Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Un-Still Life

May 25, 2014    Tags: , , , ,   

May is whooshing to its end, and I can’t believe everything that’s been crammed into it: An amazing visit to the school and library in Rye, New Hampshire (read more here: that allowed day trips to Salem and Concord (including a stop at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, which was everything my eight-year-old self could have hoped for), the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland, three local school visits, interviews, Skype chats, and increasingly exciting preparations for the release of VOL. FIVE: STILL LIFE on June 17th.

In celebration of the approaching release, Literary Rambles is hosting a giveaway of one of the books in the series (winner’s choice!) and an interview with me:

The Books of Elsewhere is also being featured at The Book Cellar as part of Middle Grade May:

Next week, I head back to the East Coast for a round of school visits in Fairfax County, Virginia, and then I zoom back home for a slew of release events — like this one:

Jacquline West Still Life Launch Invite(That’s right.  You’re officially invited to the Official Launch Party.  If you’re in the area, and you’re free, and you feel like it, please come.)

More info about all of those release events soon…
View from our cottage window, Rye, NH

Incredible headstones in The Burying Point, Salem, MA

The Burying Point, Salem

Louisa May Alcott’s grave, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord


Looking Backward

March 1, 2014    Tags: , , , , ,   

Where to begin?

One month ago today, I was finishing a fantastic visit at Pinewood Elementary School in Eagan and rushing off to the airport.  So much happened between then and now that it all feels chronologically impossible, as though when we finally flew back to Minnesota, we should have been flying back in time as well.

So, working backward, from most recent to least…

On February 25th, I got to do something exceedingly cool: A live online chat with the readers of New Moon Girls.  The magazine reviewed The Books of Elsewhere in their January/February 2014 issue, and the series is up for the Girls’ Choice Book Awards, which is also exceedingly cool.  The girls were bright, funny, and enthusiastic, and the chat went by in a flash.  You can read the full transcript here (and please excuse any fast-typing typos).

On February 21st, I visited St. Mark’s Cathedral School in Shreveport, Louisiana.  The people and the weather were warm and wonderful, and I got to observe a bit of change ringing practice on the cathedral’s massive tower bells.

We spent the weekend of the 26th-27th in New Orleans, where we pastried and coffeed our way around the neighborhoods, and I even got a bit of writing done (as seen here, at my favorite breakfast place on earth).  DSC00069

And, because Mardi Gras is fast approaching, we caught the parade of the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, which, in spite of the rain, made the list of cutest things I’ve ever seen, right between a baby bat wrapped in a washcloth and a porcupine eating a pumpkin.  (Several more photos at my Tumblr, here. For added incentive: This year’s theme was “Dogzilla.”  You know you want to see some more wet dogs in dinosaur suits.)DSC00139

The three weeks before that were spent in Oregon with Ryan’s family.

I don’t generally post the most personal stuff here–or anywhere, really–but this is a big one.

Ryan’s mother, fearless adventurer Sherri West, died on February 12th, four and a half years after her diagnosis with metastatic breast cancer.  She was able to spend most of that time–between bouts of chemo, drug tests, research, and radiation –traveling, exploring, gardening, reuniting with far-flung friends and family; all the things that she loved most.

The entire immediate family was able gather for her last two weeks here.  We spent the days (and some of the nights) telling stories, singing, sharing bourbon and brownies, and at the very end, Sherri was in her own home, encircled by all of us.  It was good to be there.  It is also good to be home.

To the organizers and attendees of events I had to bow out of — in particular, to Vicki Palmquist and everyone at Children’s Literature Network/Books for Breakfast 2014, who were so incredibly kind — and to the librarians and teachers coordinating other events that were nearly rearranged at the last minute, and to the writers in the Twin Cities kids’ lit community who have reached out with notes and help: Thank you for your understanding.  As for the family and friends who’ve supported us, shoveling our driveway, sending messages, making donations in Sherri’s memory… What would we do without you guys? I really don’t want to know.


Recent events, not-so-recent reviews, and one truly awesome map

November 18, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

The last four weeks have been a little crazy: seven school visits, three bookstore events, one book festival, one cross-country road trip, and Halloween in New Orleans.  At Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, I met with lots of wonderful readers (including one with earrings that looked like miniature copies of The Strangers) and got to pet a chicken on its belly.
photo(3)photo 5

At schools in Wisconsin and Louisiana, I answered questions, signed books, led writing workshops, and received hugs and pralines.

In New Orleans, we visited yet another cemetery — Greenwood — and found the Ducoing family tomb, where John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces) is interred.  We also wandered in the Garden District and the Quarter and Audubon park, and bought lots of books and ate lots of pastry and caught beads at a Halloween parade.

IMG_20131102_192712IMG_20131102_171237IMG_20131031_130609Then I returned home to another school visit (here’s a newspaper write-up of this one), rehearsals for The Little Prince, and a middle grade panel at Addendum Books in St. Paul that included me, Brian Farrey (The Vengekeep Prophecies), Lisa Bullard (Turn Left at the Cow), Kurtis Scaletta (The Winter of the Robots), and Anne Ursu (The Real Boy).  I felt lucky just to share a row of stools with these people.

photo 3As long as I’m in the middle of overdue recaps, here are some reviews of The Books of Elsewhere that I missed when they originally appeared:

A recent and very kind writeup on the blog Remembering Wonderland

Great reviews of each book in the series from Common Sense Media

“My Top Ten EPIC Heroes. Or Heroines!” – a list from the Nerdy Book Club blog that puts Olive alongside Harry Potter and Frodo, which is some awfully good company

And now for the Truly Awesome Map.

On Saturday, November 30 — also known as Small Business Saturday — authors all around the country will be joining in Sherman Alexie’s brilliant “Indies First” project (and if you aren’t already familiar, follow the link) by hanging out at local independent bookstores.  As for me, I’ll be back at Addendum Books from 12:00 – 1:00 to chat with customers, recommend books, dust shelves — whatever Katherine and Marcus want me to do.  To help book-shoppers find out what authors will be where–and there are some HUGE names taking part in this!–IndieBound has created this incredible map of participating bookstores all around the country.  I hope that you’ll check out your local bookstores, maybe drop by one or two or more for signed copies and conversation, and show your brick-and-mortar shops some love.


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.











Endangered Authors Tour, Week 1 (mostly pictures and thank-yous)

April 11, 2013    Tags: , , , ,   

Hey, everybody!

We’re wrapping up our first week of traveling, school-visiting, and book signing.  Things have been marvelous all around, although I’m starting to feel a bit loopy and disoriented. (This morning, I couldn’t find my glasses, my phone, or the buzzing alarm clock, and I spent several seconds wondering where on earth I was and whether I was supposed to be asleep there before I found my glasses, saw palm trees out the window, and remembered that I was in my very own hotel room in Miami.)  Geoff Rodkey and Curtis Jobling are top blokes, as Curtis himself might say, and they’ve both been blogging about the tour.  You can read their delightful observations here and here; I’m feeling too out of it for a full-scale recap.  Maybe later.  For now: Pictures!!!

IMG_6387Watching Curtis mock One Direction and sparkly vampires at the Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia

IMG_6408Chatting with readers at the Davis Academy

IMG_6422Assembling the crazy collapsible set

IMG_6472The crowd at St. Thomas More School in Decatur, Georgia

IMG_20130410_103152Curtis enthusiastically signing books at Page & Palette between school visits in Fairhope, Alabama

Speaking of signed books, you can now find signed copies of all four of our series (A Tale Dark and Grimm, The Chronicles of Egg, Wereworld, and The Books of Elsewhere) at the following fantastic independent bookstores:
Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH
Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA
Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL
Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

These are the kind of bookstores that give me hope for the future.  Huge, HUGE thanks to all of the booksellers who have hosted us, and who have connected us to these amazing schools:

– Campbell County Middle School, Alexandria, KY
– Davis Academy, Atlanta, GA
– St. Thomas More School, Decatur, GA
– Fairhope Intermediate School, Fairhope, AL
– J. Larry Newton School, Fairhope, AL
– Carver Middle School, Coral Gables, FL

The enthusiasm, insight, and warmth of the kids at each of these stops has blown us away. Palmer Trinity School and Gator Run Elementary: We’ll see you tomorrow!


In Minnesota, there’s an April snowstorm.  In Miami, there’s an orchid in my drink.


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.



Vagabond Shoes

November 29, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

We spent Thanksgiving in New York City with Ryan’s family.  It was Ryan’s first visit, and my first non-book-whirlwind visit, so we had time for some sightseeing and bagel-fueled street-wandering: The Metropolitan Museum, Central Park, the Museum of Natural History.  Since coming home, we’ve been playing the game of watching our favorite New York-based shows and squealing “We’ve been there!” whenever something familiar appears on the screen.

One of my favorite stops was the New York Public Library, naturally.

Finding my third book in the Children’s Center.  The first volume was checked out, which made me even happier.

With the stuffed animals that belonged to the real Christopher Robin and inspired A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  You probably can’t see it, but I am crying.  (How small the real Piglet is!  And how shirtless the Pooh!)

Now I’m back in my own very quiet house, hard at work on Volume Five.

A very sweet new review of The Books of Elsewhere can be found here.

And if you’d like to take the reviewer’s suggestion and get some (signed!) copies of The Books of Elsewhere for the readers on your holiday list, I’ll be at the Thank-You Celebration at the Red Wing Public Library from 5:00 – 6:00 on Friday, December 7, selling and signing The Shadows, Spellbound, and The Second Spy. (Of course, if you already have copies of your own and just want them signed, you can bring those too.)

Big news about Volume Four to follow very soon…



Some writerly advice should be ignored (she muttered obstinately)

August 24, 2012    Tags: , ,   

Just finished a round of line edits on my second/third/eleventy-hundredth  draft of Volume Four.  Generally, when I revise, I try to look at my work as a reader rather than as a writer–I pare down sentences, I pay attention to sound and rhythm, I look for logic holes, I think about pacing–but this time, perhaps because of some recent blog-surfing, a few particular writing “guidelines” kept looming up in my mind.

People are always asking writers for writing advice, and writers are always giving writing advice.  Often this advice is contradictory, but a few conclusions seem to be ubiquitous these days.  Conclusions like these:

Adverbs are bad.

– The word ‘suddenly’ is especially bad.

– Using synonyms for ‘said’ is bad.

– Using lots of adjectives is bad.

Boo, I say to all of this.  (And I say it like the old woman shouting at Buttercup in The Princess Bride.  Bow down to her!  The queen of filth!  The queen of putrescence!) Boo.

There’s a core of truth to all of these suggestions, of course.  But the problem with so many rules like these is that they deal with stylistic choices.  And style is individual, it’s subjective…and stylistic rules are often arbitrary.  Saying that adverbs are evil is like declaring that painters shouldn’t use pale yellow–or, if they do use it, it should be used sparingly (adverb!).  I say, if that pale yellow speaks to you, or speaks for you, you should probably use it.  Maybe you should even use it lavishly, wildly, and unrepentantly (adverb, adverb, adverb!).

I just read a blog in which a writer/teacher complained that writers tend to describe the actions of their characters’ eyes too much–that they are always looking, staring, watching, blinking, gazing. Well, yes.  They are.  Unless they are blind, your characters will always be doing something with their eyes.  Do you have to describe what they are doing at every second?  Heck, no.  If it makes sense for your story, or your style, or if it conveys a character’s thoughts/feelings/attitude, should you use it?  Yes.  (I had to tell myself this, because simply reading that blog made every bit of eye-related action leap distractingly off of the page at me as I went through my latest draft.)

If you subscribe to any single source of advice, you will start to write to please that source.  We’ve all done this: You have a teacher who says you can’t start a sentence with a preposition; you stop starting sentences with prepositions.  You have a teacher who circles every form of the verb ‘to be’ in your writing, and suddenly your work is crammed with interesting action words.   A professor who sneers at similes?–Similes gone.  The style of your writing changes.  And maybe the style it changes to isn’t really yours anymore.

Here’s a piece of writing advice that I wholeheartedly believe, and it comes from Neil Gaiman: Remember, when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.  When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

So, sweeping, prohibitive writing advice?  Use it cautiously (adverb).

This is one more New Orleans photo–one of my favorite tomb angels in Metairie Cemetery.  I love it because the book in her lap looks much more like a novel than a bible, and the expression on her face isn’t mournful or transcendent, it’s just vaguely bored.




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.






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