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TRUTH WITH A CAPITAL T

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. You can comment here or there.

Today the Tollbooth welcomes novelist and picture book writer, Bethany Hegedus,

to talk about her latest novel, Truth with a Capital T.

Let’s start with a peak at the trailer for the book either here – Truth with a Capital T or in the box below.

Bethany’s first novel, Between Us Baxters, (WestSide Books 2009) was described as “gut-wrenching” by VOYA.  A reviewer in School Library Journal wrote, “…beautifully described and believable …The pacing of [Between Us Baxters] is deliberate and suspenseful with twists and turns that add to the bittersweet conclusion.

Bethany is Co-Editor of the Young Adult’s and Children’s Section of the literary magazine Hunger Mountain and she is the Austin Host of the popular website readergirlz.com.  She serves as a mentor in the PEN Prison Writing Program and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

First of all, congratulations, Bethany on creating one of the most charming protagonists I’ve seen in a long time.  Your heroine, Maebelle T, is suffering from a serious lack of self-esteem after not being recommended for the Gifted and Talented program in her new school.  Meanwhile, everyone in her family is super-talented, or so it seems to Maebelle.  Her parents are successful self-help gurus who are off on a world tour which is how Maebelle comes to spend the summer with her Granny and Gramps in their newly-inherited antebellum house in Tweedle, Georgia.  Just when Maebelle thinks she will be the one and only in her beloved grandparents’ hearts, her trumpet-playing cousin Isaac shows up from Chicago to spend the summer too.  Then there’s the mystery about the locked wing of her grandparents’ house.  Why did one of Maebelle’s ancestors leave strict instructions that no one was to venture into that wing of the house?

Here’s what a reviewer in Booklist had to say about Truth with a Capital T,

“Hegedus nicely blends the historic background with the contemporary strand as Maebelle’s confidence slowly grows in this strong story about peer competition, race in a small town, and coming to terms with family history.”

Welcome, Bethany!  Would you tell us a little bit about where the idea for this novel originated?  You’ve written on your blog that the novel actually started out as a picture book.  Tell us about that.

Thanks, Sarah. And what a pleasure to be at The Toolboth, as I am an avid Toolbooth reader.

Truth with a Capital T began with my good friend, DawnMarie Ivory Kerper. (Here we are at a party for Texas Book Festival authors, where Truth made its debut).

When we both lived in New York City, DawnMarie, a country music enthusiast with a beautiful voice of her own, began performing with a band. As her best friend I was there to cheer her on. Watching her perform, and face her fears, a character came to mind—that of a Honky Tonk singing Granny named Ivory Ann. Maebelle, her granddaughter appeared as the “helper” character to aid Granny in her campaign to recapture her audience.

Aside from the character names, just about everything else in the story changed along the way from picture book to novel, as well it should. Granny and Maebelle grew and changed as the story grew and changed. It was a pleasure to follow the twists and turns they both dictated, as well as the obstacles my editor and I threw at them.

Once in novel form, the story expanded from Maebelle being a helper character, to Maebelle being the one with the overall story problem. Amidst this famous family, what was her talent? What could she provide? And, most of all, if and when she stumbled upon this talent, would it be—would she be—accepted? Maebelle, like Granny in the original picture book concept is valued all along, but the journey—the joy of the journey—is irreplaceable. In the novel what Maebelle discovers and reveals about her family’s past, and the town of Tweedle’s past, is just as important as what she discovers and reveals about herself.

To read more about the evolution of Truth with a Capital T, read these excerpts from Bethany’s blog:

http://bethanyhegedus.livejournal.com/8007.html

and

http://bethanyhegedus.livejournal.com/8212.html

Could you talk a little about plot development.  How did you go about “re-visioning” the story?  Are there certain writers whose advice you return to in those difficult moments when the task before you seems insurmountable?

To me revision is all about finding the heart of the story and that can take me many attempts. I usually see each attempt through to the end, and look at what I have on the page. I consider this rehearsal, even if it takes me many, many months.

At different times along the way Maebelle was on a mission to get her Granny and her Granny’s elderly friend Ruth to drive her to jail to visit her recently-arrested dad. Then, there was the draft where Maebelle was out to find facts and to figure out how her granddaddy died. Instead of feeling frustrated at the process, it fascinates me. Each choice, each time I start the story afresh, I get a little closer to that beating heart.

There is something freeing about beginning again…knowing where both the characters and I have been together and taking what I learned about them and myself as an author on a new journey. I wish it didn’t take me years to do this.  In my new WIP, I feel, at this point, that my “re-visioning” muscle has developed and I am starting closer to the story’s heart, but you never know. If I get to THE END and decide to open a new document and begin all over again, I will.

You know, mentor-wise, the late Norma Fox Mazer, taught me that only the truth is worth telling. Truth is usually complex, but for Norma, dubbed by VCFA, the “structure queen”, it begins and ends with scene. That is how I try to build my books, scene by scene, and to tell both the joyous and hard truths along the way. The time I spent learning with Norma makes me feel capable—that I can do it.

When I am not feeling so capable, I return to words from my interview with Kathi Appelt, whom I admire as an author, a teacher, and a truth-teller.  This tidbit from Kathi has stuck with me, “Wallowing can sometimes get us off of dead center, can sometimes let us get a fresh look at things.  I’m not so opposed to despair.” You know what, when I despair about where a book is headed, why it isn’t coming together, how I am failing IT (the Work) and myself, something does shake loose in me. My fears come to the surface and when I am vulnerable before the page, it is then, that my characters are most vulnerable too.

So, hmmm…maybe revision for me is a mix of trying, failing, wallowing, opening, trying, failing, wallowing, opening. I wish it were as simple as the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle: water, later, rinse, repeat but it’s not.

Tomorrow we’ll continue with Part II of our Tollbooth interview with Bethany Hegedus.  See you then.


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