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Students learn what it takes to be a writer

A fifth-grader from one of the New Richmond elementary schools has his book signed by author Jacqueline West during a visit she made to the New Richmond High School to talk with fourth- and fifth-graders from the New Richmond elementary schools on Friday, Nov. 8. (Photos by Jordan Willi)1 / 3
Author Jacqueline West (center) reads an excerpt from one of her popular The Books of Elsewhere series books to a group of fifth graders during a visit to the New Richmond High School to talk with fourth- and fifth-graders from the New Richmond elementary schools on Friday, Nov. 8. 2 / 3
Students from the New Richmond elementary schools listen intently to author Jacqueline West as she reads a chapter from her popular The Books of Elsewhere series during a trip to the New Richmond High School Friday, Nov. 8. 3 / 3

When Jacqueline West was growing up, she enjoyed nothing more than parading around her family's house dressed up while pretending to be one of her favorite characters from the books she was reading or the movies she had seen. But the idea of becoming an author was the furthest thing from her mind.

“Even though I liked to make up stories and act them out, I did not think I was going to be a writer because I didn’t think I could be a writer,” West said. “I had never met a real writer and most of the writers whose books I read lived too far away from me, lived in other countries or were already dead. So, they all kind of seemed imaginary.”

Many years later, West is a New York Times bestselling author of the middle-grade The Books of Elsewhere series. The series follows 11-year-old Olive as she and her family move into a strange, old house where she discovers an odd antique painting that allows her to travel to a world full of shadows.

West has been touring the country giving speeches and doing book signings for all of the her young fans since the release of her first book The Shadows back in 2010, and even made a stop in New Richmond on Friday, Nov. 8, to talk to the fourth- and fifth-grade students from each of the elementary schools in the New Richmond High School auditorium.

“The books that I read [as a kid] were so adventurous, magical and fantastical that I thought to write them the author must have had this magical, adventurous and fantastical life,” said West, who lives in Red Wing, Minn. “My life seemed so normal and boring to me. I lived in this normal town in Wisconsin with my mostly normal family, so I thought ‘I can’t be a writer.’”

Despite her misgivings, West was able to sit herself down and start writing her own stories when she was 9. Although she didn’t think any of her early stories were any good, West kept at it and is now beginning to see the fruits of her labor.

“Writing is complicated; it’s tricky,” West said. “It is like playing an instrument. The very first time you play, it probably isn’t going to come out perfect. You are going to have to practice.”

The basis for The Books of Elsewhere came from a creepy, old house that West saw every day on her way to school when she lived in River Falls with her family. The many possibilities of what could go on in that house gave West a starting point for her now well-known series.

“The seed that influenced this whole series was something that I saw out of the school bus window when I was in sixth grade,” West said. “I would look at that house out of the school bus window and I would start daydreaming about what kind of people would live in a house like that. And that is where I got the ideas for my stories.”

West started to write the first book in her series when she was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, but it wouldn’t be until eight years later that The Shadows was finally published.

“I had written half of the book, I was way past the ‘Chapter Three Slump,’ I had no writers block and I was having so much fun writing this story,” West said. “But then a friend of mine lent me a copy of <I>Coraline<I> and I figured that if anyone read my book they would compare it to that book and maybe even think that I had copied these ideas even though it was a coincidence. So, I quit writing the book and almost deleted the whole story.”

After that day, West did other things and almost forgot about her half-finished novel about an 11-year-old girl who can travel to another world while in a creepy old house. Three years later, she found the file of her book, but she couldn’t remember writing it.

“It felt like I was reading somebody else’s book and I realized that it was a book that I really liked and that it was actually really different from Coraline,” West said. “I got to where I had left off and found that I really wanted to know what was going to happen next, but it didn’t have an ending. So I wrote one.”

From then on, West has been able to cut down on the time it took her to write a book from start to finish and has just put the final touches on the fifth and final story in The Books of Elsewhere, which hits the shelves in July.

“The most fun thing about writing are those days where writing is going so well that I get to feel like I am time-traveling and like I am in this other world,” West said. “That is so much fun. It is like getting to have more than one life. I also like getting to hear from a reader who sends a very personal note or getting to see my illustrations for the first time. There are so many great little surprises.”

West plans to go on tour with a group of middle-grade level authors in April, but after that she is going to go back to work on her next novel, a solo young adult book set to come out in 2015.

“The book is very different in the tone and style of it, but it doesn’t have a title yet,” West said. “It is about Shakespeare, romance and brain damage. The other thing I am working on is a new trilogy, which will be another middle-grade project. It does not have a title yet either, but it will be bit more of a return to the fantasy-adventure genre.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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