Today we are fortunate enough to peek inside the genius brain of Jacqueline West, author of the BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE series.
As soon as I saw the cover of THE SHADOWS I knew I would love the story, but it wasn’t until I read about the book that I was smitten. Roald Dahl meets Neil Gaiman?? A creepy Victorian mansion?? Paintings you can travel through??
Where have you been all my life?!!!???
Definitely sounds like it will be my new fav. I had to meet the author. So I stalked her and asked for an interview. She was gracious enough to oblige. As you’ll see below, she’s quite awesome. Please check out her Livejournal and visit her website to find out more. Also, her book trailer is below the interview.
1. What’s your revision method? (Do you use critique groups and/or beta
readers? How many revisions do you average before you feel that your work is ready?)
JW: I revise as I write, so it’s hard to keep track of how many times I go through a manuscript before it actually goes off to my editor – and then, of course, there’s more revising. Once a manuscript feels fairly polished, I usually have a small selection of people read it and give me feedback. (Often it’s just my husband, who reads it aloud to me. The dog sometimes listens, too, but he has very little to contribute.)
I don’t currently have a writing group, because we’ve moved around a lot in the last few years, and I prefer critique groups that meet in person. But I have found them to be very supportive and inspiring in the past…so, if any writers in western Minnesota are searching for group members, look me up!
One thing has stayed consistent for me: No matter how much I revise, I’m never sure that my work is “ready.” Letting someone else read it for the first time or sending it to my agent or editor often feels like tearing open a cocoon: you’re not sure if you’ll find a finished moth, or a surprised pupa with stumpy little wing-nubs.
2. When you begin a manuscript, do you favor an outline, or do you tend to fly by the seat of your pants?
JW: I’m somewhere in between. Often, in the first flush of inspiration, I’ll make a whole bunch of notes about the potential plot, working out a chain of events. When I actually begin the writing, the notes give me a general framework, but I toss out as many ideas as I keep. I find if I’ve outlined in too much detail, I write merely to advance the plot, and the tone, style, and humor of the writing get lost. Instead, it sounds like an eight-year-old describing a movie he just saw. (‘And then…and then…and then he says…’.) No one wants to read that.
3. What’s the weirdest source of inspiration you’ve ever experienced?
(Gardening? People watching? Cleaning the bathroom?)
JW: Inspiration seems to have no pattern for me, so I just try to keep my eyes and ears open, and to carry a pen wherever I go. I’ve found it in so many odd places that it’s impossible to name just one – in hospital waiting rooms, in my grandparents’ bathroom, in lots and lots of cemeteries, and of course in crumbling old houses (although I’m not sure that’s very weird).
These days, when I’m waiting for a messy knot of ideas to work themselves into something I can use, I play fetch with the dog, down in our big, bare basement exercise/martial arts room (a.k.a. The Training Chamber of Doom.). Something about the repetitive action and the empty space helps me to step back from the problem, and I’ll suddenly see solutions that were hidden before.
4. When did you first realize you were destined to write?
JW: I’m not really sure how to answer. If you mean “destined to write” as in to write as a career, I’m not sure that was destiny –it was more of a long, strange struggle, full of failed attempts and experiments (and lots of really embarrassing teenage poems). If destiny was really in charge, she sure could have made it easier.
I write because I can’t help it. I’d be writing if no one else ever saw my work, if I never got paid for it, and if I never even attempted to get published. And I’ve been filling journals and typing poems for so long that there was never a moment of realization. It’s just become part of my identity. Writing is the lens through which I look at the world.
On the other hand, I was reluctant to call myself “a writer” – even in my own mind – until I was making real money by doing it. I realize how hypocritical and silly this is, but it’s the truth. I’m in a long-term, love/hate relationship with external validation.
5. If you could go back in time to the point when you decided to try this writing thing as a career, what is the one piece of advice you would give your past self?
JW: Hmm. This has the Back to the Future conundrum all tangled up in it. If I advised my past self to do something differently, then my present self might not be where I am. And I’m happy where I am. I appreciate the experiences I’ve had, even the difficult ones, and I couldn’t have found better people to work with: my agent, my editor, my publisher. I’d probably just pat past-Jacqueline on the shoulder and tell her not to be quite so hard on herself. But even that might be dangerous.
6. How do you fight the am-I-crazy times when you doubt yourself or your work?
JW: Ugh. Those times come much too frequently. Realizing that they come to everyone – even writers I really respect – is very soothing. Talking to other writers or reading other writers’ blogs and journals helps me feel less alone. Books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird are therapy for distraught writers. And sometimes crying to my most patient and loving family members (people who are obligated to be nice to me, even when I’m at my most self-pitying and whiny) is a relief. I remind myself of all the encouraging things that have happened to me and the kind things people have told me about my work. If nothing else helps, sometimes I simply need to take a break from writing for a day or two, so that I can come back to it more objectively.
Bonus!!! If you could choose one single meal to eat three times a day, every day, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JW: Bread, fresh fruit, and coffee with milk. The bread should be sourdough – fresh and dense and squishy. The fruit should include raspberries, strawberries, and pineapple. (And no kiwi. Sorry, kiwi.) The coffee should be French roast, with plenty of skim milk. In other words: BREAKFAST. All the time.
See? Told you she sounded quite awesome. I immediately wanted to purchase THE SHADOWS, but it doesn’t come out until June 15th. Luckily my birthday is June 4th, so I will be preordering it as a gift to moi. Check out the trailer::
Click to check out more about the BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE.
Also check out this great review of Book One: THE SHADOWS
Have a beautiful day!