Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Writing Barn: Interview with Creative Director Bethany Hegedus

Last April I attended a writing workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. You'll find some photos and details here. I learned so much from Sara Zarr and the other participants, and I had a lot of fun, too. I must confess it was a little nerve wracking to participate in the workshop process (see more below), especially since many of the participants were MFA grads who were well accustomed to this sort of critique. I managed to overcome my jitters, however, mostly due to the lovely sense of community. I recommend The Writing Barn to new, agented, and even published writers. To reinforce this recommendation, I'm pleased to share an interview with The Writing Barn's Creative Director, Bethany Hegedus.

The Writing Barn is situated in a magical setting and attracts writers from far and wide. How did it all start?
Bethany: The Writing Barn is the dream I never knew I had. It sprang from a strange combination of perfect timing for me in my career-life and my love-life. A year into living in Austin, I meet the man I would eventually marry, who
The wooded setting of The Writing Barn
lived on 7.5 wooded acres in South Austin, only 20 minutes from downtown. I had been working at the Writers’ League of Texas and had two novels already out. When we married, we decided to use the guest house/Barn as a place to hold classes, events, and writing workshops and as luck would have it, once upon a time, it had been a working horse barn, the name “Writing Barn” hit me. I am a sucker for a good pun.

The Writing Barn is a mixture of everything that calls to me: teaching, community, craft-focused writing conversations, books, books and more books. We have a fire pit for roasting marshmallows, a screened in porch which we’ve dubbed the “party porch” as our Cocktails and Conversation evenings that kick of our Advanced Writer Weekend Workshops take place there. Visiting published writers are encouraged to sign the party porch and retreaters and attendees who are yet-to-be published are excited to return and sign when their time comes. We’ve been open two years this January and word of mouth about what we are doing keeps spreading. It’s a joy.

What are your goals for writers who attend Writing Barn workshops?
Bethany: I want all writers who attend our workshops to come away inspired and with new ways of looking at their works-in-progress, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a piece. The lectures that have been presented thus far, have bowled me over; and I have been writing for over ten years and have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of the Fine Arts. Uma Krishnaswami mentioned “face theory” in her lecture on voice. It was something I hadn’t heard before and sprang from Uma hearing about the work of Japanese novelist Endo Shusaku, about how our characters all have four faces. It blew me away. Being a part of a conversation of craft, inquiry, and discovery is one of the best things a writer can do to take his or her work to the next level.

In your opinion, what is particularly effective about workshopping a manuscript in person?
Bethany: Workshop is the foundation for all writing programs and for those who gather in critique groups. The workshop experience at The Writing Barn is formal, the author doesn’t speak while the pages are critiqued, but has a chance to ask questions and respond when the discussion of their work is over. Workshopping in person, with a
Picture Book Workshop
table full of eager readers and fine minds shows a writer what is and is not working in their pieces, as written right now. Plus, and this is mentioned in The Writing Barn workshop guidelines, you get as much, sometimes more, from hearing and participating in the other pieces being critiqued. Ah-ha moments abound.

Another reason, I love in-person workshopping, is that writers expand their writing circle of friends at our events. You may have found a new person to be early eyes or a final reader before sending off to your agent or the agent you wish was yours. Last year, we launched the Advanced Writer Workshop series and three of our attendees from last year’s programming have had wonderful successes. One, Joy Preble, sold the novel she workshopped in the Sara Zarr event, and two-writers, Katie Bayerl and Kayla Olson went on to sign with agents after their attendance in our programming. I also signed with a new agent, Alexandra Penfold, at Upstart Crow after her AWWW workshop and the piece I was working on then is now being shopped. We’re keeping our ears open for future success stories!

What do you have coming up this year?
Bethany: 2014 is a busy year as we increase our programming both locally in Austin and with our programming that brings in writers from around the country. We have three Advanced Writer Weekend Workshops this year. Our first is in May
Writing Barn Lecture
with Jo Knowles and Robin Wasserman, and they are tackling revision with Discover the Beating Heart of Your Book. In October, agent/author Ammi Joan Paquette and K. A. Holt will be with us for Writing Outside the Box: Multiple Viewpoints, Unreliable Narrators, Unusual Structures—Oh My! And in December, best-selling authors and friends Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian will be with us.

There’s also the Full Novel Revision week: Mastering the Middle Grade with Newbery Honor authors Kathi Appelt and Rita Williams-Garcia, Shana Burg and myself in August. And in September, best-selling picture book agent Erin Murphy with two of her clients, Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon lead The Complete Picture Book Workshop. Applications and registrations are open for all these events and they are filling up quickly. We also offer on-site lodging and airport shuttles.

Writers may also choose to have private or group writing retreats with us as well. Anyone interested can email us at for more information.

Thank you for stopping by the blog, Bethany!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The GRIM Anthology is here!

GRIM is now available for purchase from: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BAM

Check out the trailer:

A lot of readers are having trouble placing my story "Untethered" within the works of Brothers Grimm, so I just want to reiterate that it was inspired by a very short (and apparently very obscure) tale called The Shroud. You see, I was curious if the Grimm Brothers had ever dealt with ghosts, and it turned out that they had. TWICE. ("The Stolen Pennies" is the other ghost tale.) And it was Philip Pullman's commentary on these stories in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm that prompted my own version. [WARNING: this commentary isn't that spoilery, but if you want to be spoiler-free before reading the story, you might skip the next paragraph.]

Each of these tales is straightforward and pious. They are pure ghost stories, but their intention is not to make us shiver so much as to point a simple moral. The belief system they come from is almost pre-Christian: the dead deserve their rest, and the living can help them find it; excessive grief is self-indulgent; sin must be atoned for. Once the human action has been taken, the supernatural withdraws. (322)

With "Untethered," I wanted to address the issue of ghosts and grief while at the same time adding in some of the shivers that were lacking in the original. I hope you enjoy it! And don't forget the Blog tour with giveaways.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Tea and a Book -- Sarah Addison Allen

This week I discovered Sarah Addison Allen. She writes about family, friendship, and romance. Her characters are endearingly quirky, and her stories captivate with humor and magic. (Actual MAGIC!) I finished Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen in about three days. (Three more to go before I run out of published books. Eeek!) Either of these novels would be a perfect companion to a soothing cup of tea and a treat. See if these descriptions grab you:

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before. When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. [photo and description from Random House]

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters. [photo and description from Random House]

Now, if I were as talented in the kitchen as some of Allen's characters, I would try to make a treat out of edible flowers, or some such. I decided, however, that if these stories could talk to me, they'd tell me to make something from scratch, but not to stress about it. They'd tell me to enjoy what I made, to take a little comfort, but not to horde or hide the results. In fact, they'd urge me to share with others.

So I went with a sure thing: oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I indulged in a little spoon licking, saved 5 baked cookies for myself, and sent the rest with Steve to the law school.

In honor of the flowery theme of Garden Spells, I used my "English Meadow" china from Roy Kirkham. And for my warm beverage, I chose the black tea from Teatulia--organic, affordable, and available in the tea section of Target. The label's description of "smooth & rich with no bitterness" is entirely accurate. (Loose leaf and full leaf filter bags available online!)

What are you reading with your tea these days?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, February 17, 2014

The GRIM Blog Tour -- with Giveaways!

The GRIM Anthology releases in 8 days! To celebrate, Harlequin Teen is offering a blog tour with fabulous giveaways!


-- At every stop on the tour, the blog will be hosting a contest for a giveaway of 1 copy of GRIM

-- Grand prize: At every stop on the tour, a grand prize package will be promoted, which will include 2 copies of GRIM and a selection of other Harlequin TEEN titles

Tour Schedule:

Monday, February 17th - Harlequin Paranormal Blog (featuring GRIM editor Christine Johnson!)

Tuesday, February 18th – Stories 1, 2 and 3 - Two Chicks on Books

Wednesday, February 19th – Stories 4, 5 and 6 - Book and A Latte

Friday, February 21st – Stories 7, 8 and 9 - Fiction Freak

Monday, February 24th – Stories 10, 11 and 12 - Mundie Moms

Wednesday, February 26th – Stories 13, 14 and 15 - Bumbles and Fairytales

Friday, February 28th – Stories 16 and 17 - Fiktshun

Learn more at the tour main page.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Writing Room Envy -- Cynthia Lord

For the past month I've been thinking about the coziness of a writing shed. You know, that snug little house built for one -- a hermit hole of creativity -- that lies a few steps away from a writer's actual house. Sounds divine, doesn't it?

Virginia Woolf had one.

So did Roald Dahl.

Can you think of any others?

Though I've only seen it in photos, one of my very favorite writing sheds belongs to Cynthia Lord, author of the Newbery Honor book, Rules, as well as Touch Blue, the Hot Rod Hamster books, and the forthcoming Half a Chance.

Isn't it sweet and inviting?

Here it is on a snowy day.

And here you see the lovely wood-panelled interior.

Cynthia told me the shed has electricity and she uses a space heater in cooler weather -- that way she is able to use it full time for 10 months out of the year. She also said that it was relatively affordable to construct. She purchased it from Hill View Mini Barns in Maine, having designed it herself using one of their customizable templates.

Having it not attached to my house makes a nice difference, both for me and for my family. I'm not "home" in the same way that I'd be in a room of my house. So there's a nice separation that feels like going to work. My family treats it differently, too. It's not as easy to just "ask a quick question" so they wait. Even those little questions can pull you out of work. Plus I can pace the floor or play music or read things out loud without ever wondering if I'm bothering anyone.

Thank you, Cindy, for the details and photos!

Since we don't have children, and my husband has his own office at the law school, I am pretty content with my home office. (Although the cat can be rather clingy, which often leads to limbs going to sleep under his weight.) I do still fantasize about writing sheds, however. What would mine look like?

Ever since I saw the Seurat House at the Dallas Arboretum, part of their 2012 Small Houses of Great Artists exhibit, I've thought it would make a wonderful writing shed. Just put in the doors and glass, give it some insulation and electricity, and I'd be good to go! I'd furnish it with a desk and bookshelf, a comfy chair with ottoman, and a huge bulletin board for story-boarding. Of course, there'd also be a small tea table with kettle, pot, and cups. (Guess I'd need a small fridge for milk, too!)

What would your fantasy writing shed look like? And how would you furnish it?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hedgehog in the Fog

One thing that really grabbed me during the spectacle and whimsy of the opening ceremonies in Sochi was the reference (during the Cyrillic alphabet intro) to "Hedgehog in the Fog." What a phrase! I had to know more. Steve did a quick google search and read from the YouTube description:

This is a story about a little hedgehog and his friend bear cub. The two would meet every evening to drink tea . . .

Needless to say, I had to watch. It is delightful! Perhaps nobody has time anymore to watch a ten minute video clip, but I really do encourage you to check this out. It's a lovely short film -- sweet, magical, and even a little Gothic!

My favorite line? "What a weirdo."

Also regarding the opening ceremony -- I think I'm ready to read War and Peace now.

ETA: Oh! My dear friend Michelle located a picture book version of HEDGEHOG. Here's a blog post about it. And here's the Amazon link. I must have this!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]