© 2013 by Jane Yolen
I have a Muse who works overtime, or at least that’s how it looks from the outside. But I think about something my late husband once said. An ardent birder and, in his retirement, a bird recordist whose tapes now reside in both the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds and the British Natural History Museum, he was known in the birding community as “a lucky birder.” That meant he seemed to find more rarities and more hard-to-see birds than anyone else. But his response was, “I show up.” And that’s what I think the Muse actually is: the writer showing up every day and doing the hard work of writing.
If you write FOR a particular market or FOR a particular editor you will often miss the mark. But if you write because your fingers have danced across the keyboard, because a character has tapped you on the shoulder, because a story has settled in your heart, then even if you never sell it you have done the work you were meant to do. And sometime, dear readers, real magic happens.
Let me tell you about a picture book I recently wrote because of a haunting photograph I saw on line. If I had stopped to think about its saleability, I wouldn’t have started it. But I plunged in.
The photograph was of an apartment house in Paris on which a three story, three-dimensional angel with widespread wings had been carved on the facade. There was a newspaper story about how the angel had been built and survived World War II.
I knew there was a story there, and three things leaped out at me: angel, Paris, World War II.
Before I knew it, I was beginning to write a picture book (40 page picture book at first which I eventually got down to the more ordinary 32 page format), called “The Stone Angel.” It was about a Jewish family and the daughter about six or seven narrates. The Nazis come in, the yellow stars, escape to the forest where they live with Partisans, and then their escape across the mountains to Spain and then to Britain where they stay in the country till war’s end. And on their return, the father’s job is reinstated and he finds an apartment in, yes, the angel building.
A picture book? Really? Not a novel? It sounds like the plot of a novel. Yeah, I kept hearing that in my head and I kept dismissing the idea. I finished the picture book, sent it editor Jill Santopolo who was doing my fairy tale novels. It was not her kind of thing at all.
And in two weeks, she’d bought the book, found an illustrator, helped me shrink the text to a 32 pager (saying, “I love this as a 40 page book and if we can’t make it work at 32 pages with the same power, I can make the case for the longer picture book.”).
But sometimes the magic works.
© 2013 by Jane Yolen, all rights reserved
Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.
Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.
Her website JaneYolen.com presents information about her over three hundred books for children. It also contains essays, poems, answers to frequently asked questions, a brief biography, her travel schedule, and links to resources for teachers and writers. It is intended for children, teachers, writers, storytellers, and lovers of children’s literature.