Monday, June 29, 2015

Meet the Grad: Katie Kunz

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Katie (Katherine) Kunz is today's grad; she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a high school English teacher, so that takes up a lot of my time. When I do have free time, I spend it with the people, stories, and dogs I love.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
On the Internet. Like a little squirrel, the ad just kept popping up; kept running around in my head. I gave it a lot of thought, met with Mary [Rockcastle], and sat on it. Then, in the middle of subbing for an unruly eighth grade class, two days before the May application deadline, the ad popped up again. And I thought, “You know what? That little squirrel is pretty awesome.”

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I started a comic about a boy named Stuart the summer before 6th grade. At 17 I made the decision I wanted to be a writer, and I practiced the rest of high school. Then I took undergraduate courses in creative writing at the University of MN. After teaching and trying to write in NYC for three years, I moved home to Minneapolis. Here I took a class at The Loft Literary Center and wrote two picture books. (I just found one this spring. It’s awful! Ha!) Three years ago I wrote a middle grade novel. After that was done, that little squirrel popped up.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember feeling very out of place. Feeling a bit like a fraud, like I got in as a charity case or something. Everyone was brilliant and confident. I was not; I am not. But I did feel like I found a very special place in Hamline by the end of that residency. I also battled at bit of homesickness, which is ridiculous because I live about 10 miles from campus and stay at home. After graduation I expect I’ll suffer from MFAC-sickness.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I came in with that middle grade novel I had written in 2012 and revised that in my first semester. I also started a graphic novel—which I never thought I would do. In my second semester I wrote the draft of a second middle grade novel, this one for the younger set in that audience. I started a third middle grade novel in my third semester. This, my final semester, I revised and revised and revised and revised one more time (thank you, Jackie) my second middle grade novel. I also drafted four picture books and revised and revised and revised two of those.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
It is a story of a nine-year old New Yorker named Moon who struggles with chronic pain and lonesomeness due to an undiagnosed blood disorder. She forms an unlikely friendship with a rambunctious pony she names Cheese, and when their friendship is threatened, she discovers who she is and what she can do. She gets help along the way from a pair of Adidas shoes, a wise, Chinese boy named Sying, a dragon kite, an iPad, and a chicken named Banana Cake. I also wrote a picture book about little girl named Ruby who believes in her super-ness, and another picture book with an embedded nursery rhyme about a little girl, Greta, who builds a moat to protect the animals in her kingdom from an evil witch.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
There are so many! For example, now I can see craft elements in my stories more clearly and analyze them for intention. Before I just ran with the feelings I had. Now I am more objective. Although my feelings are valid, I know if I can’t justify why something is necessary—despite my undying love for it—I let it go. I also understand my own process much better. I get the importance of a finishing a shitty rough draft, however embarrassing it may be. Until my third semester I didn’t know if I could revise, either. But I guess I can. So that’s new. Finally, en medias res, running your character up a tree then bringing on the storm, and plotting (arcs, scenes/summary, acts, chapters, etc.) were also critical lessons that have helped cause change in my writing.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I have a few. Yes, it may be a chunk of change. Yes, it may be time-consuming. And, yes, you will more likely than not cry, especially at residency. But let me ask you this: How much more does it cost to defer a dream? What better way to spend your time than with an art you love and believe in? And aren’t tears—happy tears, nervous tears, proud tears, grateful tears, the myriad types of tears you shed being part of the Hamline MFAC program—an unabashed reminder of the importance and the joy of writing our hearts out for our children?
  
*

The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July 19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.




Friday, June 26, 2015

Meet the Grad: Judi Marcin

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Judi Marcin is today's grad; she lives in Chicago, Illinois, and can be found on Twitter @MFACPride.

Judi and her amazingly supportive spouse.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
For now, my day job is as a family physician. I teach family medicine residents, but what I really want to do is teach and support young people on their own writing journeys. My long-term goal is to support myself by writing. I like to dream big! And thanks to Hamline, I feel well prepared to do whatever it takes. I am also a foodie who loves to eat, cook and travel with my amazingly supportive spouse. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I learned about the MFAC program at a booth at an AWP conference. This interesting and enthusiastic student had nothing but great things to say about Hamline. I did some research on my own and realized it sounded like the perfect place for me.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Before Hamline, I wrote only for myself, too intimidated to share anything with anyone else. But then I took the plunge and signed up for all the creative writing classes I could in Chicago. The more I wrote, the younger my protagonists became. Then a light bulb came on. Why should I write for grownups when what I want to do is write for young people? So I found my courage again and applied to Hamline—the best decision I have ever, ever made for my creative self.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I was so excited to find a bunch of people just like me who didn’t think books about magical talking cats in ancient Egypt were frivolous or silly. The program was filled with individuals who loved reading, writing and talking about books as much as I did, with brilliant faculty who shared their knowledge and lent their support. I remember how committed other writers and faculty were to their craft, and I soon realized how challenging this journey would be— so much harder than medical school ever was.

I embraced the fact that young people deserve stories written by authors who take their jobs seriously. What we do changes people lives. We provide our readers with escape and encouragement, mirrors and windows, and lots of wonderful ways of exploring the world. Writing for children and young adults is way too important to not do well.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I came to Hamline thinking I would write contemporary YA, scared to explore my talking cat idea. Then I discovered that middle grade is my true love and historical fantasy my destiny; however, picture books are an extremely close second. And thanks to Claire Rudolf Murphy, I have three nonfiction Works in Progress competing for my attention. Nonfiction blends my love of history, research and storytelling.
Original, real-world Onyx

Tell us about your Creative Thesis
.
My creative thesis is historical fantasy that is part of a series. Set in ancient Egypt, the pharaoh’s daughter rescues a magical black cat, Onyx, who possesses powers that will not only save her and family but an ancient library as well. In future books, Onyx learns the price and pain of immortality as she lives out her remaining eight lives. She travels throughout the world, learning how to protect the library from its enemies and becoming the warrior she was meant to be. These stories celebrate the lives of females, inspired by real girls and women who changed the trajectory of history.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I am more confident and willing to take risks. I am less afraid to try something new and more accepting if the idea never quite comes to fruition. Writing is an art and a craft and something that deserves my attention. If I want to become better, I have to put in the time, and that is lifelong. It doesn’t end with one book or one story. Writing is lots of trial and error and rejection and I am still learning to embrace those things. I have discovered the joy of editing and working and reworking the story until the words are right.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
In this program, we celebrate one another as artists who want to make the world a better place. Find the things and people that inspire you and surround yourself with them. The MFAC program will change your life and demand your time and attention. Embrace that. The faculty and students will support you along the way and long after you graduate. Finally, run towards the things that scare you the most.

*
The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Meet the Grad: Sonja Solter

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Sonja Solter is today's grad; she lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but is about to move to Geneva, Switzerland for one year.


What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I spend lots of time with my husband and two children (an eight-year-old daughter and an almost-twelve-year old son), as well extended family in town, including a niece and nephew. I homeschooled my daughter for most of this past school year. I originally intended to substitute teach for the Music Together® program I used to direct in town, but I quickly realized my schedule was too busy for that. We also like to travel, both domestically and internationally, and participate in various sports activities. I went through candidate training and passed my black belt test in Shotokan karate last summer. Another thread to my life is remaining centered and receptive spiritually, which sometimes means a specific activity, such as daily centering prayer meditation or an experiential retreat.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I researched programs online.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Looking back, I can remember writing a poem during a special artist-in-residence workshop in elementary school. I was awed by the process of evoking feelings and sensations through my words. As an older child and young adult, I always thought of myself as a writer, even though I wasn’t pursuing writing activities outside of the occasional school assignment. Finally, after realizing that I didn’t want to be a doctor and leaving medical school, the writing came pouring out of me. I started writing regularly after that, but it would dwindle when I became busy with other projects or my family. I kept myself going by joining my local SCBWI chapter, and even completed a four-month mentorship program with author Claudia Mills. Yet I finally realized that I needed to make a bigger commitment and receive more intensive instruction in order to take my writing to a higher level of craft.

What do especially remember about your first residency?I was so exhausted coming in. We’d been evacuated in June from our home due to the wildfires in Colorado, and then had immediately left on an overseas trip we’d planned far in advance. Despite this exhaustion and a couple of unhappy incidents (my new computer dying with all of my notes and reflections halfway through residency; my husband falling quite ill with a spider bite while he was supposed to take care of the kids), I had the time of my life. I felt immediately close to the people, and I could tell right away that the coursework was both engaging and just what I needed.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I’ve tried pretty much everything except for nonfiction, and I’ve also covered the gamut of ages. Each genre and level has informed and inspired the others. For example, exploring picture books led me into poetry, which then led me into a middle grade novel in verse. I didn’t think I’d write a young adult novel while in the program, so I surprised myself by switching to a YA novel as the majority of my creative thesis.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.  
I completed a 150-page draft and a few rounds of intense revision (to be continued) on a young adult novel called “Entanglement.” It’s about a young woman who finds herself psychically connected both to someone from her own past and an ancestor.
  Her search for the meaning and purpose of these connections leads her down a path of healing, empowerment, and redemption. I also have two picture books as part of my creative thesis: one with the book itself as the first-person narrator and also the third installment in a cartoon-style reader series starring friends Mona and Dee.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
It would take me a long time to list it all. Overall, it’s been such an interesting mix of becoming more conscious of all the craft elements, but at the same time developing a more natural overall flow. A deeper understanding and internalization of all I’ve learned is most likely the mechanism linking those two. Another somewhat counterintuitive pair: I’ve learned to relax more and play with my writing in order to enhance revision and specific work on craft elements.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?I can’t recommend it highly enough! If you are serious about your writing, do it!

*
 The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.




Monday, June 22, 2015

Meet the Grad: OJ Hanratty

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. OJ Hanratty is today's grad; he lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on Twitter @OrrinJhanratty.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I live for stories, so in my down time I do a lot of reading, writing, watching (Good TV), and listening (to podcasts). I am also a pizza aficionado. Otherwise, I am either at work at my machine shop doing things that make me look like thisà
or I am with my fiancée, Hannah, whom I adore.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
At Rhode Island College I attended a summer writing institute for a group called the Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature (ASTAL). At the institute I got to show my writing to real authors for the first time. Two of those authors were Kelly Easton and Liza Ketchum and they told me about the program, and encouraged me to come. I would say they threatened me, but they totally didn’t threaten me. There were no threats, ok?

Just drop it

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I was filling up the backs of notebooks since I first learned that anyone could make up stories. I had a sideways path to becoming a writer, but most of my early memories involve me alone in the middle of the woods behind my house battling with some sort of imaginary monster with my trusty array of stick swords. I just love the ways of words and stories and always have. I’m an addict. I don’t want help.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
I felt like I was way out of my depth, everyone here was so smart and writerly. I was a nervous wreck, and that made me quiet. Quiet for me, that is. Since I was so nervous, I was just trying to take it all in and keep my feet on the ground. It was mostly a blur, but I do remember one specific moment on the first day.

You know how they say first semester students never get workshopped on the first day? That’s either a bald-faced lie, or they changed that rule because of me. So in the first huge meeting where everyone is saying hi to their old friends and walking around and everything is warm and cozy for everyone but the new people, WHO KNOW NOTHING. And if you remember a paragraph ago I was a nervous wreck.

So they start going over who will be going on the first day of workshop, and Gene Yang gets up for our workshop and says, “Jenny Barlow… and ORRIN JOHN HANRATTY III.” I seem to remember him shaking his fist all the way through my name and deepening his voice. I could be imagining this. I don’t know. I blacked out after that.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?

I focused mostly on novels. I wrote a complete draft of one novel my first two semesters and worked on a second in my third and final semesters. As for other forms, I have written a couple picture books in my downtime. They kinda suck, but I enjoy using the sparseness of the form to tell silly stories.  I have a few comic book ideas I toy with, as well.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My thesis is a YA novel,  A Conspiracy of Clowns. Usually the question “Who is the Class Clown” has an easy answer. Not so much in Cove Town High, where pies explode from lockers, chickens stampede from nothingness, and football teams are locked up with angry skunks. The Class Clown of Cove Town is a menace to some and a hero to others. It is up to Victoria, head of the school paper, and her best friend Kami to take him –or her—down.

It’s a comedic mystery that serves as a backdrop for the friendship between Victoria and Kami. Victoria is a super smart, driven, detail obsessed, African American girl and Kami is a lesbian cheerleader, with no filter and nothing but optimism. They have a fight early in the novel and it almost dissolves their friendship, it is the investigation of the Clown that brings them together, and in the process they learn more about the world around them than they ever thought they would.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

I’m more outline driven now. I used to be a “Pantser,” but now I’m all for planning and preparing for my stories as they go along. Much of my work on the Conspiracy has been looking at structure. Also I’ve come to a new appreciation of grammar and precision of language. Also I use “also” much more liberally.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Treasure the time. It goes so fast, and you just can’t hold on to it hard enough. ____________________ (Insert cheesy song lyric.) This has been the best writing experience of my life.
*

 The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.



Friday, June 19, 2015

Meet the Grad: Tashi Saheb-Ettaba

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Tashi Saheb-Ettaba is today's grad; she lives in Tucson, Arizona and can be found on Twitter @Seras_Ouka.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a Trailing Docs Coordinator at Nova Home Loans. I work out at a local gym called Steps Dance and Fitness. I love reading. Hmm, what else do I do? I paint, play video games, make costumes, dance, have weird conversations with my co-workers, snuggle with my cats, and play Rock Band with my friends. Sometimes, I burst into a song for no reason whatsoever. Currently, I’m learning to play the guitar.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
In 2012, I saw an ad in the Poets and Writers magazine. Ever since I saw that ad, Hamline kept popping up. I saw the ad again in the next issue of Poets and Writers. One day, I overheard a conversation about Hamline at a coffee shop. When I came across Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, Hamline was mentioned in her bio snippet. When I finally visited the website, I was intrigued with the program. I was going through a difficult moment at the time and Hamline was my beacon of hope. When the New Year came around, I decided to give this program a shot.
It was as if I was following the breadcrumbs to a magical place.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I made up stories in my head, but I never wrote them down. When I was ten, I kept a diary about my travels. When I was sixteen, I wrote a story about a girl who went on an adventure with pirates. Throughout high school, I wrote a lot of stories about pirates and dragons. (To all my high school friends, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry you had to read those horrible stories!) Throughout college, I experimented with horror, magic realism, and fairy tale retellings.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being nervous. I was worried about not fitting in and had so much self-doubt. At one point, I even thought I didn’t deserve to be there with all these talented writers. After talking to the faculty and classmates, all my fears vanished. I felt comfortable and didn’t feel like I had to hide my true self.

Oh yeah, I also remember chasing OJ down the dorm hallway because he threw water at me!

Tashi also enjoys doodling cats.
Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I wrote a lot of novels and short stories before coming to this program. Last summer, I took Gene Yang’s Writing Comics Workshop. It was an insightful workshop and I realized some of my short stories worked better as graphic novels. During my third semester, Jackie Briggs Martin encouraged me to write picture books, and it was a fantastic experience.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is called Angels and Trains. It’s a magic realism middle-grade novel about confrontation with death. Celeste finds out she’s diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma and is overwhelmed with her drastic lifestyle changes involving hospital visits and chemotherapy. To make matters worse, she can’t stop hearing the phantom train.

In a small town called Mittelteil, there’s a haunting legend about a phantom train. Legend claims that the phantom train will come to those who are dying.

During the chaos, she meets Micah, a mysterious boy who is connected to the train. He calls himself a Guardian, who will comfort her before they board the train together. Celeste is upset by Micah’s presence and wants to defeat death.

Overall, the novel is really about life, death, love, flying, and rock and roll.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I used to struggle with character development. I would focus solely on the plot, but didn’t apply the character’s desires and emotions to the story. My characters were either flat or not relatable at all. Other times, I couldn’t even figure out what my character is supposed to learn by the end of the story. Thanks to the lectures, I learned a lot about character traits, flaws, desires, and psychic distance.

Nowadays, I pay attention to my characters and their needs. A character always has a story to tell.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Okay, here’s what you do. Visit the MFAC Program website, read it, and place your hand over your heart. Is your heart beating so fast that you can’t help but feel giddy? Do you feel like you could fly as you picture yourself being surrounded by kind and talented students? Are you smiling as you think of your stories coming to life?

Did you feel all these things?

Good. That means you’re meant to be here.

It’s okay to be scared at first. I remember being terrified when I first entered the program, but now, I don’t have any fears holding me back.

And neither will you.

*

The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker. 



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Meet the Grad: Donna Jones Koppelman

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Donna Jones Koppelman is today's grad; she lives in North Carolina and can be found writing and chatting at these places: www.donnakoppelman.blogspot.com; facebook.com/donna.koppelman; @koppelmom (Twitter).


What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I have four children aged 19-12, two dogs, a three-legged cat, and a husband, so I am plenty busy when I’m not doing packets. I watch a lot of football games, track meets, tennis matches, soccer games, plays and band concerts. I serve on the board at our local library, I am a vestry member at our church, I sing in a praise band at church, and I am active in our small community. I also do school visits to talk about writing and teach writing to students, and I lead staff development at schools to teach teachers how to teach writing more effectively. My research when I pursued a Reading Specialist at UNC focused on the relationship between teacher confidence in their own writing and their ability to teach writing. At one school, I helped kick off a “Drop Everything and Write” campaign that even involved the bus drivers. Those stories were the BEST!

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I had a number of friends who attended the program in Vermont. I was impressed with the program (and all my friends!), but when I heard about Hamline, I suspected it may be smaller and more personal. I also wanted to work on nonfiction, and Hamline’s program had the amazing Jackie Briggs Martin; I had long been a fan of Snowflake Bentley, and I was a huge fan of Gary Schmidt’s work. I also hoped the Hamline program might offer a cultural experience of being in Minnesota every January.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Growing up, I wrote all the time. I wrote stories, poems, notes in class (before texting), and especially music lyrics. Prior to entering the program, I had written for educational journals, newspaper and magazine markets, and worked daily on picture books and novels. I had also kept a blog for several years. Once I had a good daily writing routine for a few years and read all the craft books I could find, I knew I needed a program to take me to the next level. 

What do especially remember about your first residency?
 My first residency, I arrived late at night. Two young [Hamline undergraduate] students were making out on the front stoop of the dorm, blocking the door, and I had to tap the girl on the shoulder to get in the building. Then, my dorm room smelled so awful. I could hardly breathe. I walked to a 24 hour gas station in the middle of the night trying to find Febreze or Lysol. I remember thinking, “I am way too old to be staying in a dorm room that smells like vomit.” I thought maybe I had made a huge mistake. The next day, dear Mike Petry, a returning student who knew the ropes, helped me spray my room from end to end which we continued to do every day for the rest of the residency. I also remember how special it was to see my old friend, Miriam Busch, again. We had participated in a children’s writing program at Chautauqua together a few years prior. Most of all, I fell completely in love with my classmates, my professors, and the whole program. I wrote my husband letters daily about how much I loved the program and how grateful I was to be there. I saved them to read aloud when I am a keynote speaker at a big conference one day. I kept them to remember how Hamline MFAC changed my life. 

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I have worked on nonfiction picture books, rhyming picture books, non rhyming picture books, and a middle grade novel. I loved my work on the critical thesis, and if I could find a way to do more research and then teaching about my findings, I would be in heaven. I would love to be a professor in a low-residency program like this one. One goal I had for this program that I have not met is to figure out what genre is my strongest. Perhaps trying so many things kept me from getting very good at any one thing! However, I definitely have a foundation to push forward in many directions.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
For my creative thesis, I wrote a middle grade novel about a young girl prying into family secrets. It is set in Georgia in the early 1970s and involves divorce, racial issues, Vietnam, family relationships, spiritual exploration, and even a little Betty Friedan. I began this novel on Jane’s suggestion, and it grew out of a childhood memory I wrote for her about stealing blackberries with my cousin at the end of my first semester. I kept writing the novel on my own during the other semesters between packets, etc. Then, this semester, Jane challenged me to put it down and write it over from scratch without looking at it. The thought terrified me, but I knew if I didn’t do it now, I would never do it. (Haven’t we all walked over hot coals for Jane?) The process amazed and astounded me, and I would highly recommend it. From then on, if a scene didn’t work, I didn’t try to fix it, I started over. What a difference! I love this story, and the rich culture of the time period and physical setting of a Georgia summer. Much of the story takes place within the branches of a huge Magnolia tree which is where I spent many summer days myself. 

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
At first, I avoided the hot stove so much that I hardly knew how to find it. Working with Jane my first semester was the best thing I could have done, but that semester was emotionally tough. I revisited a lot of difficult issues in my childhood memories, but they opened the door to a wealth of writing material and a great personal sense of peace. 

I have finally, mostly, learned to only put one space after a period. For the record, I hate that rule. (and you may not be surprised that I also support the Oxford Comma) I loved From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler. It’s a little “out there”, as Jane would say, but learning about the relationship between my dreams and my writing life changed my writing routine dramatically. I have learned how to follow and control my own mind’s rhythm and patterns in order to yield the most productive writing time. 

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
This program is life-changing, but be prepared to go all in. Clear your schedule. Minimize your expenses. Live simply. Have a sit down with your children. Give yourself two years to write like a maniac and devote yourself to the program. Trust the process. Give every assignment your best effort, and your work will improve exponentially. And let the housework go a bit. Trust me, it will be there when you graduate!
*


The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). TimFederle is the speaker.



Monday, June 15, 2015

Meet the Grad: Olivia Ghafoerkhan

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Olivia Ghafoerkhan is today's grad; she lives in Woodbridge, Virginia.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I have four young kids, and a very needy dog. When I’m not working on packets, I am Super Mom complete with cape. Okay, it’s a rumpled cape that needs ironing, and my uniform has a few stains in it, but there you go.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
An online search. I knew I needed something more, something to help me bring my writing to the next level, and I was desperately searching.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I studied creative writing at Florida State as an undergraduate student. Then I became a naptime novelist, writing in between parenting.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
Being extremely tired and somewhat overwhelmed. I’m not the most social person, and the constant interaction was a bit much for me at first. Now it’s one of the things I look forward to.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I’ve been working on novels most of the program. I do wish I had been brave enough to try a picture book.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
Story Spinners is about a young girl who is trying to save her sister in a world of fairytales and magic. The Story Spinners are hired by merchant families to create elaborate fairytales about their children in hopes of making a royal match. Ana’s stepfather creates such a fairytale for Ana, and she finds herself betrothed to a prince who is in love with his missing princess. Together they embark on a quest to save the missing princesses and uncover the truth about the Story Spinners.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I am much more aware of the faults in my writing. Seriously, though, my writing, and my ability to self-edit, have grown tremendously throughout this program.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Relax. Everyone is wonderful and supportive, there’s absolutely nothing to stress out about. Just work hard and try to enjoy every moment.

*

The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July 19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.




Thursday, June 11, 2015

Meet the Grad: Zach Arrowsmith

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Zach Arrowsmith is today's grad; he lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
When I’m not working on packets, I’m probably out in the yard planting flowers or running from snakes and snake-like earthworms. I also like to paint local architecture and find old antiques to restore or repurpose. Then there is Nintendo and, of course, Lego…both of which are big names in our house. Bigger than Oprah and Colonel Sanders.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
Honestly, I just stumbled upon it while researching nontraditional MFA programs. I think it was on a list of the top underrated programs that few people know about or something. I was like, “That sounds like me…I should give it a shot!” And then I saw the required reading list…and Chaucer wasn’t on it! So I signed up.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

Just a few creative writing classes for my undergrad in English at the U of A. Workshops were not as lovely as they are at Hamline. There was, as they say, writers’ blood on the walls. And I’m a pacifist.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
Rumchata. And professors singing showtunes.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?

I came in thinking I was going to do YA and that’s that and you can’t change me; however, my creative thesis was entirely picture books. Like Justin Bieber, I never say never, but I’ll probably not return to YA or self-indulgent first-person narrators in small-town Southern settings. On the flip side, I also came in thinking picture books were about ABCs and keeping pee in the potty. I am so pleased to walk away from the program having a deeper understanding of this genre. Not to sound like Celine Dion, but children are the world and they care so deeply about their stories. The people who write them should care that much, too.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

I know everyone says this, but do try to experiment across genres during your time at Hamline—even if just for one semester. That genre—or even the advisor you get—might say something to you that you might otherwise not have heard. Also, don’t worry too much about mixing potions to control your fate while in this program. I truly believe that you will have the advisor you’re meant to have at the exact moment you’re meant to have them. Everything will work out. Just keep your pen moving and, when you’re not writing, keep your nose in a crack.
*

The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Alumni Voices with Ellen Kazimer: Resetting My Setting

As someone who has lived overseas and moved twelve times, I know that every place is unique. Two towns from a small state like Connecticut appear so similar to an outsider, but to a native, they are as different as night and day. There is a different rhythm, a different sensibility. Every town has a unique, idiosyncratic heartbeat once you get beyond their similar appearance.

So I shouldn't have been surprised that shifting my setting upended my novel. I naively thought this would straighten out a few plotting issues. My characters kept wandering over into this town for entertainment so I figured I would situate them there. My plot problems would be solved, right?

Of course not. In fact, I created a slew of new obstacles for myself. And as the esteemed Jane Resh Thomas wrote last month, "setting, like yeast, is not put-in-able at late stages of the cookery." I had ruined my "bread." Most of my original scenes no longer fit.

My first town was largely homogenous in demographics and was located on a sheltered harbor. My new setting jutted out into the Atlantic, its harbor unprotected from the elements. In many ways, my young protagonist was less protected, too. She finds more ways to get in trouble. While other characters had to find new jobs, she found new dreams. So I experienced first hand what Jane wrote last month. "Although place does concern distances and landmarks, it also determines character."

As I revised, I recalled Ron Koertge's lecture back in summer residency of 2013. He proposed we let our characters wander through the town and see whom they meet as an exercise in character cartography. On any summer’s day, my characters would have run into some of the wealthiest families in America. Additionally Ron advised that we “map out your character's world and see what sticks out.” As it turned out, my characters tripped over things that stood out and lay splayed out on the sidewalk. From that vantage point, though, they could see the underclass—the nameless, faceless servant class of those moneyed families. I realized these servants were not nameless or faceless to my characters. So I had to uncover their stories as background to my story.

In the end, social class became an antagonist in my story, thwarting the dreams of my protagonist. She can't go anywhere without being affected by class distinctions. My protagonist loves to swim. In the former town, there were lakes and a shoreline available to everyone. In the new setting, there is a swim club reserved for only the very wealthy and the shoreline is privately owned. She also loves the movies, but class determines where she sits. Affluent summer residents reserve the box seats and servants crowd the theater on their solitary afternoon off.

Moving my setting presented many challenges to my "work in progress." Using Jane's metaphor, I had to throw out the bread I was baking. Truly, this new loaf is so much better. We often hear about letting our characters lead as we write and revise. Perhaps we should consider having the setting lead, and see what happens to our characters and plot.
*

Ellen Kazimer is a January 2014 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives and writes in Virginia. 



Friday, June 5, 2015

Meet the Grad: Tamara Rubin

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. Tamara Rubin is today's grad; she lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Tamara and daughter
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I am a single mom to a now a three-and-a-half year old. She is my life. I also work full time as a middle school special education teacher. Recently, I also began coursework toward licensure as a K-12 Media Specialist. Regarding my writing, it is a huge struggle trying to make it a habit. If there was a way to convert my endless thinking and processing in my mind automatically to the page, I would be set.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I honestly don’t remember. In 2008 I attended a session on teaching poetry writing to children at the International Library Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis. The instructor shared how she had earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults at a school out east. I remember thinking, “I can earn an MFA in writing for children?” I looked into the program immediately and decided it was definitely something I wanted to do in the future. I must’ve researched other programs at that time, because somewhere I got it in my head, “Why would I want to stay in Minnesota and go to school when I could do a similar program out east?” When my pregnancy dream became a reality, I told myself that with the realization of one dream, now I needed to do something about my writing dream. Going out out east was now out of the question. So, I asked my father if he would attend an informational session at Hamline with me, to make sure that I had four ears listening and didn’t hear anything incorrectly. Mary Rockcastle talked about how accommodating the program can be for people with various life circumstances. She also shared that Patricia MacLachlan was going to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming graduation. That was a sign for me--Patricia MacLachlan was and still is one of my favorite authors. I went back to my parents’ house after and we talked with Mom about what we learned. Then, surprising me to no end, my mom and dad both agreed I should go for it--even though it would mean having to help watch my daughter during the future residencies. I started in July 2011 with the plan to only attend summers.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
During second grade, after being inspired by a story about ghost adoption on the television show, That’s Incredible! I wrote The Adopted Ghost about a boy who adopted a ghost, named him Don Rickles (I had some fascination with the comedian back then), and had adventures together. I still have the handwritten version, but Mom typed it on her manual typewriter. It was 18 pages long. It was then I decided someday that I would become a writer. Throughout the years I wrote poetry and children’s stories, participated in occasional programs through school, and eventually used writing as my solace when depression had me in its grips during high school and for several years beyond.

After placing 2nd for creative nonfiction with my story about participating in a firewalk (for real), I joined the North Hennepin Community College literary magazine and later became the literary editor.

On my own, I produced a one-time book with a small grant for people who have disabilities (I was working through the disabling effects of depression). The book was a collection of writings and artwork by people with disabilities and other health problems. I designed the layout, did the graphic design and most of the editing, and hand bound the books myself. This was one of my most rewarding projects to date.

While I was planning to transfer from community college to a four-year school to become a teacher, I knew too many people heading that direction who weren’t finding jobs. Then I learned from a Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) representative that I could major in creative writing and literature. I remember thinking, “I can major in creative writing?” I can volunteer in schools without a college degree, but to get training in the craft of writing, that was something I needed. I enrolled and completed my Bachelor's degree focusing on fiction and poetry. At SMSU I also co-edited the college literary magazine and wrote for the school newspaper. Since then, I continued to write on my own, but usually found myself feeling that becoming a writer was an unreachable dream, so I left it as such--until I took the step to check out Hamline.

First residency, with roommate
Melinda Cordell.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
My first residency was an adventure itself. I was 32 weeks pregnant (although not the furthest along at residency--there were two other women in the graduating class who were expecting), had recently fractured my foot and received a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. I wore a boot, had a cane, waddled, and counted my carbs at each meal--even down to the number of fries I ate with my breadless burger (I don’t know, I was able to eat decently with food service--but I guess I’m not too picky and had learned nutrition prior to finally getting pregnant).  I tried using a wheelchair briefly, but that was more hassle than it was worth. I lived on campus the entire residency. My apartment was the furthest from the elevator on the 3rd floor. There was construction on campus, so the most direct route to classes, of course, was not the shortest. Plus, it was a hot summer. I did enjoy eating lunch with other students and Patricia MacLachlan. I remember the surprise I felt when I heard her first speak. Her frankness and deep voice did not reflect the image I had for the writer of so many beautiful, calm, and gentle works. She cracked me up with some of her stories that she shared during meals.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I focused primarily on picture books. I thought I knew something when I started the program, but it was so little, I learned. I had no clue about the craft in regards to minimal language, as well as leaving the story open for the illustrator to interpret. I lacked a clear understanding of the importance of empowering the main character, especially if she/he is a child and an adult is present. During my second semester I also started a novel involving magical realism. I completed 80 pages toward a first draft and am determined to eventually finish the story. During my third semester, besides focusing on my critical thesis, I started working on a picture book focusing on the story of a dear friend and her mother who both survived the Holocaust and literally were inseparable until her mother passed away a few years ago at the age of 100. Last summer I attended Gene Yang’s session on writing the graphic novel and now have a strong interest in trying something in that genre.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis
My creative thesis is a collection of eight picture book manuscripts. Ayla’s Family Tree and Other Stories About Growing, Seeing, and Solving Problems. It includes stories about a little girl who becomes obsessed with polka, a young girl who believes her broccoli bit her, a teacher whose ears grow when students tattle, a little Hungarian girl who looks forward each week to the challah she receives from relatives and must learn patience, a young girl who can communicate with a palm tree, a story about a child’s notes to herself full of important reminders, and a nonfiction piece that takes the reader on a journey through discovering recurring patterns in nature.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I have learned to cut and cut and cut and not feel the need to grieve as much as in the past (although the cutting doesn’t show up so much with these questions--hey, I tend to be quiet at residencies, so now you all have an opportunity to “hear” my voice). While I still focus on word count, I heed the message that it’s not about the total word count that matters as much as the fact that every word counts.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Take a look at your life. The program can be completed at the pace you need. For me, attending only summers made the program feel less rushed as I fit it in with working and being a mom, but also helped me save money. Also, by consistently going summers, I didn’t risk repeating any of the content focus areas. There were challenges going this route, though. I was not as productive during the breaks as I anticipated I would be. Also, I found myself falling into a bit of a funk each winter as my classmates returned to residency and I was left out of the community--even though I tried to follow along a little on Facebook and visit the campus once each January.

Despite my connection to a greater number of people over the five terms, I struggle to feel truly connected. But, this is nothing new for my life. At least I know I have a community through the MFAC program that welcomes me. Again, I need to continue to remember this, and doubt myself less.

Did I gain as much from the program as I could have had I not started at the point I did in my life? Perhaps. But, I also did not want to be a parent who resents her child because she had to hold off on her dreams due to becoming a parent. My daughter and my choice did not make it easy to get my work done or write as much as I wish I had, but I feel grateful looking at where I am now compared to where I was before I started the MFAC program.
Now it’s up to me.
*

The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Tim Federle is the speaker.