Bethany Hegedus’s middle grade novels Truth with a Capital T and Between Us Baxters were both named Bank Street Books, Best Books in 2010 and 2011. Forthcoming is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. Bethany teaches privately, speaks across the country, and operates The Writing Barn, a writing workshop/retreat space. She also serves as the Editor of the Children’s and Young Adult section of Hunger Mountain.To learn more, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Tell us about The Writing Barn! How’s everything going? Who inspired the idea? And did I hear rumors you just held your book-themed wedding there? Do tell!
The Writing Barn is the brain child of me and my husband, Vivek. He has owned 7.5 acres of land in South Austin for over ten years. On it, sat his office (The Cabin), a once working horse barn, which was filled with furniture and cobwebs, when we met—and his home, which was being renovated to turn the home into a workshop center—for yoga, lectures, etc. But, as we grew more and more serious, we decided our home needed to be our home. It was Vivek’s dream to have floor to ceiling bookshelves—so we transferred that dream from the house to the barn at the back of the property. Work began on turning the structure from a barn with a hay loft to a library and workshop space with a guest/instructor bedroom. The open window where horses used to stick their heads in is now a big picture window. The stalls were screened in and a porch was built and wala…The Writing Barn was completed last October.
My need for an office and our desire to host workshops of a variety of types is what really was behind The Writing Barn becoming what it is. We opened to the public late last year and have held a variety of events: a book launch parties—complete with mini-horses (Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby’s Harness Horses, Bucking Bronco’s and Pit Ponies); poetry writing workshops, a Zen writing meditation retreat given by Saundra Goldman, a student of Natalie Goldberg’s; a yoga and writing workshop; and now we are hosting Write Away Weekends—where a writer rents the space from Friday at 5pm until Sunday at 5pm to have 48 hours of uninterrupted writing time. We look forward to hosting many other inspiring classes and events and hosting writers from across the country for solo or writing group retreats.
And, you heard right! The Writing Barn and its surrounding grounds hosted 150 of our friends and family as Vivek and I said our do’s under the two big Live Oaks that stand tall in front of the Barn. And, there is another Writing Barn Wedding booked for October! We are soon to list a Wedding page to the website with information on Writing Barn Weddings, with lots of book-themed vendors.
Brittney, it’s so surreal to be chatting with you about the Barn. It’s more than a dream come true to be able to share The Writing Barn and what it offers; it’s the dream I never knew I had. I am enjoying every minute of it and love seeing the multiple ways it can be used. I also teach there privately—meeting with my one-on-one novel and picture book students—and write my own work there, as well. All that creative energy in one place feeds both me and my fiction.
If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?
If I could be any fictional character, I would be Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. I love that man. His moral center. His heart. His strength. His courage. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. As a teen and young adult, I read it at least once a year. I love Scout, Jem, Dill, Tom Robinson, and Calpurnia—but it is Atticus whose closing argument I read out loud each time I got to that page. As a younger reader, I may have wanted to be Scout and to sit on his lap and read the newspaper, but as an adult, I want to be the parental figure—the one who doesn’t have all the answers, but who has the courage to speak out against injustices, and has the ability to hold all that pain and who teaches Scout and Jem about who and what a true Southern gentleman is not by words but by actions.
Ever had something happen that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best?
I moved to NYC in my twenties in the hopes of becoming an actress. I studied with one teacher who said I was the shyest person she ever met. (Most folks reading this who know me are thinking—what? Bethany, shy?) I also auditioned for an acting class that two of my best friends, whom I moved from Georgia to NYC with, were in. They were accepted, I wasn’t. I was ashamed and mortified and struggled with not having the talent that I thought I did and that when I was younger others thought I had. I wasn’t me when I was acting. (And to me that is the point—revealing parts of the self while inhabiting another character.) I was torn between acting and writing—though I had always acted and never really wrote anything but poetry and personal essays—which I never attempted to get published. My best friend, who was and is still an actor, said to me—“Bethany, there are some actors who can write but they aren’t writers and some writers who can act but they aren’t actors—you are a writer.”
Those were hard words to hear but they were the truth—for me. I could have continued to pursue acting over writing, or pursued both—but I didn’t.
I signed up for a writing class—one for writing for children. I left that first class with two picture book drafts and 70 pages of a novel draft. None of that work saw the light of day, but I was writing. And in fiction, I found the honesty I was searching to portray in my acting.
I had honed my ear for dialect while living in the South and reading plays—and I found a place for the shy part of myself as well as the gregarious part of myself—on the page. It hurt like hell at the time but the second I found my “true talent” and started pursuing it wholeheartedly I never looked back. It took about 8 years to sell a novel but from the moment I started putting words to the page in an effort to become a published author, all the “ick” of acting and not feeling good enough, disappeared.
In regards to Hunger Mountain, what do you have coming out? What are you in need of?
I am so proud of Hunger Mountain being the only journal to publish kid lit besides “adult lit” heavyweights such as Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, and Erika L. Sanchez. The journal which routinely has short stories considered for the Pushcart Prize takes children’s literature seriously and publishes accordingly.
We are still accepting pieces for the summer and fall issues. For summer, our theme is: The Landscape of Literature and we are looking for pieces on place, setting as character, etc. For fall, we hop into the genre fray and our highlighting Sci-Fi and Fantasy. We are looking for pieces on world building, how sci-fi and fantasy get at “truths” in a way realistic fiction may not be able to, time travel, and of course short stories and poems that embody the best of the Sci-fi and Fantasy techniques.
And, we also have an active and open call for the 2012 the print issue, which is sold in bookstores and sent to subscribers. The theme is Labyrinths and from the Hunger Mountain submission page, this is what we are looking for:
Send us your poems, stories, and essays about labyrinths and mazes of all kinds. We interpret our themes creatively, which means we’re looking for work about memory, time, history, the tangles of the human body, connections, dead ends, wrong turns, getting lost, and finding the way out. We think a labyrinth could exist in a city, forest, household, workplace–and a hundred places we haven’t thought of yet.
And, with yesterday’s death of the legendary Maurice Sendak we are working on a Celebrating Sendak memorial. The deadline for that one is May 20th, so if interested in being considered for the round-up, submit soon. And, there is also the annual Katherine Paterson Prize contest which awards a $1000 to the overall winner. This year’s judge is the amazing and multi-talented Kathi Appelt. To enter the KPP contest, see here.
Lots, lots, lots going on in all areas—including being back to work on a MG and falling in love with my MC all over again.
I always hear my characters first. They talk in my head for weeks before I pay enough attention to figure out what their story is. This does make me seem crazy sometimes, especially when they get loud.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. I eavesdrop a lot and I watch a ton of TV. There are plotlines and dramas and characters all around you if you tune in.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I recently heard Allen Zadoff say that you should never screw the next guy who’s going to keep writing tomorrow. Meaning, don’t mess yourself up by stopping in a place in your draft where you don’t know what happens next. Always set yourself up to be able to start writing again quickly. Sometimes that might mean stop mid-sentence and then pick it up the next day. Great, great advice!
What one word describes you? Why?
Nostalgic. I think about the past a lot, and even when I’m having a great time in the present I’m often thinking, “Oh, what a lovely memory this will be!” It’s weird, I know.
The work is done. How do you recharge?
Yoga. Walks in the park. Making my baby laugh. Baby laughs are the BEST THING EVER.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?