Exclusive Interview: How To Fracture A Fairy Tale Author Jane Yolen
Writer Jane Yolen is clearly a lazy person. What else can you say about someone who’s written over 370 books? So it should come as no surprise that her newest short story collection, How To Fracture A Fairy Tale (paperback, Kindle), is just her doing twisted adaptations of famous (and not so famous) folk tales. In the following email interview, Yolen actually took the time to defend herself…and to tell me which stories in this book my mom might like.
Photo Credit: © 2015 Jason Stemple
How To Fracture A Fairy Tale is a short story collection. But is there a common theme to these stories, or some kind of connective narrative like what Ray Bradbury did in The Illustrated Man?
These are all fractured versions of previously published fairy tales. Some of them based on tales that are well known — “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” etc. — and some of them on much lesser-known stories. I know a lot of folklore, and have done some dozen books based on folklore, including Favorite Folktales From Around The World, Gray Heroes: Elder Tales From Around The World, and Not One Damsel In Distress. But all the tales in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale are reworked, torn apart, put together, some standing on their heads or tails or twisted in other ways. Plus in the back — as in the first volume of stories I did for Tachyon, Emerald Circus — there is full back-matter. In this instance, which stories I am fracturing, where the ideas came from, little points of special interest, and always a poem of mine; some published before, some brand new for the volume.
The stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale are fantasy tales. But do any of these stories, or this collection as a whole, also fall into different subgenres of fantasy, or combinations of them?
There’s folklore, occasional frisson of horror, some flat-out humor, legends, and one or two almost edging into science fiction. All twisted.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on any of the stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale but not on anything else you’ve written?
Interesting question. Probably Terri Windling, Ellen Datlow, Angela Carter, and Isak Dinesen because they have all taken and fractured old tales. And their stories sing. But they have also all had a big influence on my actual writing career, or my choices of adaptations, or pointed me towards stories or ideas that I hadn’t considered before.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on How To Fracture A Fairy Tale?
La Belle Et La Bete [the 1946 French film by director Jean Cocteau, which was released in the U.S. two years later as Beauty And The Beast].
It’s been my experience that short story collections are a great way to introduce yourself to an author. My first foray into the works of Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, was through his collection Bagombo Snuff Box. Do you think How To Fracture A Fairy Tale is the best place for someone to start exploring your oeuvre?
Well, I have 370 books out there right now. A lot of them are story collections, folklore, etc. But also picture books, cookbooks, music books, pedagogical books, non-fiction, poetry both for adults and young readers, graphic novels, YA and adult novels, novellas, essays — you name it. So actually there are many ways into my oeuvre. One might even begin by signing up for my poem-a-day list here.
But beginning with How To Fracture A Fairy Tale or The Emerald Circus makes a certain amount of sense because they have in common: short stories, back-matter, essays, and poems of mine all in one package.
Now, in researching you for this interview, I noticed that you are around the same age as my mom, Jewish like my mom, and live next to your daughter like my overprotective Jewish mother would if I hadn’t been such a bad son and moved to California. So I have to ask, do you think my mom would like any of the stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale? Because she’s a big reader, and while she is more into non-fiction, she was saying recently how she wants to reread Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451.
She might like “Granny Rumple,” “Sister Death,” or “Slipping Sideways Into Eternity” which are all Jewish themed. And “Once A Good Man” which is based on a rabbinical story. They might just push her over into reading the rest.
Along with How To Fracture A Fairy Tale, you also just released a novella called Finding Baba Yaga. What, in a nutshell, is that about?
Finding Baba Yaga is my first novel in verse. I began my writing life as a poet and still send out a poem a day to over 1,000 subscribers. It begins with an American teen who is being abused — though not sexually — by her extra-religious father and runs away. Sleeping rough for seven days and out of both money and food, she finds herself in a meadow. There is a little house on chicken feet that turns to her and she knocks on the door.
Baba Yaga answers…yes, the old Russian witch of fairy tales. The magic begins.
Cool. Is there any connection between Finding Baba Yaga and any of the stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale?
Finding Baba Yaga is a single verse novel that has grown out of my many years of obsession with the Baba. She is my culture hero and I have used — possibly abused — her in many ways: in poems, in stories, in novels. If there is a connection there, it’s only because of that obsession, not because there is an actual link between.
Obviously, if someone enjoys How To Fracture A Fairy Tale, they’ll like Finding Baba Yaga as well, and vice versa, but is there anything about the novella that would surprise someone who’s read Fracture?
Well, the surprise is that while I have written fiction about Baba Yaga before — the novel Except The Queen, short stories, the picture book The Flying Witch, the graphic novels Cursed and Foiled Again, and individual poems — Finding Baba Yaga is a double first for me. My first verse novel — or novella, as the publisher insists! — and my first versenovel starring the great Russian witch.
I don’t expect I am done with her yet…or she is done with me. But it will not be another verse novel. I am sure of that.
Well, I am almost sure of that. Now that you have put that idea in my head…
Going back to How To Fracture A Fairy Tale, earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced those stories. But has there been any interesting in adapting any of these short stories into a movie, show, or game?
No, though my Holocaust novel, The Devil’s Arithmetic, was made into a Showtime Special movie starring Kirsten Dunst.
Finally, if someone enjoys How To Fracture A Fairy Tale, which of your other story collections would you suggest they read next?
The Emerald Circus is a collection of my fantasy stories about famous worlds, like Wonderland; famous fantasy characters like Dorothy of Oz, Merlin, Peter Pan; and famous fantasy writers such as Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe. Or my collection within a frame story: Dream Weaver. Or the classical art fairy tales — i.e., my own creations though they sound like old fairy tales — in The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Moon Ribbon. There’s also Neptune Rising, my collection of art fairy tales about water creatures, and my last big collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories, Sister Emily’s Lightship.
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