An Apology: June 2, 2014

I have been having severe back problems that may neceessitate surgery. SO many things I should be attending ti (such as these posts) have fallen by the wayside. In fact I can’t even fly to Scotland for my annual sojourn because I can’t sit in the plane for right hours.

But as I was conversing (by email) with a writing friend, I began to write this and realized that it’s something I want to have here.

I hate that we writers measure our success by whether we get a book contract, a starred review, a huge sale, notice in the NY Times, etc. Sometimes the most important things we write never get published, or get overlooked, or stunningly dumped on, or go OP within a year.

Yet when we wrote the poem/story, we understood ourselves, our world better than we ever had before. We were–for the moment(s) of writing–on fire as stunningly as an Old Testament prophet hearing and sharing the words of God. Yet somehow that fire no longer seems hot enough. Strong enough. Not nearly enough.

The problem then is how to keep the faith–in ourselves, in our writing–when no one else seems to have kept it. How to rekindle the flame when no ne wants to come near enough to be warmed (or warned) by it.

 

January 11-January 22, 2014

The time is whipping by, and another week and a half has come and gone, with a LOT of news and some thoughts. Or maybe that should be: with a lot of thoughts and some news.

News first, thoughts after:

*Heidi and I spoke to the Jewish congregation in Northampton about our Jewish books by non-observant Jews.

*children’s book monthly dinner (though we have been missing some months) with Bob Arstall, Alice Schertle, Susan Pearson, Shelly Rotner, Diane deGroat.

*regular critique group meeting, and only one time did I read a new piece–Halloween Treats, a picture book based on a poem I wrote for the local Trick-0r-Treaters.

*Five days in Minnesota, staying with son Adam and his family, speaking at granddaughter Alison’s school, watching grandsom David perform with his class for MLK Day, meeting with two editors (or rather three though one meeting had two editors and an art director) at lunch, spoke at the Hamline MFA in Children’s Writing graduation, and had a grand time.

*Found out B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy) made it onto the Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylow Notables List

*Rewrote a bit more on Centaur Rising revision, wrote a first chapter for the last Seelies War book, brainstormed with Adam for the end of the first book in the graphic novel trilogy, Stone Cold, and wrote a number of new poems.

 

Now for the thoughts: If you had asked me, oh–ten months ago if I knew what’s selling in the picture book field, I would have held forth on baby books, short word counts and shorter words, brandable characters, whacky humor, and. . . .and then I sold five picture books. One is about the seasons (in rhyme), one a concept book that’s a throw back to the books I was writing in the 60′s and 70s about what to do with a box (in rhyme). One is a book of poems about alligators, some quite sophisticated. One is about a stranded whale . . .that dies at the end of the book. And one about a French family of Jews in the 1940′s who escape from the Nazis and get out of Paris. And they all (except perhaps the box book, have sophisticated language, long sentences, many words, and not a brandable character in sight.

Whoa. Does this mean I know nothing about picture books? I think rather the market is going through its periodic seven year stretch and remembering it can accommodate both–the serious and the flighty, the up above and down below, the older picture book and the baby picture book, and everything in-between. Common Core may have given it a push, but I think the market was ready to make the adjustment on its own.

 

 

December 2013-January 10, 2014:

This time I have a good excuse for being late with my journal. My laptop hard drive (on which I do all my writing) died the True Death. Since December 13 I have been trying to recover what I can from various other computers. This was complicated  by the fact that the Time Machine had shut itself off somehow in August. Really, it has been a devastating time.

I lost the revision of a graphic novel under contract, chapters of new novels, a number of poems, all the settings on my Internet connections, Word, FireFox, Skype, the various revisions of old work and new, some I could reconstruct from the business computer and my old OLD cranky laptop, some are gone for good. And it turned out that the Time Machine turned itself off in August and we didn’t know.

By the time I got around to this journal (first I had to get reconnected to the design page) I was too exhausted to write anything. But not I am ready to tell you the few things I can reconstruct about the disaster.

I developed a lot of extra back pain and stomach problems due to the stress. But I am now through the worst of it and have managed to reconstruct about 3/4 of stuff though, alas, some is gone forever.

Along the way, friends have consoled me and taken me to dinner and movies. I have given some minor presentations, celebrated the holidays with family and friends, heard news of one new picture book (possibly) being bought, some poems being taken for an online magazine, etc. Seven rejections, rewritten the revision, rewritten the speech,wrote new poems (the lost ones are alas gone forever.

And I have moved on.

 

 

 

 

December 12, 2013:

The fall flew by and here it is winter already, the snow so far in Western Mass has been a joke, but there are promises in the air.

Lots happened this fall, nothing earthshaking, though. Family is well. I weathered several small (and in the long run insignificant) medical things that beset women of a certain age, and weathered a number of not-earth-shattering match.com dates. I gave speeechs that seemed well-received, wrote poems my 350+ subscribers seemed to like, wrote books under contract that my editors liked, and some not under contract that (so far) nobody wants. And sold one children’s poetry collection with J.Patrick Lewis to Charlesbridge.

In other words, the same-old same old.

My beautiful new book of adult poetry arrived, (the design is beautiful, and in the end I like the majority of the poems!) Sister Fox’s Field Guide to Writing. The latest dinosaur book came and is getting a lot of good reviews: How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? Also arrived Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters which is a lot of fun. And others thing which make me smile.

Travel–much too much of it per usual: Brooklyn Book Festival, Boston Book Festival, Rochester Book Festival, bookstore signings, etc.

Friends staying over. (Waves at Charlotte, Steve, Karl, Alan and Rob–I’m sure I’m forgetting some folks.)

Movies liked and disliked. Books read, and only a few worthy of a re-read.

There is sure to be more in my future.

I watched a small section of a short documentary about an illustrator friend and realized that if someone had followed me around all fall with a movie camera, it would NOT make an interesting film for anyone to view except me. And I HATE HATE HATE how I look on the screen.

Will try to be a More Faithful Companion. But no promises.

Here, to placate you, though, are three fairly new poems (all this fall) about the writing process:

 

One Damn Knot After Another

 

One damn knot after another

makes a story,

the knit and purl of it.

Why did I not learn such craft

at my mother’s knee?

All I felt was her inattention,

missing the metaphor that would

knit up my life, while she,

like a slipped stitch,

unraveled far too young,

leaving me to learn the lessons

on my own, one damned knot

at a time.

 

Lucky for me, the needle still holds

the lesson of the stitch.

 

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

 

Dipping A Toe

 

“All of writing is a huge lake.”–Jean Rhys

 

This morning I dipped my toe in the lake,

watching the ripples spread.

Some days I wade, hesitant,

a priestess unsure of her prayers.

On the days I plunge in,

the shock of the cold

wakes in me a longing for heat,

passion, fire until the water itself

teaches me that it is better

to swim than to burn.

Once in a while I get from one bank

to the other, and touching land

remember that I am only in the water

because the lake suffers me to be there.

I give it my obeisance and swim back

grateful in the end to get

to my proper side, a poem in my head,

and–if I am lucky, a story as well.

 

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

 

My Catechism

 

To proclaim the gospel of the tale.

To profess my faith in the telling.

To love the inane and profound

Words,  phrases, paragraphs,

the repeats and the hesitations.

To love even the  punctuation

that lets us know how to tell.

 

We are born into the congregation of story.

Our inheritance is the kingdom of invention.

To be human is to know the beginning,

that sly start of the tale;

to pass through the middle,

the twisting colonic of space and time,

to get to the end that is no end,

for to know and love story,

is the Ouroboros, the snake eating its tail,

for to tell the story is to pass the story on.

 

 

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

Selah–go in peace. The mea culpa is ended.

 

 

 

Interstitial Moment:

Some thoughts on my Poem A Day project.

Over the last three years I have challenged myself to write a poem a day.  I have not missed a day. Though I have to admit, I have often written several poems on a single incredible poetic rush, when  in the poetry zone. This means I have these poems in readiness for difficult sick days or flight days or simple dry days. The poems have become an odd kind of journal of my mayfly mind. I’ve written serious poems about loss or about joy, humorous light rhymed verse, poems for children, poems for adults, limiericks, haiku, kyrielles, sonnets, free verse (which some wit once remarked is not free, and I have added that often is not verse either).

I have begun poetry collections and verse novels because of the Poem a Day Project (PADP) and made poetry friends as well. Right now I have 333 subscribers who –in exchange for a poem a day from me–pledge to buy a book of mine at month’s end OR borrow a book of mine from the library. My cynical daughter wonders how I can be sure any of them are honoring that pledge. I only know what many of them tell m ewhat they have gotten and I rely on the kindness of strangers. (And who are stranger than my poetry subscribers.) The poems I send them are still pretty raw, unrevised (or at least not revised enough) and of course the quality varies. I have had to give myself permission to share things much earlier than I would normally do.

But what else have I gotten from the PADP?

1. Duh–I write a poem a day. Greases the poetry wheel, primes the poetry pump,exercises the poetic mind. Any metaphor you can come up with about keeping the writing machine fluid and in good working order.

2. I am constantly thinking in poetry, looking for new forms to try (am currently in love with the alternate Kyrielle, alternate because I kind of bend the rules just a little.) And I wrote my first verse novel. Whether it will sell is still an unknown. It has had one rejection so far. In geologic time than is a mere tick.

3. It keeps me (at 74) on my toes. Not an easy thing to do! I HAVE to produce or disappoint myself and my subscribers. Though parenthetically I add (you have probably already noticed I love parentheses) the first two years I only wrote the poems for myself, not subscribers.

4. And along the way I have sold many of the (heavily revised) poems to magazines, journals, anthologies. I have put together whole collections of my own, much of them from the impetus of the PADP, including my most recent adult collections SISTER FOX’S GUIDE TO WRITING (Unsettling Wonder Press, out this fall) and THE BLOODY TIDE (HolyCow! Press, out next spring).

5. Most importantly, I have rediscovered my love for poetry and find I am reading a lot more poetry as well.

 

So want to be a subscriber? Send me a note at: janeyolen@aol.com and I will add you to the list.

 

September 12-September 24, 2013:

The thing about writing is that sometimes I can push it–a deadline helps or waking up with a line or plot-line in my head. But most of the time I am an instinctual writer who works best with my fingers on the keyboard, letting the stories or poems leak out of the fingertips. I am not a careful thinker who dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s before beginning. In my husband’s wonderful phrase, “I show up.” I am where I need to be so that the Muse can find me.

Usually that means sitting in the tv room with the laptop, a cup of tea cooling nearby. Or on a train with three hours to gleefully fill. (Or eight hours, when I trained back from Devon this summer. Oh my! I got a lot of things going then!)

So these last almost two weeks, between jetlag, a fall at the Eric Carle Museum that bruised me a bit but shook me even more, and a lot of travel by car and catch-up on mail etc., I did very little writing. Some poems, some chapters with Adam on Professor of Odds, and that’s about it.

More specifically, I gave a birthday luncheon (cooking it all) for friend Christine and seven of her friends/including her husband and me. I spent two days traveling to Edinburgh and then home to the US by plane. I went to a writer’s meeting, dinner with friends, dinner at my daughter’s house, visited  a friend recovering from a small operation, read two Emily Dickinson poems in the Dickinson marathon, fell down at the Eric Carle Museum, drove to Stamford and then New York with daughter Heidi for the Brooklyn Book Festival where I was on a panel and then an autographing, on a local radio show with Heidi, hosted my travel writer cousin Malerie Yolen-Cohen as she did some of her travel writing about Amherst. Lots of busy-ness but not a lot of writing or reading (though am satisfyingly tucked into Emma Bull’s novel  Territory for the nonce.

Here’s a poem since I can’t offer much more in the way of journal.  Terri W posted a photograph of Henri Matisse and his cat, Miouche. The rest comes from my imagination.

 

Miouche

There was always light in the studio
and a little cat chasing the sun
across the floor with velvet paws.
Among the wild beasts, the Fauves,
only the cat knew the true colors
of a rose, a hat, a woman’s fierce eyes.
The green in the paint pot was no match                                                                                                                                                                                                            for the springy grass underfoot,                                                                                                                                                                                                                           the blue too understated for the                                                                                                                                                                                                                      shifting French skies, and the red                                                                                                                                                                                                                          too thin for a mouse’s blood

or the smell of death
in the early morning.

 

 

©2013 Jane Yolen all right reserved

 

 

 

August 29-September 11, 2013:

A busy busy busy bunch of days.

Along with the writing, I had visitors (hi, Kathy!), dinners at friends’ houses (hi, Christine and Toby! hi Debby and Bob!), lunch with the head of STanza, St Andrews Poetry Festival (hi, Eleanor!) as well as tea and natter with my poetry editor in Strathkinness (hi, JPP!). I had a gorgeous afternoon tea at Rufflets (hi, Janie!). I also had three wonderful days up in Aberdeenshire going to open studios (hi, Mike and Susan!) as well as a long trip up further north with mine hosts to see Helen Denerly’s glorious sculpture show. Plus I have been doing a small course/workshop on ceramics decoration (hi, Joss!) though I am rubbish at it. And today been prepping for a big birthday party luncheon I am giving for the other (first) Christine tomorrow. Plus I’ve been doing early packing and packing up since on Sunday I’m awa’ first to friends near Edinburgh (thanks Debby for driving! hi, Elizabeth and Steven!) before taking a plane on Monday morning home. Well, two planes actually. And then two trains.

But what about this writing thing, I hear you ask. Well, that, too. Lots of poems. Like this one, which my subscribers seemed to like a lot:

 

Prayer for a Friend

Be granite like the hills,

letting rain and wind buffet you

but standing straight into the storm.

 

Be porous like the clouds,

letting birds wing through you,

nourishing rain fall from your eyes.

 

Be arrow-straight like the pine trees,

green hands raised in exaltation

into blue skies, grey skies, night.

 

Be bright like the moon, shining

even when clouds overtake you,

even when the dark side shows.

 

Be gentle like the wren, tit, dove

on your own nest, in your own season,

with your own counsel.

 

Be giving like the moss,

couching feet that would tread,

holding them up instead.

 

Be in the world and of it,

Not below it or above it.

 

–for Terri

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

And fifteen other poems for the subscribers as well. Also Adam and I have been scribbling back and forth furiously and (we think) have only four more chapters to finish book two of The Seelie Wars Trilogy which, for now, is called The Professor of Odds. I have put together the extra poems from which editor

JPP will chose 5-7 for each of three sections (Maiden, Mother, Crone) of a book to be called Triad. I have done private editing for a friend on four of his picture books, an easy reader, and the proposal for a middle grade book. Did some work on Book 1 of the graphic novel trilogy Stone Cold am doing with Adam. Titivated the ballet picture book The Day I Became A Swan and sent it to my agent. Had a picture book rejected, and it’s on to the next for that one. Wrote the first two (replacement) chapters for House of Candy and rewrote the other two to become chapters three and four, and feel the opening works much better now. (I hate long flashbacks in children’s books.)

So there you have it. Life, a bit of liberty and touring, and writing as the pursuit of my happiness.

Home to Massachusetts in five days. I have been dreaming of being there, dreading getting there. Nothing new about that.

 

 

 

 

August 23-28, 2013:

You want a busy week? I’ll give you a busy week! This one included running a book launch for a friend at Wayside; the fifth (I think) annual YA fantasy writers’ luncheon at Wayside; a day trip to Glasgow to have lunch and a visit with cousins; a guest here at Wayside for two nights; finishing the decoration of a small platter in my pottery decorating class–oh yeah, and some writing.

The book launch was for the publication of Bob Harris’ first solo novel in six years, a delicious fantasy romp for middlegraders that takes place in St Andrews when two local boys mix it up with the Norse trickster god Loki: The Day the World Went Loki (Floris Books). Yes, the Robert J. Harris with whom I wrote eight novels and several short stories who is married to one of my bestest friends, fantasy writer Deborah Turner Harris. We had between 40-50 people at Wayside, Bob gave a reading, sold a number of books, autographed them. There were drinks and nibbles and laughter–and three children came as well. With parents, of course. It was a grand time.

The Fantasy authors luncheon was also at Wayside, and this year there were just seven of us: aforesaid Harris duo, Lisa Tuttle (the guest who stayed over two nights), Elizabeth Wein (with her new novel Rose Under Fire, a brilliant sort of-sequel to the brilliant Code Name Verity, and yes, I am in the middle of it right now), Elizabeth Kerner, Annmarie Allen, and me. Much eating, much drinking, much hilarity. And book/publishing gossip as well. I love these folks!!!

The day trip to Glasgow was a bit fraught, with my losing my rail card, and then an unexpected diversion getting to the station because of roadworks which took me fifteen minutes out of my way (luckily I had started fifteen minutes  earlier than I’d planned) and the station closed which meant having to buy a ticket without explanation from a kiosk, etc. But I got to Glasgow when I thought I would, had a lovely luncheon with cousins Janet and Nigel Fabb and Janet’s mom Bea (my first cousin). The ride back was two hours of bliss as I began reading the above brill Rose Under Fire.

As for writing: finished and sent off both the verse novel Finding Baba Yaga and the book of humorous bird poems, Rocking with the Birds. Worked on a new chapter for the second Seelie Wars book. And wrote a number of other poems including this:

 

 

 

Launch

 

Launching a friend’s book does not mean

flinging it against the wall like spaghetti,

hoping it sticks. Does not mean

aiming it at the moon, expecting a shortfall.

Does not mean hitting it with a bottle of champagne

while reaching for the lifesaver.

 

It means reading the book and marking passages,

calling in markers, and sending invitations,

making lists and making promises.

 

It means cleaning the house, buying cakes,

cooking eggs and deviling them, setting the table,

lining up wine bottles, arranging flowers, tables, chairs.

 

It means getting up early, going to bed late.

It means setting up, tearing down.

It means worrying first, worrying after.

 

It means sleeping with a conscience

whose slate has been wiped clean at last.

 

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

August 1-22, 2013

So all my promises about keeping up with my journal have been broken and I would be willing to bet I have lost readers because of that. But do not despair, Constant Readers (or as Dorothy Parker called it when addressing children’s book review in her Contant Reader column: “Tonstant Weader”) here is a three week catch up. And what a three weeks it has been.

I have been both host and guest these busy first 22 days in August. Hosted tea for Mark (one of the poetry editors at Pirene’s Fountain, an online journal that has published a number of my poems) and his wife Hazel and their “kids,” a delightful pair of well-behaved dogs who fell in love with Wayside’s garden. Went to the Pittenweem Art Festival opening with Bob and Debby and son Matthew and their friends, where luckily a painting I fell in love with–over my summer budget–got sold before I could come back two days later for another trip about, this time with friend Christine.

I gave a house tour to a Lorimer scholar, hosted my How Do dinosaurs editor Bonnie V and her son for four days, even driving them around the Highlands and through Glenn Shee for about eight hours. Did a day at the Fringe Festival with friends Elizabeth and Steven, then four days in Devon at my old friend Terri Windling’s house with her delicious husband Howard and their bouncy dog Tilly. Met many of their artist friends and one, the ineffable David Wyatt, had a painting of a bunch of owls as rock stars in a recording studio that so tickled me, I wrote 19 light verse poems about birds as rap, jazz, karaoke, brass band etc musicians for (hopefully) him to illustrate. And I reworked part of the first two chapters on the Holocaust novel, House of Candy.

And of course I wrote: Adam and I inching ever closer to the end of the second Seelie Wars novel, and edging ever closer to finishing book 1 of Stone Cold, the graphic novel trilogy for Lerner. And I have revamped the Baba Yaga novel in verse, written a poem a day (sometimes a LOT more) for my subscribers, begun reading the poems as the judge for the SFPA (Science Fiction Poetry Assn) big contest. Some 60+ poems to be read and judged.

On my plate before returning to the States: hosting Bob Harris’ launch party for his new children’s novel, The Day the World Went Loki; a birthday luncheon for 8 at the house for Christine, hosting (and cooking for) the annual children’s fantasy writers luncheon, a day trip to Glasgow to see cousins Janet and Nigel and Janet’s 90+ year old mom, my cousin Bea. And a three day visit in Aberdeenshire with friend Mike and Susan. Also a lunch in town with the head of the STanza poetry festival, a couple more pottery decorating classes to finish up my pieces, and I’m sure a bunch more lunches and dinners and Afternoon Teas before leaving.

And that’s why (excuses, excuses) I didn’t write in the journal for 22 days! Oh and the cat ate my homework. (Just kidding.)

 

 

July 7-30, 2013:

The writing theme goes on. In these three weeks, I managed to work with Barbara Diamond Goldin to hand in (at last!) our mss. for Girls’ Bible. Adam and I totally redid the first sections of the sagging second Seelie Wars book and moved to within five or six chapters to the end. I wrote two new picture books, one a total surprise–Bird Boy which is sort of what happens when the child in Owl Moon grows up and meets a boy with a similar bird-watching passion. (My agent loves it.) And The Demon and the Midwife A Jewish tale from Yemen, which my agent asked me to revise and then loved it when it was re-done.

I also worked some more on the graphic novel Stone Cold and sent it o to the editor so he could look for an artist. Reworked some poems (titivating really) for Grumbles from the Forest. Edited slightly Jason’s revamp of the story of Smokey the Bear for the family’s National Geographic Animal Stories book. And totally surprised myself with about thirty plus poems (still working on it) for my first ever  novel in verse, Finding Baba Yaga. Wrote a poem or more a day for my subscribers. And a bunch of other pokings about in the first chapter of Plague of Unicorns which has been sold to Zondervan Kids. Plus another rewrite of How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe which has been bought by Scholastic.

At the same time, I made a quick trip up to Aberdeenshire (just a single overnight) to celebrate Susan Gassaway’s 70th birthday, bringing along the two birthday cakes and getting incredibly lost both ways because the usual bridge I go over just a few miles from her house had been washed away and I got into a bunch of tiny villages, some with only one way in and no way out that I could find!

Also went on the annual Wormistoun House tea and garden open house with Christine, a Mozart concert with the other Christine and Debby, my first and then second painting-on-pottery class, saw “Despicable Me 2 (Wah–I want Minions!!!!), had tea with the Pizdziora Brothers, tea with Austin Hackney, dinner at Deb and Bob’s, a visit with friend Nora just back from hospital, etc. And worked extensively in the garden during the gorgeous summer we’ve been having, as well as hacking down the ivy growing wildly on the stone walls of Wayside because lovely as it was, it was destroying the stuff between the stones and even some of the stonework itself.

Missing my kids and grandkids, though. Glen and her Jason are hard at work on their first house together in the same town–Conway–where David and I had our first house. Heidi getting ready to send Maddison off to college but first teaching her to drive so well, she passed her driving test first try. Alison is now as tall as her dad, wee David not so wee any more and singing in the Minneapolis children’s choir. And the twins and their dad and mom going on another grand trip into the Smokies seeing bears and catching fish. I miss them all so much here in Scotland and yet get so much writing done it’s worth it.

More anon.