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23 February 2017

Jane Yolen on THE SEELIE WARS TRILOGY and writing

Since moving to Scotland, Jane Yolen has become a big part of my life, partly because she spends quite a bit of her time in St. Andrews, just north of Edinburgh. So, I'm thrilled to bring some attention to some of her, perhaps, lesser known books, like the third book in THE SEELIE WARS TRILOGY. I'll let Jane tell you about it...       
Jane: The Seelie King's War--the last act of the Seelie Wars trilogy (which I wrote with my son Adam Stemple, a well-published author himself) came out in what was a compromised situation. As often when large publishing companies merge, authors and their books get lost in the shuffle. Our editor--the marvelous and quirky Sharyn November--was let go after 27 strong years as the fantasy expert at Viking just as we were finishing the final book. That book got lost in the shuffle of imprints, and while it was supposedly published in November (which we found out by looking online at Amazon since no one at the company was keeping in touch with us), we did not get our copies of the book until late January after many emails back and forth between us, our agent, and the new powers that be at Penguin/Ramdom. Still no explanation, no apology, and no real publicity for it.
      It is a lesson, a hard one for us as authors, and for our fans.
      But the book exists, it's the wild conclusion of the well-reviewed Seelie Wars Trilogy, which stars (in alternating chapters) a girl hero and a boy hero--Snail and Aspen. She is a midwife's apprentice and he a hostage prince. Unfortunately, they begin a war because they have been tricked by the scheming drow, Old Jack Daw. Along their escape route, they dodge carnivorous mermen, help a troll give birth, get out of a Unseelie dungeon together only to be put into a Seelie prison. Meet an unscrupulous wizard, a "made" singer of magic, a team of unicorns, a flying carpet, a trio of snarky dwarves, a killer spy, and finally make their last stand at a full blown war. I am tired just writing that sentence.
      It's been a five year labor of love for Adam and me, with maps.
      Hope you can find all three of the books: The Hostage Prince, The Last Changeling. And now the (forlorn and forgotten, or simply misplaced) The Seelie King's War.

I asked Jane a few questions about writing:
e: How do ideas come to you and how do you develop them into stories?
Jane:
Depends on the idea--whether it comes as a single word, a full sentence, an entire plot, or request from an editor. Depends upon what else is on the front burner, the back burner, or if I have just been badly burned by an editor or a different idea. Whether things are difficult at home, or lovely, whether I am on the road or in the middle of three deadlines.
      But I have gotten ideas from some of the following places (though many other ways as well): a song misheard, a newspaper clipping sent by a friend, a tv biopic, a sentence in a book, a dream, an overhead conversation, a suggestion/challenge by another writer, an editor asking for something specific, an anthologist wanting a poem, a story or a song from me, kids asking for a follow-up book.
      Develping comes in just as many ways. Deadlines help as I have to dig deep quickly. An interested editor helps, ditto.
      I surround myself with research if ncessary (and sometimes when not necessary. Along the way I have learned things about--swords, armies, bears, owls, birds in general, the Holocaust, partisans in World War II, Dr.Mengeles experiments, folklore of all kinds and shapes and cultures, crabs, starfish (taxonomically now called sea stars by the way), hedgehogs, Scottish bogs, Celtic musical instruments, te Iditirod, African elephants, women pirates, the Shakers, bells and bell ringers, kites, dances around the world, ballet, fencing foils, and much, much more.
      After research, I do a lot of following false plot trails, or the search for the perfect rhyme, or the exact crunch of carrots, or the many possibilities for describing the color gray (or grey.)
      And along the way, there is constant rewriting. A book is not written but rewritten 4 or 40 times, depending.

e: You seem to love to collaborate. :) What is your philosophy behind that?
Jane:
Someone once said, "Writing with a partner is twice the knowledge ad half the pay." It might have been me.

e: This is something I usually ask illustrators, but I think you will have an informed answer! What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Jane:
First, I have to tell you that I divide all the books I do into head books, heart books and checkbooks. Sometimes they combine in various ways. Head book=a book you have thought of, clever, appealing, often a quick write, usually very salable. My Commander Toad books and my dinosaur books. Checkbook=an editor waves a check at you, asks you to do the book. Any book done specifically for the money. Heart book--the one that touches you deeply, maybe a family story like Owl Moon, or a story that touches on who you are (I am Jewish, have written 3 Holocaust novels),
      If the subject touches you--writer or illustrator--deeply, that rubs off AS LONG AS YOU DON"T GET SENTIMENTAL ABOUT IT. Nothing brings a piece of art down more quickly than sentimentality, which is not to be confused with sentiment. It's the difference between something you write to your mother/father/husband/wife/child at deep moments and a Hallmark card.

e: Thank you, Jane! I know we can't wait to read more! (Here's one of Jane's writing spots.)

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