Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

One of those posts where you’ve procrastinated for too long and now have twenty disparate things to mention

September 10, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

Yep, this is one of those.

I can’t believe September is already one-third over.  The end of the summer was a whirlwind: a visit from the in-laws, a final round of revisions on STILL LIFE, and my (not-so-little) brother’s beautiful lakeside wedding.

Dan and Katy Getaway CarCongratulations, you two.

Now I’m digging back in to the Shakespearean YA project, which has been put aside for so long that I can see it clearly again.  I’m eagerly destroying and rebuilding, rewriting and reacquainting, and spending a lot of time staring dazedly into the distance as new ideas fit themselves together.  It feels really, really good.

My fall schedule is rapidly filling with school visits and public appearances.  Among the recently added (public) events are:

Wild Rumpus Bookstore, Minneapolis – Saturday, October 26, at 1:00 p.m.  Reading, signing, chatting, and all sorts of special Halloween fun.

Addendum Books, St. Paul – Saturday, November 16, at 1:00 p.m.  This is a group middle-grade author event, featuring me, Anne Ursu, Kurtis Scaletta, and Lisa Bullard. (I’ll be insanely excited just to be in the same store with these writers, so please come and watch me make a fool of myself.)

And new information is constantly being added to the Louisiana Book Festival website.  The Festival is held in Baton Rouge on Saturday, November 2nd; once I know just when and where I’ll be speaking, I’ll share the info here.

Even with book releases, summer tends to be the quietest time of the year for me, events-wise.  I’m looking forward to a new round of school visits… And speaking of schools, this 4th grade class in Milford, CT read THE SHADOWS, created their own magical paintings, and wrote short stories to accompany them.  Learning that your work has inspired others to create things of their own — stories, paintings, playground games, new names and histories for their stuffed animals — is just about the coolest thing in the world.IMG_5605-1

Thanks, Ms. Nastasia, and everyone at Meadowside Elementary. 

Another cool Elsewhere-in-the-wild sighting, this one courtesy of my very own editor:

Water Street Bookstore Exeter NH On display at Water Street Bookstore, with THE SHADOWS sold out, in Exeter, NH.  If I ever/finally get to New England, I’ll have to make a stop there.

And (I was serious about the twenty disparate things) I am starting to use Tumblr at last.  I know a lot of my readers can’t/don’t use Facebook, so I’m hoping this platform will be a bit more accessible.  I don’t think it will take the place of this blog, in terms of actual information, but it may outdo it in number of dog pictures.  We will have to wait and see.


A Very Merry Unbirthday

July 31, 2013    Tags: , , , , ,   


Yesterday was THE STRANGERS’s 2-week birthday.  I’ve been getting lots of wonderful notes from readers who’ve already finished it (and are tapping their feet impatiently for the next volume), which makes me feel happy and lucky and relieved.  I know I’ve said it before, but if you are one of those who has finished and enjoyed the book, I hope you’ll consider leaving a review or rating at Goodreads, Amazon, B&, or another book site.  That sort of response really helps.

And, for the second week in a row, VOLUME ONE: THE SHADOWS had made the SIBA bestseller list, where it has moved all the way up to #4!  (This may be the one and only time in my life when I’ll outrank Suzanne Collins.  I’ll take it.)

In celebration of these two crazy weeks, I’m offering two signed hardcover copies of THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FOUR: THE STRANGERS, to be sent directly to the homes of two lucky winners and enjoyed (I hope) at their leisure.

Here’s how to enter:

As those of you who’ve read it know, THE STRANGERS begins at Halloween — Olive dresses up as a jabberwocky, Leopold is the Duke of Wellington, Harvey is the Hunchcat of Notre Dame, and so forth — so, in the comments for this entry, describe your own favorite Halloween costume.  On Wednesday, August 7 (one week from today), I’ll select two winning entries at random.

My own favorite Halloween costume was one I never got to wear.  In fourth grade, I was going to be Alice (from Alice in Wonderland, in case you know any other Alices).  I had a puffy blue pinafore and a white blouse and patent leather Mary Janes and a black velvet headband, and I even had a white rabbit puppet to carry in one arm.  And then, on Halloween morning, I got the stomach flu.  It was a school day, but I soldiered on, throwing up twice in the girls’ bathroom without letting anyone know — and I was the kind of kid who would totter dramatically down the hall to the nurse’s office at the onset of an imaginary headache at least once a week, so this was a genuine struggle — because if I endured to the end of the school day, I could finally put on my costume for the class party.  In the end, I didn’t quite make it.  A teacher noticed my face, which I’m sure had the color and texture of a mushroom by then, and my mother came to pick me up half an hour before the party began.  I spent the rest of that Halloween in my bedroom, so sound asleep that I didn’t even hear the friends and neighbors ringing our doorbell and shouting “Trick-or-Treat.”  Sigh…

Your turn.


The Book Release Blur

July 27, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

So much news…

First of all, THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FOUR: THE STRANGERS was released on July 16th (to a fanfare that played only inside of my own head), and I’m starting to get pictures of the new book in the wild.  Here it is at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, and on the new releases shelf at Barnes & Noble, and in the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland…

BoE at Wild RumpusNew releases B&NThe Strangers at PowellsSign at Powells

Also, B&N stores are currently carrying a special display of the paperbacks of THE SHADOWS, SPELLBOUND, and THE SECOND SPY, so if you spot one, please feel free to play a little fanfare inside your head for me.  (Here’s one in Clackamas, OR.  That’s some pretty sweet placement right there.)
Clackamas B&N Display

Meanwhile, THE SHADOWS has made its way back onto the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) bestsellers list, at #7 in the Children’s Fiction Series category.  Yippee!

This afternoon, I visited one of my favorite bookshops – Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, MN – for a chat and signing.  Thanks again to the fabulous staff and to everyone who came…especially those who had traveled all the way from central Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Texas!  Signed copies are in stock now…

Valley Bookseller SignedValleyBookseller Reading

And way back on July 20th, Karma Gifts of River Falls hosted a book party crammed with the amazing and creative touches of owner Val Lundgren.  There was a glowing fireplace (those who’ve already read Vol. 4 understand the significance), a display of books featuring tattered pages from Twilight drifting from the ceiling, and Mrs. Dewey’s very own Gingerbread Bars and Dutch-Cocoa Sour Cream Swirls. As far as I know, no one lost their memory as a result of eating too many.

Karma decorKarma displayDutch cocoa sour cream swirlsSigning at Karma 2

Everybody knows this is not an easy time for independent businesses.  After four years of bringing unique and beautiful stuff to the main street of my hometown, Karma is closing.  I’m sorry that this was my last event in the shop, but I’m sure that Val will embark on her next adventure with the same strength and style she brought to this one (and if anyone is looking, she would make one incredible events coordinator).

If you missed both of these events but want a signed book, I’ll be at Hazel Mackin Community Library  in Roberts, Wisconsin, for their Summer Reading Finale on Monday, August 5, from 6:30 – 8:00.  I’m giving a short talk/Q&A/reading at around 7:15, but I’ll be signing and selling books both before and after.

In celebration of THE STRANGERS, here’s a new interview–with lots of dog pictures–at Coffee with a Canine, which is truly a blog after my own heart: read the interview at Coffee with a Canine.

You can also read a little sample of THE STRANGERS (page 69, specifically) and hear my thoughts on if and why and how this page is reflective of the book as a whole at The Page 69 Test.

More news to come…


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.




Lizard-Cats and Olive Costumes (Happy Halloween!)

October 31, 2012    Tags: , , , ,   

Behold: This year’s jack-o-lanterns.  We carved them with friends on Saturday, and mine is already starting to look a bit backward-leaning and droopy (it’s the one that appears to depict a cat crossed with a chubby lizard), but Ryan’s creepy face just gets creepier as it shrivels.

If anyone’s looking for a last-minute literary costume, check out Books Together.  There you’ll find step-by-step instructions for assembling your own Olive Dunwoody costume, and links to several other book-based costume ideas.  (You can also enter to win a set of seven fantastic Halloweeny books published by Penguin, including The Shadows!  Go!  Go NOW!)

Speaking of giveaways: the Facebook All Hallow’s Read giveaway ended this morning, and I’ve contacted the randomly selected winner.  (I asked entrants to name the fictional character they’d least like to encounter in real life, and there were a slew of great responses: multiple mentions of Cthulu and Count Olaf, as well as votes for Randall Flagg of Stephen King creation, Commander Woundwart from Watership Down, Eric Cartman (I agree–he’s terrifying), and Snooki.)  Thanks, everyone.

Poetry news:  My poem, “Wendigo in the 21st Century,” was a finalist for this year’s SFPA poetry contest.  You can read the winners and see the full list here.  The SFPA is also hosting a Halloween poetry reading; visit their Halloween page to hear me reading my Rhysling-nominated poem, “Escaping the Dawn” or to listen to other great poems and poets.

And, finally, my super-cool new t-shirt:

(Here’s the local paper’s write-up.)  Two days until showtime…


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.


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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