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Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Book News Pileup: UntitledTown Book Festival, New Poetry Collection, and ARCs!

April 7, 2018    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

First things first.

In two weeks, I get to be part of something incredibly cool: UntitledTown Book and Author Festival, a four-day literary event held annually (this year, it will be April 19 – 22) in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This year, the lineup of guests includes R.L. Stine, Christopher Moore, and ROXANE GAY (!!!!), among others. Including me. Oh–and the whole amazing thing is FREE.

My schedule, if you’re in the area (or if you’ve been planning a trip to Packerland and feel like dropping in on a lit festival while you’re at it), looks like this:

Saturday, April 21:
12:00 – Creating Characters: Writing Workshop for Kids (and adults!), Brown County Library
2:00 – Kid Lit Panel: How to Write for a Young Audience, KI Convention Center Room 6AB

Sunday, April 22:
10:00 – Dark Magic (Panel): Writing Fantasy for YA and Adults, St. Brendan’s Inn, Waterford Room
2:00 – Wisconsin Writers Invitational (Group Reading), Brown County Library Auditorium

Here’s a very handy FAQ page that will help you register for my (and other instructors’) writing workshop: https://2018.untitledtown.org/2018/04/faq-how-do-i-register-for-youth-writing-workshops/

And here’s the entire schedule. You can sign up/bookmark favorites (although you don’t need to) that you’d like to attend and sync them to your phone, if you’re techy like that.

 

Next, a moment of poetry promotion:

It’s National Poetry Month! And my brand new poetry collection, Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, is now available from Alban Lake Publishing for only $1.99 in e-book format and $6.00 in paperback. Bargain, right? You can also find/order signed copies at my lovely local bookshops, Rivertown Comics and Games and Fair Trade Books of Red Wing, MN.

A little description: The poems of “Candle and Pins” are inspired by familiar—and some unfamiliar—superstitions, ranging from love charms to burial practices, parsley seeds to the evil eye. Like superstitions themselves, these poems explore the terrain where magic and everyday life intertwine, and where beauty, horror, fear, and belief combine in ways both new and ageless.

I’ve been at work on this collection for what seems like ages. Some of the poems appeared in fantasy/horror/scifi journals like Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, and Mythic Delirium almost ten years ago, and one was nominated for a Rhysling Award, but most of them had never ventured out in public until now. Having all of these pieces, new and old, published and unpublished, finally put together behind this gorgeous cover with art by Marge Simon is the coolest feeling.

So if you’re into dark magic and creepy poetry — or poetry in general — you could make me super-happy by reading it.

If all of this wasn’t great enough, I also just received my box of ARCs (advance reading copies) of The Collectors.

(Photographic proof!!!)

Stay tuned for a giveaway of a special sneak peek copy or two… Not sure yet if I’ll use this blog, Instagram (where you’ll find me most frequently these days), Facebook, or all of the above, but I’ll do my best to spread the word everywhere.

See you in Green Bay. 🙂

Spectacles

Cover Reveal: THE COLLECTORS.

March 27, 2018    Tags: , , ,   

 

Coming from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins on 10/9/18.

 

Even the smallest wish can be dangerous.

Look closely.

Do you see that marble in the grass? The tiny astronaut with one arm raised? The old-fashioned key in the gutter?

Van sees them. Van notices all sorts of things. But usually no one notices Van. He’s small, and always the new kid, easy to overlook. But one day he watches a mysterious girl and a silver squirrel dive into a fountain to steal a coin.

And—even more strange—they notice Van.

Suddenly, the world changes for Van. It becomes a place where wishes are real. A place where wishes can be collected, just like his little treasures. A place where wishes can come true.

But that’s not always a good thing.

Not all wishes are good, you see, and even good wishes can have unintended consequences.

And Van is about to find out just how big those consequences can be.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My first middle-grade fantasy in four years (four years!?!) will be released by Greenwillow Books this fall, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

To all the BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE readers who have been patiently waiting for me to write something in same fantasy/mystery/adventure/eccentric-talking-animal ballpark: Thank you. To everyone who has asked me what I’ve been working on over the past few years and oohed at my sheepish description: Thank you. And to everyone at GWB/HC who is making this story into a real paper book at last: Thank you.

I can’t wait to introduce you to Van and his world this October. In the meantime, look look LOOK at this gorgeous cover! Swirling mist! Sparkling stars! Mystery and magic! Who could ask for anything more?!

Spectacles

2017: The Big Bookish Wrap-up of the Year

December 18, 2017    Tags: , , , , , ,   

Whew. 2017.

When I look through my files, I guess I managed to get some stuff done–books written, a poetry collection accepted for publication (!!!), a play finished and performed–but I can’t estimate the number of hours I spent reading the news with my stomach aching and my TMJ in overdrive, writing postcards and emails, leaving phone messages for politicians while clenching my jaw even harder (thanks, phone phobia!). I know it’s a privilege not to live in constant, fearful awareness of politics, but–really selfishly here–I’d like a little of that privilege back. A year or two from now, I’d love to apply the KonMari method to my brain and go through all the names of cabinet members and lawyers and congresspeople who are no longer in those positions, all the “there’s no way they really said that” quotes, and fill up a few dozen garbage bags.

I’ve got a lot of reasons to look forward to 2018 — I’ll have three (!!!!!!!!) books coming out, for starters — but for me, one of the biggest ones has to do with voting. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so enthusiastic about voting in my whole life. And that’s a positive thing, right?

So bring it on, 2018. Ready and waiting.

Writing-wise:
– Books written: 2 (YA project and Story Pirates mystery)
– Books revised: 3 (THE COLLECTORS, YA project, and Story Pirates mystery)
– Short stories written: 2 (and they’re both pretty crappy! Woohoo!)
– Short stories published 1 (“The Scarecrow” in Stinkwaves Magazine)
– Poems written: 8
– Poems published: 1 (“Yanys” reprinted in THE DRIFTLESS READER)
– Poetry collections finished: 1 (CANDLE AND PINS: POEMS ON SUPERSTITIONS will be published by Alban Lake Press this spring)
– Plays revised, rehearsed, and premiered: 1 (SNOW DAY: A Dark (and Cold) Comedy about Climate Change, performed by Red Wing’s Soapbox Players from December 1 – 9, 2017).

Reading-wise:
(Re-reads are marked with an asterisk, and read-alouds are in bold.)
THE INQUISITOR’S TALE – Adam Gidwitz
DAD IS FAT – Jim Gaffigan
LIZARD RADIO – Pat Schmatz
LET ME TELL YOU – Shirley Jackson
SCRATCH: WRITERS, MONEY, AND THE ART OF MAKING A LIVING – Manjula Martin, ed.
FREAKONOMICS – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
THE POET’S DOG – Patricia McLaughlin
SHOW YOUR WORK! – Austin Kleon
MONSTRESS 1  – Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE – Corey Ann Haydu
THE NATURAL WORLD OF WINNIE-THE-POOH – Kathryn Aalto
ARE YOU LOATHSOME TONIGHT – Poppy Z. Brite
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME – Ta-Nehisi Coates
HILLBILLY ELEGY – J.D. Vance
NOVEL DESTINATIONS: A TRAVEL GUIDE – Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon
AMERICANAH – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiechie
WHAT WE DO NOW: STANDING UP FOR YOUR VALUES IN TRUMP’S AMERICA – Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians
HOUR OF THE BEES – Lindsay Eagar
ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927 – Bill Bryson
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE – Katherine Arden
THE RAVEN BOYS – Maggie Stiefvater
THE NIGHT GARDENER – Jonathan Auxier
THE HATE U GIVE – Angie Thomas
NORSE MYTHOLOGY – Neil Gaiman
*THE LOTTERY AND OTHER STORIES – Shirley Jackson
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? – Maria Semple
ONCE AGAIN, TO ZELDA: THE STORIES BEHIND LITERATURE’S MOST INTRIGUING DEDICATIONS – Marlene Wagman-Geller
I REMEMBER NOTHING – Nora Ephron
DARK MONEY – Jane Mayer
SAGA, VOL. 1 – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
PATHFINDER – Angie Sage
TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN – Lauren Graham
THE MAGICIANS – Lev Grossman
THIS IS AN UPRISING: HOW NONVIOLENT REVOLT IS SHAPING THE 21ST CENTURY – Mark and Paul Engler
BOOKED – Kwame Alexander
BAPTISM OF DESIRE: POEMS – Louise Erdrich
A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST – Rebecca Solnit
OH CRAP! POTTY TRAINING – Jamie Glowacki
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE – Laini Taylor
ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY – Chris Grabenstein
*THE WESTING GAME – Ellen Raskin
MOCKINGBIRD – Kathryn Erskine
COUNTING BY SEVENS – Holly Goldberg Sloan
SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE – Ruth Franklin
VICIOUS – V.E. Schwab
SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS – Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan, eds.
SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS – Claire LeGrande
BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE: THE LIFE OF HELEN GURLEY BROWN – Jennifer Scanlon
CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR – Roald Dahl
AL FRANKEN, GIANT OF THE SENATE – Al Franken
DARING GREATLY – Brene Brown
CIRCUS MIRANDUS – Cassie Beasley
A BOTANIST’S VOCABULARY: 1300 TERMS EXPLAINED AND ILLUSTRATED – Bobbi Angell and Susan K. Pell
*BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA – Katherine Paterson
THE ANNIE YEAR – Stephanie Wilbur Ash
THE DOOR: POEMS – Margaret Atwood
SAGA Vol. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BOTANY – Michael Largo
PAPER GIRLS 1, 2, and 3 – Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, etc.
THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH, REVISITED – Jessica Mitford
STARGIRL – Jerry Spinelli
THE MEMORY BOOK – Lara Avery
THREE DARK CROWNS – Kendare Blake
*A WRINKLE IN TIME – Madeline L’Engle
THE SPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND – Moira Fowley-Doyle
THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON – Elaine Aron
THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE – Stephanie Perkins
A GOOD TIME FOR THE TRUTH: RACE IN MINNESOTA – Sun Yung Skin, ed.
THE JUMBIES – Tracey Baptiste
THEFT BY FINDING, Vol. 1 – David Sedaris
THE SECRET OF DREADWILLOW CARSE – Brian Farrey
ROLLERGIRL – Victoria Jamieson
BLACK PANTHER, Vol. 1: A NATION UNDER OUR FEET – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
WE ARE THE ANTS – Shaun David Hutchinson
VOODOO DREAMS – Jewell Parker Rhodes
A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON – Samantha Mabry
THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP – Marie Kondo
THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE – Meik Wiking
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN – John Green
HOW TO HYGGE – Signe Johansen
A WALK IN THE WOODS – Bill Bryson
WISHING DAY – Lauren Myracle

Quite a bit of brutal and necessary nonfiction this year (A GOOD TIME FOR THE TRUTH is excellent, DARK MONEY raised my blood pressure by several points, and BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME left me feeling like I could barely breathe), some amazing comic/graphic novel stuff (Hello, SAGA! Hi, ROLLERGIRL!), and some books that I wanted to shove into the hands of every young reader I meet (like THE HATE U GIVE, THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, and THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES). My personal favorites were Bill Bryson’s ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927, which Ryan and I tore through on trips to and from St. Paul for critique group meetings (Bryson is always charmingly readable, but this one was extra charmingly readable, and with its confluence of amazing historical events, it felt like a way less murderous version of THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY), TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, which has some of the strongest character creation John Green has pulled off yet, Shirley Jackson’s LET ME TELL YOU, and SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, which might be the best literary biography I’ve ever read.

Writing SNOW DAY and seeing it produced here in my hometown was definitely the writing highlight of my year. I’m sad that it’s done, but so happy and dazzled and grateful that it happened in the first place. (Here’s a shot of the entire cast looking up in wonder at the northern lights, the incredible old barn where Soapbox Players performs–See the lighted windows? That’s the stage!–and one of my little guy at the Christmas tree lot. Because cute.)

 

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year, everybody. XO

Spectacles

Snow Day

November 27, 2017    Tags: , , , , , ,   

So, I wrote a play.

I didn’t exactly plan to do this. I’m a theatre nerd, and I’ve done lots of acting, and I’ve written lots of fiction about characters who are fellow theatre nerds (see DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” in STARRY-EYED…), and a few years ago I wrote a play for kids called “Under the Bed” that was premiered by a local middle school. But I’d never really thought about writing a play for adults.

And then, a few years ago, during the polar vortex, this idea hit me. And I knew this wasn’t a book or a story idea. This idea was play-shaped. It was about a bunch of small town Minnesotans, trapped indoors by a climate change-driven Ice Age, trying to deal with their new reality without completely losing their minds. I wrote several pages, and then I got busy with a bunch of other things–having a baby, releasing a book, writing a couple more books, blah blah blah.

And then the presidential election happened. I finished the play within a few weeks.

That climate change–that even basic scientific fact–has become politicized seems crazy to me. But here we are. And when we can’t agree on facts, even the most basic ones, what kind of discussions can we have? How will we all deal with what’s happening to our environment when we can’t ignore it anymore? With science? Religion? Anger? Denial? Knitting and crafting? Lots of beer?

I guess that’s what I wanted to explore onstage with SNOW DAY.

The play opens here in Red Wing, MN next week — and I couldn’t be more excited. Soapbox Players is putting it on at Hobgoblin Music Loft at Stoney End. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. on December 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9; tickets sold at the door.

It’s a funny play (at least it’s supposed to be). The cast is hilarious. There’s lots of broad, goofy stuff in it: A would-be caveman grad student. A woolly mammoth. Baby Jesus in a Tupperware tub. But I’m sure my fear for the future, and my grief over what we’re doing to the planet, and my hope that somehow collective action and love for each other will save us are woven into it too. If I’ve done my job right, people will see the show, have a good laugh, and then go home and get into big, passionate, political fights with each other. Or they’ll just have a good laugh. That would be great too. 🙂

All profits from the show will go to the Red Wing chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to influencing national policies that address climate change. https://citizensclimatelobby.org/

Here’s a write-up that just appeared in our local paper:

http://www.republican-eagle.com/entertainment/theater/4363946-wests-bleak-winter-comedy-reflects-life-red-wing

(My fellow townspeople: I didn’t say life in Red Wing is bleak. Don’t hate me.)

 

 

Spectacles

Old News and New News

June 28, 2017    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

To start with the biggest and OLDEST news (and yes, it’s the same giant news I was waiting to share back in February, when I last posted here):

My next middle-grade series has a title, a publisher, and a (vague) release date!!! THE COLLECTORS is forthcoming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins, and you should be able to find it in a bookstore or library near you in Fall 2018.

Here’s the super-official Publishers Weekly announcement:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/73056-rights-report-week-of-march-13-2017.html

If you enjoyed THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, then I think this new series is for you. It’s a very different setting and a very different main character, who of course has a whole new set of problems to surmount and mysteries to uncover…but THE COLLECTORS lives in the same quirky-creepy world as THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, and I hope, hope, hope all the middle grade readers who have been asking me for more stories will feel like it’s what they’ve been waiting for. (Plus, it has a talking squirrel. His name is Barnavelt. And I am very fond of him.)

Now, because I’ve procrastinated for so long, I have a double serving of gigantic news to share. Fall 2018 will bring not one but TWO middle grade novels from yours truly.

Last year, the Story Pirates–the New York-based, nationally-loved performance organization dedicated to bringing kids’ stories to life–held a contest asking kids to submit ideas that could inspire a full-length novel, to be written by bestselling author Geoff Rodkey. THE STORY PIRATES PRESENT: STUCK IN THE STONE AGE BY GEOFF RODKEY, AND ILLUSTRATED BY HATEM ALY, BASED ON AN IDEA BY VINCE BOBERSKI, AGE 11 will be released by Rodale Books in March 2018.

Now the Story Pirates are getting ready for a second book — a mystery — which will be written by ME, and which will be released in Fall 2018. So, that’s New News Item #1. New News Item #2 is that the Story Pirates is hosting a second contest right now to gather ideas for a potential mystery book!

The contest is open until July 21. The winner gets $500, ten copies of the book, their name on the cover, and other cool bonuses. If you know any kids between the ages of 6 and 12 who love creating stories (kids need a parent/guardian’s help submitting), check out storypirates.com/spark, and submit your wonderful, creepy, utterly unique ideas. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Between these two projects (and some other, still-secret ones!), the rest of my summer will be pretty busy — but if you’re a young writer in the eastern Minnesota/western Wisconsin area, you can catch me at a couple of writing workshops. On July 20 and 27, you’ll find me at Scott County Libraries — Jordan, New Prague, Prior Lake, and Savage, specifically — talking about descriptive writing and character creation. Sign up is now open! Here’s the link to the Scott County Library Summer Reading page; just click on the events calendar link to find more info and enroll.

And in early August, I’ll be teaching at the Summer Writing Intensive at The Shire in beautiful Stillwater, MN. Each week of this two-week intensive features a great menu of genres: fiction, poetry, graphic novels, screenplays and drama, editing, nonfiction — truly something for everyone. If you’re between 6th and 12th grade and in the area, check it out: https://www.smore.com/ft7p4-authors-lead-writing-intensive?embed=1

Thanks for your patience, everybody.

Happy summer!

 

Spectacles

Advice to Young Writers, from an Increasingly Old One

February 15, 2017    Tags: , ,   

Do you think it’s a bad sign that you update your blog so infrequently, you essentially forget how to do it and have to relearn all the simple steps every time? I think it might be a bad sign.

Well, it’s been another shamefully long gap between posts, and I have some giant news that I’m STILL waiting to share (it won’t be much longer, I promise!), but I recently got some reader mail that was so inspiring it forced me back into blogging action.

I get lots of notes from young readers and writers. Every single one of them makes me feel lucky, and many of them come with fantastic questions. Last week, a young writer named Alana got in touch to ask for my help with her school’s Passion Project, and I said I’d do my best to answer her questions — and then she sent me an interview that was so insightful and challenging, it took two days’ worth of brain power to complete it. (When your almost-two-year-old has the stomach flu and you’re up half the night changing bedding and deliriously reading Berenstain Bears books, you have a bit less brain power than usual. That’s my excuse.)

I asked her permission to share the result…and here it is. *Note: I don’t consider myself much of an expert on anything, even the things I do obsessively/professionally. But this is my honest advice. These are some of my best tips and tricks. Use or ignore as you will.

Thanks again, Alana.

 

  1. How do you choose or make up names for characters(first and last names), setting, objects, etc.?

For me, it tends to work in one of two ways: Either the perfect name pops into my head right away, almost like the character (or place) already knows her/his/its own name, and is introducing herself to me…or I spend a long time daydreaming, making lists, and trying out different options before I find the name that feels just right.

Obviously, the first way is a lot easier! Olive from The Books of Elsewhere turned up in my head with her name already in place, and the cats had their names from the very beginning too (because their names were stolen straight from three real cats named Horatio, Leopold, and Harvey, who belonged to friends of mine).

The second way, unfortunately, is a lot more common. Often, I’ll know a few important things about a character (or place or object)—things about their appearances or ages or personalities or interests—and then I search for a name that matches those things. With Rutherford, for example, I knew I wanted him to have an unusual, old-fashioned, scientific or historical name. Then I did a bunch of research and list-making, and when I found out that a scientist named Ernest Rutherford is considered the father or nuclear physics, I knew I had found the right fit.

 

  1. How do you hook the readers in right away with your first sentence, paragraph, or chapter?

Ooh, that first sentence is SO important. It needs to be something that will make your readers want to keep reading. As long as it does that, it can be about practically anything.

I often try to create a first sentence that will plant an important question in a reader’s mind, or that will immediately start building a vivid picture—or both. The very first line in The Books of Elsewhere is “Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.” I hoped that this line would immediately make readers wonder who Ms. McMartin was, how she died, why it’s important that she’s definitely dead—and that it would start the book out on the right creepy/odd/mysterious note. The first line in my latest novel, Dreamers Often Lie, is “There was blood on the snow.” I thought this line would create a striking image, and that it would make readers wonder whose blood it was, what happened, etc.

A good first line needs to pull the reader in. Beyond that, anything goes.

 

  1. How do you create characters that seem real and are relatable?

Years and years of practice! 🙂

All your characters need to have their own distinct perspectives and hobbies and habits, their own vocabularies and speech patterns, their own fears and wishes and secrets—just like real people (but even more interesting!). It often takes me months or years of daydreaming before I feel like I know my characters completely. Sometimes I have to write about them to get to know them; I have to put them in a situation where they’re scared, or where they’re having an argument, and I figure out how they would behave. Eventually, with time and writing, I know them so well that I can plop them into any situation and know exactly what they’ll say or do. I know what’s inside of their dresser drawers, what they dream about, what they eat for breakfast. I know exactly what’s going on in their minds.

Once you know your characters that distinctly, you can thread the important details about them into the story. Hopefully, your readers will end up feeling like they actually know your characters too.

 

  1. What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Something else.

I take a break from writing and do something completely different: go for a walk, play fetch with my dog, bake cookies, read someone else’s book. Usually, while I’m trying not to think about my own writing and all the problems in it, a solution to those problems will pop into my mind.

Also, I always work on more than one project at once, so if I run out of steam on one thing, I can switch to the other without losing any time.

 

  1. I would like to create characters that contrast but go well together. However, I do not want them to be disliked by readers. How do you think I could accomplish this?

As long as a reader understands and believes in your characters, those characters can be flawed in all kinds of ways. They can even be horrible, monstrous villains, and your readers will still want to hear about them.

It’s natural for your characters to have conflicts with each other. In fact, it would be pretty unrealistic and dull if they never did. As long as your reader understands why those characters want different things, the reader can understand or sympathize with all of them at once.

 

  1. What are some ways to make your plot more interesting for the reader to keep reading?

When we’re trying to come up with a plot, writers often think “and then…and then…and then…” This can kind of make your plot feel like a list of things that happen, without any strong connections between them. Try thinking “but…” instead. It can give your writing a greater sense of forward momentum.

For example, a plot construction could start like this: Mia goes to school. Then she finds a mysterious key on the playground. Then she discovers that the key opens doors to some other, dangerous realm.

It’s okay, but it feels a little flat and dull, right?

If I used the “but” idea instead, it can give the plot construction a lot more momentum and tension:

It’s Mia’s first day at a new school, but she’s shy and she doesn’t know any of the other kids, so when she arrives, she keeps to herself. She’s alone at the edge of the playground, waiting for the school day to start, but then she spots something in the grass. It’s a key—but it doesn’t look like any other key she’s ever used. It’s heavy and thin and silvery and odd. The first bell rings, but Mia is so intrigued by the key that she doesn’t notice. When she finally looks around, the playground is empty, and all the other kids are already inside. She bolts to the school door, but it’s locked. Even though she’s sure this won’t work, Mia tries putting the weird silver key in the lock…and the door opens. But what’s on the other side of the door isn’t a school at all.

See what I mean?

Of course, you don’t always have to think “but” instead of “and then”—it won’t always make sense in your stories—but it can help to give a story lots of twists and reactions, which keeps up the tension.

 

  1. How do you include details in your writing, while trying not to bore the readers with too much of it?

Great question!

It’s important for you, as a writer, to know all the tiny, insignificant details about your characters and settings, but you have to constantly ask yourself which details are worth being included. You want to use enough that your readers will be able to create clear pictures in their minds, but not so much that it feels boring or slows down the story.

When you’re introducing a character or place or important item for the very first time, you have a lot more freedom to linger on the details, helping your reader to create an image that he or she will use again and again while reading—but you don’t want to do this every time. Basically, you want to condense. Make things as vivid as they can be, but as well-paced as they have to be.

If I were introducing a new character, I could tell the reader: “The woman was probably between twenty and thirty years old. She had long black hair down to her elbows. Her skin was light brown. Her nose and chin and other features were small and symmetrical, except for her mouth, which was a little wider and redder than it needed to be. She wore a flowing blue cloak that might have been made out of silk or satin or another expensive material. Her eyes were dark brown, but with flickers of green light in their depths.”

It’s just too much stuff.

So, if I were to condense this and pick out the most important things, I might write, “The woman had long black hair, a flowing blue cloak, and light brown skin. Her features were small and symmetrical, except for her mouth, which was a little wider and redder than it needed to be. Her eyes were the color of a lake hidden in the shadows of a forest.”

 

  1. How do you create an antagonist that the readers will hate as much as the protagonist would?

If you make us care about the things that the protagonist cares deeply about—maybe her pet, or her home, or a friend or family member—and then have the antagonist hurt any of those things, that can work really well! Think of Harry Potter: It’s crummy when bad stuff happens to Harry, sure. But when Dobby the house elf, or Dumbledore, or another really lovable character gets hurt, that’s HORRIBLE, right? Then we feel not only fear/grief for that character, but we feel Harry’s fear, grief, and rage as well.

 

  1. How do you express emotions of you characters in your writing so the reader would feel it too?

I’m always trying to put myself—and my reader—directly inside of my characters. When I’m describing thoughts or emotions, I try to think about how they would impact a character not just mentally/emotionally but physically. This can really help to put us inside a character’s skin. If my main character is deeply sad, I wouldn’t just name that emotion—that would feel kind of shallow and bland. Instead, I’d try to describe how that emotion made her body feel. Maybe she would feel like her skeleton is made out of lead, and she can barely drag her heavy feet across the floor. Or maybe she would feel like she’s made out of blown glass, and any tiny injury would make her shatter. Then I might show the way she moves or speaks, paying attention to pace and verbs and vocabulary, trying to reveal her specific kind of sadness in each choice I make.

 

  1. What are some ways to help your brain when you run out of ideas?

Try taking a break! That’s what I do.  Either switch to another activity, or to another writing project, and see if that helps get things flowing again.

Also, every writer needs time to recharge her/his imagination. For many of us, that involves reading, watching, or listening to other writers’ wonderful stories. Art, theater, movies, music, and books can all be the fuel that gets you going again.

 

  1. When I am writing dialogue, I try to avoid using the word said too much, but the words that I substitute in for it sounds weird. What do I do then?

Actually, the super-famous bestselling author Stephen King, whose book, On Writing, is one of my favorite how-to writing books in the world, argues that the BEST form of dialogue attribution (“dialogue attribution” means words like “replied,” “asked,” “gasped,” “whispered,” “croaked,” etc.) is “said.”

Of course, you can—and should!—use other forms of dialogue attribution if it makes sense, or if it shows us something important about your characters or what they’re doing. “I don’t love you anymore,” she whispered paints a pretty different picture from “I don’t love you anymore,” she shouted at the top of her lungs, right? And other terms, if they’re used sparingly, can have a really great effect.

But in general, when you’re writing dialogue, the attribution should almost disappear in the reader’s mind. What’s important is the words that the characters are actually saying. If you try to use a word other than “said,” and then, when you reread the line, that word sounds weird and distracting to you, it’s taking away from the power of the actual dialogue. Unless you feel like a line needs something more specific, try sticking with “said.”

 

  1. What do you do when your writing sounds choppy and doesn’t sound good as you want it to be?

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

My first drafts never sound as good as I want them to be.

And neither do my second drafts. Or fourth drafts. Or eighth drafts.

But that’s normal. Writing is a process. It’s not supposed to be perfect right from the start.

There are lots of things I do that help me revise: I often take a break—sometimes for weeks or months—from a book so that I can go back to it with fresh eyes. I have a group of fellow writers who I meet with once a week; we share our works-in-progress and give each other honest feedback. Sometimes I have someone read my work aloud to me. Mostly, I just reread and rewrite over and over again, until the sentences sound as smooth and complete as I can make them.

It takes forever. But that’s normal too.

 

  1. Whenever I come up with a new idea to add to my story, it seems like it’s from another book and I am just copying that idea. What do I do then?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

The truth is, pretty much every idea you can come up with has been used before. (Well, maybe not if you’re Roald Dahl, but that’s the way it is for most of us.) Suzanne Collins was accused of stealing the idea for The Hunger Games. J.K. Rowling was accused of stealing the idea for Harry Potter—and then the writer she was accused of stealing it from said that he’d actually stolen the idea from someone else. And of course there are a zillion novels that intentionally steal and retell fairy tales, folktales, and myths. Unless an author takes another author’s material and uses it word for word, none of this really matters very much.

What makes a story unique is how it’s told.

            If a thousand writers sat down to write stories about creepy old houses, talking cats, and magical paintings—the big elements in The Books of Elsewhere—no two of those stories would be exactly the same. The plots, characters, and themes, the dialogue, the use of descriptive and figurative language, the tone and pace: they would all be completely different.

As long as a story sounds like you, not any other writer, that’s what matters.

Writers and the books they’ve read are a lot like cooks and their pantries. The more different kinds of books you’ve read, the more ingredients you’ve stored up in your kitchen cabinets. If you only ever read Marissa Meyer’s books, or Leigh Bardugo’s books, or Raina Telgemeier’s books, your own writing would probably sound a lot like theirs. It would be like only having sugar (or noodles, or cinnamon) in your pantry. But if you read a lot of different kinds of things—fantasy and realistic fiction, comics, scary stories, old books, new books, poetry, memoirs—then you’ll have lots more ingredients in your cabinets. And the things you finally sit down and create won’t sound exactly like anyone else. They’ll be your own unique concoctions.

 

  1. What are some things that you should not do when writing or developing ideas for your book?

Don’t tell yourself “no” too much.

Don’t try to make it perfect, right from the beginning. That’s what revising is for.

Don’t think about what’s going to happen when you’re done, or worry about if anyone is going to like it, or daydream about all the money you’re going to make when somebody publishes it and turns it into a blockbuster movie. Just focus on the work you can do today.

Don’t give up.

 

  1. Is there any advice that you have for writing and developing ideas for your story?

Personally, I always write my first drafts longhand, with pen and paper. This way, I can make things as scribbly and sloppy as they need to be. I can write myself notes, or cross things out, or doodle in the margins. When I write by hand, I have to slow down and think about and feel every single word, in a way that I don’t when I’m blazing along on my keyboard. Most of all, I know that I’m not trying to make things perfect. I’m not stopping to rethink or revise; I’m just getting the ideas out on paper before I forget them or give up on them.

As for developing ideas: Let yourself daydream. Take your time. I often have one piece of a story waiting in my brain for years before another piece comes along and connects with it. Start thinking of yourself as a collage artist. The world is full of little things you can pick up and use and combine with other things. Notice those things. Make notes. Look out the windows. You never know where your next idea will come from.

 

(My own slightly blurry House Elf.)

Spectacles

2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

December 12, 2016    Tags: , ,   

This year, you guys. This year.

Ugh.

I’m trying to hang on. I’m trying to take whatever small actions I can. I’m trying to move forward, and to look for all the cracks where the light gets in (RIP, Leonard Cohen), and to keep putting words on paper, instead of slipping down the whirlpool of terrifying news and social media and exhaustion.

I’m trying to hold on to hope.

Because we have to keep fighting.

—————–

Well, it has been so long since I’ve posted here that I’d actually forgotten how to log in on WordPress. Probably not a great sign. But it’s been my tradition to post a year-end list of everything I’ve written, published, and read, and I think my tired, angry brain can manage this much.

Here goes:

Novels published: DREAMERS OFTEN LIE  (Dial/Penguin, April 2016)
Short stories published: “The Troll Truth” (and accompanying essay, “The Edible Lie Detector Test”) in the anthology BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL. 2: SCHOOL DAZED (Grosset & Dunlap, August 2016)
Poems published: 0 (It’s been a very bad year for poetry. *&#$ing 2016!!!)

Novels written: 2 (One MG, one YA)
Short stories written: 4
Poems written: 1 (like I said, BAD YEAR)
Plays written: 1 (almost)

 

Reading list (rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold):

PRAGUE – Arthur Phillips
THE LAST MADAM: A LIFE IN THE NEW ORLEANS UNDERWORLD – Christine Wiltz
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL 1: WRITING STORIES FROM REAL LIFE – Mike Winchell, Ed.
DO UNTO ANIMALS – Tracey Stewart
EL DEAFO – Cece Bell
THE ARGONAUTS – Maggie Nelson
NO LOGO – Naomi Klein
WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT – April Genevieve Tucholke
REBEL BELLE – Rachel Hawkins
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES – Sabaa Tahir
DOVE ARISING – Karen Bao
THE DARK DAYS CLUB – Alison Goodman
BONE GAP – Laura Ruby
REBEL OF THE SANDS – Alwyn Hamilton
GIRL LAST SEEN – Anne Greenwood Brown and Heather Anastasiu
JUST KIDS – Patti Smith
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA – April Genevieve Tucholke
WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – Paul Kalanithi
THE SCORPIO RACES – Maggie Stiefvater
IN WINTER’S KITCHEN – Beth Dooley
WHEN YOU LUNCH WITH THE EMPEROR: THE ADVENTURES OF LUDWIG BEMELMANS – Ludwig Bemelmans
NINTH WARD – Jewell Parker Rhodes
THE WALLS AROUND US – Nova Ren Suma
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR – E.K. Johnston
*DAVID COPPERFIELD – Charles Dickens
FATES AND FURIES – Lauren Groff
GREEN BABY – Susannah Marriott
THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS – Neil Gaiman
WEREWORLD – Curtis Jobling
* TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
A MAN CALLED OVE – Fredrik Backman
WILD – Cheryl Strayed
RADICAL – E.M. Kokie
LIFE AFTER DEATH – Damien Echols
DEAF CHILD CROSSING – Marlee Matlin
THE CONSUMER HANDBOOK ON HEARING LOSS AND HEARING AIDS – Richard Carmen, Au D., ed.
CORPSES, COFFINS, AND CRYPTS: A HISTORY OF BURIAL – Penny Colman
HUSH, HUSH – Becca Fitzpatrick
WYTCHES, VOL 1 – Scott Snyder, etc.
THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH, FAMILY HAPPINESS, THE KREUZER SONATA, MASTER AND MAN – Leo Tolstoy
*SWEETBLOOD – Pete Hautman
BLOOD AND SALT – Kim Liggett
SEE NO COLOR – Shannon Gibney
COMET IN MOOMINLAND – Tove Jansson
BELZHAR – Meg Wolitzer
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE – Kate DiCamillo
PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES – Johnathan Auxier
A TANGLE OF KNOTS – Lisa Graff
NINE LIVES: FROM STRIPPER TO SCHOOLTEACHER – MY YEARLONG ODYSSEY IN THE WORKFORCE – Lynn Snowden
WRITING THE OTHER: A PRACTICAL APPROACH – Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
STEERING THE CRAFT – Ursula K. LeGuin
THE JOKE – Milan Kundera

Standouts include the utterly gorgeous BONE GAP, which deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten, WILD, which was just as good as everybody says and which was the fuel for about a zillion conversations afterward, WYTCHES, which is the most viscerally terrifying comic I’ve ever read (knocking FROM HELL off of that particular pedestal), and the wondrous, world-affirming RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE and NINTH WARD. These are the books that make me want to keep going, keep trying, keep writing. And I have to give a special mention to FATES AND FURIES. I generally forget a character’s name and specific qualities soon after I finish a book–they just dissolve back into the slosh of fictional stuff bubbling in my brain–but Lotto and Mathilde stand out in my mind, as clear and solid and complicated as two real live people. Groff’s character construction is masterful.  Ooh–and THE ARGONAUTS. And JUST KIDS. And THE SCORPIO RACES.

Okay: it may have been a dark year, but there were a lot of beautiful books in it.

(Also, I have the little smiling creature on the sled in my life. That makes everything brighter.)

b-and-r-sledding

Spectacles

Summer of the Workshops

May 4, 2016    Tags: , , , , ,   

Hello, hello, hello.

I can’t believe it, but DREAMERS OFTEN LIE has been out in the world for nearly a month now. (Haven’t read it yet? You can enter to win a signed hardcover over at Bookhounds YA — or you can make me extra happy, and ask for it at your local library or bookshop. And if you have already read it, please consider writing a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Especially if you actually liked it.)

Dreamers cover and petals

April and all of its attendant Shakespeare celebrations is over, but fun things are still turning up — like this piece from the New York Daily News, which includes DREAMERS in its list of new Bard-inspired books, and this article on Bustle, featuring 13 Shakespeare-inspired YA novels. It’s been a busy month online, but a strangely quiet one for real-life events. However, during this month and the next, things are REALLY going to kick into gear: Three school visits, two radio shows/podcasts, a book club visit, four writing workshops, a library festival, and–finally–some more bookstore events. Which are, of course, free and open to the public. Which means all of you are invited. Which means please come.

Upcoming public events (more info can be found on my appearance calendar, as always):

  • May 20: Authors After Hours, Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, MN. 6:45 p.m.
  • May 21: Reading, chatting, and signing DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, Fair Trade Books, Red Wing, MN. 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.
  • June 4: Hudson Area Library Summer Reading Kickoff, Hudson, WI. 9:00 – 12:00. MG/YA panel at 11:00 a.m.
  • June 11: First Annual “B-Fest” Teen Reading Festival: Barnes and Noble Galleria, Edina, MN. 1:00 p.m.
  • June 14 – 16: Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop (evening keynote speeches and book signings are open to the public; visit http://www.mplsyoungwritersworkshop.com for more)

And if you are a young writer in MN/western WI and you’d like to study with me, this summer is your chance. Upcoming workshops include:

  • June 14 – 16: Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop
  • June 23: Teen Writers Workshop, Fox Den Books, River Falls, WI. 3:00 – 5:00. Contact the store for details/to register.
  • June 28: Teen Writers Workshop, Dakota County Heritage Library, Lakeville, MN. 10:30 – 12:30.

I’ll also be visiting with the young writers in Red Wing Public Library’s Summer Writer’s Camp on June 29th. The Writer’s Camp is a two week program for grades 5 – 8 (sessions run from June 13 – 29), and I know past attendees have LOVED it. If you’re in the Red Wing area, check it out: http://redwing.lib.mn.us/summer-reading-2016/

 

Spectacles

Happy Birth-and-Death-Day, Shakespeare (and Hello, DREAMERS OFTEN LIE)

April 21, 2016    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

So, DREAMERS OFTEN LIE was officially released two weeks ago, and the intervening time has been so packed, I haven’t had the chance to put up a blog post. Thanks again to everyone who came to Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul to celebrate, and double thanks to everyone who is already reading/has read the book. Finally seeing this book in the hands of actual readers is like a crazy dream (pun only partially intended). DREAMERS OFTEN LIE release party 1

If you missed the release party but want to catch me in person sometime this spring–and if you live in/will be visiting the upper Midwest–you’ve got several chances. Currently in the lineup:

May 20 – Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, MN. 6:45 p.m. “Authors After Hours” chat with Heather Anastasiu, Anne Greenwood Brown, and me. Plus great coffee! What more could you want?
May 21 – Fair Trade Books, Red Wing, MN. 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. Speaking, reading, and signing books.
June 4 – Hudson Area Library (with Chapter2Books), Hudson WI. 11:00 a.m. Summer Reading Kickoff Celebration! Crafts, snacks, and bookish fun of all kinds. Panel with S.A. Bodeen, Shelley Tougas, and me at 11:00.
June 11 – Barnes & Noble Galleria, Edina, MN. 1:00 p.m. First inaugural B-Fest Teen event! (More info to come…)
June 14 – 16 – Minneapolis Young Writers Conference (See www.mplsyoungwritersworkshop.com for all the amazing details)
June 23 – Fox Den Books, River Falls, WI. 3:00 – 5:00. Teen writing group discussion and workshop. (Call or visit the store for specifics…)

More are being added all the time, so check my events calendar if you’re curious.

Ooh — and Adventures in YA Publishing hosted me for an interview on release week. If you’d like to know more about the process behind DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, please go forth and read.

Cobbe_portrait_of_Shakespeare

This weekend marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare — April 23rd, 1616. April 23rd is probably his birthday too. Nobody knows his exact birth date, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26th, so historians estimate that he was born just a few days before that (they got babies baptized ASAP in those days…). A not-so-little life rounded with a sleep.

There are all kinds of bookish online celebrations in Shakespeare’s honor this week. Goodreads is hosting a special “Ask the Author” event, and I’m one of the happy participants. Visit us here to learn more or to start peppering us with questions.

I could write for pages and pages (or even a whole novel! Ha!) without summing up everything that Shakespeare’s work has meant to me, but I wrote a post for Nerdy Book Club trying to describe how it impacted me as a kid. Comments there are very welcome.

…And, for those of you who haven’t already seen it, here is my middle school obsession, as mentioned in the Nerdy Book Club piece: the brilliant Reduced Shakespeare Company, performing Hamlet in 30 seconds. Backward.

 

 

 

 

Spectacles

One Day More

April 4, 2016    Tags: , , , , , ,   

(Yes, that’s a Les Mis reference for all my fellow theatre nerds out there.)

So…DREAMERS OFTEN LIE will be released TOMORROW.
You can preorder it right now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or better yet, you can request it at your favorite indie bookstore. Best of all, if you’re in the Twin Cities area, you can come to the release party at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul (6:30 p.m., Friday, April 8) and eat cake, play Shakespearean Mad Libs, listen to the baby’s animal sounds, and get a signed and personalized copy of your very own.

If you can’t make it to the release but want to know where I’ll be next, keep an eye on my events calendar; new things are being added all the time.

Speaking of new things: Reviews! Giveaways! Interviews! Guest posts! Lists! A battalion of links and blurbs to share…

  • The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books has reviewed DREAMERS, saying
    “West’s use of quotes from Shakespeare’s various plays is restrained but perfectly timed, and her allowance for the characters to go off script offers both moving and humorous moments… Shakespeare’s characters really shine as they come to life in the twenty-first century.” Thank you, BCCB.
  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a review in their Sunday book section; you can read the whole thing here.
  • The blogs Book Stop Corner, Log Cabin Library, and Sharing Stories have all posted early reviews. (Thanks, everyone. If you’re a book blogger who has reviewed DREAMERS, feel free to send me a note pointing me in your direction.)
  • Teen Vogue has selected DREAMERS OFTEN LIE as one of its “Best YA Books of April”; check out the whole beautiful list here.
  • Adventures in YA Publishing is offering a giveaway of one signed hardcover copy. Read more and enter, and stay tuned for a full-length interview later this week…
  • Brenda of Log Cabin Library was also kind enough to host me last week. Read my guest post about moving between middle grade and YA here.

Now I shall say good night ’til it be morrow.

Spectacles

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