Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Agenting Tips of the Month - February 2016

Today MFAC alum and agent extraordinaire Jodell Sadler* (Sadler Children’s Literary) is set to share insights and secrets about the world of agents. This time she will answer your submitted questions from the last month, and a few extra ones submitted by the Inkpot.


Q: If an agency doesn’t post a timeframe for their response times, what is an appropriate length of time after you haven’t heard from one agent at a specific agency to query another agent at the same house? Of course, I know that you NEVER query two agents at the same house at the same time, but the “rule” for successive queries is pretty murky.

My best advice is to email and ask. I often get queried with unrealistic timelines. For example, a writer might write that I have one week as an exclusive prior to a conference and in reality, if I am in contract negotiations or working on a timeline for another writer, I may not read submissions that week. Plus, there are critiques to complete prior to conferences so time fills with that as well. Most important: follow posted guidelines.

What we know is that agents know the preferences of their colleagues and if your manuscript might be more suited to another agent in that house, they will likely share it. 

I would also encourage you to continue to write, stay focused on craft, seek nonfiction projects to fill time gaps, and really stay focused on what you passionately want to share in print. These ideas rise up and garner attention. What I see is that often times manuscripts are shared too soon, and may not have the emotional depth needed to carry readers to the end. 

What we know is that the direction of your novel and main character’s views and world view need to happen immediately and of don’t happen in a first draft. These types of edits really happen on your forth, fifth or twenty-first draft. 

It’s really important for you to explore your work and be tough on yourself in regard to characterization, setting, plot points and the emotional journey as well as the pacing of you manuscript. That final edit will include a look at musicality and language and how well you are alerting your reader as you move through your plot. You should be sure to set your work aside and then pull it back out to review and think about the visual story. Are you showing and making active scene shifts dramatic and clear?

Q: I don't have a very active social media life. Is it necessary to have a platform in order to attract an agent? If so, what are some tips that I can use to start building up an online presence?
It’s more imperative for an illustrator to maintain a platform, but we live in a world of social technology and every writer will need to embark on that journey at some point. It’s nice to set yourself up as a writer for author visits so when the time comes, you preparedness meets opportunity. I Google every submission I enjoy and try to see what their online presence includes.

As far as illustrators, so often I receive a PDF of a few images and that is not enough to represent someone from. Agents will be looking for movement and energy and fluidity of your work. How well do you show off your visual storytelling? Is there a reason for the many things that are pictured in a particular scene? 

Q: Are agents more interested in an author who has a series of books? Is there still a place for stand-alone fiction?

An agent is interested in great writing and a marketable manuscript. I am sure this will vary from agent and agency. We all have focuses and are as unique and diverse as writers. Agents are not cookie-cutter and are as unique as you are as a writer. Some writers plot stories out; others string their work from scene to scene but both end up with a quality piece of writing. Some writers outline; others do not. But it’s all a process and there’s not a right way or a wrong way—everyone’s process is different. In this same way, some might look for series because they’ve successfully placed a few and enjoy working with them. Others might look for that one book that’s fresh, literary, or commercial. I have represented series projects as well as stand-alones and do not have a preference as long as I am passionate about the project.

Q: How much time do you spend looking at each query? I know for most agents it's not much - so how long DO we really have to hook an agent before they move on to the next person?

When I read: “I know for most agents it’s not much,” I do not believe this to be true. Agents seriously consider quality submissions that follow guidelines, present a great cover letter, especially when you share a bio that shows your commitment to children’s literature and writing. For me, I’d have your MFA placed after your name in the subject line. You’ve earned it and it shows your commitment. Think about your submission as a package that shows your professionalism. I’ve had some crazy submissions in my short time agenting and here are some things to remember:
  • Take into consideration how your email reads, how you sign off, and your Google image if you share one. 
  • Be sure to address the agent by full name and give reasons for contacting that particular agent/agency.
  • Include your contact information on your cover letter as well as the manuscript if you have been asked to submit a Word doc. 
  • Be sure your focus is on your manuscript itself as it really is all about the writing. 

The submission bin is a funny thing and I’ve missed some great writers and illustrators and there have been times when I would have loved to have read something that interests me but have been too busy with other things to do so. It’s just vital for you to stay working and producing and remaining positive about your work and career as a children’s literature professional.

If you are lucky enough to be asked to submit a full manuscript or a revision based on feedback, do not make hasty revisions and resubmit in a few minutes. Give it time to digest and really let the suggestions soak in. This marks your opportunity to make your piece the best it can be.

Q: What does a typical day in the life of an agent look like?

I can’t speak for all agents. I only know how I work, and the focus it takes me to place a piece of writing. A typical day includes tending to the manuscript and writer I happen to be working with, requests, and contracts and responding to editors, and then also fitting in time to review work on new submissions while also tending to in-bound submissions and reading new projects. 

Q: What inspired you to create KidLit College? 

I wanted to share craft learning when it comes to writing. I’ve learned so much from other writers and industry professionals and it made sense to me to help writers improve craft and make connections. I’m a huge advocate for craft and learning it and webinars and classes and critiques help coach a writer towards a great product deliverable and that’s the mission of KidLit College.

Here’s an overview of upcoming events.

Q: What should writers and illustrators look for in attending conferences: online or in person? 

Register for a critique, follow up, and submit your work. Really delve into craft. Attend webinars and lectures and apply it. Stay involved and get involved with a quality critique group. If you have the opportunity to submit, to an editor or agent, please present your best work. Write that strong cover letter and present a short pitch for your project. When you submit, it really is about getting to know you are and your work.

Please comment with your questions below as our next posting will include feedback from other agents as well.

Happy Writing, Everyone!



*Jodell Sadler is the founding agent and owner of Sadler Children’s Literary and KidLit College. She also teaches and presents on "pacing a story strong" nationwide. You can join KidLit College on facebookregister for their newsletter, or follow Jodell on twitter @kidlitcollege.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meet the Grad: Jennifer Coats

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program hosted a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the month of January we will be featuring our new alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Our last new graduate is Jennifer Coats.




What do you do when you’re not working on packets?



I have two daughters, Carly and Cassidy, at different colleges, so I spend a lot of time parenting through text messages. Lola and Isabelle, my two cats, keep my head clear through mandatory cat breaks, and my dog, Bear; well, I’m not sure what Bear does but I know I can’t live without it. I’m a teacher—this year I took on a new age group after many years of teaching grades K-8, and I’m having a blast seeing the world through the eyes of three year olds. I play baritone horn in the local concert band, and the church choir allows me to sing along periodically. I love going on new adventures and field trips, and Minneapolis continues to surprise me. My various friend groups keep me sane, and I’ve spent a lot of time this year streaming Dead & Company concerts and dancing in my living room. Hamline MFAC has fed my addiction to books, and I’ve often said I might be the fourth pig, building a house of books.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

That crazy crawler on the side of your web pages that knows everything about you? I was on a “what next?” journey of exploration, and I looked at various grad school programs. The Hamline MFAC ad followed me for days, then went away, then came back until I agreed to go to an info session. I went to the session “just to see,” kind of like going to the pound “just to look” at puppies. Many of us own dogs we fell in love with when we were “just looking;” I have a grad school I fell in love with when I was “just checking it out.” 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

To keep me from reading books under my desk instead of listening to the lesson, my fourth grade teacher pulled me and several other kids out of class to participate in “Reading, Writing, and Radio,” where students from outlying towns listened to a radio broadcast from Springfield, IL and responded to the weekly topics, sending in our responses, which were then sometimes READ ON THE RADIO!! That first publication experience left me hungry for more. I wrote poetry in high school (is it bad poetry? I don’t care; I still love it so) and tucked away words, phrases and ideas that caught my fancy for years. In college, I took creative writing classes, but nothing stuck and I chose to teach reading and writing to children rather than do it myself. The piece I wrote to apply to the program was the first writing I’d really done since college.

What do remember most about your first residency?

In the montage of that crazy ten days, I remember meeting the members of our class (there were nine of us then—before some defected to the regular MFA), and immediately there was a click so loud you could almost hear it. We went to sit unobtrusively in the back row of GLC100 and we were told “Hey, these are OUR spots!” by fourth semester students. So we looked at each other and nodded our heads in sync (I think there was a soundtrack playing in the background) and said, “Fine. WE will sit in the FRONT ROW.” And we’ve been there ever since. We went to lunch together and laughed and laughed and The Front Row was born. I was so overwhelmed with learning the language of writing (psychic distance? Inciting incident? WTF?), and so excited to be learning the tools of writing for children, that, just as the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes, I think my brain had to grow three sizes that first residency to accommodate all the new information.

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

I came to the program to learn how to write picture books, and I have not really written a single one. I worked on a MG fantasy for a while, and then my keyboard was hijacked by Young Adult novels. I wrote a contemporary YA novel and a YA fantasy novel, and I just finished a MG fantasy/folk tale.

When I get better at writing, I will maybe know enough to write and revise a picture book. Claire’s lectures always get me excited about nonfiction, so I’d like to try that some time, but fiction is what’s been coming out on the page.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

Seventeen-year-old Bliss Walker has been dumped in a nowhere world of corn and bean fields in Central Illinois. Before Mama left Bliss behind in Illinois with her cousin Patsy’s family, all Bliss ever wanted was to be important in Mama’s life. Now, Bliss has given up on wanting anything for herself, other than keeping her boyfriend River happy, whether at endless parties or in the back seat, and keeping her cousin Patsy off her back. Then Bliss meets Blake Wu. Blake helps Bliss out when River’s truck gets stuck, and he doesn’t even put up a fight when River gets jealous. He shows Bliss a glimpse of what it feels like to be seen as herself, a real person who might even be allowed to want things. Bliss takes a job walking beans at Blake’s family farm, and working with Blake stirs up new desires and possibilities for Bliss. Patsy and River are both furious about Bliss’s growing relationship with Blake, and each tries to make Bliss prove her love and loyalty. When Mama shows up with a plan to sweep Bliss off to Japan as part of a mother-daughter modeling team, Bliss must choose between keeping her friends and family happy or taking charge of her own life.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

I recently re-read part of the MG fantasy I wrote my first semester and it’s hard to believe I’m the one who wrote it. It wasn’t terrible; but it was SO different from what I’d write now.

I had a lot of trepidation about this program before I applied. Time requirement? Expense? Could I really do it? Was it practical? All of these  proved to be manageable. I have gotten so much more out of MFAC than I put into it. Lifelong friends, incredible faculty, and a vibrant, passionate, community that is constantly learning and growing, pushing and pulling me to grow in many ways.

At every step of the way, Hamline MFAC has boosted me up. I’ve left every workshop and residency feeling as if I have so much yet to learn, but I always have hope that I can do it. Participants are praised for where they are, for the good things they are doing, and given wings to keep going, hope that they can soar and the confidence that they can do it. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Meet the Grad: Jessica Mattson

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program hosted a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the month of January we will be featuring our new alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's grad is Zachary Wilson.




What do you do when you’re not working on packets?


Usually I try to squeeze in some time reading books that aren't on the reading list, because, you know, that stack of books to be read over there isn't going to take care of itself. When I'm not doing that, I'm an avid video gamer and I volunteer with a local bookstore in town. I have worked as a library assistant for the University of Minnesota Libraries, so I have never been far from amazing books and book-minded people. I live with my wonderfully supportive partner, Brian, and we spend an astonishing amount of time talking to our black lab, Cinder, as if she were a human. She gets the gist.


How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I love taking classes at The Loft here in the Twin Cities. A couple of the instructors I took classes with there were either involved with Hamline's MFAC program or had graduated from it. I was working for the library at the time, but was interested in getting back to my first passion, writing, and the program was a fantastic fit.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I've written stories since I was a kid. Through high school and college I took a few creative writing classes, eventually majoring in English in undergrad at the U of M, where I got to meet the amazing Swati Avasthi. I got to experience parts of the publishing world when I worked on our undergraduate literary magazine and through an internship with Graywolf Press after graduation. Once I was done I still felt the urge to write, so I took classes at the Loft.  It is a really wonderful resource to have locally! It was then that I really started to focus my writing towards the young adult genre. 

What do remember most about your first residency?

I remember feeling like I hadn't been that excited about something in a long time. I feel that way every time I get to residency now. As someone who has a difficult time making good friends, being surrounded by people who really understood my passions and interests was amazing. You really can't ask for a better group of people.

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

I've largely worked on contemporary young adult, which is what I came into the program with. However, I did take a semester to work on a middle grade fantasy that came to me. I'd never written middle grade or fantasy before, but it was so much fun to try something new. While I was working on this thing that was totally different I could slowly unwind the kinks in my young adult novel indirectly. I would definitely recommend trying out different things if you can. You never know what you're going to enjoy, and all kinds of writing inform each other.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis is a YA novel that is currently titled "Words That Start With F." Anna is a girl of many secrets-most of them involving the night she and her best friend, Moore, stopped being friends. The events of that night, including a car crash after Prom, have far reaching consequences in Anna's home life. She turns to an online video game to get away from the pressures of every day life. In-game Anna can be someone different, someone with an air of confidence and mystery, and she might even have a shot at winning big in an online gaming tournament. But when real life suddenly starts seeping into Anna's digital world, she has to go back to the night that ruined everything.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

I'm not even sure I could list everything, so much has changed. I've definitely had to reconsider everything I knew about revision. I used to feel so much pressure about getting words on the page, feeling like they had to be perfect, but revision is so vast that I know I'll be going over things many more times and changing quite a bit. I've worked a lot on finding voice for my characters, on writing more precisely, and on properly timing different elements of the story. I've also worked on planning out some of my plot rather than flying by the seat of my pants (both methods have their good qualities, but it's good to try new things). I've also learned a lot about taking care of myself as a writer and creative person, which is a very important thing to do.

For anyone entering or considering the program, I'm so excited for you. The Hamline community is one of the most amazing things I've ever encountered in my life. I've never felt so empowered or supported to do a thing that I loved. You'll make so many friends, meet so many talented people, and your writing abilities will transform immensely. Plus, that community doesn't stop once you get your diploma, it's there for you always. Best of all, you get to use your superpowers for good!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Meet the Grad: Zachary Wilson

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program hosted a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the month of January we will be featuring our new alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's grad is Zachary Wilson.




What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

When I'm not working on a packet, I'm generally bouncing from one activity or another. I love music, both the act of listening to it and creating it. I play the guitar, the mandolin, the bass, and I'm always picking up new styles and techniques and instruments. I also love playing games, particularly video games and role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, writers can't write without a steady diet of reading, so I'm always reading as well. I'm a sucker for mythology and fables in particular.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?


I heard about the program via the twitter account of Emily Jenkins. I was in my last year of undergrad study and I was thinking about grad school when I saw her tweet about the program where she recently started teaching. I loved her work, so I immediately looked up the program and discovered exactly what I didn't realize I had been looking for. I hadn't even known that there was a program for writing for young adults and for children before then!

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?


I've always told stories. When I was little, I would take the Lego kits I was given at Christmas and make them something else, adding them to a world where my brother Luke and I had countless adventures. My parents encouraged reading to my siblings and I, and even when we watched tv, the shows I loved were Wishbone and Reading Rainbow. I knew even when I was a kid that books were special, that stories were important and I wanted to live in stories like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or Men of Iron. I started when I was twelve years old, writing fanfiction and stories of worlds all my own. When I went to college, picking a major was easy. I wanted to write and write well, to tell stories that took their readers by the hand into worlds of wonder and magic.

What do remember most about your first residency?


I'll admit that I was guarded at first. My undergraduate experience was full of workshops where my classmates were full of vitriol and the critiques often strayed from craft notes into personal attacks. I was ready for classmates who wanted nothing more than to wound others and who didn't want to learn or change. Before I even set foot on campus, however, my new buddy Andrew Ruscito modeled the genuine care and warmth of the program, and when I met my classmates, "The Front Row," I knew that I was where I needed to be. 

Of course, I was also much too scared to talk to any of the faculty beside Swati Avasthi and Marsha Qualey, who led my workshop group, but I learned so very much in that first eleven days, more than I learned in my four years of undergraduate study for sure.

I also remember it being the coldest place I had ever been, and how, even in that, I was surrounded with warmth. When I said that I hailed from the Sunshine State of Florida, I was immediately offered scarves by several faculty members, and when I got home to the warmth of Florida (where it was in the sixties and people were complaining left and right about the chill), I couldn't wait for the next winter.

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


When it comes to form and focus, teenage life is usually when I begin a new project. Being a teenager is hard. Every age group has it's hardships, of course, but teenagers have always seemed to me to weather more burdens than any other age group. When you're a teen, you are simultaneously a child and an adult. Think about it, high school students are constantly being told that the choices that they make have huge implications on their future (they do, in fairness), and only a few years prior many of them had bedtimes and had to ask for permission to go to a friend's house for a party. The adult world is fast encroaching, hormones are singing and screaming louder than ever before, and everything is changing. 

I have almost always written for teenagers. When I was young, I wrote about what I thought it'd like to be older, when I was a teen, I wrote about what it felt like to be confused and lost and stretched in ten thousand directions, and now that I'm past my teen years, I'm writing about what being a teenager felt like, with the clarity of hindsight.

I did have the opportunity to write a children's picture book about the magic of imagination and the very real magic of childhood with Emily Jenkins, the woman who unwittingly led me here.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.


My creative thesis has changed a hundred times since I first started writing it, and I'm certain it will change in a hundred more ways before I ever try to send it out into the world, but it has always been about three things: faith, friendship, and Dungeons & Dragons. It's about a boy, Owen, whose best friend in the whole world, Danny, has moved halfway across the country to receive treatment for his illness. Owen grapples with the loneliness of the physical loss of his friend, as well as emotional loss as Danny slips out of his life. He struggles with apathy to the God he claims to know and love, and he runs headlong for any sort of belonging or love or friendship he can find.

This is a story I have been looking to tell for years now, as one of my closest friends moved away when I was a teenager and the circle of friends that I had always known fell apart shortly thereafter. I have been waiting for the strength to deal with that hurt and to tell a story that is not simply my life story, and now I finally feel like it's coming together. Laura Ruby and Emily Jenkins have both counseled me and help me shape this story, a story that I didn't want to tell at first for fear of opening old wounds.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?


I've definitely noticed changes in the mechanics of how I write, but the thing that I am still learning is how to push past the physical "happenings" in a scene into the emotions driving the characters' actions. I've gotten better at dealing with scenes that I feel awkward about as I try to write, learning to be channel that unsettled feeling into the characters and situations. The program has also equipped me to be able to pick apart my work as I revise. When I was younger and a newer writer, revision meant little more than a spell-check, but now I feel that I have a much better understanding of what it means to dwell in the manuscript, to see what is building meaning and propelling the plot and what is simply dead weight, pointless prose.

For new students and people thinking about the program, my biggest encouragement is to plug in to the community in any way you can. I live over a thousand miles away from my nearest classmate, but I never feel alone or detached. My classmates are champions for me and for each other, they are the most encouraging people and they challenge me  and inspire me to be better. This community of faculty, staff and students is something beyond what I can put into words, and I'm generally a motor-mouth. 

If you want to grow, learn and form life-long bonds, then here is the place for it. If you're just joining, welcome! if you're considering it, DO IT. I'm so grateful that I did.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Meet the Grad: Josh Hammond

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads.

Today's grad is Josh Hammond, a 6th grade Math teacher and lives in a suburb of Chicago. He is constantly surrounded by children, be it his students or his three daughters at home. His Twitter handle is @TheJosh_H.





What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I do my best to manage mercurial middle school personalities and instruct them in the ways of 6th grade math. People often shake their head in wonder at the fact that I teach in a middle school, but I enjoy the kids immensely. You never know what you'll get from day to day, but it's always interesting and a lot of fun. I have three daughters at home who keep me busy up until bedtime. I marvel at the people who "go places" and "watch television shows." 


How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

My wife, Bromleigh found an advertisement for the program in The Horn Book. She kept pestering me to apply. I figured I would just apply to get her off my back. I was pretty surprised when I got accepted.


What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?


My writing happened in fits and starts. I hadn't done any serious creative writing in years, and then one summer Bromleigh bought me a book called No Plot, No Problem, which inspired me to start a middle grade novel. Though I was very motivated at first, eventually life got in the way and I dropped writing altogether. That changed when I started at Hamline. I felt very much behind everybody else, given that I didn't go to college for creative writing. I didn't know any of the jargon. My first advisor, Kelly Easton, helped me in myriad ways. After working with her, I felt like maybe I hadn't been kidding myself after all.

What do remember most about your first residency?


When we arrived for our very first orientation, we were all sitting in the back row. We were told we should move up, and we all went to the front row, and then never left. I remember being in awe of the brilliance on display in the lectures. I remember being very frightened about my first workshop experience (as in, first ever - in life.) And mostly, I remember how quickly and easily the members of my cohort bonded, and how much time we spent laughing. The kind of laughing where you can't stop until you're crying. 

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


When I came in, I was convinced that I'd write a middle grade novel. I always felt funny when people would ask, "What do you write?" because at the time, the honest answer probably would have been, "Well, nothing, technically." I worked on a middle grade novel during my first semester, and Kelly made me branch out and write a picture book. During my second semester with Jackie I worked on more picture books, some transitional chapter books, and even a nonfiction picture book. I spent a great deal of time revising my transitional chapter books with Marsha Chall during my third semester, though much of that time was spent working on my critical paper. I didn't actually get back to writing a middle grade novel until my final semester, with Phyllis,  though it was a different project than the first attempt I made. I am very grateful for my advisors' pushing me into other forms. I enjoy the unique challenges of each, and I get the sense that you can never stop learning about any one form.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.


I have included my transitional chapter books about Febreze and Caliente, two sisters who write their own rules, open a bookstore, and have run-ins with thieving geese. I've also included The Kudzu Wars, which is a middle grade novel about Simon Harris. Simon is dealing with the recent divorce of his parents and the loss of his best friend, who has decided to hang out with that jerkface Braxton Bentley and the cool kids. Not only that, but his teacher is making him write poetry, of all things, and she discourages him from writing about the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. It seems like things can't get any worse when a mutant strain of kudzu starts taking over the school. Simon and his new friends, from the Children of Divorced Parents Club, join forces to stop the spread. It turns out that Braxton is behind the kudzu invasion, and Simon must take on the cool kids and save the school.


What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?


I have learned to be much more concise, and to trust the reader. I've also learned the importance of revision, and to approach it like a puzzle to be solved. 


My advice to new students is this: Go into the program with an open mind. Take on every challenge that your advisor gives you. Try something new. Even if you don't end up writing for a certain age group or a certain genre, no writing is wasted. And don't forget that this is fun!



The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, January 17 at 3:30 p.m. in Anne Simley Theatre, Hamline University. Our graduation speaker this January is Geoff Herbach, author of the award-winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Meet the Grad: Brita Sandstrom

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads.

Today's grad is Brita Sandstrom.


What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I spend most of my time like a cat: napping in various locations and eating stuff. I read a lot (duh) and write a lot (extra duh), and I watch a lot of questionable TV and B-movie action flicks. I work at a pet store and am currently trying to teach myself to run, which I do slowly and with much swearing and asthmatic wheezing. Any remaining free time is devoted to taking pictures of my cat, Pig, and sending them to people regardless of whether they want them or not. 


How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?


MAGIC. For real, though, I have literally no memory of how I found out about the MFAC. I only remember knowing that I NEEDED to go to an information night. I didn’t have a car at the time, so I made my mom pick me up from the closing shift at work and drive me to another city in the pouring rain at night. Jennifer Coats happened to be at the same meeting with Mary Rockcastle, and she has been unable to pry me out of her life ever since. I wrote most of my Creative Thesis at her dining room table. 


What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?



I’ve always been a storyteller. Probably because I’m an only child and none of my friends lived nearby, so I was forced to figure out how to entertain myself from a pretty early age. My dogs and I went on a lot of adventures, my stuffed animals had entire character arcs. I started writing in the form of journaling — I only ever managed to get through about three entries before losing interest and starting over and I made up a lot of stuff. I’m pretending it was just early experimentation with the first person POV.

I won an English award as a senior in high school (still my proudest academic accomplishment to date — they gave me a little pin to wear and everything), which encouraged me to study English in college. I have a BA in English Writing with a minor in Greek and Roman Studies. College-level creative writing courses can be tough if you’re interested in writing anything that isn’t short stories about how winter is a metaphor for death or whatever, so I would encourage anyone who didn’t have a great experience with them not to let it discourage you from writing what you actually enjoy.
     
What do you remember about your first residency?


How much my class and I instantly loved each other. By lunchtime the first day it felt like I had known them my whole life. I have the same relationship with them now as I do with friends I’ve had for over a decade. It’s gross how much we like hanging out.
    
By the end of it I was more tired than I have ever been in my entire life. The last two days I got so sick that I remember watching Emily Jenkins (or maybe it was Laura Ruby? I was on a lot of cold medicine) giving a lecture and wondering if I could realistically just shove some Kleenex up my nose to keep it from running or if that would be distracting for her.

Also, on the first day, Mary said that something “cranked her off” and Kelly couldn’t stop laughing and I had to stuff my sweatshirt in my mouth to control my giggle fit. 


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


I was only interested in YA when I first came to the program, everything else seemed boring or “too easy” (HA!), but Swati made me write my first picture book, which showed me the error of my ways. I’ve actually wound up focusing on Middle Grade for the last two semesters, which is harder and more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever done. Going forward I’d love to work on some nonfiction/biography picture books, which is not something Two Years Ago Brita would have said ever under any circumstances. Two Years Ago Brita was very lame. 


Tell us about your Creative Thesis.


My thesis is called Hollow Chest. It’s a Middle Grade historical fantasy set in post-WWII London. Charlie, a nine-year old boy, lives with his mom and grandpa and is struggling to deal with how his big brother Theo has changed since coming back from the war. His grandfather, a WWI veteran, tells him that Theo has “hollow chest,” a condition that means that monsters called “war wolves” have eaten Theo’s heart. Along with his faithful cat, Biscuits, Charlie searches through London to meet more war wolves to try and get back his brother’s heart.
   
I wanted a way to talk about PTSD and changing family dynamics (“growing up and stuff,” as Anne would say) in a way that is more tangible for younger readers. Basically, to provide a vocabulary to discuss things that are by nature difficult to define or to talk about with people who haven’t experienced them. Also, kitties. 


What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for new students or people considering the program?


I’ve grown my leaps and bounds as a writer and as a person. I look back at the stuff I wrote going into the MFAC and it feels like someone else wrote it.  (I still use too many adverbs, though. Sorry, Claire.) (And parentheses, I know you hate those.) I’ve learned to trust the “white space,” as Swati would say, to trust the reader to keep up and understand.

The most important thing I’ve learned to do, honestly, is just bulling through. Write even when it sucks and you hate it and you are the worst writer ever and applying to grad school was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in your whole life because you’re STUPID and you SUCK and you HATE WORDS. Just write the shitty first draft. All it has to do is exist. You can figure out the rest later.

As for advice? There is no shame in floundering. The MFAC is an intense experience both academically and emotionally, especially if you haven’t been a student for a while. I REALLY struggled for a while there and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. My high school theater director could be kind of a jerk, but he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: The audience is rooting for you. If you perform onstage, no one in the seats wants you to suck, they’re hoping for both your sakes that you’ll be great. Likewise, none of your teachers or classmates are perched on the edge of their seats just WAITING for you to mess up so they can swoop down on you like a bird of prey to publicly shame you. They want to help! They want you to be good! THE AUDIENCE IS ROOTING FOR YOU.

Also, at some point in the latter half of the residency, you WILL have to choose between attending a lecture you think you should go to, and passing out facedown on one of the couches in Anderson while throngs of wide-eyed undergrads look on pityingly and wonder if that’s what it’s like to be an old person. Don’t fight it. Just take the nap. JUST. TAKE. THE. NAP. 




The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, January 17 at 3:30 p.m. in Anne Simley Theatre, Hamline University. Our graduation speaker this January is Geoff Herbach, author of the award-winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Meet the Grad: Sarah Ahiers

On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads.

Today's grad is Sarah Ahiers.  You can visit her author's website, http://www.sarahahiers.com, for more information about her writing interests and publications.



What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

Well, writing, mostly, but my day job involves me being a quality analyst for a huge health care company which is about as exciting as it seems. I play a ton of video games, do a lot of cooking, spend time with my family up at our cabin, read, and enjoy having a good times with my friends.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I knew about the program for a long time and I'd met Peter Pearson (MFAC alum) at a Loft Conference a few years ago, but for some reason I didn't realize it was low residency. Then my friend sent me the info and my brain kind of exploded because I knew I could fit in a low residency program. I went to a prospective student day, thought it was the most awesome thing ever, and then applied immediately.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

My BA was in English with an emphasis in creative writing, which mostly just meant that my elective English classes were all creative writing and there was a lot of work shopping. Outside of that I've been writing since high school, had sold two short stories, and had been querying novels for a few years before I applied to Hamline.

What do you remember about your first residency?

My first residency was CRAZY! First off, I met my classmates who were just awesome. Then there was a snow storm the day we went to the Kerlan and I almost missed it because traffic was so bad. But what was craziest about my first residency is I got an offer of representation from an agent for my novel on the third day. And by the end of residency I had 6 more offers. I spent a lot of the residency fielding phone calls from agents, which was exciting, but I missed a lot of things like readings and student lectures because I had to make phone calls, so that was a bit of a bummer. Still, it was an exciting ten days and my book sold to HarperTeen a month later, so it was all worth it.

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

Mostly I spent my time with YA fantasy, which I really like, but I also spent some time with a MG fantasy (which I love), and I even wrote a picture book (which was also fun). I think if the program was twice as long, I would have dabbled in graphic novel and maybe even (gasp!) non-fiction.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

It's a MG fantasy about a boy who's family is turned into crows when he angers a witch. He has to travel with his little sister (who's a crow) and find the witch to make her turn his family back. It kind of circles around themes of forgiveness and apologies and also family, because everything I write has to do with themes about family.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

I notice that I'm more picky in regards to my drafts. I get to the end and I realize they're way rougher than they used to seem. And I think that's just because I've grown so much as a writer that I can more easily see where things need to be fixed. Going deeper with character has always been a problem for me, but my advisors really gave me some good ways to do so during drafting and revising.

For incoming students, just be prepared for the awesomeness that is ahead! Sometimes it's a lot of work, and sometimes you may be stressed, but mostly it will be awesome. You'll make lifetime friends and you'll have so much fun. The two years will go by so fast, so try and savor it as much as possible.

For people considering the program, DO IT! It's awesome and wonderful and worth every penny.


The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, January 17 at 3:30 p.m. in Anne Simley Theatre, Hamline University. Our graduation speaker this January is Geoff Herbach, author of the award-winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Publication Interview: Sewing Stories

Author and MFAC alum Barbara Herkert* talks with us about her newest book, Sewing Stories. Learn about her writing process for this picture book biography on the life of Harriet Powers, an African American artist who grew up as a slave.

Tell us about your new book.

Sewing Stories is about an artist who was born into slavery, faced with crushing degradation and poverty, and still driven to create in the form of appliqué story quilts unequaled in composition and design. The book is illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton and was released in October, 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite character?

I love the ending, where Harriet is soaring across the sky.

Did you workshop this story at Hamline or work with a faculty member on it?

I started working on this book at Hamline under Jackie Briggs Martin’s mentorship. I’d never written a picture book biography before. I was transfixed by the genre. Jackie showed me how to search for those golden nuggets, how to transport the reader with details.

When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?

I began the manuscript during my third semester at Hamline. I was in the first class--the “big class.”

As the work progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?

My first editor at Knopf was Michelle Burke. We cut out entire stanzas and shortened others to make room for illustrations. I finished the project with another editor, Kelly Delaney, after Michelle decided to stay home with her new baby. Kelly made further edits, including taking the stanzas out of free-verse and including dialogue. I was extremely hesitant about the dialogue—the only documented words of Harriet’s own are the descriptions of her story quilts. But I found a source of testimonies by former slaves that I felt enveloped Harriet’s spirit.
 

What research did you do before and while writing the book?

I did tons of research. I read everything I could about Harriet, about slavery and life in Athens, Georgia following the Civil War, and about appliqué quilting. I went to the Smithsonian to see the first story quilt “in person.” The shapes and the rhythm that continues throughout the quilt mesmerized me.

Where did you do most of your writing for this book?

At home.

Any final thoughts on the book you'd like to share?

The idea for this book came to me when I was researching for another project. I was reading about anonymous women artists when I first came across Harriet’s photograph and pictures of her story quilts. I had to find out more about her. She enchanted me.



*Barbara Herkert received a biology degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a MFA from Hamline University. She studied art and art history at Oregon State University, and wrote and illustrated my first book in 2001, entitled Birds in Your Backyard. I’m currently the Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-Oregon. Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Expressionist Painter (with illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska) was also released in October, 2015, and A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White (illustrated by Lauren Castillo) will be released in 2017 (both by Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.