Jane Yolen books make my heart sing. So when I heard about her Picture Book Boot Camp, I applied. After four days in Jane’s home, learning from her wit and wisdom, I am forever changed. It’s a privilege to interview her for Writer’s Rumpus.
Kirsti Call: Your picture book boot camp was transformational and easily the most inspiring and motivating writing workshop I’ve ever been to. What are your future workshop plans?
Jane Yolen: A third picture book boot camp–if we can find a fall date that suits. Same kind–writers with at least one picture book published or under contract with a traditional publisher.
KC: You write picture books, MG, YA, graphic novels, adult novels, poetry books and everything in between. How do you decide what to work on and when?
JY: The story decides, not me. I find if I try to push something in a direction it doesn’t want to go, it sits down and refuses to budge, like a two year old at the supermarket.
KC: You’re famous for your “Butt in Chair” advice. How much time a day do you spend BIC?
JY: On good days–eight hours (with time out to walk two miles). On moderate days 3-6 hours, ditto the walk. On bad days less than three. Bad being defined by meetings, hair appointments,doctor appointments, dental, etc. Even when I am on the road, I try to put in about three hours of actual writing.
KC: What is your favorite book that you’ve written and why?
JY: Depends which day you ask. Actually which minute of the day you ask. Today (Apri 1 at 5 pm), TRASH MOUNTAIN (because it is being published today) and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME because it is being reprinted having been out a month. But tomorrow? Who knows.
KC: What is the best response you’ve gotten from a reader of your books?
JY: With fifty plus years of publishing behind me, I have had both joyous and heart-wrenching letters and emails and phone calls and chance meetings with folks both young and old who have told me the stories of how this book saved them in high school (SISTER LIGHT/SISTER DARK) or that book was read to a dying child and it comforted her (the girl who loved the wind) and a woman who read one book to her mother in a coma who sat up and said “The words, the glorious words,”(THE GIRL WHO CRIED FLOWERS) and sat up in bed, to a boy badly burned in a public fireworks display who was read HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON and wanted to buy a copy for every other child in the burn unit (Scholastic sent me a 100 paperback copies for free which I autographed and I added a hardcover and a stuffed dinosaur toy for him). Etc. It is always emotionally uplifting to know my stories have gone into the ether and helped my readers along the way. Not just entertainment, but life work.
KC: We love You Nest Here with Me at our house. What inspired you and your daughter Heidi to write it?
KC: How many rejections do you usually get for a manuscript before it’s accepted?
JY: Honestly, anywhere from 0 to two dozen and sometimes the manuscripts are never accepted. Or at least not yet. I have told my kids that when I go (at 76, I doubt it will be a whole lot longer!) they will have about 30 manuscripts they can say to the various editors: We just found Mom’s last unpublished manuscripts.. . .
KC: When do you decide to put a manuscript away?
They are resting, not put away!
JY: With great difficulty. Mostly I talk about process and storytelling, not specific books.
KC: If you could give advice to yourself as an emerging author, what would you say?
JY: Don’t look for fame, look to tell the best dang story you can. And then sit down and write. Don’t talk about wanting to write or needing to find time. Just BIC and write.
KC: Thank you Jane, for sharing your wisdom with us!
Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.
Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won 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, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.