36 Finalists Blog 2022: Jacqueline West

Jacqueline West, author of Long Lost

Middle Grade Literature Category, sponsored by Education Minnesota

Each week leading up to the 34th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why?

Long Lost has two parallel stories: The mystery that’s unfolding in the present, and the mystery contained in the (unfinished, possibly magical) book that my main character finds. Balancing both of those stories were a huge challenge, but also so much self-indulgent fun. 

What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?

This book is truly a love letter to libraries. I hope it reminds readers of the magic that can be found inside of our public libraries (and inside of any book, too). 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category? 

Read gluttonously! There is so much incredible work being done in the middle grade category right now. Read, read, read, and then write the kind of story that you would have devoured when you were a middle grader yourself. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known.

I’m a synesthete. In my mind, every letter of the alphabet has a specific color. This often helps me choose my characters’ names, because the colors in their names need to suit their personalities. It’s my own little secret code. 

Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conducive place for writers? 

Minnesota prioritizes education. Investment in good (public) schools and libraries is the foundation of everything else. 

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. Has COVID-19 (and its fallout) impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past two years influenced your writing output in any other ways that you can pinpoint? 

Oh boy. YES. I also had a baby just a couple of months before the pandemic hit, so my entire life changed at once. With the newborn, I would probably have spent most of my time shut in my own house, dressed in wrinkled pajamas, anyway – but the lack of any childcare, of in-person school for my older child, and (at first) of close contact with other family members turned everything inside out. Now I’m creeping back toward some sort of writing life, but I’m a different person, and the world is a different place, and I have no idea how all of this will continue to unfold. But I’m grateful to still be here, figuring it out. 

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Book Award Honor Book The Collectors, and several other novels for young readers and teens.