Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

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.






April 7, 2012    Tags: , , , , ,   

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

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

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

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

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

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



Hello, Goodbye

February 13, 2012    Tags: , , ,   

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

So, the sad news first:

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

So I’ll just be sad.  And miss them.

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

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

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

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

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



Austin, brief updates, and the end of the Accidental Pumpkins

November 20, 2011    Tags: , ,   

I am running behind in all things, blogging included, but I’m managing to gather together a few links and photos and newsy bits to assemble something that’s not-quite-an-actual-blog.  But it’s close.  Close-ish.

I spent November 7 – 11 in Austin, Texas, visiting several elementary schools in the Round Rock school district and having a marvelous time.  Thank you again to all the students, librarians, teachers, and parents who made the trip so special.  Now I’m home in snowy Minnesota (we had the first big storm of the season last night), frantically catching up with correspondence, typing the last pages of the still semi-secret YA project–more detailed news about that soon, I hope–rehearsing for Phoenix Theatre’s Christmas production of “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” and making up for lost time with Brom Bones, who was very, very glad that we came back.

(Walking in Austin at night, and working on the Secret Project at Spider House Cafe.)

Two new reviews of The Shadows have turned up: A splendid one from National Geographic Kids here, and a mostly very positive one from the blog Muggle-Born here.

Other good news on the poetry front: One of my superstition pieces will be included in Issue #4 (out in December) of the journal Fantastique Unfettered, amid some awfully shiny company:

And, before Halloween becomes any more embarrassingly distant, here is a photo depicting the fate of our Accidental Pavement Pumpkins.




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