An Interview with Jane Yolen

Hi Mixed-Up Filers!

I know, I know. You’re thinking, wait a second, Jonathan. Aren’t you around eighteen months too early for your next turn in the rotation? Well, yes. But, this was a special occasion, so I was given a one-time exemption to go. In return, I had to agree to forfeit my next turn until May, of 2072. But, ha! I’ll show them! I have a piece I plan on sneaking in, in April of 2043. They’ll never suspect!

In any event, I recently had the pleasure of having one of my favorite authors, Jane Yolen, graciously agree to answer several questions.  Like most of you, I am a huge fan of all of her books, but there are a few which particularly resonate with me, which I had always wanted to talk to her about.

jane yolen

JR: First off, I’d like to thank you for making the time to speak with me. I’m just amazed by your career. Besides being in total awe, I was amazed when I looked at your website and profile and saw that you had over two hundred books written.

JY: Actually, it’s over 335 now. I have been working too hard on writing books and not hard enough rewriting my website.

JR: 335? Wow! If I start now, I think I can probably catch up in around the year, 2157. For you, when is your best time to write?

JY: Depends on the day, my mood, and whether I have a doctor’s appointment or a book signing to go to. Though mornings and early afternoons are my best time.

JR: I am not going to ask which is your favorite, because I’m pretty sure that you won’t or can’t answer that, but is there one that you perhaps are most fond or proud of and why?

JY: Depends which day and which hour you ask.

JR: Fair enough. I read that your first book was Pirates in Petticoats, which was about women pirates. Seems like a fascinating topic. What made you decide to do that one and how easy/difficult was it doing research for it?

piratesip

JY: Then it was difficult to research as Pirates in Petticoats was the first ever book written about it. Today there are a number of books about female pirates, including two others of mine: Ballad of the Pirate Queens and Sea Queens.

JR: On the same line of questioning, how much research do you wind up putting into all your novels?

JY: Depends on the novel: Devil’s Arithmetic is about the Holocaust–so LOTS of research. The Wizard of Washington Square a light fantasy about two kids in New York and a wizard–not so much!

wizard of ws

JR: I have read how your favorite story is the one you’re doing now. So, what are you working on now?

JY: I am finishing up (with my son Adam) the last revision of a fantasy novel that’s the second book of the Seelie Wars trilogy (book is The Last Changeling); working on poems for Hedge/Briar/Rose; workng on the verse novel, Finding Baba Yaga; working on the first book of a graphic novel YA trilogy (again with Adam) called Stone Cold. Working on several other books of poetry, a nonfiction book with daughter Heidi called War Girls, and a book of adult poems about political topics: The Bloody Year. Have four chapters of another Holocaust novel called House of Candy and six chapters of a fantasy novel called Plague of Unicorns. And anything else I can think of.

JR: I see that you have written several books based on Jewish themes. The first story I wrote had a Jewish mythological element to it. It’s a topic that’s always special to me. Is that topic important to you? Did you grow up in an observant home?

JY: Totally non-observant though whenever anyone calls me (as Newsweek once did long ago) the Hans Christian Andersen of America, I tell them I’m the Hans Jewish Andersen! But I have about eight or nine Jewish-themed books including one (Devil’s Arithmetic) that won the Jewish Book Award and one that was an honor book (Naming Liberty).

JR: Love the name Hans Jewish Andersen! 🙂 And speaking of Devil’s Arithmetic, I’m a fan of it, and have used it in classes I’ve taught. It was a powerful book and I also included it in a Holocaust-themed post on this site. I think for anyone, but especially for someone who is Jewish, the Holocaust has to resonate in a deep way. It was a country coming right out and saying that they wanted to systematically eliminate a people. For you, what was the impetus for that book and was it personal in any way?

devil's arithmetic book

JY: My family–on both sides–came to America in the early 1900s so we were safe from that hideous time. But my father and many uncles were in the army and navy during WW2 so they were not unaware of what was going on.

JR: How did you like the movie based on it?

JY: A good movie though much was changed from my book, which had to do with money and time.

devil's movie

JR: Have you been to the sites of the concentration camps and how do you feel about going? I know growing up, I was always told not to go and give money to those places, but now I have a different view and perspective, and feel that I want to go and pay my respects to those who were murdered there, as well as show a free, Jewish person is standing there after their murderers have come and gone.

JY: I have been to two of the museums (Washington DC and New York) and seen sites in Hamburg, Heidleberg, Paris of atrocities. But cannot bring myself to go to the actual camps.

JR: Is there any topic that you haven’t yet hit, but have always wanted to? You have a home in Scotland, a place I loved visiting, how many stories have been inspired by places you’ve lived or been to?

JY: I am inspired all the time by place, though I don’t always write successful pieces (poems, stories, novels, picture books) about them.

JR: Which writers were your inspiration and who do you admire today?

JY: Main inspirations: Isak Dinisen, Emily Dickinson, James Thurber, W.B. Yeats. Minor inspirations: Alice Hoffman, Ray Bradbury, Elizabeth Wein, Patricia MacLachlan, Jo Walton, Lisel Mueller. And Terri Windling is my muse.

JR: I’d like to once again thank Ms. Yolen for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed asking her the questions!

6 responses to “An Interview with Jane Yolen

  1. Great interview – thank you both!

    Jonathan Reply:

    Thank you, Kimberly!

  2. Fabulous – she’s such an fabulous person! I read Encounter with my class every Columbus Day, because I think the perspective is so much more interesting.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Same here, Erin!

  3. Thank you for the interview! I love Owl Moon.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Thanks, Janet. Me too!