The Big Idea: Jane Yolen

The cover to A Bear Sat on my Porch Today

Today’s Big Idea post is not about a specific book — although Jane Yolen has two, yes, two, books coming out today — but to celebrate a milestone that Yolen has achieved, right now, as we speak. When having two books out in a single day is only the second most impressive thing about an author’s day, you know it’s a pretty special day indeed.

JANE YOLEN:

My two mottos are BIC and YIC:

Butt in chair. (Or for the finer minds—backside, behind, bottom).

Yes I Can. The answer I give if someone asks if I have time or inclination to write something for their blog, journal, magazine, anthology, publishing house. I can always say no after careful consideration. But an immediate no shuts the door for good.

Both BIC and YIC are variants of my late husband’s motto: Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

However, the word I hate most when a reviewer or introducer are talking about me is prolific. It carries on its old farmer’s back a whiff of a sniff. As if someone is looking own his or her rarified patrician nose and saying, “Well, of course she writes a lot. . .” That’s their dog whistle for inconsequential, not literary kind of stuff, things like kiddy books and verse, scifi and fantasy. Or as my father said when I was years past my fiftieth plus book, “When are you going to grow up and write something real?”

By that he meant adult literary novels or mammoth nonfiction books or Hollywood biographies—the sort of stuff his friends wrote. (Name drop time: Cornelius Ryan, Will Oursler, Ernest Hemingway.)

But I write what I love to read. I write the books  I wish I had had as a child, or want to read as an adult. And yes, I do write a lot.

My 365th book is coming out, and my 366th. . .on the same day (today!). One is a picture book called  A Bear Sat on My Porch Today, which is in bouncy rhyme and celebrates a bear that actually sat on my porch in semi-rural Western Massachusetts. But, along the way it becomes a book that also celebrates inclusion and odd friendships, and toleration. The other book is a devastating Holocaust novel hanging from the armature of the Hansel and Gretel folk tale. And yes you may ask if there is a witch who gets shoved in the oven. And I will remind you: “It’s Hansel and Gretel.” To say more would be a spoiler.

Which one is the actual 365th?  All I will reveal is that:

  1. I do not know
  2. I do not care.
  3. It just means from March 6 on you will be able to read a book a day by me, even on a Leap Year. #Yolen365

Those of you who follow the cobbled-together mathematics of calendars will know that the next Leap Year is 2020. By then I will probably have close to 380 books out.

I am waving at Isaac Asimov, my old friend, who even in his grave still seems to be producing books. A regular industry, he is. I will never catch up. Nor is that my goal. My goal is what it has always been—write the best books I can, the books I want to read–and get better at writing each time.

Why should you care about #Yolen365? Because it’s a fun statistic. We will be celebrating it all around the country. But it will matter to you only if some of them are books you love. Or if they are books that make a difference in your life or the life of a child you know. Oh, and only if they are books that last five years past their year.

I am often asked if I write my books the way I put on my shoes, one at a time. The simple answer is No. Or maybe it’s Yes.

Actually, I am a juggler of ideas. Any one day I might work on a chapter of a big adult novel, a rewrite (for the 20th time) of a picture book, or wrestle with a couple of poems. That’s because besides being a juggler, I also have a very low threshold of boredom. And I know if I’m bored, the reader will be bored, too.

For instance, I might start an essay like this, then look around for some old ideas to tart up. I may also find a magazine article online that shouts out “Story idea” to me. I am a bit like those dogs in the animated movie Up, suddenly in the middle of talking, their heads swivel and they shout, “Squirrel!”

But because of all those wonderful squirrels, I am never in-between projects or stumped. Or (writer word coming up) blocked. If I feel a blockage coming on, I simply spin around and head in another direction. A sniper couldn’t bring me down. It’s just my way of working.

Of course, YMMV. <Your mileage may vary.>

So besides this short essay, what did I do today? Some research in Russian history for a novella for Tachyon, a short dive into some revisions on a non-fiction book about birds for National Geographic, worked on two new poems for my poem-a-day project that has been going on for seven years. Five years ago I started sending the poems to subscribers. (Oops it’s now into the sixth year!). During those five completed years, I flew to exotic places, crashed a computer so badly that no one (not even in the White Room in California) could retrieve its innards, and had a seven-hour back operation where they filleted me like a fish. And I still sent out a poem a day. (If you want to subscribe, go here:  http://eepurl.com/bs28ab)

It keeps me enjoying the writing. And along the way, somehow, the count got up to 365/366.

But the one-book-at-a-time question is not the one most frequently thrown at me. It’s the snarky query that comes from  teachers and fans. “Do you ever sleep?”

Why yes, eight hours a night. Every night. I mean where DO you think I get my best new image or manage to find time to work out my plot problems? I am a hearty dream-rover, and I never miss an opportunity to wake up for a sleepy moment to scribble down a new idea.

For completists, here are the books I have coming out this year:

January 16: Meet Me At the Well with Barbara Diamond Goldin (Charlesbridge): feminist revisionist midrash of the stories about girls and women in the Hebrew Bible, for young readers.

March 6: A Bear Sat On My Porch Today (Handprint/Chronicle).

Mapping the Bones (Philomel/ Penguin).

April:  Monster Academy with Heidi Stemple (Scholastic): picture book.

Mixti-Maxti (Papavaria Press):  adult poems about authors.

On Gull Beach (Cornell Lab of Ornithology): picture book.

Sanctuary: Stone Man Mysteries with Adam Stemple (Lerner): Noir graphic  novel, 2nd book in the trilogy.

Compass Roads (Levellers Press): a book of adult poems about the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts where I  live that I’ve edited.

June 26: How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read (Scholastic): picture book.

Fall: Come Fly with Me with Heidi, Adam, & Jason Stemple, (National Geographic): bird nonfiction with folk tales and poems as well.

Crow Not Crow with Adam Stemple (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) : picture book

Finding Baba Yaga (Tor.com): verse fantasy novel

There are also 12 books under contract, all written, and about 30 others making the rounds. That’s a lot of BIC, a lot of YIC, and a lot of joy in one house. The numbers prove it.

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Visit Jane Yolen’s site.

15 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Jane Yolen

  1. Dude, I can’t believe you actually got Jane Yolen to write a Big Idea for this site.

    Well done!

  2. What a great Big Idea post! Congratulations, Jane, and congratulations to each and every one of your readers now and over the years…the years past, the years to come. I love beyond words that #365 and #366 are coming out the same day. It’s simply perfect!

    With luck, the storm that will follow my arrival back home in Jane’s Pioneer Valley won’t prevent me from delivering chocolate robots for the local celebration this weekend. I’m bringing some Theo dark chocolate from Seattle to use in addition to the Guittard & Scharffen Berger bars waiting at home.

  3. Right now, I’m in the middle of the third book of her Pit Dragon series. I’m amused that the trilogy got a fourth book twenty years later and happy that my library has all of them.

  4. We were clearing out old books this weekend (a sad thing, but it has to happen). We came upon a copy of Yolen’s Waking Dragons, which is objectively below my son’s reading level. I suggested it was perhaps time for it to find a new home (at the book fair, not the trash can!)

    My son adamantly refuses.

    So the dragons stay on the shelf.

  5. The sun came out this morning (it won’t stay, but it’s out, and glorious). And Jane Yolen is on Whatever, so an auspicious start to the day, for sure.

    Okay the above sounds positively sedate–but in reality it was high-pitched squeeing (enough to alarm the cat), hyperventilating, bouncing up and down… if my fucked-up hip would allow, I’d have danced a merry jig.

    Not to mention it’s the second day in a row of mornings like that. Because yesterday morning my day started with texts and calls from my elder daughter. The first of the kids from their fledgling herd of goats were born! Naturally, it was the one goat they didn’t even think was preggers…and she had twins. Mom Toph, and daughters Lin and Suyin, are thriving, and I have been well overloaded on cute pics and videos. I’m pretty sure the squeeing for that got most of the neighborhood dogs freaked out.

    Oddly, this makes me hopeful for tomorrow. Though if something (at least) equally exciting–big picture or small–does happen, I might pass out from loss of oxygen to squee.

    Thank you, John. Jane Yolen has been a hero, a path-maker, a teacher, a font of joy–and of the wrenching heartbreak that great storytellers can achieve–and easily in my top 5 favorite writers, ever, from my first discovery to the end of the universe. Maybe my top 3. Could be top 2, depending on the day. To have one fave author host another fave author one one of my top daily-read spots is…well, [insert excited high-pitched squee sounds here]. Many thanks!

  6. At our house we say “Jane Yolen” are the magic words – if its on the front of the book, we’ll like what is inside.

  7. Congratulations, Jane! And I second the recommendation for Take Joy–among other things, it’s a splendid reminder that writing is supposed to be fun, a joyful act, as well as hard work.

  8. I read (and read when younger) Jayne Yolen books and have been delighted to share her picture books with my small daughter (she loves the how do dinosaurs… books). Today’s releases have something for everyone in my house.

  9. _Owl Moon_ is among the best books I have ever read, and easily the one that reads aloud the best. Ms. Yolen is a treasure.

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