Interview with Award-Winning Author Jane Yolen

Get to know Jane…

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is the author of over 300 books, including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. The books range from rhymed picture books and baby board books, through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, and up to novels and story collections for young adults and adults. 

Her books and stories have won an assortment of awards–two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among others. She is also the winner (for body of work) of the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Assn. Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, and the 2012 du Grummond Medal. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates. If you need to know more about her, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

When was the last time you did something for the first time?  What was it?

Three years ago, my first (but not my last) graphic novel. FOILED. 

Two years ago a children’s picture book in sonnets. EMILY’S SONNETS (out this fall) 

Giving an important lecture at St Andrews University in Scotland this fall. I have had a summer home there for the past 20 years and mostly live there as Mrs. Stemple. Only about two dozen people actually know I write. 

If you couldn’t write books, what career would you pursue?

As a child I wanted to be a ballerina or failing that, own a horse farm. Then I wanted to be either a lawyer or Ethel Merman. This is what I do. Fantasies still exist in my head but now I get them down on paper. 

If you could date any celebrity, who would it be and why?

Johnny Depp for sense of humor (but he couldn’t smoke in my presence). Emily Dickinson just to have a conversation with her. Isak Dinesen so she could tell me a story. Robbie Burns so he could write me a love poem. 

What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?

Had three children and didn’t die giving birth to any of them. (I read too many Victorian novels in college!) 

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

I wrote this on a friend’s blog recently: “I always love doors opening. It is part of the reinvention of self that every artist has to do on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. If we don’t take that step out, away from the known and into the unknown, if we don’t take that step through to back home, then we are wasting our talent and our time on earth. 

“Take a step, breathe in the world, give it out again in story, poem, song, art.” 

If you could pick one fictional character to meet, who would it be? What would you ask him/her? 

Aragorn Strider: Why did you love a faerie princess and not Arwen? 

Do you keep a writing journal?

A generalized online journal at my website. 

What is the biggest distraction in your life right now?

Traveling on book tours, giving speeches, and doing interviews. (Sorry, you did ask!) 

What is your favorite quote? Why?

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies. . .”
 

by Emily Dickinson because that is what every writer needs to hear. 

Top three greatest books ever written. Go.

You have GOT to be kidding. I could name my favorite top greatest most compelling etc. books ALL DAY LONG. And the list would vary from hour to hour. Or even from minute to minute. 

Biggest pet peeve? What do you do that annoys your friends and family?

Bite my nails. Really. Childhood habit I have never broken. Oh—and wanting to fix everybody’s life! (So sue me, I’m a Jewish mother.) 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile/cry.

How I met my late husband. 

What is the worst possible name to call a child?

Stupid. 

What do you miss about being a child?

Having an entire universe and time to explore it ahead of me. 

What is the best part of writing? Worst part?

Best: going to work in my jammies.

Worst? Losing the most important word in a story or poem when the phone interrupts me, and then never finding it again. The word, that is, not the phone. I can always find the phone. 

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

Don’t be silly. I write a bunch of books at the same time. 

What is your passion?

It used to be new babies, chocolate, and quiet nights with my husband.

Now it is hoping I will live long enough to hold a great grandbaby some day, eating raw veggies, and Internet dating sites. Feh. 

Coffee or Tea? What is the worst drink you’ve ever tasted?

Hate coffee, hate the taste of liquor. Single malt is pretty high up on the can’t-stand-it meter. 

Daily word count?

Yes it does.

Why do you write?

Because I have to, because I want to, because—it turns out—it’s the one thing I am actually good at. (I first wrote “the one thing I am actually god at—and that works, too!) 

When are you the most productive?

Mornings. 

Is it possible to lie without saying a word?

Well, pick a soft bed. . .or an Escher drawing. . .or photograph fairies.

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