Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Endangered Authors Tour Wrap-Up (with fake awards!)

April 26, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

The big tour is over, although I’m not home yet — I’m in sunny Palm Beach, Florida, meeting with some wonderful kids as part of April is for Authors — and I’m feeling the mix of sadness, weariness, and wistful joy that comes after the run of a play (or after a delicious and way-too-huge meal). I miss my fellow Endangered Authors and our diabolically smarmy game show host already.  Sigh.

During our final few days, we had a fabulous time with the kids at Hollin Meadows Elementary and Mt. Vernon Community School in Virginia, at Meadowside School and Abraham Pierson School in Connecticut, and at C.H. Bullock Elementary and Ridgewood Avenue School in New Jersey. Huge, HUGE thanks to the booksellers at Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, VA, R.J. Julia in Madison, CT, and Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ.  (Get your signed copies at these locations now, Wereworld/Chronicles of Egg/Grimm/Books of Elsewhere readers!)

And now, without further ado, here are Jacqueline West’s Completely Unofficial First-Ever Endangered Authors Tour Awards…

Best chai: Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama. (Oh my god.  And there’s more than one kind.)

Best school wildlife: The tiny chameleons skittering through the grounds at Carver Middle School, Miami.  Adorable.

Best dressed: Team West at Palmer Trinity.

Most memorable student conversation: With Anastasia at Campbell County Middle School, who asked, ‘Have you ever had anyone tell you that you couldn’t write because of who you are?’ and then shared her own story with us.

Best comeback to host Holden A. Grudge’s snarkiness: 6th-grader Miguel at Palmer Trinity, who said, ‘This is the first time I’ve met a Holden, and I would have expected you to have the last name Caulfield, but instead you are just a phony.’ Even Holden was rendered temporarily speechless, but he promised Miguel that he would email his own comeback — when he thought of it — to ‘’

Best beer list: Brick Store Pub, Decatur, Georgia.  Overwhelmingly awesome.
(Adam Gidwitz, Peter McNerney, Geoff Rodkey, powerhouse bookseller Diane Capriola of Little Shop of Stories, marvelous YA author Terra Elan McVoy, and Curtis Jobling, over a barrel.  Ha.)

Best bathroom: Little Shop of Stories (complete with The Books of Elsewhere poster by the sink.)

Best tale of a school visit gone wrong: Curtis, hands down.  I can’t repeat it here, but the other four of us laughed so hard we hurt ourselves.

Best photo prop: West University Elementary, Houston.
(Geoff, Curtis, and Adam all live in a yellow submarine.)

Best celebrity sighting: The entire current lineup of Styx in our Chicago baggage claim.  One of them was smoking an electronic cigarette.  Middle-aged rebellion.

Most coma-inducing meal: This one.
(At Gino’s East, Chicago.)

Best kiss: From service dog Peanut, at Oak Terrace Elementary.  IMG_20130419_145023IMG_20130419_144852

Most brilliant blog: Geoff Rodkey. This entry in particular.

Favorite Hotel: The Warwick, NYC.  Schmancy.  Hanging out there with my dear friend Emily (see her incredible work at Haptic Lab) made it even better.

Best Holden A. Grudge book pitch: It’s tough to narrow it down, but it might have been the peacock with the bacon tail, or the rainbow that became a boy with five differently colorful personalities, or the talking mountain of spaghetti and the German mozzarella mountaineer…  (Please head over to the Wereworld Books Facebook page and see several of them for yourself –check out the two from April 17th in particular; you might hear me crying in the background–and if you’re in New York, go see Peter’s weekly improv show, Trike, at Magnet Theater, and know that I am envious of you.)

Two more sleeps, and I’ll be home.











100 Shows (school visits and my theatrical past)

March 11, 2013    Tags: , , , , ,   


(Wow, Little Falls: Way to make a writer feel welcome!  Brom Bones even gets his own section.)

Over the past month, I’ve been busy with Volume Five, school visits, and performances of “Sirens” with Red Wing’s Soapbox Players.  (If you’re near Red Wing, you should really come to a show sometime.  We perform in a gigantic barn!  Seriously!!)  The play is over, but the school visits will continue; it’s going to be a travel-crazy spring.  While I’m here at my very own desk, I want to give one more huge round of thanks to the students, staff, and parents at Little Falls Middle School of Little Falls, Minnesota, Mounds Park Academy of St. Paul, and Ashbel Smith, Stephen F. Austin, and San Jacinto Elementary Schools in Baytown, Texas.  It was a privilege meeting all of you.

I’ve been too busy to notice it happening, but somewhere within the last few months, I passed the magic number: The number of performances you need to give before you really know the material.  Not counting writing workshops and bookstore signings and talks with adults, I have given somewhere around 100 presentations to young readers.  Yup.  100-ish.  And something I learned several years ago has proved itself to be true again.

While I was in college, I worked as an actress at a dinner theatre.  Our shows were mostly classic comedies–lots of Neil Simon, lots of British farces–and from Wednesday to Sunday, we would put on 6 – 8 performances, with a show each evening, plus matinees on the weekends.  Throughout the run, we would do 50 – 120 performances (the cast kept track by making hash marks on the back of the wooden set, so I know).  I was used to the community theatre/school play model, where you rehearse for three months and then give four performances, which are over in a blur of adrenaline and Ben Nye face paint.  80 shows is different.  80 shows is actor boot camp.  You learn a lot from 80 shows.  80 shows means you can polish and practice in front of a live audience, which is the only way you’ll really see what works…and what doesn’t.  You learn how to adjust split-second timing to get a laugh where there wasn’t one before, or to create a pause long enough for a thought to seep in.  You learn about inflection and expression and physicality.  There’s nothing in the world that could substitute for the learning experience of 80 live shows.

When I’m making school visits, I’m kind of a writer/teacher/actor combo — and these are exactly the jobs that I’ve done, so I’m laughably lucky!  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Speaking in front of big crowds of grown-ups still scares me to death.  And getting up in front of an audience and just being myself, not some much cleverer and more interesting character, still makes me squirm a teeny bit on the inside.  But after three years and dozens of school visits, I’m starting to think that I just might know what I’m doing.



So, here are the things that dinner theatre taught me about school visits:

– Every audience is different. Audiences may be quiet or hyper, reserved or full of questions, rolling on the floor or barely cracking a smile.  You can give the same presentation to two different groups and have head-spinningly different reactions.  That’s because it’s not all about you.  A really small group is less likely to laugh aloud; a bigger group probably will.  They might have had a day full of bad weather, or hard work, or multiple choice tests.  They may have just eaten Beef Stroganoff in the cafeteria and now they can barely move, or they might have just gotten back from a field trip and they’re so electrified with excitement that they can hardly sit still.  Maybe they’ve actually read your book, and they loved it and they’ve been waiting for you to come, and they treat you like you’re Marilyn Monroe stepping off the plane at an Army base.  Or maybe they’ve just been plunked down in the library and told to behave themselves, with no idea who you are or why they’re supposed to care.  Once again: It’s not all about you.

Adjust to fit your crowd.  So, because every crowd is different, you might have to do things differently.  Think about your volume, because if the audience can’t hear you, everything else is a wash.  Make sure you can speak loudly enough for your voice to fill the space, or that you’ve got a working microphone.  If the microphone doesn’t work, set it aside, ask the kids to scoot closer, and project.  Pay attention to your pacing.  Keep it energetic, but not too fast to stifle laughs or other reactions.  Depending on your audience’s age, adjust your habits to fit the crowd.  Older kids might be less likely to laugh aloud, or to want to be the first to raise their hand with a question or comment, and younger kids may have shorter attention spans.  Watch their reactions.  Adjust accordingly.

Scenery is important.  Of course, a great performer can give a great show on a bare stage…but a little set dressing never hurts.  If you use a slideshow or other images, you can accent your talk with mystery or information or humor.  It gives visual learners something to focus on (and, really, we’re all visual learners, aren’t we?) and it will help keep your talk on track.  In my own slideshow, I use embarrassing photos from my childhood, pictures of the places and people that provided me with inspiration, manuscript pages that show my revision process, and big, full-color images by my illustrator.  I often hear gasps or giggles as I change the slides, so I’m pretty sure they’re working.

– Interact.  The younger and livelier your audience, the more interaction is necessary.  (This does not necessarily apply to dinner theatre, where most people will react with a look of frozen horror if someone onstage tries to draw them in to the action.  At least they do in the Midwest.)  Create multiple opportunities for comments, questions, and activities.  Try to leave something fun for the very end, like a skit or a game or an especially funny reading.  It’s your closing number.  Go out with a bang. 

– Eye contact is tricky.  It’s also important.  Make sure to look up into the crowd often, especially while reading.  I like to move back and forth in front of the crowd rather than stand still, so that I can gaze out into more faces, making contact with a greater number of people.  But I keep those looks brief and blurry.  If you lock eyes with somebody–whether they’re laughing, yawning, or watching you open-mouthed with one finger up their nose–it can be pretty distracting.  If direct eye contact makes you nervous, pick a spot just behind the crowd and focus on that.  When I do musicals, I often sing straight to the exit sign at the back of the hall.  (We have a long, romantic history, me and exit signs.  Over the years, I’ve told exit signs that I would know when my love came along, and that if I loved it I would try to say all I wanted it to know, and that someone like it had found someone like me and suddenly nothing would ever be the same… (Bonus points to any musical theatre nerds who get all the references.))   Nobody will know you’re not making direct eye contact.  Except for the exit sign.  Which might try to follow you home. 


And now, in completely un-dinner-theatre-related news:

Pour mes amis francais: Here’s a brand new review of the French translation of The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows (or as it’s called in France, “La Maison des Secrets: Les Lunettes Magiques”)!  Check it out:

The schedule for this year’s “Endangered Authors” tour is nearly complete!  I’ll post an update on my appearance calendar very soon…

And for the young pen connoisseur who I met at Mounds Park Academy: The beautiful fountain pen I was sent as a Cybils Award is a Lanier.




Wintry Mix

January 29, 2013    Tags: , , , , ,   

Freezing rain and fog here in Minnesota, with the roads so treacherous that schools are closed. I’d much rather have an actual blizzard…but a flurry of words and links and news will have to do.

First things first: The advance reading copies of The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers have arrived at my house in their excitingly heavy box!  If you (or someone you know) is a book blogger or reviewer, and you would like an ARC of The Strangers, contact me in the comments or email me at  Obviously, quantities are limited, but I will guarantee a copy for the first three reviewer-respondents.

(For now, this offer is for bloggers/reviewers only.  I will very likely do a giveaway for readers in a few more weeks, so stay tuned!)

Speaking of book bloggers, two great reviews of The Second Spy appeared on Book Nut and Book ‘Em! Huge thanks to everyone who is spreading the word in this way.

I learned that The Second Spy was nominated for the 2012 Cybils Awards, as well as for the Minnesota Book Awards.  It isn’t a finalist for either, but both awards have been very kind to The Books of Elsewhere in the past, and truly fantastic books are on both lists.

The Second Spy also got a mention (and its picture!) in Publishers Weekly, in an article on holiday book sales.

My spring travel schedule is about to get really crazy, with more events being added all the time.   Keep an eye on, if you’re interested.  This weekend, I’m off to booksALIVE! in Panama City, Florida.  So long, freezing rain.  Hello, Emerald Coast.



Volume Four

December 5, 2012    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

Here it is The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers.

“It’s Halloween. But not for Morton, who’s trapped in Elsewhere. Good thing Olive has a plan: Swallowing her dread of the McMartins, she sneaks Morton out and takes everyone trick-or-treating. But when they’re followed by a creature who’s not all he seems, they’re in for a surprise—something, or someone, is living in Mrs. Nivens’s abandoned house. Yes, strangers have come to Linden Street. And though they claim to be her allies, Olive has a bad feeling. She returns home late Halloween night to discover something worse: Her parents are gone.

Desperate to get them back, Olive strikes an unbalanced bargain with Annabelle McMartin and loses something incredibly valuable in the process—something that could mean doom for the house, and for Elsewhere itself. Turning to her uncertain allies, Olive attempts to sever the McMartins’ power at its root, unleashing a flood of darkness and terror that could overwhelm not only her, but the house and everyone in it. To mend her mistakes, Olive must determine who to trust. Will she put her faith in her own worst enemies to save the people and the home she loves?”

Release date: July 16, 2013.

(You can pre-order it now from Amazon.  I’ll post links when pre-order is available on IndieBound and other venues.)

More cool news: Audiobooks of The Strangers AND The Second Spy will also be released on July 16, 2013, in downloadable format (no CDs this time).

And now, the wait.  Good thing I’ve got Volume Five to keep me busy.

The multi-talented Matt Myklusch (of the Jack Blank trilogy) and I are both lucky enough to be clients of agent Chris Richman.  Matt and I recently chatted for his podcast, The Other Side of the Story, which is rich with behind-the-scenes info and anecdotes.  You can listen to our conversation here.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is coming home to a huge pile of mail.  Here are two of the best things that were waiting for me on our return from NYC: A thank-you card fr0m readers at Fairmount School, and my Cybils Award for The Shadows, a gorgeous fountain pen in a carved wooden case.





All Hallow’s Read (and other Good Things)

October 19, 2012    Tags: , , , ,   

It’s time for my favorite new gift-giving holiday!

If you aren’t familiar with the coolness that is All Hallow’s Read, click here.  If you are, I hope you’re already on the hunt for creepy, wondrous books to give to your favorite readers for Halloween.  Last year, I hosted a giveaway on this blog.  This year, I’d like to try something a little bit different: If you visit my Facebook page, you’ll find an All Hallow’s Read thread, in which I’ve asked readers to share which literary character they would be most terrified to meet in real life.  On October 31, I’ll pick a winning commenter at random, and he/she will be sent a signed hardcover copy of THE SECOND SPY.  (And if you share the giveaway link, you’ll be entered twice.  Got to get around that new “promoted posts” malarkey somehow.)  Go!  Comment!  Win!

Last week, I got to attend another rehearsal of “Under the Bed.”  The actors now have their lines memorized, and getting to see and hear words that I wrote coming out of REAL people’s mouths, without any papers or print between us, was truly something special.  Plus, the kids are smart, and heartbreaking, and so, so funny.

Here they are, being bullied by big sisters/being bullying big sisters and getting trapped by fear-collecting spiders.

I’ve also just learned that THE SHADOWS has made the list for the 2013-2014 Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award, which makes me very,very happy.  Thank you, young readers–Hoosiers and non-Hoosiers alike.


Several spectacles and one sasquatch

July 25, 2012    Tags: , , , ,   

New Orleans in mid-July was awash with flash floods, mayflies, and 30,000 Lutheran teenagers on a leadership convention.  This made for a rather different visit from our last one–but it was just a wetter, crowded-er kind of marvelous.  We ate too much, bought too many books, and walked too many miles to count.  One of my favorite stops on this trip: The fascinating, slightly stomach-turning pharmacy museum on Chartres, in the Vieux Carre.  Aldous McMartin would have been right at home in this place.

(Why stomach-turning?  Well– I’m not showing you the jar of live leeches, the antique syringes and bone saws, or the trepanning device.)

I came home to some great news: THE SHADOWS has been nominated for the 2013 Washington Library Media Association’s Sasquatch Award, which might be the best-named award its been up for yet.  Thank you, Washington readers!  (Just so you know, I’m always looking for reasons to visit the Pacific Northwest…)

A new interview and a very kind review of THE SECOND SPY have been posted at the beautiful book blog Cracking the Cover; go and visit!

Finally, Wisconsin/Minnesota folks (Minnesconsinites?), remember that I’ll be at the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater this Saturday–that’s July 28th–at 2:00 p.m. to read, chat, and sign books.  I’d love to see you there.






36 days to go

May 30, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

I’ve just finished my most grueling revision yet (mostly grueling due to time constraints, not to the actual work involved, although there was PLENTY of that, too), and THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FOUR is back with the amazing editor.  This means that I get to return to my other work-in-progress.  I spent yesterday afternoon and most of this morning rereading the entire thing, and I’ve just started scribbling my way into new territory.  Moving to a completely different project at this point feels delightful.  It’s like I’ve been eating nothing but pineapple for the last eight weeks–and I love pineapple–but now I’m finally getting to eat raspberries instead.  And raspberries have never tasted better.

Red Wing’s own Soapbox Players has also just finished the run of Alan Ayckburn’s “How the Other Half Loves,” a 1970’s comedy with the trickiest blocking I’ve ever had to master, and it was a blast getting to work with such a passionate group of theatre-folk.   Tonight we strike the set, which always feels rather sad.  Here’s the cast, in all our tacky 70’s glory:

(Please note the fondue pot.)

In a bit of delightful ELSEWHERE news, I just learned that THE SHADOWS has been nominated for the 2013 Grand Canyon Reader Award, which means that young readers in Arizona can vote for it to win the prize. It’s in amazing company, and I am thrilled.  Thanks to all the educators and organizers who make programs like this possible.


There (and there, and there, and there) and back again

May 3, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

I’ve just returned from a two-week tour with three other middle grade authors, one brilliant improv actor, and a revolving cast of wonderful book reps, media escorts, and publicity folk.  En masse, we visited schools in Texas, California, and New York (thanks again to Visitation Academy and Eanes, Barton Hills, Sycamore, Fairlands, Los Alamitos, Santa Rita, and Covington elementary schools!), unfolded an incredibly collapsible set, and performed our “Endangered Authors” game show, as created by the Story Pirates.  After each stop, we’d pile back into our van like a bunch of bookish vikings and sail off to invade the next school.  We also made stops at Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, Hicklebee’s, and Vroman’s Bookstore in California, signed books for one sunny, breezy afternoon at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival (I saw Betty White!  From a great distance!  But that counts!), had dinner with Judy Blume and John Green and the rest of the Penguin Young Readers Group, and spoke on a panel and chatted with librarians at the Texas Library Association convention.

(Mid-show, at Eanes Elementary School. L to R: Adam Gidwitz, E.J. Altbacker, Jacqueline West, C. Alexander London, and Peter McNerney)


(Blurry writers gnawing ribs, in Austin)


(Playing stickball between school visits in California)


All of these hotels and dinners and run-ins with famous authors are so very, very different from my real writing life, which mostly involves shuffling around my house in wrinkled pajamas and dirty eyeglasses, microwaving a third cup of coffee.  I miss my tour cohorts, who were so marvelous that they made two weeks of crowded van rides feel like fun–and anyone who gets the chance to see the Story Pirates, Adam Gidwitz, C.Alexander London, or E.J. Altbacker in action absolutely should.  But I am also glad to get back to revising Volume Four, planning my garden, and catching up with Brom Bones, who had quite a lot to tell me when I came home.

Apparently, Brom grew increasingly nervous and naughty while I was gone.  On the last day of the tour, he tore apart two wastebaskets and ate a box of Crayola crayons.  (According to Ryan, afterward, he pooped rainbows.)

It’s hard to believe, but there are now just two months (and two days) until the release of THE SECOND SPY.  The paperback release of SPELLBOUND on May 24th is even closer.

With so much good fortune all at once, this almost seems like overkill, but I’ve just learned that THE SHADOWS has been selected for the 2012-2013 Sunshine State Young Readers Award list for grades 3 – 5.  Huge thanks to everyone who made this happen.






April 7, 2012    Tags: , , , , ,   

I’ve been a terrible blogger lately.  In my defense, it’s been a crazy month: Four school visits, a week-long writing residency at a magnet school, revision work on two novels, a trip to Seattle, play rehearsals, choir concerts…  (And this journal isn’t the only thing that’s been neglected.  The dust is so thick, every flat surface in my house appears to have been painted a soft, mousy gray.  There are clothes that I don’t even recognize anymore turning up in my slowly emptying laundry hampers.)

But I will be shifting from terrible to slightly-less-terrible in the very near future.  Yes — I shall attempt to post at least once a day for the two months leading up to the release of THE SECOND SPY.  (July 5!)  Until then, however, I’ll be revising, traveling, and letting the dust have its mousy way.

On the third day of my residency with the fourth-graders at Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Sciences in Eagan, MN, KARE11 News (the Twin Cities’ NBC affiliate) came to film our activities and interview teachers and students.  You can watch the segment here:

These kids were a joy to work with, and I was absolutely blown away by everything that they were able to accomplish.

A new review of THE SHADOWS has appeared on the fantastic YA/MG blog Novel Novice.

And, in a rare bit of poetry news, I was delighted to learn that I’ve been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award, for my piece “Escaping the Dawn,” which appeared in Cover of Darkness in May 2011.  Past winners include writers like Jane Yolen, Gene Wolfe, and Catherynne M. Valente, so it’s much more than a cliche to say that it’s an honor just to be nominated.



Hello, Goodbye

February 13, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

I almost (ALMOST!) titled this entry “It Was the Best of Times…” but then I sort of wanted to kick myself.

So, the sad news first:

After eight years in business, my town’s independent bookshop, Best of Times, has closed its doors for good.  As sad as this makes me (and everyone else in town), it naturally wasn’t a shock; we all know how hard it has become for independent, small town stores of all kinds to survive in this age of online mega-retailers and economic insanity.  The few independent brick-and-mortar bookstores that seem to be keeping their heads above water (yes, I know bookstores don’t actually have heads, and I know brick buildings very seldom go swimming in the first place, but I’m feeling too sad and lazy to look for another idiom), like Portland’s Powell’s and Austin’s BookPeople, are massive places that can offer everything the big chains provide: cafes, lots of space and seating, fancy websites, and nearly every book you’re looking for, right there on the shelves.  But the indies can also provide many things the big chains don’t — or can’t. And the smaller indie shops — like Best of Times — provide things that even the larger one-of-a-kind shops can’t, like knowing the name of practically every customer who walks in, keeping local interest and small press books in stock, and hosting events for newer, lesser-known writers…like me.  Best of Times held the release parties for THE SHADOWS and SPELLBOUND, and they kept a signed stock of copies in the store for in-person and online orders.  A ridiculous, windmill-jousting part of me daydreams about opening a bookstore myself one day (other authors have done it!  Like Louise Erdrich! And Garrison Keillor!  And that’s just in the Twin Cities!), but I know that would require a set of skills and an investment of time and energy and love that I don’t have…at least, not now.

So I’ll just be sad.  And miss them.

I got back to Red Wing just in time to attend the bookstore’s goodbye party, after spending two weeks in Plano, Texas, visiting elementary schools.  To all the librarians, parents, teachers, and students who hosted me: THANK YOU.  It was a joy.

And, once I got home, more good news was waiting to spring on me:

First, THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME TWO: SPELLBOUND has been selected as a finalist in the Young People’s Category of the Minnesota Book Awards. THE SHADOWS was a finalist last year, which already felt too good to be true, but making the list two years in a row???  I was pretty sure that there had been a mistake, a la CHIME and SHINE at the National Book Awards.  Perhaps there was a Jacquelyn East on the nominees list.   Or maybe someone had written a book called SMELLHOUND.  (Now that I’ve double-checked the list, and seen the news in the Star Tribune and on the Awards website, I’m starting to believe that they did actually mean me, but it still feels too good to be true — because there is some amazing writing coming out of Minnesota these days, especially in the kids’ lit area: Anne Ursu, Pete Hautman, Lynne Jonell, Kelly Barnhill, Sheila O’Connor…  I’m happy just to share general weather patterns with these people.)

Second, THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME ONE: THE SHADOWS has won a place on the master list of the Illinois Bluestem Award.  Like the Texas Bluebonnet and the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Awards, the award is given based on the votes of young readers (which is already very cool), but the best part is that the book will be promoted in libraries and schools around the state.

And Brom Bones was very happy to have me come home.



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