November 22-25, 2011

This holiday was a bit fraught. Full of friends, food, and. . .

I thought at first a broken ankle.

The stry goes like this: On the 23rd, some friends, some family all gathered for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at Heidi’s. I drank two glasses of champagne (probably more champagne or indeed wine than I have had since Jason’s wedding which was ten years ago. Not much of a drinker, obviously!) And I fell asleep on Heidi’s sofa. When I woke to hours later, I went straight home to bed.

The next morning as is my wont, I got up early, did my exercises, washed my hair, did some writing, some email and FaceBook. Had breakfast. Had the requisite Old Lady Round of Pills. Put on my coat and went next door to Heidi’s to rouse the troops.

Well, at least I started out there. Went down the ramp (closer than just going down the front steps). Didn’t notice the skim of ice on the wet leaves. My feet went out from under me and suddenly I was lying on my back, my right leg (the one with the full knee replacement) bent back under me.

I lay there for a minute, assessing. Nothing actually hurt, though once I freed my leg and stood up, I realized I was having trouble putting my full weight on my right foot.

Since I didn’t have my cel phone with me, and I didn’t dare try to go back up the slippery ramp, I limped/hobbled to the front of the house, managed to get up the four front steps (don;t ask me how) stumbled into the tv room, collapsed on the comfy chair where I normally write, took a deep breath, and called over to Heidi on the house phone.

When she answered, I said–my voice rather breathy but calm–“I fell and. . .”

“I will be right over,” she said.

Within a minute she was.

Gingerly, she took off my shoe and sock and we both kind of gasped. There was a tennis ball-sized lump protruding from my ankle.


“Maybe not,” she said.

She called Maddison to bring over her purse. Maddison was just as speedy, and she took a photo of my foot, saying that when her boyfriend, Brett, had broken his ankle in soccer, it had looked like that, which wasn’t comforting.

Between the two of them, they carried me down the stairs. (How had I gotten up them is still a mystery. Adrenaline is such a great drug!) and into the car. We were all laughing as we went, a combination of Yolen-Stemple gallows humor and grace under pressure.

Surprisingly, nothing hurt but my pride.

At the Northampton Cooley Dickinson hospital, I was taken in immediately (small town, good service!) and x-rayed. Within an hour, we had the results. No break, not even a fracture. Just a bad sprain. Rest. Ace bandage. A walking air cast when needed. Ice. Iburofin. Crutches.

Put a damper on Thanksgiving. But we all managed. And except for some back pain (minor) from sleeping on the sofa, and under arm pain from the crutches, I seem to be fine. And by the 26th , I was  (gingerly) walking.

I got a little revision on Centaur Field done. A lot of games of boggle. Watched Netflix and On Demand movies. Caught up on “Bones” and “Top Chef” among other tv series. Read a bunch of magazines. In other words, I was forced to lead a normal life.

I don’t like it!

November 9-21, 2011:


Despite my wonderful PA’s best efforts to control me, I did too much travel this past week and a half.

There was the Connecticut Book Fair where Heidi and I presented and signed  a gadzillion books. I was also at the special dinner for the winners of the Raab prize (the young illustrators used my poem “Infirm Pachyderm”and I was one of the judges.) I stayed at Susannah Richards house.

That was quickly followed by a two day trip to Indiana where I spoke in Fort Wayne’s Convention Center, addressing the Indiana Library Federation in a speech called “I Still Believe in Books.” Plus a signing. And met both the author/comic book illustrator of UnShelved, and four wonderful fairly new Indiana YA authors who were all delightful.

Followed by a Boswell Books signing with Heidi up in Shelburn Falls, attended only by seven adults and 3 children and I think we sold seven books altogether, but we love Shelburn so not a complete loss.

Then Rebecca Guay and I went to Barnes and Noble to do a presentation to three classes of a local school (they walked over for the preentaion)–6-8th graders. Sold maybe ten books.


Tea with a college friend Mary, an evening watching Maddison dance at the Willison dance concert, Rebeeca G’s art gallery opening, dinner with my children’s book dinner group, and then the first of the Thanksgiving week of dinners with friends at Heidi’s.

Book stuff:

Managing to keep writing a poem a day. (Since January 1!)

Working on the first two chapters of Centaur Field.

Saw the absolutely adorable color pictures for Waking Dragons.

Learned that on the Poetry Foundation’s list of bestsellers, gathered from actual book sales in numerous bookstores across the country, Things To Say to a Dead Man was #7 on the contemporary list and Switching on the Moon #7 on the children’s list.

And here’s one of the poems from this ten days:

Listening to the News Reminds Me of Yeats

These are the turnings we were warned of,

the center imploding, the far edges

of the universe folding in upon themselves.

Now birds fall from the darkening skies;

preachers become prophets, making profits

from the end of days; a haze of obituaries;

fewer weddings and those disputed.

Notice how no celebrities look like us,

with their perfect bodies and ironed faces,

while we wrinkle like the sea.

There is no rough justice slouching

towards Bethlehem or the Arab states,

or for that matter in the courtrooms of Texas,

or the boardrooms of multinational banks.

Wall Street crumbles, the stock market stumbles,

housing starts tumble. Yeats set it all down first:

that bloody tide of change and not-change,

that bloody intensity of right and not-right,

the beast stalking the presidency

down the twisty, blackened capitol streets.

We were warned, we did not listen,

and the teeth are at the back of our necks.

Soon they will be at the front.

©2011 by Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

Interstitial Moment:

Mark Twain wrote: “Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

Well, even poetry has to make sense, though it is a bend-your-mind-around-this-metaphor kind of sense. That’s what we have to remember always. Just because something is actual, doesn’t make it True with a capital T.

Let me tell you a story. This actually happened to me. To understand the story, though, you need to know that my married name is Stemple.

My husband David Stemple and I came back from a nine- month’s journey in a VW camper bus around Britain, the Continent, Greece, and the Middle East where I had become pregnant with our first child in Paris’ Bois de Bologne. (It was the ‘60s after all!)

We bought an 8 room house in Conway, Mass and two weeks later had a baby. All the furniture in the world we owned when we moved in was a brass bed, a roll top desk, a guest bed where my mother stayed for a week, and a room full of baby furniture. And so we spent our weekends (and once I was fully ambulatory, I spent weekdays) going to homestead auctions trying to furnish eight rooms on the cheap and quick. Have I mentioned it was the ‘60’s!

While David was at work at UMass, I went to one auction at the homestead of an old man who’d recently died. Because of the baby’s schedule, I’d gotten there too late for the previews.  Baby Heidi was in her stroller, so we were at the back of the crowd. All I had to go on was gut instinct when items were held up. In this way, I bought a dresser for seven dollars.

When I got back home, got the baby to sleep, and wrestled the dresser out of the van, I realized how truly ugly a piece it was. And far too heavy for me to get it into the house and upstairs by myself, so I left it in the driveway.

When David returned from work, we looked inside the drawers which turned out to be full of the dead man’s underwear. But beneath the worn boxer shorts, we found a small cast-iron bank. I shook it, and could hear the rustle of paper money and the clank of several coins. So maybe I hadn’t entirely wasted seven dollars.

With a hammer and chisel, David forced-open the bank. Inside were $15 in one dollar bills, and a couple of rare early American coins. Score!  Plus there was a newspaper article about the old man’s father who’d been in the theater when the night Lincoln was shot.

For some reason I turned over the article, and on the back was an obituary for somebody named Stemple. Now Stemple is not  a common name in New England. In fact, spelled our way, we were it.

That, as I have noted above, is the actual story. But where is the truth in it? The sense? It may give you a momentary frisson. I’ll grant you it’s a bit spooky.  But, what else?


It’s not fiction. Mark Twain had it right. “Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

As a story, my anecdote makes no sense.

So listen to Mark Twain.

A poem, a story, a novel is crafted, not just told. The characters may be based on people you know, incidents that have happened to you, even stuff you have read in magazines or newspapers, or heard about elsewhere.  But for fiction, there has to be invention and storying. Metaphor at the ground level.

As writers we must not just go after truth with a small t, but Truth with a capital letter. And if you have to lie—tell a story—to get there, then you do.

October 26-November 8, 2011

This being book touring season, I get to the journal when I can. And today I have some time.


I had six wonderful women writers, all published, at the house for a retreat of five days. I had to do little for it, had some meals and chats with them, all very low key. Mostly they were working, thinking, walking, retreating.

Flew to Iowa for a science fiction convention called I-Con which my second cousin, Galen Brownsmith was running. Son Adam drove down from Minneapolis. I was on lots of panels, gave a reading with Adam, was interviewed, listened to Adam do an hour music set, signed some books. Lovely time.

Flew to Rochester, NY for a book fair, gave a short talk on graphic novels. Signed hundreds of books. It;s my absolute favorite book fair, well run, mammothly well attended, and lots of fun people, including Bruce Coville, Vivien Vande Velde, Leda Schubert, James Howe, Cynthia deFelice, Jeff Mack, and other darling folk.

Did a reading ay Smith College’s Neilson Browsing Room of the poems from THINGS TO SAY TO A DEAD MAN and 83 people showed up.  Very moving.

Ahead: Connecticut Bookfair in Storrs, Ct, keynote speech for the Indiana Library Federation, Two book signings at Barnes and Noble in Holyoke and West Hartford. A signing at Boswell Books in Shelburne Falls, Ma. And all this before Thanksgiving.

No wonder I’m tired.

Books & Writing:

Still writing a poem a day and combining that with a poem a day in November to raise money for a charity. In the November deal, I send out the new poem each day to folks who pledge a certain amount per poem. This is my third year.

Have been working on the trilogy with Adam, and we are well into the first book, over 11,000 words and waiting for the contract. (Still.)

I was surprised by a picture book which is called THE VANISHING PACHYDERM. And could not wrap my head around a picture book and editor asked me to write. Sent out a proposal for a middle grade novel, CENTAUR FIELD.

And of course had tea and lunches and dinners with a variety of friends along the way. And an old storytelling friend, Connie Regan-Blake stayed overnight and we took a walk along the Connecticut River and caught up on so many years since we’d spent time together.



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