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Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

56 days

May 10, 2012    Tags: ,   

Today’s accomplishments: Typing and cleaning up more than 4,000 words of the current version of Volume Four, and smacking a wasp that had gotten into the house before Brom could eat it.

Today’s frequently-asked question: How many books have you written?

If the questioner means, ‘How many books have you written that have been published, the answer is: 2, with #3 coming soon (or #4, if you count my chapbook of poetry.)

If the questioner means, ‘How many books have you written, published or not, the answer is: I couldn’t possibly count them.  I’m currently revising two books, and I have two more waiting in the wings with their early chapters and notes.  And, back in my practicing days, I wrote an adult novel, a series of graphic novels, and dozens–perhaps hundreds–of novels that end at Chapter 3, where the writing started to get hard, and I gave up.

Here’s a picture that I sometimes show at schools:

All of those binders and notebooks are full of my writing: hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories, and many novels — some finished, and some that never will be finished. There is another row of binders that can’t be seen on the shelf up above, and another stack of currently-in-use books and folders sits on my desk.  I’ve never counted to see when and where I reached a million words (Ray Bradbury once said, “If you want to be a writer, write a million words,” which I think is pretty good advice) but I’m sure that most of those first million are here, in these folders.  And I’m grateful that no one will ever get to read most of them.

 

Spectacles

59 days to go…

May 7, 2012    Tags: ,   

So, as promised, I’m trying to blog at least once per day as THE SECOND SPY’s release date (July 5 – Have I repeated that enough yet?) approaches.  Consider this one giant, wordy drumroll.

I am neither very good nor very comfortable with talking about myself.  When someone gives me a big, open-ended prompt like, ‘Tell me about your books,’ or ‘Give us some stories about you,’ I begin to fold over and curl in on myself, as though I am trying to climb face-first into my shoes.  Therefore, for this series of rapid-fire entries, I am going to use the help of others by answering the questions that I am most frequently asked when I speak at schools, libraries, conferences, and bookstores.

And, at the end of each week, I’ll give a visual clue about what is to come in THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME THREE: THE SECOND SPY.

Let’s start with what may be the biggest question of all:

Why do you write?

All sorts of poetic, crazy, wonderful answers have been given to this question by all sorts of poetic, crazy, and wonderful people, but if you boil them down, it seems to me that all writers’ answers are variations on these three simple ones: 1. Because I want to.  2. Because I need to.  3. Because I’m good at it.

George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”  I guess that falls into the need category.  (Also: Ouch.)  Here’s how Ray Bradbury put it: “If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  I suppose that’s a combination of need and want. (I love you, Ray Bradbury.)  Anne Sexton–one of my favorite poets–said, “When I am writing, I am doing the thing I was meant to do,” which sounds to me like all three.  Flannery O’Connor said, ‘Because I’m good at it.’ (Of course, she was Flannery O’Connor, and she could say things like that.)

We actually discussed this question over lunch one day during the Endangered Authors tour, and I blathered something about writing being the lens through which I see the world.  It’s the way I take in and transform everything around me and within me: All the memories, emotions, daydreams, questions, the images that I know will fade.  Changing these floating, fragile things into written words is the most exciting, most challenging, most absorbing thing I’ve ever done.  (Adam called it ‘reifying the ineffable,’ which is a much clearer way to put it.)  When we write, we take something that is completely immaterial and transform it into actual ink on an actual page (or virtual ink on a virtual page, which counts).  And that, to me, is magic.

There are things I’ve written just for myself–like journals and letters and certain poems–because I needed to shift the thoughts out of my head and onto a page, to take them from being something that controlled my mind and my emotions into something I could construct and change and even love.

There are things that I’ve written–like THE SHADOWS–for someone else.  I started that book because I’d had the image of Olive’s house lurking in my brain for a decade, and I wanted to turn it into a story that my brothers would have liked when they were kids.  When I finally finished it, I realized that other kids might like it too.

There are things that I’ve written because I wanted to challenge and stretch myself; because I wanted to share something strange or beautiful or frightening or funny with people I’ve never met and never will meet.  I never get tired of that effort.  I never feel 100% satisfied.  I always want to make the next thing better.

When I sit down to write, I have a swarm of motivations whirling around me.  I have a story that I want to tell.  I have characters I can’t wait to visit with, to hear what they’ll say and do next.  I get to practice the magic of turning thoughts and senses and emotions into words on a page.  And, these days, I have deadlines and contracts and (wonder of wonders) actual readers who are waiting to hear what will happen next.

So I guess my answer is: I write because I need to, because I want to, and because I’d like to get better at it.

 

 

 

Spectacles

Year’s End

December 30, 2011    Tags: ,   

This year, rather than a list of resolutions (and believe me, I have many), I thought I would tally the reading/writing things I’ve managed to accomplish.  Some of them represent the fulfillment of last year’s resolutions (Book Three has been revised without undue emotional distress!  The dratted play has been finished, and titled!), some waver in that scribbly gray place between success and failure, and some have nothing to do with resolutions at all.  Here goes.

What I Wrote in 2011:

Short stories: 4  (I am happy with one of these, semi-happy with another, and vaguely dissatisfied with the remainder.)
Poems: 19 (I only like two of them.)
Novels: 3 (One is revised, edited, and FINISHED, one is substantially revised but probably several steps from done, and one is in first draft form.)
Plays: 1 (A surprise, even to myself.)

 

What I Read in 2011:
(Titles in bold represent a reread; titles with an asterisk were read aloud to Ryan)

THE POISONWOOD BIBLE – Barbara Kingsolver
THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE – Haruki Murakami
FRAGMENTS – Marilyn Monroe
TALES OF THE CITY (three volumes
) , SURE OF YOU, SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES, MARY ANN IN AUTUMN
LITTLE DORRITT – Charles Dickens
SHORT STORIES – O. Henry
SKIPPING STONES AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH – Andy Hueller
SCHULZ AND PEANUTS – David Michelis
SORCERY AND CECELIA, OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
UNPACKING THE BOXES – Donald Hall
THE BIG SLEEP – Raymond Chandler
THE WIKKELING – Steven Arntsen
THE BLACK DAHLIA – James Ellroy
BACKLASH – Susan Faludi
SULA – Toni Morrison
MOON OVER MANIFEST – Clare Vanderpool
THE EDIBLE WOMAN – Margaret Atwood
THE PASSAGE* – Justin Cronin
A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Michael Cunningham
SPLIT – Swati Avasthi
AT HOME* – Bill Bryson
NOW AND FOREVER – Ray Bradbury
GUNN’S GOLDEN RULES – Tim Gunn
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS – Gertrude Stein
CHARMED LIFE – Dianna Wynne Jones
THE IGGYSSEY – Daniel Pinkwater
THE FINAL SOLUTION* – Michael Chabon
PRINCE OF STORIES: THE MANY WORLDS OF NEIL GAIMAN – Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bissette
GODLESS – Pete Hautman
FIND THE GIRL – Lightsey Darst
BOOKY WOOK 2 – Russell Brand
THE REPLACEMENT – Brenna Yovanoff
MY NEW ORLEANS – Rosemary James, ed.
ROALD DAHL’S BOOK OF GHOST STORIES – Roald Dahl, ed.
FEET ON THE STREET: RAMBLES AROUND NEW ORLEANS – Roy Blount Jr.
DARK PLACES
* – Gillian Flynn (read twice in a row, second time aloud)
THE STRAIN* – Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
THE BORROWERS – Mary Norton
TO CHARLES FORT, WITH LOVE
* – Caitlyn R. Kiernan (reread a few months later, aloud)
WHERE ONE VOICE ENDS, ANOTHER BEGINS: 150 YEARS OF MINNESOTA POETRY – Robert Hedin, ed.
GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES
IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS* – Erik Larson
SELECTED WRITINGS OF GERTRUDE STEIN
SIGHTSEER – Cynthia Marie Hoffman
THE WRITER’S DESK – Jill Krementz
LIFE – Keith Richards
AMERICAN THIGHS – Jill Connor Browne
PORTRAITS AND OBSERVATIONS – Truman Capote
SHARP OBJECTS*  – Gillian Flynn
THE 2011 RHYSLING ANTHOLOGY – David Lunde, ed.
BOSSYPANTS* – Tina Fey
DEATHLESS – Catherynne M. Valente
THE CRYING OF LOT 49 – Thomas Pynchon
A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY
* – Haven Kimmel
SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW – Peter Hoeg
IODINE – Haven Kimmel
TIMEQUAKE – Kurt Vonnegut
SHE GOT UP OFF THE COUCH
* – Haven Kimmel
EVERY LAST ONE – Anna Quindlen
LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS – Ayelet Waldman
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR – Anne Rivers Siddons
LONG QUIET HIGHWAY: WAKING UP IN AMERICA – Natalie Goldberg
THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE – Thomas Merton
WISHFUL DRINKING – Carrie Fischer
TROLL’S EYE VIEW – Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds.
MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS – Rhoda Janzen
SWEETBLOOD – Pete Hautman
FREETHINKERS* – Susan Jacoby
OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS – Truman Capote
FEVER 1793 – Laurie Halse Anderson
THE THIEF OF ALWAYS* – Clive Barker
GONE WITH A HANDSOMER MAN – Michael Lee West
ANSWERED PRAYERS – Truman Capote
THE GOBLIN WAR – Hilari Bell
AND THEN THINGS FALL APART – Arlaina Tibensky
QUEEN BEES AND WANNABEES – Rosalind Wiseman
THE GOBLIN GATE – Hilari Bell
THE GOBLIN WAR – Hilari Bell
THE TIME WARP TRIO: THE NOT-SO-JOLLY ROGER – John Szieska
THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK – Kelly Barnhill
MODEL – Michael Gross
THE WOMAN IN BLACK – Susan Hill
THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER STORIES – Oscar Wilde
THE TIME WARP TRIO: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GOOFY – John Szieska
SILK* – Caitlyn R. Kiernan
RAT GIRL – Kristin Hersh
THE BEAUTY MYTH – Naomi Wolf
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE – Kate DiCamillo
ENCYCLOPEDIA GOTHICA – Liisa Ladouceur
STRANGE CANDY – Laurell K. Hamilton
THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON – Susan Jacoby
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CZECH LANDS TO 2000 – Petr Cornej and Jiri Pokorny
THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH – Norton Juster
THE DAY OF THE PELICAN – Katherine Paterson
DESIDERIA – Nicole Kornher-Stace
BACH, BEETHOVEN, AND THE BOYS: MUSIC HISTORY AS IT OUGHT TO BE TAUGHT – David W. Barber
THE HUNGER GAMES* – Susanne Collins
FINISHING THE HAT – Stephen Sondheim
CATCHING FIRE* – Susanne Collins

The two books that made the strongest impact on me–that ended up being the sort of book I wanted to gift wrap and force into the hands of everyone I know–were Gillian Flynn’s DARK PLACES and Susan Jacoby’s FREETHINKERS.  I can’t say enough about DARK PLACES; the voice, the characterization, the atmosphere, and the plotting are all pitch-perfect.  It’s brutally beautiful and beautifully brutal.  FREETHINKERS was fascinating, simultaneously frightening and encouraging, and full of incredibly important things to keep in mind as the U.S. continues to redefine its identity.

There.  That’s what I got done this year.

I wish everyone a 2012 full of adventures and discovery and joy.  And speaking of joy, here is Brom Bones, enjoying his largest Christmas present.

 

 

Spectacles

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