The amazing Jane Yolen has had nearly 300 books published since she sold her first novel, Pirates in Petticoats, when she was 22 years old! She has had a remarkable career and life since then. She has won just about every writing award out there, including the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.
Jane writes for children, young adults, and adults—and for people like me who like to read whatever she writes. What I especially love about Jane's writing is that I feel like I'm right there with her characters, sharing their adventures, participating in the magic and wonder of what is happening in the story. This is especially true of my favorite book of Jane's, Owl Moon. I used to love to read Owl Moon at storytime when I was a community librarian. Jane was married to David Stemple for 44 years before he passed away in 2006. They have three children and six grandchildren. By the way, when you go to her website; stay a bit. A least until you hear the owl.
Kim Antieau (KA): Hello, Jane! What fun things have you been reading lately?
Jane Yolen (JY): I have been reading a bunch of graphic novels, including The Pride of Baghdad, Laika, The Three Shadows, and The Arrival. Not sure I could designate any of them as "fun" as they deal with death, destruction, immigration/exile. But absolutely fascinating and showing the incredible range of what graphic novels can do.
KA: Which comes first with you when writing a story? A character? An idea? A concept? Or does it depend? What is your process?
JY: All of the above at one time or another, For example, with Owl Moon it was character and landscape based on a family tradition. With How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? it was a nudge from an editor, who called saying, "My son is three, hates to go to bed, and loves dinosaurs. Can you do anything for him?" The Devil's Arithmetic began with the idea of a modern child going back to the time of the Holocaust to ask those questions which modern children demand of history: why didn't the Jews run? Fight? Why did they believe the Nazis? Wizard's Hall began with a dream—I dreamed the first four or five paragraphs and woke up in a sweat trying to find pen and paper before they were gone.
KA: You write for all ages. This isn't a skill every writer possesses. Have you always been able to do so? Do you find writing for one age group easier than another? Do you enjoy writing for one group over another?
JY: I just love writing. Sometimes a piece tells me it's for children, sometimes YA, sometimes for adults. But I don't force it. And perhaps that is part of the secret of my enjoyment.
KA: I have to ask. How many books have you had published?
JY: Published: over 275. Under contract, about 35 more, some coming out this year, and next, others still to be scheduled. Only 5 still to be written or finished.
KA: I love your book A Letter from Phoenix Farm, which is a kind photo essay for children of your life on Phoenix Farm written in 1992. The readers get to see your home and where you work. Do you still work in the same place?
JY: Yes and no. Much about that has changed. Phoenix Farm is still my home. But my darling husband has died, the three children all married with children of their own, the 3-legged dog long gone.
KA: The publishing world has changed dramatically since you started out. What has been the biggest change that has impacted you and your life and writing?
JY: Multi-national companies owning publishers and demanding a bottom line mentality which puts sales (and salesmen) before the book (which they called "units" or "products") and the authors (who are known as "suppliers").
KA: Owl Moon is one of my favorite books. Each time I read it, I feel as though I am out in the cold on a winter’s night, walking through the snow looking for the owl. I know I’m not alone in this. Is this the book that is most identified with you or is it just me? Do I remember right that this story is based on real life?
JY: My husband always took our children out birding and owling was a particular activity. So it is a very personal book. And two years after his death, iconic within our family.
KA: What did you do for a living before you were writing?
JY: Editing. Journalism.
KA: Alice Hoffman says you can tell something about a person by which book they prefer: Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Which book do you prefer? Why?
JY: Wuthering Heights because I am really a Jane Eyre kind of person, a bit shy and quiet, though I stand up for others where I wouldn't stand up for myself. But in my secret heart, I want to have a life writ large, with huge emotions, and selfish choices, as in Wuthering Heights.
KA: Thank you so much, Jane!