Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Between travels

April 5, 2013    Tags: , , , ,   

I leave on Sunday morning for the big Endangered Authors II tour, and I’ve just had time to unpack my New Orleans luggage, send the latest revision of Volume Five off to my editor, and get my carefully cleaned coat re-covered with Brom hair.  New Orleans at Easter was lively and lovely and full of amazing hats.  We caught beads at Easter parades, walked the Quarter, took a streetcar to the Garden District, and ate a shameful amount of pastry.

Here, in panoramic West-vision:

J Writing at Croissant D'OrVol. 5 Croissant D'Or               Ryan’s view                                                            My view


Ryan Pere Antoine Alleyphoto(3)Lafayette Cemetery Easter     Pere Antoine Alley            Jackson Square                  Lafayette Cemetery

This year’s Endangered Authors Tour includes the Story Pirates, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), Geoff Rodkey (The Chronicles of Egg), and Curtis Jobling (Wereworld)… and me.  I’m excited to be hitting the road with them, seeing new parts of the country (hello, Connecticut!), and meeting young readers.  It looks like all of our events this time will be school visits—in other words, not open to the general public—but we will be signing stock at local bookstores in each location, so if you’re looking for signed copies, check with your indie booksellers!  I’ll post a list of stores where we’ve signed once the tour is complete.  Also, a few last-minute schedule changes/additions are possible — I pre-apologize for any mistakes.

Here we go:

April 8: Alexandria, KY (Campbell County School)

April 9: Atlanta/Decatur, GA (Davis Academy, St. Thomas More School)

April 10: Fairhope, AL (Fairhope Intermediate School, J. Larry Newton School)

April 11: Coral Gables, FL (Carver Middle School)

April 12: Palmetto Bay/Weston, FL (Palmer Trinity School, Gator Run Elementary)

April 14: Stock signing in Houston, TX

April 15: Houston, TX (West University Elementary, Bunker Hill Elementary)

April 16: Austin, TX (Mills Elementary, Kiker Elementary)

April 17: Oak Park, IL (Lincoln Middle School, Cossitt Middle School)

April 18: Oak Park, IL (Heritage Middle School, Hester Junior High School)

April 19: Evanston/Highwood, IL (Lincolnwood School, Oak Terrace School)

April 21: Stock signing in Alexandria, VA/Washington DC

April 22: Alexandria, VA (Hollin Meadows Elementary, Mt. Vernon Community School)

April 23: Milford/Clinton, CT (Meadowside School, Abraham Pierson School)

April 24: Montclair/Glen Ridge, NJ (Charles H. Bullock Elementary, Ridgewood Avenue School)

And THEN I head alone to Palm Beach, Florida for April is for Authors.  On April 26, I’ll be visiting with the kids at Morikami Park Elementary, and on Saturday, April 27, I’ll be speaking, reading, and signing books at Palm Beach Gardens High School for the April is for Authors festival.  This is a free public event, so come down and say hello!  A schedule of author events will be posted on the festival website any day now.

April 28: Come home.  Get covered in dog slobber.  Sleep.











I’d like to see that lazy Mississippi hurrying into spring…

March 25, 2013    Tags: , ,   

This is just a quick post, because we’re rushing off to New Orleans (just for self-indulgent fun…although I’ll be going back for the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival in November!) and deadlines are looming — but I wanted to share these photos from the week I just spent at Glacier Hills Elementary.  This was my third annual visit, and once again the kids blew me away with their questions, enthusiasm, creativity, and painting skills.  Thanks to everyone who makes that school such a wonderful place.

Glacier Hills Class Photo with JWGlacier Hills-Kids' Paintings

Glacier Hills PaintingsGlacier Hills Class - Crazy

I also wanted to mention one very special book.  Poison, Bridget Zinn’s debut novel, has just been released.  I tore through my copy between classes at Glacier Hills; it’s delightful and funny and adventure-filled and romantic, and it made me think again and again of the Princess Bride.  Bridget was an agency sibling (we’re both represented by Upstart Crow), and she is not here to see her book emerge into the world and make its way into the hands of readers (read more about that here and here), but I hope that Poison will be found–and loved–by scads of them.



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.




Hey, Winona! (Not you, Ryder.)

November 15, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

This Sunday–November 18th–I’ll be a guest at Kids Day, part of a special open house event at The Book Shelf in Winona, Minnesota. If you’re in the area, or if you know anyone who is, please spread the word! (Now would be a great time to stock up on holiday gifts from a fantastic independent bookstore. Just saying.) I’ll be reading, signing books, chatting, and bringing supplies for some Books of Elsewhere-related art and writing projects. The event goes on all weekend, but I’ll be there from 10:00 – 11:30ish on Sunday only. Or, to put all of this another way:

I’d love to see you there.

“Under the Bed” had its premiere and its closing in quick succession (that’s how it goes when there are only two performances), and I got to attend both.  The students, staff, and families who helped out with the production at Twin Bluff Middle School did amazing work, and the audience seemed to love it, and I’m still hearing nice things from people around town.  I didn’t take any photos of the set or of the cast in costume, but if I can find someone else who did, I’ll post some images here.

And while I’m talking about past events, another huge thank you to the kids, teachers, and volunteers at Mosinee Middle School, who hosted me last week.  It was a joy.  Same goes for the kids at Fairmount School in Downer’s Grove, IL, who I got to visit with via Skype yesterday.  I’m one lucky writer.

I should have some big Books of Elsewhere news to share in the very near future, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, if you’ve been enjoying the books, please consider writing a review at (or Goodreads, if you’re a Goodreads-user.  A Goodreader?).  This kind of individual recommendation can mean a lot.  It certainly does to me.


Fall Leaves and Steel Wrists

October 1, 2012    Tags: , ,   

(My just-waking-up view: The maple tree through our stained glass window.)

Happy autumn, everyone.  This is my favorite time of year: Rich colors, Halloween preparations, getting to wear long sleeves again… By the end of September, I’m practically euphoric.

I spent the last beautiful week visiting all nine elementary schools in Stillwater, Minnesota, courtesy of the Valley Bookseller.  Kathy, the store’s amazing children’s specialist, coordinated the entire tour, and she took care of everything from scheduling the stops and arranging sales to keeping me fueled with sandwiches and caffeine.  (Kathy: You rock.)  At each school, I gave talks, read aloud, answered questions, played guessing games, and signed books and signed books and then signed a few hundred more books.  Whew. Writers may not be known for impressive physical strength (something to do with sitting at desks and staring into space for hours each day, I suppose), but we’ve got wrists of steel, I tell ya.

Getting to talk with so many enthusiastic young readers and writers was a pleasure.  Thanks again to the staff and students at Lake Elmo, Withrow, Andersen, Rutherford, Stonebridge, Oak Park, Afton-Lakeland, Lily Lake, and Marine Elementary Schools, for making us feel so welcome.

(Signed and personalized books waiting for their readers at Afton-Lakeland and Rutherford Elementary.  Yes, Rutherford. If there had been a Dunwoody or Horatio Elementary, I would have started to think I’d dreamt the whole thing.)

Speaking of fall fun: On Sunday, October 28, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., I’ll be at Karma Gifts in River Falls, WI for a special Halloweeny open house.  I’ll read and chat and answer questions, books will be available for sale and signing, there will be art and spell-writing projects for kids, and as anyone who came to last year’s event knows, Val’s autumn treats and decorations are out of this world.  Please come join us!

Now back to work on Volume Five.


Friday photo clue (and 27 days to go!)

June 8, 2012    Tags: ,   

Just got back from a fantastic visit to Fairfax Villa Elementary School here in northern Virginia; tomorrow we head for home.  Thanks again to all the students and educators who made this week possible!

Now, without further ado, your Friday SECOND SPY photo clue:



A glass of Dandelion Wine

June 7, 2012    Tags: , , , ,   

Ray Bradbury died yesterday.  The thought of him being gone followed me throughout the day, turning the whole world a different, darker color.   I never met him in person, but his work had such a profound impact on my life that I’m not sure I could separate it from myself now, from the way I think, the way I write, the way I look around me.

There’s the powerhouse that is Fahrenheit 451, of course, and the gorgeous nightmare of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the classic Martian Chronicles.  “A Sound of Thunder” is still one of the most memorable short stories I’ve ever read, and “Zen in the Art of Writing” is packed with inspiration and wise advice.  But it was Dandelion Wine, which I first read when I was twelve, that turned me upside down.  The way it depicts the inner and outer worlds of a child growing up in a small Midwestern town (just like I was), and makes those worlds so rich with magic and danger and romance and wildness, was a revelation.  It showed me that everything–a new pair of running shoes, a jar of fireflies, an unusual flavor of ice cream, playing shadow tag, even mowing the lawn–was layered with life and meaning and possibility.  I reread it every summer, and when I’m done, I look around with brand new eyes.

Thank you for this, Mr. Bradbury.

I’m currently in the middle of week of school visits in Fairfax County, just south of Washington D.C.  (Eagle View and Laurel Hill: Thank you!  Union Mill and Fairfax Villa: I’ll see you soon!)  This means I get to visit with wonderful relatives and wander the city in between book events.  Here I am on the National Mall…


…and at the Hirshhorn Museum, about to be eaten by one of Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads.

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped by Politics & Prose to sign their in-stock copies of The Shadows and Spellbound.  If you’re in the D.C. area looking for a signed book of your own, this is the place to find them (and you should stop in even if you don’t want my books, because the store is absolutely amazing).  While you’re there, you could pre-order The Second Spy.  Just 28 days to go…



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.





The Big Spring Tour! (and a bit about Dumpsters.)

April 12, 2012    Tags: , ,   

I had this mini-conversation at the Post Office yesterday, where I was mailing a package of signed books.

Postal Worker: These things are headed the way of the Dumpster.

Me (with slight concern, thinking she was referring to anything sent via “Media Mail” these days):  What?

Postal Worker: Everybody’s got their Kindle now.

Me:  Oh.  Yes.  I suppose so.

Postal Worker: My nine-year-old granddaughter, she’s always reading on that little screen.  I love books, myself.

Me: Yeah… So do I.

And then I walked away, feeling vaguely sad and disoriented, thinking of copies of my books being cheerily tossed into Dumpsters by house-cleaning Kindle-owners.

I suppose it’s true that Kindles and Nooks and iPads are taking the place of paper books — when it comes to certain books and certain readers, at least.  They are handy and speedy and trendy (and dubiously eco-conscious), and there’s not much point in bemoaning their existence, whatever their pros or cons.  But here’s the thing: They’re headed the way of the Dumpster too.

Just like phonographs, and record players, and Walkmans (Walkmen?), and CDs, and eventually, iPods.  Just like those weird, boxy, early-days mobile phones that are approximately the size of a man’s penny loafer.

Someday, Kindles and Nooks and other e-readers will be outdated items that no one can repair or supply with media anymore.  And on that day, books–all the books left in the world–will still work.

When I was in England with my college choir, we visited a medieval church where a monk showed us the oldest book in the church’s collection.  It had been handwritten by that very same church’s monks sometime in the 10th century.  It was a thick volume with a plain, graying cover, and he opened its pages to show us the squarish, black-and-red calligraphy that had come from those monks’ pens, recording the Latin chants they had sung more than a thousand years ago.  It was like a line strung through time, straight back to those medieval men squinting over their tables with their candles and quills.  I cried.  And on the day when the last e-reader is sold, supplanted by some new form of technology, that book from the 10th century will still be serving its function–being read, and making some other sentimental choirgirl cry.  I hope.

Speaking of books and ways to get them, I am about to embark on a multi-state, multi-author tour.  C. Alexander London (An Accidental Adventure), Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), E.J. Altbacker (Shark Wars) and yours truly are heading off on what the Penguin publicity department has named the “Endangered Authors Tour” — a game-show themed program planned and hosted by performers from Story Pirates — visiting schools and bookstores in Texas, California, and New York.  Craziness will surely ensue.

If you’d like to catch us for a signing on the road, here’s the current itinerary.  Public events are in bold.

April 18: Texas Library Association Convention, Houston, TX.  Panel: “Thrill Masters” – 10:15 a.m.  In-booth signings for the rest of the afternoon.
April 20: Eanes Elementary and Barton Hills Elementary, Austin, TX.
April 22: Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Los Angeles, CA.  Signing, 2:00 p.m.
April 23: Sycamore Elementary, Claremont, CA.
April 23: Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, La Verne, CA.  Reception and signing, 5:00 p.m.
April 24: Fairlands School, Pleasanton, CA.
April 24: Hicklebee’s, San Jose, CA.  Reception and signing, 3:00 p.m.
April 25: Santa Rita School and Covington Elementary, Los Altos, CA.
April 26: New York, NY.  School visit/bookstore info to come!


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.



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