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Interview With The Amazing Jane Yolen

Magic, Just Magic.

Describing the breadth of Jane Yolen’s influence on modern readers is difficult. Yolen, a poet, journalist, fiction author, and children’s book author, has touched the lives and imaginations of every age bracket through her 400+ books. I spent hours entertaining my child with dinosaurs from Yolen’s children’s fiction series. And as an adult, I have read and enjoyed her twisted fairy tales, especially the fourth installment, The Scarlet Circus. 

Young, old, romance readers to the darkest of grimdark lovers will appreciate her mastery of language and storytelling. She honored us by sitting down and chatting with us about fairy tales, writing, and more.

“Stories,” he’d said, his voice low and almost husky, “we are made up of stories. And even the ones that seem the most like lies can be our deepest hidden truths.”

— Jane Yolen (Briar Rose)”

You have a home in Scotland; what about Scotland draws you to the country?

My late husband was a professor at UMass, Amherst, and on his first sabbatical—partially because he was half Scottish (the Douglas clean, and partially because we had fallen in love with Scotland on an earlier trip top Britain, and partially because Scotland had a number of really good Computer Science departments in various universities, we took the sabbatical in Edinburgh.  While there, he lectured at a number of other universities and discovered that the work being done in St Andrews most clearly matched his own. So on the next sabbatical we went there

Where I discovered a number of fantasy and sf writers and poets lived nearby. Plus, we fell in love with the house we were renting. Dear reader….er bought it!

When you write, how do you choose what to work on? Is it a matter of mood and inspiration, or do you have a more fixed idea of what needs to be done next?

JY:All of the above. Plus I regularly look back unfinished work or unsold work snd try to figure out what needs revising.

Are there topics that you will not write about poem-wise?  

JY  Nope. Anything goes.

As such a prolific poet, would you consider poetry your greatest love? If so, what about poetry attracts you so much to it?

{petry and fantasy were my first loves and it stuck. My favorite poems are “Jabberwocky” and anything by Dickinson or Yeats.“

Are you still sending your subscribers a poem a day? To produce the poem a day, are you influenced by the news, world happenings, or something beautiful you saw while about in your daily life?

JY: All of the above, plus lines from favorite poems, newspaper clippings, something someone asked, or watching out my window and seeing squirrels and foxes and bobcats and bears and….it’s an old New England farmhouse with a lot of out buildings and farmland! Lots happening there every day.

You have added your own unique take on different Arthurian myths over the years. What draws you to the stories of Merlin, Guinevere, and Arthur?

JY: The very first books I read that stuck(I was a very early reader) were the two Alice in Wonderland books, and a book about Kind Arthur. Also, my parents let me read anything in their librairy and they had LOTS of books. Nothing was off limits. (I hope modern librarians and the nutcases trying to ban books in schools are listening!!! Reading widely and over my head, I became a world citizen. I have three children—they are writers and baturalists, and two grandklids who have books published as well. Reading things we didn’t know about or didn’t agree with, made us better citizens better humans, and. More interesting.

What advice would you give to an author who wanted to branch out into writing children’s books? What skills will they need that they might have yet to exercise in writing for a non-children audience?

JY:  You do not have to have children (though sometimes it helps) but you should really sit down and read children’s books—not just the classics from when you were a child, but books that are being published now. Also join SCBWI. (Society of children’s book writers and illustrators—a 50-year opld organization.) Join your local SCBWI group and go to critique group meetings. Read, read, read. And as you are writing, read the words out loud because the great majority of children’s are read aloud by parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, authors  in the classroom. The ear is as important a reader as the eye.

 I am a Cat Rambo fan, and I particularly enjoyed The Reinvented Heart: Tales of Futuristic Relationships. Was it surprising that the book was organized around your poetic contributions, or was that planned?

JY: I sent the poems in and I guess Cat liked them enough to include them that way. It wasn’t really planned.

Can you tell us about The Scarlet Circus?

JY: I had been doing a series of collections of m y published sf/fantasy poems Tachyon and the publisher and I were discussing what could be next. I had done a horror collection, a fairy tale collection, etc. He, “What about romance?” I replied, “I don’t write romance though some of my stories have Love in them.” (I was thinking about Romance Novels which is not my cuppa so I don’t read the genre.) “But…”I said .”not sure I have enough stories to fill a book. But I did. And since I—a widow of 17 years—had just remarried to an old college boyfriend (likewise a widower) it seemed prophetic.

How does an author fracture a fairy tale? How do you choose how much to break a story and how to put it back together?

JY: You begin by rereading favorite fairy and folk tales and take them apart and make them more modern (mostly meaning giving the females more agency!) or a different historical setting or giving them different voices. It doesn’t mean “breaking them –though  the word fracture certainly pushes in that direction. For example: Ask yourself why we think a prince kissing a sleeping girl makes it romantic? Actually some earlier versions of the story have him raping the sleeping young woman and she wakes up a year later with twins.) Or why a prince with an enterouage sees a dead  girl in a glass coffin and buys her from the dwarves. Using her for a coffee table display? Necrophilia? Something equally disgusting? Maybe dinner? Or ….when she wakes and starts talking, what does he do? Many short stories there I would think! Or novels. I wrote one of them—BRIAR ROSE a Holocaust novel.

What tale from the modern age might be taken and cracked in the future?

Depends. If it is an actual folk story (no copyright) or someone’s new fairy tale (copyright limitations.)

[GdM:] What is your favorite poem and fractured fairy tale in the collection, and why?

JY: I would rather tell you my favorite one in Scarlet Circus because it is the latest collection and the one I am right now closest to. My favorite story is “A Ghost of An Affair” because it feels as if it anticipated my marriage at 80 to my 82 year                                                             old husband. We who had dated in college and re-met as widow and widower. The time travel element is very real to us. As is the poem which I wrote for him at the beginning of our new relationship time travel indeed.

Your books, The Midnight Circus, The Emerald Circus, and now The Scarlet Circus, have a visual theme between them of circuses. What is the connection between circuses and these fractured fairy tales?

JY: Magic. Just magic.

In the story notes and poems section of The Scarlet Circus, you mentioned that the poem “Hero’s Thumb” was published in your band’s 2018 CD. Now I need to know: how did your band form?

I was u0m and writing songs for a couple of musicians (both women) who decided to start a band.

We were the Three Ravens (there was a male guitarist) and Jane Yolen. I wrote a lot of the lyrics for songs, and read poems in between.  We played a bunch of gigs and like many bands, broke up after a year.

The Scarlet Circus, features many different forms of love. I found your comments about two stories interesting: “Ghost of an Affair,” which you said is a reflection of your second marriage, and “Sea Man,” which focuses on family closeness. This one was written when your first husband was alive and well. How was the writing process on these two very personal stories different from some of the other stories in your collection?

JY: Hmmmm I don’t know. I didn’t realize until long after (when I was actually writing the back matter) that both were really part of my own personal story. But that’s what writers’ do, turn their own stories into something else. Sometimes magic, sometimes horror, sometimes a love song to their spouse and/or family. And sometimes, Isuppose, to get back at a bad relationship.

What are you reading right now?  

JY: I just finished a new Peter Beagle story collection. WOW! Is he good.  And the mss. Of a friend’s Holocaust novel that takes place in Hungary and is quite devastating, and my revisionans a trilogy of my own, middle grade novels about school children in nineteenth century Scotland who fight off monsters. They are organized and led by their schoool master and the three children each has a role: Pone is Tracker, one is Gaffer, and one is Bait. The Books are R and A (Royal and Ancient) Monster Hunters series. Probably out 2024 from Move Books, an imprint of Charlesbridge.

Thank you for taking the time to do this; I know you have a hectic schedule, and I appreciate being able to chat with you about The Scarlet Circus.

Interview was conducted by Beth Tabler and Jodie Crump

Original Interview Appeared Here

Read Jane’s Work

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