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Writing Retreats: Interview with Sara Zarr and Bethany Hegedus

In which FYA gets to have dinner with Sara Zarr

Writing Retreats: Interview with Sara Zarr and Bethany Hegedus

That's right, our luck is ridiculous.  We got to have dinner with Bethany Hegedus, Sara Zarr and a few other authors -- whose names have been withheld to protect their innocence -- to conduct an interview with them about the writing reatreat on Emotional Pacing Bethany was hosting in which Sara was the speaker.  It was absolutley wonderful.   The conversation, food and cocktails flowed, and we covered topics that ranged from tv shows in the 1970s, (especially The Love Boat, ahem) to Mormonism, but never actually got around to doing an interview.  Thankfully, both ladies were happy to answer our questions post-dinner, so I'm happy to present to you their thoughts on writing workshops and The Writing Barn.

Bethany Hegedus

What inspired you to start The Writing Barn?

When I met my husband, he had an old horse barn on the back of the property that we were going to transform into my office. Once the interiors began to be built out I could tell it was a space for more than just me and I began to the possibilities of the space. As I love a good pun, the barn with the riding ring next to it became The Writing Barn. We’ve held classes, workshops, parties, book launches, baby showers, and even weddings. Our own was held here and it’s a joy to see others say their “I do’s” under our big towering Oaks.

Last fall when I was working with author/illustrator and designer Emma Virjan on our logo, I came up with a tag line: Retreat. Create. Celebrate.

That’s what we do here at The Writing Barn and we come up with new and exciting uses for the facility all the time—like having authors and illustrators sign the party porch. It inspires the yet-to-be-published to see all the great names who’ve visited and is a rite of passage for those whose debut books are coming out when they are asked to pick up a sharpie and sign.

What has been your personal single greatest experience since you began hosting conferences and workshops?

In our first year, we focused on local programming. We have such a multi-talented town and we’ve hosted events from yoga and writing workshops, to Sit, Write, Walk, a Zen-based writing class with Saundra Goldman modeled after Natalie Goldberg’s writing classes, which Saundra has assisted with many times, to Jodi Egerton’s  popular Word Play! classes, and more. Upcoming we have summer writing classes with Michael Noll, Shana Burg, and July and August we host weekend long memoir workshops with Spike Guillespie.

In this, our second year, we expanded into bringing publishing professionals in to Austin. As a published writer, I felt there was a need for advanced level programming for those published, agented, or on-the-verge (and those verge years can last awhile, I tell you) writers who want to keep learning and have talented eyes on their works-in-progress and in-depth craft discussions. I can’t believe the success we’ve had. Agent Alexandra Penfold kicked off the series in January and last month we hosted a SOLD OUT workshop with Sara Zarr, who was generous, positive, and so down-to earth. The writers traveling from around the country and all over Texas who came to this event were top-notch and my favorite moment has been reading things like this in feedback surveys:

I feel a new level confidence that I didn't have before the workshop. Hearing feedback from such talented writers gave me the push I desperately needed to move forward on my manuscript. Now I have the information and mental tools I need to push through and finish the book.


I’m inspired to keep going, exploring new directions with my manuscript and applying what I learned to all my other work. And I’m inspired to stay in touch with some of the fantastic writers I met, so I can cheer them on towards publication.

Those comments mean so much to me because we writers need community. We need safe spaces to share our work. We need and want to keep exploring and learning and I’m thrilled The Writing Barn is a place where writers and artists are supported on their journeys.

This November we welcome Francisco X Stork and writers can apply for that workshop now and we’ll be announcing our 2014 season soon.

What are your hopes for the future of The Writing Barn?

As the demand for retreat space and lodging for our workshops has grown, we’ve decided to grow too. This summer we will be building The Writers House, which will have four bedrooms: The Pulitzer, The Booker, The Newbery, and The Caldecott. Featured in each room on a desk or a bedside table will be that year’s winning book. Decorating the rooms will be artwork from Austin based artist and illustrators. We book vacation stays and overnights during festivals (ACL, SXSW, F1) through and I’m hoping those unfamiliar with the art and quality of children’s books will come away with newly opened-eyes and original artwork under their arms.

And finally, what is your best karaoke song?

Oh, man. I am by no means a singer so something that I could sing-shout. Like,
“You make me wanna…shout! Kick my heels up and…shout!”

Sara Zarr

What is your favorite thing about speaking at writing workshops?

It's nice to feel that my experience is somehow useful. When I can see that someone listening is connecting with what I'm saying, whether it's about craft or inspiration, I in turn feel more connected to my own vocation, and that's the best.

Do you have any specific traditions or rituals when you begin a new book or project? (i.e. Specific music you listen to, etc.?)

I guess the closest thing to a ritual is making the new Scrivener file, and creating a title page. The title page helps me think of it as the real book it will (hopefully) one day be.

Tell us one of your favorite anecdotes from your experience at a conference or workshop:

On my last say in Austin, some of the workshop attendees and local authors took me out dancing at this place that plays 80s and 90s music. They warned me that some people would be in full Goth regalia, but it seemed like there were an awfully lot of folks taking it to the outer-Goth limits. We later found out it happened to be the weekend of an annual Goth convention, which explained a lot. As much great stuff happens in workshop, I always find the personal and social interactions most memorable.

Who is your favorite band?

Favorite band! That's an impossible question. Okay, let's say...Crowded House.

So that's it!  Thanks so much to Bethany and Sara, both for the fabulous dinner and their thoughts on writing workshops.  You two ladies rock!

Jenny Bird's photo About the Author: Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.