Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


 Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you're having a great start to your week.


The Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles--a non-profit writing group based in Los Angeles--is holding their annual anthology writing day workshop next weekend and there are still openings. Here's the link to register. Select the Literary Ramble registration option and use the registration code LITERARYRAMBLES and they'll give you a $5.00 credit toward the registration cost.

And the winner of the Amazing Book Giveaway Hop is Carl Scott who chose a $10 Amazon Gift Card.  Congrats!

Today I’m thrilled to have Jacqueline West here to share about her award winning middle grade series The Book of Elsewhere. The fifth and final book in the series, STILL LIFE, releases on June 17th. I read the first book in the series and loved it. I obviously have some catching up to do.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

The fifth and final book in The Books of Elsewhere, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling, fan-favorite series--absolutely not to be missed.

Annabelle McMartin is gone for good, but something worse lurks just out of sight--watching, waiting, preparing to strike. Then a field trip to the local art museum reveals a shock. What Olive discovers will create a chain of events that propel her to discoveries she may not wish to uncover, involving Morton's vanished parents and the very deepest, darkest roots of Aldous McMartin's creepy painted world. In this fifth and final book, Olive must seek the full, complex story of Elsewhere, its magical origins, and its creator, and in so doing, face her own fears and limitations--and possibly the destruction of Elsewhere itself. How far will Olive go to save the people and home she loves? And what will be the final cost?

A must-read fantasy series for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch, Coraline, and Septimus Heap.

Hi Jacqueline! Thanks so much for joining us.

Delighted to be here! Thanks for letting me ramble with you.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I took a twisty, secretive, backward route into writing.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with stories—I spent most of my childhood listening to
them, reading them, making them up, acting them out—but I was always quite certain that I couldn’t be a writer myself. In the first place, I wasn’t British. In the second place, I was currently alive. Third, and most importantly, I was sure that writers possessed some sort of esoteric magic…magic that I clearly didn’t have. My favorite kinds of stories were crammed with mystery and adventure and fantastical, impossible things, and I concluded that the authors of these stories must have real lives to match. My own life, except for the stories that I was always reading and making up and acting out, seemed awfully normal and boring by comparison.

In spite of being pretty sure that my efforts were doomed, I wrote my first story when I was eight or nine years old. When I was finished, I hid it under the socks in my dresser drawer. And that’s what I did with everything I wrote for the next nine years. Eventually, there were stacks of scribbly pages stuffed under the clothing in each drawer—because even though I still believed that I was magic-less and underqualified, the compulsion to write kept growing stronger.

When I went off to college, it wasn’t for writing. I earned my degree in vocal performance with a minor in English literature, and between classes and recitals and work, I wrote. I wrote like crazy: Hundreds of poems, dozens of stories, a screenplay, scripts for comic books. I even published a few poems in the school literary magazine. And during my third year of college, I started working on a children’s novel about a girl named Olive and her strange old house.

It wasn’t until I’d started graduate school for voice that I admitted the truth to myself. I didn’t want to spend my life in music. I wanted to spend it in stories—just as I had already been doing for years, with no reward or pressure or incentive except what came from inside of me. I left grad school, earned my English teaching certification, and started teaching high school English, still writing like crazy all the while. I began publishing poems and short stories and articles, and I finished that book about the girl named Olive and her strange old house, and finally I started querying agents. In my second year of teaching, I signed my book contract. The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows came out in June 2010, and that was that.

I don’t hide my first drafts in my dresser drawers anymore. Now I have an entire closet for that.

2. You definitely can say you wrote all your life. I’m sure all your practice helped you you’re your current series. Where did you get your idea for this series?

It began with something I saw through a school bus window when I was eleven years old.

On the way to and from middle school each day, my bus would pass this strange old house. It stood on a corner in a leafy neighborhood, and it was toweringly tall and dauntingly large. It might once have even been beautiful, but now its paint was peeling, and its porch sagged, and the rooms behind its mismatched curtains were always dark.

That was interesting enough to a scary-story-loving girl like me, but better yet, the man who owned the house was an inventor. Strange, wind-powered contraptions made of rusty metal stood on the lawn, moving eerily in the breeze. Mysterious scraps and tools were scattered in the long grass. The garage door often hung open, revealing glimpses of more odd secrets inside.

Eleven-year-old me would look through the bus window at that house, daydreaming about what life would be like inside a place like that. I just loved that contrast: This old, grand, haunted-looking house, with eccentric, scientific, totally out-of-place people living in it. And that’s where Olive and her parents and their house all came from.

3. I just love how you got the idea for your story. And it’s been with you for so long. Share a bit about the plotting that has gone on for writing this five book series. What tips do you have for the rest of us considering writing a series?

I feel like I should start with a disclaimer: When I started this series, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know that I was writing a series until I started on the second volume of The Books of Elsewhere. I was so certain that no one would publish a first book by me, let alone a second, that I hadn’t even considered the possibility of a sequel. (However—and I know this sounds ridiculous—I must have been subconsciously writing the start of a series all along. No major points in the plot of The Shadows had to be altered in order to make it the start of a series, and there were plenty of issues left to resolve: Important characters were stranded in bad situations; enemies were waylaid, but not removed.) So when I embarked on Volume Two: Spellbound, I had a firm foundation to build on, but what I built was built from scratch.

And this is probably the best advice I can give—at least for writers like me, who tend to discover their stories and characters as they write: Don’t over-plan.

So much has to evolve as you write and revise, and rewrite and revise again and again and again. The
more elements of the story you’ve cemented into place with detailed, specific outlines, the more difficult it will feel to have to move them later. As I was working on later volumes of the series, I often felt like I was playing a gigantic game of Jenga. I had to carefully remove pieces that I’d thought belonged at the bottom and put them somewhere new, all while keeping the whole structure balanced.

It was terrifying.

What kept me from getting overwhelmed was thinking of each volume in the series as a separate entity. There is a central problem, mystery, or endeavor at the heart of each volume; something that reaches a conclusion of sorts by the end of the book. But there’s also one overarching mystery that runs through the entire series, with a few clues and twists revealed in each book, and this gives the series its cohesion and its core (I hope!).

There. I know this probably wouldn’t suit every writer, but it’s what has kept me from collapsing into a heap of neuroses.

4. That’s great advice. I love the idea of each book being a separate entity with a central problem weaved in a bit to each. Characters need to grow throughout the series. Tell us a bit about Olive and her growth as a character throughout the series. 

At the beginning of the series, Olive is a shy, rather rootless eleven-year-old girl. She’s moved to new towns and new schools many times, she’s an only child, her family has never owned a house; certainly not one that felt like home to Olive, and she and her parents live in separate mental worlds.

From the very beginning, it was important to me to make Olive feel like a real, “ordinary” (if there is such a thing!), human girl. She’s not secretly a wizard or a vampire or a descendant of a god. She doesn’t even have any extraordinary human talents. Compared to her brilliant parents, she’s pretty lackluster. But the things that make Olive different from her parents—her dreaminess, her creativity, her quiet observation of the world around her—end up leading her toward some huge discoveries.

Also, because she’s very shy and a little awkward and quite used to being alone, Olive has a hard time trusting others. Throughout the books, she gets to know the inhabitants of her new home and her new neighborhood. Some of them manipulate her, but others genuinely need her. Over time, with plenty of mistakes and some big steps backward, Olive learns to trust and to love them, and her relationships with them become the books’ emotional core.

And even though Olive isn’t a magical or mathematical genius, she has all kinds of other good qualities. She’s compassionate and curious and thoughtful, and by the end of the series, she is braver and stronger than she would ever have believed.

5. She sounds so cool. And I can relate to the shy person she started out as. Voice is another important aspect of a story and it can be hard to get the middle grade voice right. How did you get the voice right for Olive and the other characters in your story? Share your advice on getting voice right.

I don’t know if this makes me lucky or unlucky, but I can remember my own childhood in vivid detail. All the fears and pains and joys are still so clear to me, I sometimes worry that I might wake up tomorrow and be right back in my fifth grade body. It’s very easy for me to get into that mindset.
Also, while I was growing up, I often read aloud to my younger brothers. We loved many of the same books: the Bunnicula series, A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, Calvin and Hobbes. When I started writing The Shadows, I was trying to write something that my brothers would have liked if I’d read it aloud to them back then—something that had the right mix of fear and humor and adventure and oddity.

Most of the children’s authors I know say that they write for their childhood selves. For me, it’s been for myself and my brothers. I think that kind of specificity can really help.

6. Great you have your brothers in mind when you write. Your agent is Danielle Chiotti. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

As you can probably guess from my drawer-hiding tendencies, I’m not a great self-promoter. (Also, when I finished my first book, I was living in a tiny town in rural Wisconsin. There weren’t a lot of networking opportunities on the shores of Lake Winnebago.) I took the more passive route toward publication: I wrote a query letter. I researched agents and agencies, and began sending out my letters, and eventually my sample chapters were picked out of the slush pile by an intern named Chris Richman, who was just getting started at a now-defunct agency called Firebrand Literary.

I was Chris’s very first client. He believed in the book and he wanted to take a chance on me, so we jumped into this adventure together. Within just a few months, there were five publishers interested in the book (which was totally dreamlike and overwhelming and made me even more certain that I was about to wake up back in my fifth-grade body), and we chose the one that felt like the perfect fit: Jessica Garrison at Dial Books for Young Readers.

Before long, Firebrand closed and Chris moved to Upstart Crow Literary, and I went with him. About a year ago, Chris decided to leave the publishing world for PR work, and I signed on with the fabulous Danielle Chiotti, also of Upstart Crow. I’m incredibly lucky to have found the right people in the right places at the right times.

7. Your story gives us all hope that we can be successful living wherever we live. You’re now marketing your fifth book in this series. What have you learned about marketing from promoting your series? What advice do you have for someone getting ready to promote their first book?

Make use of your strengths. Because of my teaching background, I’m comfortable in schools. Actually, I The Books of Elsewhere, teach workshops, answer questions, read aloud… my favorite stuff! And schools are really where my audience can be found. Middle grade readers are less active online; things like Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr tend to skew toward YA and older.
love making school visits—I get to talk about the writing process and

That being said, don’t underestimate the importance of social media, or at least of an online presence. I keep a website with up-to-date event listings, book news, a journal, and contact information, I use Tumblr (mostly for pictures), and I maintain a couple of Facebook pages. That’s one of the great things about social media: There are a lot of platforms to explore, and almost everyone can find something that feels like the right fit.

Finally, make connections. Find the other authors in your area, either online or in reality. Get to know your independent booksellers and local librarians. This can lead to amazing opportunities and events—and it can also provide you with a network of people who understand just what your weird writerly life is like. They’ll answer your questions and share experiences and make you feel much less alone.

8. I wish you could teach me to love the idea of school visits like you. They sound pretty scary to me. What are you working on now?

After its umpteenth revision, my a still-untitled YA novel is back in the hands of my editor, so there will probably (DEFINITELY) be some more work on that before it arrives on bookshelves in a year or two.
In the meantime, I’m getting started on a middle grade fantasy series about a boy named Van, some unusual collections, and one bossy squirrel. After thirteen years of working on The Books of Elsewhere, it’s really exciting to start something brand new.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jacqueline. You can find Jacqueline at:


Jacqueline has generously offered one book of the winner’s choice for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through June 7th. I’ll announce the winner on June 9th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here’s what’s coming up:

Tomorrow I’m doing a guest post at GreenBeanQueenTeen, a fantastic librarian blog I follow, about some of my favorite middle grade novels and what I think they do right.

I’ll be off next Monday because it’s Memorial Day but I’ll be back on Wednesday that week with an interview with author and blogger friend Cherie Reich and a giveaway of REBORN, her new YA fantasy that I can’t wait to read.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Skylar Dorset and a ARC giveaway of NEVER TRUST A FAIRY, a urban fantasy that sounds really good and that I would have read if so much hadn’t been going on in my personal life lately.

Wednesday that week I have an interview or guest post with follower and debut author Jessie Humphries about KILLING RUBY ROSE, her YA mystery thriller with a giveaway.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Bethany Neal and a ARC giveaway of MY LAST KISS, her YA ghost story/mystery. I loved it.

And don’t forget Casey’s Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you tomorrow!


jpetroroy said...

I've been eyeing this series for a while now. It must be so complicated to plan a series.

Anonymous said...

Oh No! Another series to add to my growing list. And here I was getting caught up. This one sounds like a great ride, though. I also love hearing other authors and their journeys to the bookshelf. Thanks for the enlightening interview.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great interview. How have I missed this series. Love the sound of it. And ... squee! It's on Audible.

Manju Howard said...

Jacqueline, thanks for sharing your background and writing process. I read the first book. But I didn't realize you had written a series.
I will Tweet about The Book of Elsewhere.

Jemi Fraser said...

How do I not know about these books??? They sound fabulous - perfect for school. Off to check them out (& tweet) :)

Old Kitty said...

Love the advice about over-planning! I get bogged down in the details so much that I lose heart and just give up! LOL!

Lovely to meet you Jacqueline and your amazing book series! Bet your closet full of beautiful words are just busting to be let out! Yay! Take care

Anonymous said...

I read one of the books and loved it so much. I should probably just buy them all next time I have some spare money. :)
Thank you for the interview!

PS: Don't enter me in the giveaway.


Karen Lange said...

Hi Natalie, Hope you are doing well. You remain in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks so much for the intro to Jacqueline. I love her book covers and I appreciate her marketing advice. Wishing her all the best.

I'll pass on the giveaway. Just started an ARC and have another waiting in the wings. So many books, so little time! :) Have a great week!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I love the title of her series. I enjoy school visits too, but sadly those in my state are not very open to authors.

Beth said...

I can't believe I don't know this series. It sounds so charming! (Fingers crossed that I can win this giveaway.) Congratulations to Jacqueline!

Barbara Watson said...

These all sound so great and the covers are wonderful. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

Angela Brown said...

Thanks Natalie and Jacqueline for such a great interview. It's wonderful reading about journeys to publication and being reminded that each trek is unique and different.

Jenni said...

These books sound fantastic! I loved reading about Jacqueline's journey and she did a series.

Anonymous said...

I have books one and two and need to finish out the series! Thanks for the interview-school visits rock, have to admit that is one of my dreams, do a visit with one of my books. In the meantime I love being able to spread the work, do the book talks for all the other great mg out there!

Anonymous said...

And...I tweeted!

Rosi said...

Thanks for an interesting interview. Very enjoyable. These books look great. I hadn't heard of them. Thanks for telling me about them. By the way, I seem to have fallen off your subscriber list again. I am not receiving any emails from you. 8-(

cleemckenzie said...

A great-looking series. They've done a wonderful job of creating different, yet themed covers. This is a series I'll get for my kids. I have a passel of them when I count the nieces and nephews.

mshatch said...

My nieces would love this series - I shall put them on my list immediately!

Brenda said...

I love The Books of Elsewhere series and Olive is a great MG character. Jacqueline is always so supportive of the children who send her their artwork and she's always so friendly online. I'm sad her series is ending, but happy to hear she has some projects in the works. No need to enter me. Thanks for the interesting interview Natalie.

Anonymous said...

I love this series and can't wait for the final book!

I tweeted about the giveaway at @michelleimason.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

This series has been on my TBR list forever. So glad that Olive is not "secretly a wizard or a vampire or a descendant of a god."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Looks like a cute series. Interesting she selected writing over music. If I had to choose, I would select music. (Fortunately, I get to do both.)

Andrea Mack said...

I really need to read some of these books! Thanks for sharing this interesting route to publication.

Dawn said...

Great interview! Looking forward to reading this series.
I tweeted about the giveaway.

S.P. Bowers said...

I love the name 'the books of elsewhere' very evocative! Makes me want to discover.

I used to read out loud to my younger brothers, too. Those are some very good memories.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love the way the story idea bloomed.
I hadn't seen these books, so I'll have to do some catching up as well. They sound wonderful.

Kristin Lenz said...

5th book in the series already?! Wow, my daughter read and enjoyed the first one, but didn't realize there were so many more. Congrats!

Mary Preston said...

This series does look fantastic. I'll put my daughter on to them.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview and giveaway! I love to read series and yours sounds exciting and with a strong character. I have shared on Facebook and hope to share your books with my daughter who loves series too.

Candice Conner said...

Thank you for sharing your writing process and how not to get overwhelmed. This series sounds amazing! I just started writing my very first MG story and I'm worried I'm not getting my voice right. I'd love the chance to win your book to see how you do it. Thanks! Good luck on your YA!

E.G. Moore said...

Your MG series sounds incredible. Thanks for sharing your advice on creating voice and your protagonists character arc. I am going to put ELSEWHERE on my to read list! Giveaway email: emilygmoorewriter@yahoo.com

Jocelyn Rish said...

I love how a house she passed on her bus ride to school ended up inspiring her series of books. It's so odd what sticks with us and sparks our muse.

Unknown said...

This is such a lovely interview. I love hearing stories like this; it gives me hope. Thank you so much for sharing. michelle_willms at yahoo dot com.

Heather said...

This sounds like a series I have got to check out! Thanks for the inspiring interview ladies.

Natasha said...

Sounds like a great series!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Michael G-G said...

I've seen these books everywhere (and I love the cover art) but have never read them. Time to change that, it sounds like! (Tweeting about this too!)

Rachna Chhabria said...

I love the cover art of this series. It has me super interested. Adding it to my TBR pile.

Kiku said...

I follow by email :)
kurri121 at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I'm so pleased to meet Jacqueline and read about her books. This interview definitely has made me interested in them.

Rea said...

You've piqued my interest, I must check into this series. I love that the setting was inspired by a house you passed on your bus ride...when I was in middle school I would pass the rather lengthy bus ride by creating elaborate stories around places I saw. (Who knew that a simple weed grown fence row was really the well-hidden lane that led to a fabulous mansion?) Its taken me over 30 years (and a really dull detour as an accountant) to give myself permission to stop labeling myself as a daydreamer and start labeling myself as a writer.

Sam (Realm of Fiction) said...

I love the sound of the inspiration for the house. I would have enjoyed seeing something like that as a kid. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy it now too! :) I haven't read this series yet, but it looks great, and the covers are stunning as well. Thanks for sharing the great interview!

Annmarie said...

I feel like I need to have this series.

DMS said...

I read the first one in the series and very much enjoyed it. I am hoping to get started on the rest of them soon. Thanks for the chance to win!

I shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/dmsfiles/status/473185537411387392

I loved this interview. It was such fun to learn more about Ms. West. The covers of this series are beautiful. I always like hearing how authors and agents came to work together. Glad she found the right fit for her and wishing her the best of luck. :)
~Jess (old follower- DMS)

Emma A. said...

I so want to read this series!

Thanks for the giveaway!

Mary Warth said...

This series looks great. I love the covers.
Thanks for the giveaway!