Jacqueline West, Writer

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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

Springing Ahead

March 16, 2016    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

It shouldn’t feel like spring yet. It’s too early. It’s eerily early. But here we are in mid-March in Minnesota, and it’s sixty degrees and drizzly, and the hostas and lilies are starting to send up little green nubs all around our house, and book events are piling up faster than I can post about them. All signs that spring is definitely here.

And, because this tends to happen when you don’t manage to write a blog post for more than a month, I have a slew of things to share.

First, more lovely reviews for DREAMERS OFTEN LIE have come in. Here are a few of them, in flashy poster format:

dreamers-poster-ad

(That Booklist line made me glow all day.)

Second, event news:

On Saturday, March 26, at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, I’ll be moderating a Penguin Teen panel featuring Sabaa Tahir (AN EMBER IN THE ASHES), Alison Goodman (THE DARK DAYS CLUB), April Genevieve Tucholke (WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT), Rachel Hawkins (REBEL BELLE and MISS MAYHEM), Karen Bao (DOVE ARISING and DOVE EXILED), and Alwyn Hamilton (REBEL SANDS). I can hardly believe how amazing this lineup is. (If you’re an avid YA reader, your jaw has probably already dropped to the floor, and you’ll have to pick it up with both hands.) This is a ticketed event, and space a Red Balloon is limited, so reserve your spot now.

Then, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 8th, Red Balloon is having me back for the official DREAMERS OFTEN LIE release party (!!!!). There will be Shakespearean Mad Libs, treats, books galore, and at least one baby making loud animal noises in the background (Beren’s repertoire expands daily). Please come and join in! Here’s the event link at Red Balloon’s site.

If you can’t make it to the release party, or if you’d like an even more intimate, in-depth writing chat, come to Stillwater, MN for May 20th’s “Authors After Hours.” I’ll be there with my writing group cohorts Anne Greenwood Brown and Heather Anastasiu, whose new YA collaboration, GIRL LAST SEEN, was called ‘a sexy, fascinating, fast-paced, and darkly dynamic mystery for teens’ by School Library Journal. This is another ticketed event, so make your reservations pronto. I can’t wait for this one myself.

And from June 14 – 16, I’ll be teaching at the first ever Minneapolis Young Writers’ Workshop. This three-day event includes workshop sessions with writers like Ally Condie, Jeffier Nielsen, Jay Asher (…and me), offers tracks for writers of fantasy, speculative, and realistic fiction, and provides critique opportunities with professional authors and editors. The evening speeches and signings are free and open to the public–with registration–but the workshop itself is only open to registered writers from ages 13 – 19. (I practically rub my hands together with glee whenever I think of meeting a classroom full of enthusiastic young writers…) The workshop is sure to fill up fast, so reserve your place now.

More things are in the works, events-wise; I’ll post again when things solidify. As always, you can keep an eye on my appearance calendar to see which schools/stores/libraries I’ll be visiting. (And teachers/librarians/bookstore people: spring always seems to be crazy-wild-chaos time for me, but fall is a lot quieter. If you’d like to book me for the ’16 fall and winter season, now is the perfect time to get in touch.)

 

 

 

Spectacles

Podcast! (And Kirkus! And a familiar cat!)

January 19, 2016    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

Meant to post this weeks ago: over New Year’s, we got to visit the original Horatio (and his marvelous people) in Madison. I shared a more dignified portrait of him on Instagram (you can find me — and said portrait — here, if you’re interested), but this picture is my favorite.

Horatio photobomb

 

And, as promised, I’ve returned with the link to the first-ever podcast of “Voices in the Valley”! You can listen to the interview — it’s all about the writing process, getting started and keeping going, and DREAMERS OFTEN LIE — here: http://theshireonline.com/2016/01/16/vitv-episode-1-developing-a-writing-routine/

Speaking of DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, the first official, full-book review has come in. It’s from Kirkus, who are notoriously tough, but they had some lovely things to say: “Jaye’s personal drama [still] sets an engrossing stage… A dizzying new twist on one of the Bard’s most famous plays.” You can find the whole shebang here.

Events are starting to solidify. It looks like the official release party will be at the stalwart Red Balloon Bookshop of St. Paul, on Friday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. More info, links, and confirmation to come, but you can mark your calendars/spread the word/ignore me completely now!

Spectacles

Let’s Dance to the Song They’re Playing on the Radio…

January 12, 2016    Tags: , , ,   

David Bowie was one of my first crushes. David Bowie in Labyrinth, specifically. Even before I saw the movie, I used to stand, mesmerized, in the video-rental corner of our local grocery store, staring up at the cover image of Bowie as choppy-haired, eyelinered Jareth. Bowie and Labyrinth even get a mention in DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, that’s how big a part of my psyche it was. Later, it was his music that became part of my life, part of my memories–I can’t even think of high school without hearing “Golden Years” or “Space Oddity,” or “Dead Man Walking,” or “Under Pressure” (the list goes on and on and on) start to play in my head. I don’t have anything very eloquent to say, and I certainly don’t have anything more eloquent to say than @JeSuisDean, who tweeted, “If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

That’s what I’ll be doing.

And now onto some radio news (because that subject line DOES have a point):

I’m thrilled to be the inaugural guest on “Voices in the Valley,” a new radio program hosted by The Shire Literary Center and airing on KLBB 1220 AM. Here are the details (and if you can’t tune in, no worries–the podcast will be made available on The Shire’s website, and I’ll post the link once it’s up):

January 16, 2016 Voices in the Valley on KLBB 1220 AM at 10:00 in the morning

Let’s get going! How to develop a writing routine

The hardest part of writing is, well, actually sitting down to write. New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline West shares with student hosts Rebecca and Jill how she stays disciplined and what strategies she uses to maintain a consistent writing schedule. Mahtomedi Middle School student Ellie provides writing inspiration as she details how she found the time to knock out over 44,000 words in one month.

©Valerie Jardin - For Stephani KLBB-8(Photo by Valerie Jardin)

More DREAMERS OFTEN LIE news is on its way–including release party information–so please stay tuned. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming (I hope it includes some David Bowie).

Spectacles

The Not-So-Big Bookish Wrap-Up of 2015

December 24, 2015    Tags: , , , ,   

So, it’s been a crazy year. I’ve read fewer books, written fewer stories and poems, traveled less. But I also moved to a new home, finally finished a book that was eight years in the distilling, and kept a tiny new human being alive. And I became something new too–it’s been like opening a door expecting to find another room, and instead finding another world. It’s been the biggest, quietest, longest, fastest, rawest year of my life.

2015. You’ve been a good one.

As has become my tradition, here’s a list of what I read this year (a zillion board books not included). It’s scantier than usual — for obvious reasons. Rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold:

THE ART OF ASKING – Amanda Palmer
THE BOOK OF THREE (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #1)* – Lloyd Alexander
THE LAST REPORT OF THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE – Louise Erdrich
REBEL BOOKSELLER – Andrew Laties
THE BLACK CAULDRON (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #2)* – Lloyd Alexander
LAUGH LINES: SHORT COMIC PLAYS – Eric Lane and Nina Shengold, ed.
REVOLUTION – Russell Brand
YES PLEASE – Amy Poehler
STUFF AND NONSENSE – A.B. Frost
WISH YOU WERE HERE: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS – Nick Webb
THE CASTLE OF LLYR (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #3)* – Lloyd Alexander
KURT VONNEGUT: THE LAST INTERVIEW (AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS) – Tom McCartan, ed.
THE APE’S WIFE AND OTHER STORIES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY – Gabrielle Zevin
SOUL ON FIRE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF PETER STEELE – Jeff Wagner
HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE – Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, Sophie Mas
HALF MAGIC – Edward Eager
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: ADVICE ON LOVE AND LIFE FROM DEAR SUGAR – Cheryl Strayed
THE INNER VOICE: THE MAKING OF A SINGER – Renee Fleming
UNFATHOMABLE CITY: A NEW ORLEANS ATLAS – Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit
TRIGGER WARNING: SHORT FICTIONS AND DISTURBANCES – Neil Gaiman
THE HALLOWEEN TREE – Ray Bradbury
MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF REMEMBERING EVERYTHING – Joshua Foer
TARAN WANDERER (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #4) – Lloyd Alexander
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN – Jandy Nelson
TRAVELING MERCIES * – Anne Lamott
THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN – Jill Lepore
THE REAL BOY – Anne Ursu
DEAD WAKE: THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE LUSITANIA – Erik Larson
TEA WITH MR. ROCHESTER – Frances Towers
THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN – Hayley Campbell
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
COLLECTED POEMS: 1934 – 1952 – Dylan Thomas
THE POISON EATERS AND OTHER STORIES – Holly Black
PROXY – Alex London
PERSONAL EFFECTS – E.M. Kokie
GET IN TROUBLE – Kelly Link
THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE: ESSAYS – Ann Patchett
FAMILY MAN – Calvin Trillin
I AM MALALA – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
VOYAGERS: PROJECT ALPHA – D.J. MacHale
THE SIGN OF THE CAT – Lynne Jonell
TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE – Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
WHAT TO EXPECT: THE FIRST YEAR – Heidi Murkoff
PERFECT DRAGONFLY: 15 YEARS OF RED DRAGONFLY PRESS  – Scott King, ed.
ZERO TO FIVE: 70 ESSENTIAL PARENTING TIPS BASED ON SCIENCE – Tracy Cutchlow

Anne Lamott, Lloyd Alexander, and Michael Chabon were as wonderful as ever, but for me the standouts of the year were Kelly Link’s short story collection GET IN TROUBLE, which was gorgeous and strange and brilliantly crafted, like everything she does (I’m still thinking about “The New Boyfriend”), Ann Patchett’s THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, which had passages that made me smile, get teary, and actually say “AMEN!” out loud, and THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN, which was so blow-you-out-of-the-water fascinating and encouraging that I wish I could scatter copies from a hot air balloon, watching them fall into the hands of present and future feminists and comic book fans alike.

As for Beren, current favorites are THE MITTEN, THE SNOWY DAY, and anything with ducks in it.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and peace, wonder, and joy to everyone. See you in 2016.

Beren and Cmas Tree

 

 

Spectacles

Getting ready for DREAMERS OFTEN LIE

December 6, 2015    Tags: , , , ,   

So much stuff to quickly and excitedly share:

    • Last month, I attended the NCTE convention in Minneapolis, where I signed advance copies of DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, had fun at the Penguin/Nerdy Book Club cocktail party, and talked all things YA with teachers, librarians, and my amazing editor (Hi, Jess!). Here I am with the big DREAMERS poster that now lives in my home library and reminds me that this is all actually finally happening.

DREAMERS at NCTE

  • My husband/home tech support/web designer/human firewall has been busy designing a page for DREAMERS on my website. It’s got preordering info, Shakespearean links and references (including a list of all the quotes used within the book), a theatrical glossary, and more. And it’s pretty. Go look.
  • Jaye Stuart, the protagonist/star (she’d prefer that) of DREAMERS, is starting an Instagram account of her own. You can follow her at bluejaye.dramaqueen.
  • My spring calendar is quickly filling with more events, including the much loved and recently revived Books & Breakfast (Saturday, February 13th, from 9:00 – 12:00). Visit the site for a complete list of attending authors, registration info, and more.

There. Now off to make a fresh pot of coffee and decorate a Christmas tree.

Spectacles

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© Jacqueline West

[A] delightful tale filled with magic, adventure, danger and all the usual challenges of growing up. Written for young readers and featuring charmingly simple illustrations, this will capture the interest of adults as well and leave fans looking for the next installment…

- Monsters and Critics

This is a charmer of a series filled with witches, magic, cats, and danger. Fans of the first novel in the series will be clamoring for this second one.

- Waking Brain Cells

West's writing takes you on a spin through the world of Elsewhere, and it is impossible to guess what will happen next, right up to the superb finale.

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