Austin author Bethany Hegedus started her path toward becoming a children’s book author 19 years ago after she was in New York during Sept. 11, 2001, and decided to make a change.
Her original dream was to write fictional picture books. Yet, every time some other work would come out of her. Hegedus, 48, has written nonfiction picture books including "Hard Work But It's Worth It: The Life of Jimmy Carter," "Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou," and "Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird." She wrote two books with Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi based on the lessons he learned from his grandfather. She also wrote the middle grade novel "Truth with a Capital T."
"Before this, I was working hard to tell those truths to kids," she says.
Now 10 years after the publication of her first book, Hegedus has written her first fiction picture book, "Huddle Up! Cuddle Up!" about a family using all the moves of a football game trying to get their two kids to bed.
They do pregame warm-ups of getting into the bathtub, they suit up into pajamas, and they clean up the mess of the day in a full counter sweep. They do fancy footwork on the way to bed, and they tackle the dog before scoring a touchdown and getting in bed.
It started out, she says, as a desire to write a sweet bedtime story for dads in recognition that her own husband is really involved in the bedtime ritual for their 5-year-old son, Taru. She honors her own father’s love for football in creating the structure of bedtime using football terms.
The illustrator, Mike Deas, is the father of two girls who are 4 and 6.
"We were living the same parenting parallels," Hegedus says.
In the story, the family is multiracial with a white father and a mom who could be biracial or is Black. For Hegedus, this is an important part of the world we live in. In her own family, she is white and her husband is Indian.
"Getting to see a biracial family of any makeup is just as important as gender makeup as well," she says.
When Hegedus and her husband try to put Taru to bed, she says they first have to get all his energy out. Then he gets to pick out three books to read. His favorite isn’t one of her books. It’s Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s "Papa Brings Me the World," about a dad who travels and brings back things from his travels.
He counts the lovies on his bed before either he turns off his bedside light or he lets her do it.
Parenting has made her have more fun as a writer, she says. Her next book will probably be about trucks, a subject Taru loves.
Being a parent, especially during this pandemic, has meant balancing family while sneaking time to write. Sometimes that means waking up at 5 a.m. before everyone else is awake.
The pandemic also has meant rethinking the Writing Barn, an event center she began eight years ago to support fellow writers with events including book launches, webinars and intensives on the craft.
One of the intensives that she’s particularly proud of is "The Courage to Create," which is launching a new class at the end of August. It has created new published authors. While she had thought she would postpone that intensive and other Writing Barn programs when COVID-19 began, she realized that "what authors need right now is a time and place to gather," she says.
One of the things she’s started is a conversation around transparency in the publishing industry. She likens being a writer to being a member of a country club. "You don’t know how you got in; you don’t know if you’re still going to be allowed in; you don’t want to ask questions," she says. "It keeps the creatives submissive."
Instead, through the Writing Barn, she says she’s "out to create the community garden version of it: a bunch of different voices all growing at their own rates, that raise each other up and grow together."
By opening up the curtains on how books get published, she invites editors to talk about what they do and invites published authors to talk about their own struggles and doubt. Katherine Applegate has spoken about almost throwing out the first draft of "The One and Only Ivan," which won the 2013 Newbery Medal.
Hegedus says for the people at the beginning of their writing careers hearing that story, it’s like "wow, that person had doubts, too. I can do it."
The pandemic has created new challenges for writers, especially parents who are trying to do it all. She’s trying to create an energy exchange between writers to allow them to bring that energy back to the work.
The pandemic has brought a new pressure because people assume you have all the time in the world to write: "What, now I’m expected to write the great pandemic novel?"
An agent who is also a writer reminded her that there are seasons. Right now between reenvisioning the Writing Barn and raising a child during a pandemic, her next great novel might be on hold. Instead she’s working on that picture book about trucks for Taru.
Hegedus gains creative energy by supporting other writers, like Nicholas Solis and Rebekah Manely, two locals with new books coming out called "The Staring Contest" and "Alexandra and the Awful, Awkward, No Fun, Truly Bad Dates: A Picture Book Parody for Adults."
"Celebrating others’ milestones makes you part of the community," she says. "It marks the passage of time in a cool way."