From Southern Stories to Gritty YA: Interview w/ Bethany Hegedus, Hunger Mountain Co-Editor

Bethany Hegedus serves as co-editor of the Young Adult & Children’s page for the VCFA literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany’s first novel Between Us Baxters was named a Bank Street Books, Best Books of 2010 (starred) and a Top 40 Fiction Books for Young Adults by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Her second novel Truth with a Capital T debuted at the 2010 Texas Book Festival.

Forthcoming, with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, is the picture book Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma. A longtime resident of NYC, she now writes from her home in Austin and will be part of the YA Diversity in Fiction Tour when it makes it’s Austin stop.

Somewhere in her busy schedule, Bethany also finds time to write in her blog. Postings range from promoting friends’ books to saving Texas schools to writing tips. The tone is generous, the information detailed. The blog reveals an author and editor who truly cares about the craft of writing and cultivating readers.

That generous tone is also evident throughout the following interview:

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

For Hunger Mountain, most of the fiction we publish is jointly decided by myself and Kekla Magoon, after HM readers cull through the online submissions. Kekla and I are much different writers with varying tastes, which makes for a range in what we decide to publish. Sometimes we will convince the other to publish a story that we particularly feel strong about or bonded to, and when that happens it is a nice thing, for us, for the author of the work, and for Hunger Mountain readers. 

My tastes run the gamut to hoping to find a break out picture book manuscript, to middle grade—and you guessed it, I am partial to southern stories and those who use dialect well, regardless of location, to gritty YA. Kekla, though not a fantasy writer herself, enjoys finding the perfect fantasy piece as well as realistic fiction.

I am not sure either of us has any plot specific needs, but I am fond of character driven stories, a voice that leaps off the page, and a feeling that I am being taken care of as the reader, in good confidence, by the author of the submitted piece.

Our upcoming theme for Spring/Summer 2011 is a variation on shadows. We haven’t hit the exact phrasing yet—maybe “The Many Shades of Shadows” or something but we would love to see pieces that play with light and darkness (figuratively and literally), a fabulous piece with an unreliable narrator, or pieces where secondary characters are shaded so well that they not only support the main character but truly help flesh out the work. Those interested in submitting may see the submission guidelines here: http://www.hungermtn.org/submit/

Why would you pass on a story?

I personally pass on a story—as in turn it down—and not show it to Kekla for her take, when the writing rings false and not true. Or when the writing is static and not original or if a plot-twist feels too authorly and not organic to the situation and circumstances being depicted.

I do work with pieces that have potential, editing them and going back and forth with the contributor. This is the case with a piece that is about to go live, titled, My Real Best Friend by Linnea Heaney. The picture book manuscript had real voice, and had that intangible something special that made me want to share it with others, even without it having accompanying illustrations. I am glad that Linnea and I worked together until we got the piece where we needed it to be, and I am hoping that the piece being published in Hunger Mountain helps the manuscript become a tangible book. One to hold in our hands and enjoy the melding of art and text that only a paper picture book can.

What do you enjoy the most about editing for Hunger Mountain?

When I threw my hat in the ring to be an editor of the Young Adult & Children’s section of the journal I had no idea what I was getting into—work wise or joy wise. What I love most about editing the journal is envisioning an issue—reaching out to award winning writers such as Mitali Perkins and Tanita S. Davis (who did a fabulous flipside piece for us on race and covers) and seeing how having that out in the world causes other serendipitous occurrences to happen.  

This happened when we published an essay by Nikki Grimes, Color Me Perplexed, which Nikki Grimes sent our way after experiencing librarians at ALA still touting—“we love your work, if only we had the readership for it at our school.” As if all kids couldn’t or shouldn’t be exposed and find a friend in a character of another color in any and all schools. It is one of my favorite pieces and one where got an enormous amount of response from readers.

Along with the big picture creation, and getting to showcase issues and industry concerns I personally care about (IE: the upcoming special feature on Passion for the Picture Book) I love that our page on the journal—which is written by and for those in the Kid Lit community—is growing in esteem and is seen as literary, as viable, as important as those who write for adults. One will never hear the merit of literature for children or teens “poo-pooed”at Hunger Mountain. Other literary journals of merit should take note.

And, along with finding new fiction and new voices, I love the craft-centric focus of our page. Writers never stop learning—pre-published or post-published and I hope the essays written for Hunger Mountain are learning tools for those who turn to our site for ideas and inspiration.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

I recently read a short story cycle manuscript, titled, The Pullout, for a friend and though my opinion was supposed to come as Bethany, friend and fellow critiquer, what I originally thought as I was reading is I have, have, have, to have one of these stories to showcase in the spring issue of Hunger Mountain. The one I choose, that I thought would resonate most from the collection VCFA grad Lindsey Lane is stringing together is a story called The Proposal. Lindsey, who has been known as a picture book writer, did something brave and beautiful in her short story cycle. She went deep and the work she laid bare had a profound affect on me.

This is what I wrote in my response letter to her:

“What you have created in the Pullout is a work of effortless human longing and searching, which is more about the journey—the pit stop—then the final destination. I say effortless because that is how the project reads but I am sure much effort—blood, sweat, and tears—went into its creation. The stories build on one another until your heart is broken and then at last with the last story, The Christmas Ornaments, it begins to heal and hope is present. Ah, my friend, what an honor to read these words here. The way you have strung them together, the silent transitions where the reader must fill in the gaps, the quiet attention to detail and the pain and ugliness of the darker side of the human condition. It really is a feat. Enjoy your accomplishment.”

And thankfully, after a little coercing and making sure Lindsey knew I didn’t want to publish the story since she is a friend, she said yes. I can’t wait to share it with HM readers.

And outside of anything I have published for Hunger Mountain—a girl’s got to love the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. I read this for the first time in college and have loved Flannery’s work ever since. Something about the southern grotesque more than appeals to me.

Anything new coming to Hunger Mountain this year?

I truly want to do more with illustrators, to showcase the visual side of this field, the painstakingly incredible and inspiring work illustrators bring to the page. I’d also love to have a conversation with a collaborative author and illustrator (who aren’t married or related) but who were originally paired by the publisher and enough magic and chemistry happened to raise the level of each other’s art to an even higher level. If you are that author or illustrator, please, please contact me.

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Questions for Bethany? Leave a comment and I’ll forward them to her.

3 thoughts on “From Southern Stories to Gritty YA: Interview w/ Bethany Hegedus, Hunger Mountain Co-Editor

  1. Catherine Stine March 24, 2011 / 9:10 am

    Hi Bethany–interesting interview–Keep up the good work. Kitsy

    Like

  2. C. Lee McKenzie March 24, 2011 / 7:11 pm

    Just stopping in to wave to Bethany. She’s a fabulous gal, not to mention a super writer.

    Like

  3. Bethany Hegedus March 25, 2011 / 9:44 am

    Thanks for the wonderful interview, Erin. And I am hoping to see many of your readers submit to Hunger Mountain. The next issue, as said above, is The Varying Shades of Shadows and the one after tha has now been decided upon and is: The Art (and Insanity) of Creativity. I am looking for pieces for that issue to address: tapping in to your inner artist, what we do artistically outside of our writing/illustrating to keep creative, the joys and pitfalls of leading a creative life, can writing be taught?, the elusiveness of artistry, hitting the creative wall and breaking through, the sacrifices (time, sleep, television) we make to get the work done, etc. If anyone has an article idea they want to pitch me for one of Hunger Mountain regular columns they may do so at: bahegedus at gmail.com.

    Thanks again! (And hi to Catherine and C. Lee!)

    Like

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