Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Snow Day

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

So, I wrote a play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




One Day More

April 4, 2016    Tags: , , , , , ,   

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

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‚Äôs use of quotes from Shakespeare‚Äôs various plays is restrained but perfectly timed, and her allowance for the characters to go off script offers both moving and humorous moments‚Ķ Shakespeare‚Äôs 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.


Cover Reveal (and much more): DREAMERS OFTEN LIE

September 4, 2015    Tags: , ,   


Here it is.

The Shakespearean YA novel that I’ve been mentioning (briefly, bashfully) for years has a name, a release date, and a cover–and holy cats, is it a gorgeous one. DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, coming from Dial Books for Young Readers on April 5, 2016.

You can read the opening pages and hear more about the book at (Thanks to Lindsay Boggs, my magic-making publicist at PYRG, for this incredible launchpad!)

This is a book I began almost eight years ago, while I was teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students and directing school plays. It was repeatedly nudged to the back burner while I finished THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE and moved and traveled and toured and had a baby, but each time I lifted the lid on that slowly simmering pot, something new was rising to the surface. I think it has finally boiled down to something pretty cool.

Please go and read the sample, pre-order if you like–or better yet, mention the book to your favorite local booksellers and librarians.

It’s very different from THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE…but I’m excited to see this book travel out into the world and into the hands of a whole new set of readers (and maybe to some old ones, who are ready for something else dark and odd and twisty).

Thanks for the love, everybody.


Announcing STARRY-EYED (and a goodbye of sorts)

August 23, 2013    Tags: , , , , , ,   

Now that it has its own website and Twitter feed (Books these days, she says, in grandmotherly wonder), I can officially spread the word here:

This is STARRY-EYED, a forthcoming anthology from Running Press Kids, and I’ve got a short story in it.

STARRY EYED coverThe book is all about the performing arts; essays from performers like Clay Aiken and Lea Salonga and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are intermixed with short stories by the likes of Alex Flinn (Beastly), Kiersten White (Paranormalcy), Claudia Hand (Unearthly)…and me.¬† Mine’s called “A Midwinter Night’s Dream,” and it’s a twisted little YA piece that I’m actually rather excited about–so if you know any young readers with a love of music and theatre, please point them in our direction.

STARRY-EYED will be released on October 8, but you can already pre-order it from IndieBound here or from Amazon here.  You can add it to your lists on Goodreads and read the first (glowing!) reviews too.


And now, on to the slightly less happy news.

My agent, the utterly fabulous Chris Richman, has decided to leave the agenting world.¬† He’s setting off on new adventures in PR and Philadelphia, and I’m sure he’ll be just as utterly fabulous at whatever he does next.¬† (You can read Upstart Crow’s announcement about Chris’s departure here.)¬† And I’m going to miss him.

Back in 2008, I had been sending out query letters one at a time (exactly what you’re not supposed to do) to literary agents, waiting for months for their it’s-just-not-quite-right-for-us responses, and growing ever more certain that no one was ever going to say yes anyway, when I got an email from Chris.¬† He was a junior agent at Firebrand Literary, and he had found my submission — the first few chapters of¬†The Shadows — in the slush pile.¬† And he loved it.

I sent him the rest of the book.  He loved that, too.

I remember his very first phone call, when he offered to represent me and my book.  I paced around and around the kitchen of our old rented farmhouse, clutching the receiver, absolutely overwhelmed with disbelief and terror.  Of course, this was before I learned that Chris was a total Salinger/Vonnegut/Dahl nerd with an encyclopedic knowledge of The Simpsons, just like me.   But I could already tell that my book was in the right hands.

I was Chris’s very first client.¬† Within a few months, he had five major publishers interested in The Shadows… And that’s how my life changed completely. ¬†¬† I’ll never stop being grateful to him for being one of the very first people to believe in me.

Upstart Crow Literary, the agency where Chris (and I) eventually moved, has been extremely good to me.¬† This summer I signed on with another Upstart agent, the marvelous Danielle Chiotti.¬† I know that I’m in good hands once again.


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.




Under the Bed (and Elsewhere)

September 19, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

Last week, I got to do something so extremely cool that I came home ready to gush about it, and then I had a truly crazy weekend, and then a copy-editing deadline popped up, and then my brain was kidnapped by the first chapters of Volume Five, and now, a week after the fact, I am finally able to commence gushing.¬† So: Last Thursday, I got to attend the initial read-through of my very own play, “Under the Bed.”

It’s a longish one-act abut middle school and fear–two elements that go together, in my experience, like math homework and erasers–and it will have its “world premiere” (yep, we’re gettin’ fancy here) at Twin Bluff Middle School in Red Wing, Minnesota, on November 2nd and 3rd.¬† The cast and crew of the show, who are in grades 5 – 7, are clever and funny and enthusiastic and creative, and considering how constantly the read-through made me chortle to myself, I am sure–thanks to all of them–that the show itself will rock.

More updates to come as the play develops.

Between “Under the Bed,” school and Skype visits, store events, and other bookish things, my fall schedule is rapidly filling up.¬† I’ll be spending all of next week in the elementary schools of Stillwater, MN, courtesy of the wonderful people at Valley Bookseller.¬† Those are private events, but if you’d like to come to a public one, you can catch me at the Waupaca Book Festival on October 12 – 13.¬† I’ll be visiting schools, signing books, and speaking on a panel with amazing writers like Pat Schmatz (Bluefish), Geoff Herbach (Stupid Fast), and Marissa Meyer (Cinder).¬† Then, sometime in the pre-Halloween season (perhaps my favorite part of the whole year), I’ll be reading, signing, and chatting at Karma Gifts in River Falls… More info to come when I know the specifics.¬† And if you’re in the Winona, MN area, I’ll be at The Book Shelf at 10:00 a.m. on November 18 as a part of their Kids’ Day celebration.¬† (To know what’s coming up, appearances-wise, you can always keep an eye on my schedule at my appearance calendar.)

Now back to work on Volume Five.¬† I can hardly believe I’m here.




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.


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