About Me

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jane Yolen and Sister Emily

Here's a quote from Jane Yolen in her Afterword to Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories (Tor, c2000):

"Writers are peculiar archaeologists. We gather the backward and forward remnants of our own and others' histories, mining the final part of that word: histories.

What we find there is always a surprise.

But there is a secret, a magical spell, that succcessful writers know---and I shall impart that to you now.


The magic word is: BIC.

That's right.


Butt In Chair.

There is no other single thing that is as helpful to a writer. William Faulkner understood this well when he said, 'I write only when I'm inspired. Fortunately I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning.'


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sister Emily's Lightship is a wonderful collection of 28 short stories, ranging from fantasy to science fiction to fairy tale redactions (fairy tale adaptations told from a different point of view, altering the original tale). In the title story, which won the 1998 Nebula for short fiction, Yolen supposes what could occur if Emily Dickinson encountered an alien:

Alien: "Tell me what it is you do in this place."

She knew this was not an idle question. She chose her answer with care. "I tell the truth," she said. "But I tell it slant."

"Ah..." There was an odd light in the gray creature's eyes. "A poet."

It turns out the alien is also a poet! And I love this concept, that she tells the truth, but she tells it slant; what we all do, I believe, when we write our carefully constructed poetry and fiction.

These are lines from the Emily Dickinson poem that Jane Yolen credits with her inspiration for the story:

I lost a World--the other day.
Has Anybody found?
You'll know it by the Row of Stars
Around its forehead bound.


  1. I enjoyed this post especially the BIC bit. Don't we know it. Have a great weekend.

  2. Nice post Annie, I love Dickinson and Yolen. Will BIC more often, my new mantra

  3. a word is dead
    when it is said, some say
    i say it just begins to live
    that day

    my favorite Emily

  4. Inspired at nine every morning? Absolutely. That's the best way to put it. I'm going to work toward attaining that.

  5. If you were to flic your "BIC", would that make it... lighter?
    I love messin' with words and here it is wayyyy past nine in the morning - must have had just a little butane left. Thanks for the post!

  6. I've had a lot of BIC these past two weeks and I have to say its hurting my back.

    Yolen is on my summer list. I can't believe I've gone this long without reading her.

  7. Hi Everyone,

    I'm glad BIC struck a chord. I think all writers can use that bit of advice, and Yolen gives it in a humorous way. She's as prolific as Ursula K. Le Guin and Joyce Carol Oates, and all three authors write for adults, and young adults, novels, as well as short stories, and poetry. (Yolen and Le Guin also write for young children.)

  8. Hi Brigindo,

    I'm planning to read more of Jane Yolen, too. Sister Emily's Lightship is the first adult collection of hers, I've read.

  9. BIC is very good advice. I love to take a notebook in the woods, though. But I get the point. A schedule is so important to a writer's life. Great post, Annie:)