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 info@thewritingbarn.com for more information.

Thank you for stopping by the blog, Bethany!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fantastic experience! Actually, you had me at the fire pit for roasting marshmallows!

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  2. This experience sounds amazing! Thanks for such a wonderful interview.

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