m ready to outline.
I leave lots of room for the characters and plot to breathe, and I’m not afraid to change the trajectory of the story. My outline helps me see where I’m heading, but I like to blaze the trails as I go.
How long ago did you start writing seriously to get published?
I started about eight years ago. I was working as a therapist and expecting my first child. I had always wanted to be an author and I had written things here and there, mostly very serious stories for grown-ups. But I was afraid to try to get something published. Actually, I was afraid to try and then fail.
Then I started jotting down notes for a middle-grade fantasy, and it was the most connected I’d ever felt to a story. The words flowed, I fell in love with the characters, and I realized that middle-grade is where my heart is.
That story wasn’t published (yet…). But it did eventually get me an agent. Then Macmillan acquired my debut, THE MIRACULOUS, about three years ago.
Is writing your first/ only career? If not, what other career fields have you worked in?
Right now, I am mostly writing and taking care of my two young kids. But before my debut, THE MIRACULOUS, I was a therapist and adjunct psychology professor. 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. I certainly think being a therapist—a career that hinges on hearing and helping to rewrite stories—has influenced me as a writer.
What usually comes to you first: plot or characters or other?
Usually a tiny piece of the plot and a snippet of the character come to my together. For QUINTESSENCE, it was Alma watching the star fall from the sky and into her backyard. I knew she was lonely. I knew that star would need help. Beyond that, the story was wide open and ready to be explored.
What was the highlight of writing Quintessence?
Oh, I love writing the climax of a story. I love stories that build to big, intense, fast-paced endings, and that’s what happens in QUINTESSENCE. I don’t want to give away all the ins and outs of the scene, but there is a storm and a falling star and a near-death plummet off of something very high and Alma shouting, “I am Alma of the Growing Light, and I am here for Fire!”
A reader on Instagram told me their kid came running into their room one night saying, “You’ve got to read this! It’s like a song!” about this section. Which, to me, is the highest and most wonderful of compliments.
What’s your favorite & least favorite part of the writing process?
My favorite part of the process is that first spark of a brand new idea—when the story is just possibility. It’s the most magical feeling.
My least favorite part is the first major revision. Drafting can be tedious, but mostly it’s exciting to figure out where the plot will go and what the characters will do and what’s at the heart of the story. Editing for flow and word choice can be tricky, but mostly, it’s a joy (I read aloud a lot here).
But cutting out chunks, moving things around, taking apart the story that I just worked so hard to put together—that’s tough work!
Do you have some kind of writing ritual such as: I have to have a cup of hot tea and some jellybeans when I sit down to write? Or you just sit and type with no fanfare?
I usually get a cup of coffee, go my desk, read a bit of what I’ve worked on recently to remind myself of where I am and the story’s tone. Then I get to work. I need it to be totally silent while I write, and I have to resist the urge to check my phone, clean my whole house, cut my toenails—do any of those distracting tasks that would be easier than writing a book. I don’t get a lot of child-free time to write (especially during a pandemic!) so I have to take advantage of every moment!
What are your writing goals for the future? Will you keep writing in this genre or do you want to branch out into other genres?
My next book, THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, comes out in May 2021! It’s the story of video game-loving Milton P. Greene who has had the rottenest year of all time. Then it gets even rottener when his parents send him to stay with his research uncle on the electricity-free Lone Island for the summer. But on the island, Milton finds a field guide full of fantastical creatures, clues to a hidden treasure, and a definitely unrotten real-life adventure. This is a bit of a funnier, more fast-paced story than THE MIRACULOUS or QUINTESSENCE, but definitely still in my wheelhouse.
I have several more middle-grade contemporary fantasies in various stages of completion that I hope I’ll get to share soon. I also have my debut picture book, SEASON OF LIGHT, coming out in Fall 2022. It will be illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki, and I know it’s going to be beautiful.
Define what success looks like for you. Is it a Newbery or Hugo award? NYT Bestseller? Is it to write full-time?
This is such a hard one. Of course, I have high hopes for my stories. I want them to find their readers. I want them to be critically well-regarded. I want starred reviews and a Netflix series! But I also know that when I focus too hard on “success” and the opinions of others, my writing suffers. I question whether critics will like this or that, whether audiences would respond to a different style/topic/point of view. It’s like writing with someone reading over my shoulder.
So I try not to read reviews. I try to focus on the joy of creating. Sometimes I am successful…sometimes not!
Are there authors that inspired you to become a writer?
Madeleine L’Engle is my biggest author inspiration. Her blend of science, magic, and the real world influenced QUINTESSENCE. I’ve also been inspired by Katherine Paterson, Ellen Raskin, C.S. Lewis, and Lois Lowry.
Do you read paper books, eBooks, or both?
Oh, paper. 100%. I need to feel the book in my hands. I need to see the words on a page. E-books are so convenient, but I DNF e-books far more often, and I feel like I don’t fully connect with the story. And, as a writer, I feel like I don’t fully appreciate the author’s work when I read an e-book.
Tea, coffee, or hot cocoa?
I love a good cup of hot cocoa, but coffee is my go-to drink of choice. I try not to overdo it but…it’s hard sometimes.
Morning person or night owl?
Night Owl! I have stayed up until 5am working on a book, but I will never wake up at 5am to write. I just cannot do it.
Name a book you read recently that you loved.
THE FOREST OF STARS by Heather Kassner is a story that comes out next week! I was lucky enough to read an ARC and will be doing an event with Heather with Interabang Books on Thursday, August 13th on Zoom (check out the events page on my website www.jessredman.com!). It’s a story about a girl whose feet never touch the ground and a wondrous circus, and it’s magical and lovely!
What’s your favorite writing craft book?
ART AND FEAR is my absolute favorite.
What is the best place for fans to find you?
Where can readers purchase your books?
My books are available in all the usual places. You can find links to the retailer of your choice here: bit.ly/QuintJR
My personal recommendation—get your copy from my local independent bookstore, Books & Books! You can do that here: bit.ly/QuintBB
And if you get the book before Tuesday, August 4th, you can enter my pre-order campaign at www.jessredman.com/preorder. I’ll send you fun swag and enter you in a drawing for a $100 gift card from Books & Books to say Thank You!
—End of Interview–
Thank you so much Jess for taking the time to answer these questions for us!
Now, everyone go buy or borrow this totally amazing book!!
Never Miss a Post!
Sign up for emails. You’ll get a weekly blog post and a monthly letter from me. I won’t bug you with a million emails trying to sell you stuff, just helpful information, book reviews, writer insights, and writing resources.
You can also get access to my Writer’s Resources Vault. This is a password protected page with links to a TON of resources including forms I use with my writing. It contains two editing checklists, a self publishing checklist, writing group resources, and much more.