The Kid Lit Community is a tight knit group of talented writers, illustrators, publishers, and industry gurus, alike. When one person is successful it isn’t difficult to celebrate that success as if it were our own. Many times, we here at The Writing Barn aren’t just friends with the writers we meet and teach, but fans of them as well. That’s why we’ve created this new blog series entitled ”Success Story Spotlight,” to showcase the achievements of authors who, having studied at The Writing Barn, were able to make their dreams into a reality.
Success Story Interview
with Cate Berry
So tell us about your exciting news?
How did studying/retreating at The Writing Barn support you in achieving this goal? What workshop/intensives/or classes have you taken with us?
The Writing Barn is a spectacular place to study. I took Picture Book I and II with Bethany Hegedus starting last summer, 2014. She gave very specific feedback on craft and the publishing business giving me confidence right away in my writing. It’s incredible what solid and detailed critiques can set in motion. Bethany has a talent for creating community and forming trust in her classes. She also offers valuable insight into specific areas of your writing needing work.
I also attended two Complete Picture Book Weekend Intensives ( September and April) where I was fortunate enough to study with Erin Murphy, Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick, Neal Porter, Betsy Bird and Alex Penfold. Everyone was enormously encouraging and honest with their feedback of my work. It was like summer camp for grown ups, complete with ghost stories, wine and opinions. The intensives were focused as much on building community as on building craft. I’m a big community gal, so it really feels like home studying this way.
How long have you been writing/pursuing an agent/publishing deal?
I have been writing stories since I was a little girl. I’ve also had careers in other artistic mediums. About eight years ago, I started writing personal essays and honing my craft seriously as a writer. Last summer, my good friend, Sue Cleveland, told me about the Writing Barn offering classes in children’s writing. Since writing for kids had been a dream of mine for many years I put everything else aside and threw myself into the genre. I made a goal to have an agent in a year. I never dreamed I would actually hit that goal!
I do think there is something to giving all of yourself, writing as if your life depended on it, not caring how much you may fail, simply following your calling with single minded drive and a huge sense of humor. Humor is big for me, and a lot of self compassion. I’ve survived a lot of bumps and rejection in the arts over the years and I’m sure will take many more. Building an ally within your own brain is key.
What fears/hopes did you have before the event?
Honestly, before the Picture Book Intensive in April, I was pretty low. I had been to another intensive and the mixed opinions from
critiques were baffling and hard to decipher. But one thing I knew; I was not going to quit. And I also kept reminding myself how highly subjective publishing can be; all of the arts can be. I knew I had manuscripts I loved and wanted to get out into the world. I decided to go into the weekend with a sense of fun and curiosity. Everyone could hate my work, or love it or somewhere in the middle. The point is to show up and get better, at least within your own set of goals for yourself.
How did the atmosphere of The Writing Barn aid you in achieving this goal?
I’ve taken classes and workshops at other venues, but there is something magical about the Writing Barn. The vibe is casual but structured which allows you to really be yourself while soaking in a lot of information. Not only did I have the great, good fortune to be offered representation by a dynamic and successful agent, but we really got to know each other over the weekend retreat. I think moving forward this will only strengthen our working relationship.
Have you made friendships/colleagues as well? How has that supported you?
I’ve made some of the best friends of my life within the kid lit community! I met my first critique group during Picture Book I at the Writing Barn and I will always be so grateful for that. Their talent and discipline is inspiring. Also, we support each other with good news and hard news. Beyond that, I have been overwhelmed with other members of the community at every step. Many writers who are hugely successful have taken the time to answer an email or have coffee with me, offering encouragement or insight. I’ve never experienced anything like it and I have a personal goal of paying forward whatever success comes my way.
Why do you think attending workshops/classes is important to writers at all stages of their career?
I think an artistic life is like the ocean. In the beginning, you are high on a cresting wave barreling along with ideas and enthusiasm. After awhile, the wave crashes. Could it have all been an illusion? You get pulled under water, struggling to make sense of it, wishing you were back on top of the wave. You can spend a lot of time swirling around in the undercurrent (the undercurrent always reminds me of revising!). Finally you relax, accept where you are and become part of the huge ocean. Suddenly, an idea sparks and you are back on top of the wave again, over and over it continues.
That was a bit woo woo, but I think this cycle is always with us as artists. If you continue to take classes, learn, immerse yourself in workshops, the ‘ups and downs’ start to feel more normal. You can see them coming and predict how to navigate through them.
Also, who wants to do this alone? It’s a lot more fun to jump up and down with a group of friends you’ve met at an intensive than just you with your little laptop.
What is a takeaway you will carry with you far beyond this good news as you continue to build an develop your career?
You can’t control the good news or the bad news. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t celebrate and mourn both sides. But the important thing is the work. The work is always there for you. And nothing feels better than catching a good wave and writing for hours. This is easy to forget. I put post-its all over my house reminding me.
Any advice you have for writers/creatives having trouble staying the course in pursuing their goals?
A reporter once asked George Harrison’s wife, Olivia, “What is the secret to staying married so long?” She replied, “Don’t get divorced.” I think that applies to the struggling artist too. Just don’t get divorced. Stay married to your writing.
Cate Berry grew up near NASA, often playing hide-n-seek inside Mission Control Center where her father worked as an aeronautical engineer. She went on to work professionally as an actress, songwriter and teacher. Ms. Berry has written many personal essays and two original shows, Spin and Dish, the latter produced at The Long Center for Performing Arts in Austin, TX. She currently writes for children and is attending Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program. Cate lives in Austin with her
husband and two children.