The Big Idea: Jane Yolen (and Adam Stemple)

Attention: Jane Yolen is awesome. And Adam Stemple (her son and occasional co-writer) is nifty too. And that’s all I have to say at the moment. I’m going to let them talk about their new book, B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy) now.

JANE YOLEN (with a note from ADAM STEMPLE at the end):

Okay, I’m Jewish. I’m only called the “Hans Christian Andersen of America” because that was his name. Maybe I am the “Hans Jewish Andersen of America,” though that was most likely Isaac Bashevis Singer.

But every once in a while I have an idea for a Jewish book and fairy tales. And the new book, out this spring, is one of them. It’s called B.U.G (Big Ugly Guy).

My son Adam Stemple and I were casting around for an idea for a new rock-and troll fairy tale novel, and I said, “Golem.”

He thought I was clearing my throat. “I got nothing,”

I said it again. “Golem.”

And then he got it.

OK, I’ll admit it, as an idea it was pretty thin. I had to explain to him that the golem was a man-made creature, created in medieval Prague by a rabbi out of clay to save the Jews who were being killed at the usual unnerving rate by the locals. The creature is huge and unstoppable, animated by the name of God written across its forehead or on a slip of paper under his tongue. But just as a golem grows from a handful of clay into a monstrous protector of the poor and vulnerable (and usually Jewish), this little idea began to grow between us.

Quickly we got to “bullied Jewish kid”. That wasn’t much of a stretch. Then to “father is a potter”. (This was necessary. We needed a lot of clay you see. Not just the ordinary playdough most kids have lying around in colored swatches) Finally one of us said “klezmer garage band.” That was the genius part. Well, maybe not. Kirkus certainly didn’t think so.

And you thought writers outlined!

Adam insisted it had to be a modern story and not set in Prague, which seemed sensible. Neither of us knew a thing about Prague nor wanted to do that research. Nor did we think a book set in medieval Prague had much of a chance of selling in today’s market. Or being read by today’s kids. I thought we could set it in the Midwest where Adam had lived for the past twenty-five years and he could do the research, if we needed it.

But then we took those oddly matched elements and turned them into cohesive and coherent (coherent is always a plus in fantasy novels for young readers) book which ended up being about how the bullied can turn into the bully, how trust can be broken and then mended through tragedy, and how song can bring young adults together in the most organic ways. God, I love writing. That should be in a piece of paper slipped under my tongue.

The road to publication was rockier than most, strewn as it was with an editor who moved midway to Canada, a publisher who changed his/her corporate mind about the book, and a Jewish editor at a different major house who made us rewrite the damned book till blood leaked from our fingertips. And now he is thinking we need the music for the song lyrics in the book for the ebook version. That’s Adam’s problem, he is the folk-rocker/composer/musical genius, not me. Maybe he is even the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of America. If so, he will need to borrow that white wig tied back with the sassy bow.

(Adam Stemple adds: Though I never let the truth get in the way of a good story (my mother’s career would be rockier if I had), I must insist that as a good Jewish boy, I already knew what a Golem was. And a Gollum. And the difference between the two. Though the thought of Gollum chasing Rabbi Loewe through the streets of Prague calling for his Preciousssssss does hold some appeal….)


B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy): Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Jane Yolen’s blog. Visit Adam Stemple’s blog. Follow Stemple on Twitter.

20 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jane Yolen (and Adam Stemple)”

  1. I went to a young writer’s conference at Eastern Washington University years and years ago, and Jane Yolen spoke. She’s one of the reasons I have always wanted to write since that conference made such an impression on me at a young age.

  2. “thought of Gollum chasing Rabbi Loewe through the streets of Prague calling for his Preciousssssss does hold some appeal….” Oh my, yes. *g* Priceless image.

    And yes, you had me at “Jane Yolen.” :) My local library should shortly be purchasing this, and I’ve told a number of friends with children about it. :)

  3. If the tone of the book is anywhere near as chuckle-inducing as this Big Idea was, I’m all over it.

  4. Yeah, that “explaining to Adam” when you obviously were really explaining to us was pretty transparent. And since you raise the connection, you are aware of Jews and Words, right? Since I’m pretty sure you must be — well — maybe “Adam” doesn’t know about it yet.

  5. This sounds wonderful. I didn’t get but a few paragraphs in when I heard this in my head:

    O Golem, Golem, Golem,
    I made you out of clay,
    And when I animate you,
    We’ll kick some ass today!

  6. Well, the first commented managed to steal my intended comment, word for word. For those who like klezmer music, I recomment “Oy to the World.” It’s Klezmer Christmas music. You haven’t heard anything until you have heard Jingle Bells sung in mournful Yiddish.

    This book is on my list.

  7. I celebrated the tenth anniversary of proposing to my wife this year. Adam’s then band, The Tim Malloys, were onstage at First Avenue, and had said we’d traveled the farthest to the show. She went up,. I got out the ring, she said yes, in front of 2000 or so cheering yahoos. By the way, the first two Tim Malloys CDs,Antler Dance by Boiled in Lead, and Adam’s solo work are all amazing. Thank you, Adam, for my life would be so much poorer without your music and books. Thank you, Jane, for the storytimes at Minncon one year, and all of your work.And if you have kids, and don;t have any Jane Yolen books for them, drop everything and get them now, before your child ends up on TMZ or something.

  8. On the topic of Klezmer, I’m no klezmer maven, but Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz is brilliant. Read the liner notes. The idea behind the album is simultaneously respectful and ironic. And the music is fantastic.

  9. My introduction to Science Fiction was via Jane Yolen’s book “Zoo 2000”. I’ve promised myself that the day I am successful in publishing my own book, it will be dedicated to Her…

  10. Jane Yolen!!! OMG! I loved your books as a teenager – and having gone to college and grad school and read only text books, I didn’t know you were still writing. I need to go to the library!

  11. I’m so happy to see this book finally out – I heard Jane & Adam read from it at Minicon at least once, so it’s exciting to see that other people will finally have the chance to experience it for themselves.

  12. Aaaah! The Tim Malloys. I used to catch them at McGoff’s in Mankato all the time. Their rendition of Tom Waits’ “Dirt in the Ground” gave me chills. I might like it as much as I like the original.

  13. In case anyone’s interested, the Golem story is first attested c. 1834, a good 300 years after the “facts”, as I’m sure folklorist Yolen knows. The version that’s most famous was written by fabulist and forger (and pretty serious translator) Rabbi Yudl Rosenberg in 1909. See the Wikipedia entry on the Golem for a good summary of current scholarship. So it’s probably a story built on a story based on a story – The Folk Process at work.

  14. Reading the Big Idea is always dangerous. It isn’t like I don’t have enough books on my queue. I had to buy this one, though, like so many others featured here.

%d bloggers like this: