Q & A with Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, author of a wide variety of fantasy books for children, young adults and adults and known as America's Hans Christian Andersen, recently took time to answer a few questions from GW!

1. How do you come up with the ideas for your stories? In other words, how do the muses work for you?

An almost impossible question to answer, because ideas flood into my mind day and night. It's the triage work that's important--which ideas are DOA, which have some vitality to them, which are ready to get back into the arena. In fact it always puzzles me that other folks aren't flodded with book and story ideas. It's a natural state for me.

2. Do you have a special routine when you're writing, or can you just sit down at a computer and start typing?

I usually start with a cup of tea and answering email, though before there was email, I answered snail mail. Priming the pump, as it were. And then, fingers flexed, I am ready to write.

3. Who are your literary influences

Isak Dinesen, James Thurber, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ursula LeGuin.

4. Generally how long does it take you to write an average novel? How many different revisions do you usually go through?

Anywhere from 19 years (The Stone Silenus) to 15 years (Sword of the Rightful King) to five years (Wizard's Hall) to six months (Girl in a Cage) to 6 weeks (The Pictish Child.)

5. How do you deal with writers-block?

Never had it. I work on so many things at once, that if one thing gets stuck in second gear, I work on something else.

6. Out of everything you've written, which would you say is your favorite; which gives you the most satisfaction of a job-well-done?

The next book. Always the next book. The problem is that by the time a book (novel or picture book or other) comes out, I am on to the next and the next and the next after that. The book out is an object, but it is the readers object, no longer mine, really.

7. Do you have a favorite character that you've created?

I love Hannah/Chaya in Devils Arithmetic, because she is me. And Jakkin and Akki in the Pit Dragon trilogy because they are my son Adam and daughter Heidi, and Mohandes in Children of the Wolf because he is himself. I am very fond of Arthur in Sword of the Rightful King because of his honesty, and Merlinnus because of his aching bones. (I have quite a lot of those myself these days.) And Thornmallow whose worldy name is Henry (not Harry!) in Wizard's Hall because he never gives up trying.

8. What do you think makes a good fantasy author?

Someone who loves story; someone who is comfortable with a tale that speaks with several tongues and several layers someone who can create unbelievable characters in a believeable way; someone who knows that landscape is a character.

9. Can you tell us what you're currently working on and when you expect it will be available in bookstores?

I have just finished working on a Scottish novel about Bonnie Prince Charlie called Prince Across the Water, which should be in stores Fall 2004 (and there is a small ghostly presence in it, which makes it technically a novel of the fantastic). The fourth Young Heores novel Jason and the Gorgon's Blood, will be out January 2004. I am working with Bob Harris on a fourth Scottish novel, this one about the Highland Clearances, the Rogue's Apprentice. It's our homage to Robert Louis Stevenson. My son Adam and I have finished a novel called Pay the Piper, which is a magical modern rock-and-roll Pied Piper novel. And I am starting the fourth Pit Dragon book with one and a half chapters done.

10. Random quote or piece of advice you'd like to share to end this with?

The only magical word about writing I have is BIC: Butt in Chair. But I also believe very much that a writer needs to value the process, not the product. Enjoy the writing, make it part of your soul, keep your eye on the story and not the sale.

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