After 17 years in New York, Henson moves back to Kentucky

January 26, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Heather Henson traded in the sound of horns honking in her Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood for the sound of the wind whistling around the 100-year-old house where her mother grew up. Instead of cafes on the corner where she can settle in with a cappuccino, there’s a cave in the front yard for the author to explore with her husband, Tim Ungs, and 3 1/2-year-old son Daniel.

The desire to raise their child nearer to family sparked the August move, but after 17 years of living in New York and working in the publishing field, Henson, daughter of Pioneer Playhouse owners Eben and Charlotte Henson, has mixed feelings.

"We still feel like this is a kind of trial," says the 37-year-old, noting that one of New Yorkers' favorite pastimes is to talk about leaving, but they rarely uproot.

The author of "Making the Run," which is categorized as young adult fiction, knows she can write anywhere, but she misses the energy of the big city.


"I miss what you can do in your down-time," says Henson, who is dressed in a black sweater and brown skirt with knee-high black leather boots.

She admits that she usually doesn't dress up when she's hanging out at the house, but choosing the outfit of the day was one of her favorite things when she worked for a publisher.

"Some days, when I dress I feel more productive."

To make up for the absence of one of favorite big-city pastimes, her husband gave her an expresso machine for Christmas.

"One thing I really miss is the cappuccino and expresso on the corner," says Henson, who will give a reading and sign her book at 2 p.m. Saturday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. The book was published in paperback this year and was named to the Books for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library.

It's about the trials a teenage girl experiences while growing up in a small town. Henson says it does have some autobiographical elements, such as the fact that she become interested in photography as a teenager and her older brother did play in a band.

"It's true to what I saw growing up, but it's not autobiographical."

The title is based on the fact that the teenagers had to cross the county line to buy alcohol. That concept was hard to explain when she visited a school in the Bronx.

"They wanted to know what's the deal with the alcohol and going to the next town?"

She quit her job as an editor to pursue her own writing

"Making the Run" was published by HarperCollins, where Henson worked several years as an editor of children's books before quitting seven years ago to pursue her own writing.

"I was growing tired of the corporate environment and I had always wanted to be a writer," she says.

As a writer, she says her favorite time to knuckle down to work is 5-7 a.m., but her efforts often are thwarted by her son, who is an early riser.

"I try to get him back to bed, but sometimes I just give up and start getting him ready."

After Daniel heads to Danville Montessori School, she tries again.

"I can get back to it, but I feel like there's a magic time as a writer. You haven't picked up the paper. ... It's like you're channeling. Once your husband is up or the phone rings, it's gone."

Henson, who also does some ghost writing such as for adaptation of the Little House books, likes to devote four solid hours to her work each day. Her novel in progress is for ages 8-12 and is about a girl growing up in summerstock theater.

"Which is autobiographical because I grew up at Pioneer Playhouse," she says.

She also is working on a children's book, "Angel Coming," which is about the frontier midwife service that Mary Breckinridge started in Eastern Kentucky in the 1930s. The nurses in Hyden were referred to as angels on horseback. It is told from the perspective of a little girl who is waiting for her mother to have a baby.

"When the children asked where babies came from the adults would say, 'The angels bring them in their saddlebags.'"

Although she spent most of her adult life in New York, Henson says her writing always involves her native state.

"I always write about Kentucky. Even though I lived in New York, I was never interested in writing about an urban setting."

She did have a couple of false starts before she dove into writing. She spent a year after high school investigating her desire to be an actress. Next, she considered filmmaking like her brother, Robby Henson. She moved to New York to study, but was pulled toward the writing and editing classes.

"They encouraged me in writing. They'd say, 'You have a really interesting voice.'"

She does like having room to roam in their farmhouse

Now the author and her voice have come home to test the waters. Despite the change in pace, she does like the room to roam in the two-story farmhouse located on a 1,000-acre farm on Buster Pike. It's a lot different from the 16-foot wide and 50-foot deep house they called home in Brooklyn. At least that home allowed more breathing room than the apartment they shared.

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