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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Multicultural Books: CHILDREN OF THE TIPI

My friend Nancy Bo Flood writes wonderful multicultural books, and has a deep interest in Native American issues. I invited her to submit a guest post, and she chose to feature CHILDEN OF THE TIPI. Although we just missed the Multicultural Book Day on January 27th, it's never too late to celebrate the rich heritage of this country. Here's Nancy:


Edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald

CHILDREN OF THE TIPI is a treasure.  The book shares both images and words that accomplish so well what Michael Fitzgerald describes in his Editor's Note - that we can "learn the wisdom of the olden-day Indians directly from the source...we can still glimpse the spirit of that irreplaceable world directly through their words and photographs."

Yes, in this book we have a unique opportunity – an exciting opportunity - to listen to the voices of Native American leaders, both men and women, and to see their images in authentic, archival photographs.  The creator of this book, Michael Fitzgerald, identifies himself as “editor.”  All the dialogue and descriptions – every word - are quotes from American Indian men and women born before 1904.  What an opportunity for children and adults to read observations, descriptions, and wisdom by the very people who spoke them.  I greatly appreciate Michael Fitzgerald’s goal to "show not tell." He chose topics of high interest to all children – the games played, story-telling, mud fights in the snow, daily camp life, making dolls out of corn cobs, sleds out of buffalo ribs, hunting, riding horses…. Fascinating and fun to read!  The quotes describe with surprising detail but they also allow the reader to become aware of underlying wisdom..."including the emphasis they [American Indians] placed on moral character and the sacred quality of virgin Nature." CHILDREN OF THE TIPI brings the reader full-circle to now, contemporary times, with photographs of today's Native children continuing the very traditions described in earlier pages.

During the past several years as I have written and spoken about the need for children's books about and by Native Americans. Less than 1% of published books for children are written by or about American Indians.  I have emphasized the need to show individuals, not stereotypes, and historical accuracy, not myths, exaggerations, or misrepresentations...or silent omission.  We need books written from the Native perspective.  What an amazing book Michael Fitzgerald has created that is accessible and understandable by young readers.

CHILDREN OF THE TIPI was published by Wisdom Tales Press, an imprint of World Wisdom and Wisdom Tales. This year Wisdom Tales is sponsoring the first annual Multicultural Children's Book Day, January 27th.  They will be giving away sets of their children’s books on both their Facebook and Pinterest pages in conjunction with the event.  Take a look – their books are wonderful.