Without the mighty badge of the SCBWI national blog team to hide behind, I'd never have the guts to approach Jane Yolen for an interview.
She's Jane Yolen! Author of more than 300 books! A Caldecott Medalist and Golden Kite winner! Likened unto Hans Christian Anderson! Also, as far as I can tell, she is bionic. There is otherwise no way to explain how she writes so many fabulous books.
You might already know these things about Jane, though.
But did you know that she coined the acronym B.I.C. for "butt in chair"? Did you further know she was the second author ever to join the SCBWI? And that she was the organization's first regional adviser? She founded and for a decade ran the New England region.
You can see her in person, and if you're a bolder sort than I am, you can actually speak to her at the SCBWI conference in New York (January 28-30), where she will talk to us about picture books. If you haven't signed up, what the dickens are you waiting for?
Jane was kind enough to answer some of my questions. So please read on to learn all about the new BIC, because yes, people, there is a new authorial acronym in town:
How do you keep your storytelling fresh? Three hundred books! That’s amazing! And when you get to 365, I’m going to declare it the year of Jane Yolen and read one of your books every day.
I love that, and will hold you to it. I have 29 books (at this moment) under contract, all but two of them totally written, so I have a big jump on that number!
Since I have a low threshold of boredom, I like to try to write new and different things all the time. Not only does that keep what I write fresh, it means I reinvent myself on a monthly, even weekly basis. I truly believe it's one of the reasons I have had a successful book publishing career since 1963 when my first book came out.
Writers often are told to stick to one format. You’ve had incredible success writing everything from board books to novels for adults. Is it hard to shift? And does your story dictate the form, or vice versa?
The story always dictates the form, though sometimes I haven't a clue as to what that form is going to be. My recent graphic novel FOILED began life as a short story. My picture book LETTING SWIFT RIVER GO started as a novel. When they didn't work properly, I let them alone until I finally knew what they had to be.
Is it hard to shift? It's like being in school. You never got your math course confused with civics, now did you? [Martha's note: I viewed math as a civil rights violation. Is that the same thing?]
Once I am working on something, I am back in that particular zone. (Though I have to admit big novels tend to bleed into one another which is why I don't write them at the same time.)
What advice would you give to discouraged picture book writers who hear that sales are much lower than they used to be? Is this a temporary dip? Or the way things will be from here on out?
I think we are in the middle of several revolutions right now. The big birth bump has moved up into middle grade fiction, but that's a trend that will reverse itself, not just once but many times in a writer's life. More importantly, we are in a Delivery System revolution and no one knows just how that is going to shake down. But story will still exist. I promise you that.
You’re known for the advice “butt in chair,” or B.I.C. Besides BIC, is there any other acronym that we can use to get our work to the next level?
HOP--Heart on the Page. Really. Don't think about trends, marketing, money while you write. Just get onto the page what your heart tells you. Write the book, damn it. The rest will follow. . .if you are good enough or patient enough or lucky enough. But writing the book has to come first; writing the book in your heart.
Thank you, Jane! And now HOP to it, folks. Sign up for the winter conference, polish up your manuscripts, and join us in New York for the time of your life.
And here's a biography of her on YouTube, which includes a reading of HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT and a really charming interview of Jane.