A MYTH-WRITING WORKSHOP from Writing with Writers.


Will you help me with my homework? [This is not the form of the question, which can vary. Often it is: Will you contrast and compare a particular Jane Yolen book with some other work?]
No. My job is to write books. Your job is to do homework. The answers to most of your questions are already in this website–if you look carefully.

When and where were you born?
February 11th, 1939 in Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. I was named Jane Hyatt Yolen.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?
One brother, Steven H. Yolen, three-and-a-half years younger than me, who lives in Brazil with his beautful wife Maria and is surrounded by many grandchildren. He was a journalist for many years wrote five or six books for Brazilian children, and is now a translator.

When did you start writing?
I love writing and have always been good at it. I started as a poet and a writer of songs. I still do both. My first big success as a writer was in first grade where I wrote the class musical. It was all about vegetables and I played the chief carrot. We all ended up in a salad together! In junior high I wrote my big class essay about New York State manufacturing in verse, with a rhyme for Otis Elevators I have–thankfully–forgotten. In college I wrote my final exam in American Intellectual History in rhyme and got an A+ from a very surprised teacher.

Who were your parents?
Both my parents were writers. My father was a journalist, my mother a short story writer who also created crossword puzzles and acrostics for magazines and books. So I just assumed all grownups were writers! Since my brother is a journalist, and my three grown children all write well, in our family–at any rate–that is true.

When did you publish your first book?
My first published book, Pirates in Petticoats was sold on my twenty-second birthday and came out when I was twenty-four. It was about women pirates. I always enjoyed reading. When I was young, I particularly enjoyed reading fairy tales.

Do you ever illustrate your books yourself?
I don’t make the pictures for my books. (Alas–I cannot draw!) The editor, not the author, is the one who chooses the artist. Some of the artists who make pictures for my books are friends of mine, but often I do not know and have never met the illustrators. It may sound like an odd way to make a book, but it seems to work!

What kind of a family do you have?
I have three children (Adam, Jason, Heidi); though they’re all grown up now, they still gave me ideas. And now that I have five granddaughters and a grandson, I am sure they will give me ideas as well!

Are you married?
I was married for 44 years to the same wonderful man who, alas, died of cancer March 22, 2006. In 2020 I re-met a man I had dated in college 62 yeara earlier–Peter Tacy–and we have not been separated since, writing poetry and picture books, taking long walks and birding, and being happy despite the pandemic around us.

Where do you get your ideas?
I am always asked where I get my ideas from. That is a very difficult question to answer, since I get my ideas from everywhere: from things I hear and things I see, from books and songs and newspapers and paintings and conversations–and even from dreams. The storyteller in me asks: what if? And when I try to answer that, a story begins.

Jane gets an idea!
Jane gets an idea!

What awards have you won?
My books have won any number of awards–the Caldecott, the Golden Kite, the Christopher Medal, the Nebula, etc. And I have won a number of body-of-work awards–the Kerlan, the Keene State, the Regina Medal.I have six honorary doctorates from colleges and universities. But awards just sit on the shelf gathering dust. Or (as in one case) set my good coat on fire. The best awards are when young readers love my books.

What are you writing now?
I’m always working on something, usually several somethings. At times I am working on as many as ten projects: stories, books, poems, songs.

What book took you the longest to write?
Stone Silenus took me nineteen years to write from start to finish. Dragon’s Heart over twenty years. However, I have several other manuscripts that I haven’t finished yet. It will take me longer to finish them than it took me to finish either Stone Silenus or Dragon’s Heart. This has nothing to do with how big a book is. This has to do with when I can figure out how to finish the book, something that is not always apparent at the beginning, middle–or even the end!

What book took you the least amount of time to write?
An invitation to the Butterfly Ball, which took three days from start to finish.
What advice do you have for young writers?
I have three pieces of advice for young writers. One: read, read, read! You must read every day, and try to read a wide range of books. Two: write, write, write! Keep a journal, write letters, anything to keep the “writing muscles” in shape. Three: don’t let anyone stop you from writing.Be persistent no matter what “naysayers” or critical editors have to say about your writing.

Which is your favorite book you have written?
I don’t actually have a favorite book except whatever I am working on at the moment that question is asked. That’s because all the books of mine that you can read are well in my past. OWL MOON, for example, was published in 1987, and written at least three years earlier than that. You may have just read it, but it’s a dim memory for me. So my favorite is what I am currently obsessed with, a story or poem or book which you–the reader–might not see for years yet.

Jane reads one of her favorites.
Jane reads one of her favorites.

Who inspired your writing?
All the books that I have ever read inspire my own writing. My parents, both of whom were writers, were very supportive of my writing and that helped to inspire me as well.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love to read and walk, I love traveling to foreign countries, I love to watch movies. I love to listen to music on tape and hear live music as well. I love to go into antique stores and old book stores and find treasures. I love to visit my grandchildren.

What is your favorite food?
Chocolate cake: but alas, I can no longer eat much chocolate cake. And nuts–but alas, I am no longer allowed to eat them at all. I can, however, eat salads of all kinds, salmon, lemon chicken, lamb chops, and carrot soup–all favorites.

What is your favorite animal?
My favorite animal is the cat. My favorite cat was named Pod. Pod was a gentle, loving, golden-orange tom cat with double paws. Pod was the nicest cat we ever had. Now I share my granddaughter’s cat, a lovely, feisty female black-and-white cat named Sammy. You can see a picture of her at my daughter’s website: www.heidieystemple.com

Do you ever have an idea and then lose it?
Every time I get an idea, I write it down and file it in my Idea File. There is no organization to it; all the ideas are jumbled together.

An editor helps Jane make a good book.
An editor helps Jane make a good book.

What makes a good book?
Scholars and critics have been debating that question for decades. I like books that touch my head and my heart at the same time.

How do you develop a style?
Find those narratives that you like in your favorite books. Then try to mimic those effects in your own writing.

Have you ever written a mystery book?
Many of my books are mysteries. Shirlick Holmes, Robot and Rebecca, The Inway Investigators and all of my Piggins books are mysteries.

Who is your favorite author?
I have so many different, favorite authors, I couldn’t pick out just one.

What would you do if you couldn’t write?
If I couldn’t write, I would teach or edit books. (In fact I have done both.)

What kind of books do you write?
I write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for adults and children. In other words, a bit of everything. I also write scripts for short animated movies and song lyrics for rock groups and folk singers.

Do you have any pets?
Over the years my family had lots of cats, a couple of dogs, and my youngest son had a variety of lizards, birds, and hamsters. Today because I travel a lot, I am petless.

Would you be my pen pal?
I cannot be your pen pal. I’m so sorry to have to say no, but I say no for two reasons:

1) So many children ask me to be their pen pal that it would be unfair to say yes to just one or two children.

2) If I did try to be pen pals to all the children that ask I would never have any time to write more books!

I hope that you already are, or try to become pen pals with other people– it’s always fun to write letters and receive letters. In the meantime, I can be your book friend, and I hope you think of me, whenever you see one of my books in the library.

© 2000 by Jane Yolen, updated © 2007