Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Living the Literary Life": The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas

About a year ago I had the good fortune to visit Austin, Texas, and stay in the Writing Barn. What a fabulous experience that was. The Barn is fast becoming a mecca for writers and artists of all stripes, but especially in the kidlit world, who wish to retreat, learn, or just spend some quiet time. During my three days there I wrote over 10,000 new words of my manuscript, and felt inspired and renewed. 

The Barn hosts numerous gigs all year long, and I've invited Bethany Hegedus, who owns the Barn, to tell us about it. Here's her story, and what the Writing Barn will be up to in the near future:

If someone would have told me five years ago that I’d own and run a writing retreat and workshop center, I would have called them crazy. I had just published my first novel, Between us Baxters (WestSide Books, 2009) and my second, Truth with a Capital T (Random House/Delacorte, 2010), was going through final copyedits with pass pages awaiting me. I was working on a new MG, still trying to see if and when Grandfather Gandhi (Atheneum/S&S, 2014) would land at the right and perfect publisher. Five years ago, I still lived in NYC—the publishing capital of the world.

Fast forward five years, and here I am sitting on the screened-in porch of The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, on a sunny February day, working with one of The Writing Barn interns who recently joined our team. Crazy, huh? Above me are names of the giants in kid lit who have visited our facility, either teaching, as Francisco X. Stork and Sara Zarr have, or attending  kid lit bashes as Maggie Stiefvater, Matt de la Peña, Peter Brown, Jon Scieszka, Katherine Applegate, and more have. Writers from around the country come here to retreat, craving solitude for solo retreats. Writing groups come as well, like the Write for Cake ladies, who visited to share pages, long walks, and lots of laughter (and wine.)

This strangely hectic but rewarding literary life is built on a foundation of everything I love: My husband, who has owned the land The Writing Barn sits on for over ten years and who has worked tirelessly by my side; my dog Toby, a Chihuahua who loves lapping up writerly love (and who inspires drawings from the illustrators when they are here); the books I’ve been collecting since I began writing, and which I’ve dreamed of sharing with students I’d hoped to teach, and our ever expanding collection of Buddhas; and my deep desire to have writers focus on craft and creativity and trust that our first commitment is to the work the page.

Along with the dozens of retreats, book launch parties and local classes we’ve held in our first two years in operation, we’ve recently expanded our programming. We have workshops for “advanced writers”—those who have agents, are published, or are routinely getting personal rejections. We call these events our Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop series. Our first AWWW this year is in May, with bestselling authors Jo Knowles and Robin Wasserman. 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! 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 and two of her clients, Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon, will lead The Complete Picture Book Workshop. Applications and registrations are open for all these events, and spots are filling up quickly. For out-of-towners, we also offer on-site lodging and airport shuttles. You can apply for these events here.

I have no idea what the next five years will bring, but whatever it is, I hope I’ll still be living and loving the literary life.

BETHANY HEGEDUS’ books include Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte/Random House) and Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books). Both novels were named to the Bank Street Books Best Books, with Between Us Baxters garnering a star for outstanding recognition. Her debut picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, and illustrated by Evan Turk has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. To learn more about Grandfather Gandhi, and how to live your life as light, please visit www.grandfathergandhi.com.

Bethany has served as the Hunger Mountain Young Adult & Children’s Editor since 2009. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, Bethany is the Owner and Creative Director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop and event space in Austin, Texas.

A former educator, Bethany speaks and teaches across the country

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