Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Agenting Tips of the Day

MFAC alum and agent extraordinaire Jodell Sadler* (Sadler Children’s Literary) has generously offered to answer a few questions about the ever mysterious world of agents - and how to find one. Read on to find out her agent tips of the day!


What are agents looking for from a craft point of view?

Agents look for great writing and great story, pure and simple. It has to be both. When a unique idea comes along, it stands out. When a unique voice pops up in the inbox, it stands up and announces itself. When I open a submission and sense a writer has studied his/her craft and places me in story within the first lines, pages and chapter, I forget I am reading a story, and its the magic I look for. It makes me want to acquire yesterday and work with that writer.

The next concern is if a writer can carry story over the muddy middle. I look for a well-paced manuscript: active verbs, honed sentences with diction that pauses me at emotional hot points and enhances my focus in a masterful way—just really great sentences. I ask myself a few questions: do the words match the action of scenes? Do I sense emotional depth, original character, and worldview and does the piece have both layers and legs?

More than anything, I crave fresh, original, creative, interactive, and genuinely engaging stuff. What’s the personality and voice used in your cover letter? Are you presenting to an agent your personality and passion? Are you using comedic timing and pause well and asking they pay attention to the underpinnings of your words? I love that quote from William Zinsser, “You are the product that you sell” or the notion the late Ray Bradbury speaks to: writers learn the rules and how to break them well up until that day that the process of writing becomes “all in an of their fingers”—and they no longer think about it. If you have earned your MFA, you are well on your way. So, write. Write from that passionate place where story comes.

What are some writing clichés to avoid?

Princess and holiday books cause allergic reactions for me. I see them too often in my submissions bin. I prefer commercial, literary—that surprising, new material that makes me want to snatch it up. Material that presents that wow-factor and leaves me thinking: “I with I had thought of that!” moment is perfect.

When I first started out as an agent, I felt I could help any writer who was committed to his/her career, held an MFA, but that has since changed. It’s all about collaboration and a project I can genuinely connect to and believe in. As an agent, especially an editorial one, we spend time with the manuscripts, reading them and rereading. So, I am careful to take on projects and writers or writer-illustrators I feel connected to. I look for that writing professional who partners with an agent to further a career.

I’ve come to enjoy finding clients at events and workshops because I learn more about how they work, how they edit, and who they are. What I know is that when I take on a client who dedicated to improving craft and has a great manuscript in hand, that’s perfect. You should be savvy about what is out and current in the marketplace—enough to know when a manuscript feels like it is written from a mentor text or includes lines so similar to established text that it feels cliché.


Do I need to have a full draft of my novel?

Yes. You should have a full draft of your novel to submit. We are looking for that next great book. It’s nice to have other manuscripts in the works as well, ideally ready, but one great book is what we look for. I personally enjoy working with writers who work in more than one category, a writer who enjoys nonfiction as well as fiction, or is a writer and also an illustrator, or a picture book writer who also writes YA.

How much revision should I do before I submit?

Your novel should be through a number of revisions, for it is usually in the 8th or 56th that we reach that depth needed to skyrocket our manuscript toward success. I was working on a manuscript the other day, or just looking for where I was at in my own revisions, and I found a draft marked 222. I laughed. I remember how I felt at the time I saved it like that. Some stories come to us and the muse opens up and others find there way through the labyrinth of our souls, but they find their way. Our job is to nurture it onto the page. And with pluck and a little luck and butt-in-chair (BIC), we, ever onward, reach our goals. It’s what writers do. What you need to know is that with MFA in hand, you are on that journey, so enjoy it, celebrate it, and cherish the small successes as you move forward.


What are some tips about writing a cover letter?

My biggest tips are two-fold: keep it short and be yourself. We get so many submissions, so those that share their personality in the cover page stand out. I enjoy it when the cover letter matches the tone of the manuscript.

One of my favorite submissions was from an author-illustrator who mentioned his work in a three parts; he works as an art director, cut his teeth at DC comics, and cries at most Tom Hank movies. This is a breathing person who feels real and friendly. He’s been fabulous to work with and we are currently contracting his fourth book, a two-book deal with more in the works.  Another great submission came from a writer who shared her cover letter in her main character’s point of view and voice. It was really engaging. And so was the work that followed.

I’ve been on enough editor-agent panels now to know that when I suggest to keep these short, it’s the best advice I can give you. A lot of us feel this way. When I see a long, long cover letter, I get hives and think “I’ll read that one later” and may not. It’s professional to by concise and clear. Short means it fits on my computer screen without scrolling down. Keep it simple, direct, and memorable.

What matters most about your submission? Your manuscript. For your cover letter, spend the most time honing that pitch for your manuscript. Write that in a way that makes me crave your read and you will be in great shape. I often read this pitch and move right to reading the manuscript. Really. When my in bin fills fast and furious like a wild thing, it’s a must. Some twenty to one hundred submissions a day is normal life as an agent and really why we are sometimes slow responding. If I write an article, at times that number can reach 500-600 in a month.

When I’ve been the submission agent following an online event, I’ve received this number from just one group—all picture books. When I attend conferences, critiques get added to this reading. When I want to send out clients’ manuscript, important reading and editing gets added to this reading. So do realize that when we are slow to respond, we are diligently and constantly working to catch up.

So my other piece of advice is to take the time to read and adhere to the specific guidelines for each agent you send your work to. When I receive submissions written to the agent they sent to just prior to me (Happens a lot just prior to events I am scheduled to attend—I think writers send to the agents that will be there and simply forget to change the name) or to “Dear agent” (really? Didn’t bother to look my name up) or Mr. Sadler (did I really have a sex change overnight? Hmm), I know this writer has not taken the time to consider me as a professional or present him/herself as a professional.


Will my agent work on revising something with me?

Agents are the new editors in many ways. We look for work that is so ready to send that it already sings. It’s nice when we only have a few things to consider like setting or depth of characterization, or chapter breaks and shifts, or subplots or threads that need more attention. In the case of picture books, a lot of time can be spent on crafting fresh and thinking about what will elevate a piece in the marketplace.

I’ve recently launched KIDLIT COLLEGE, which hosts great webinar events with editors and agents, who also do critiques. In a recent event, Allison Moore talked about Big Story Ideas and shared how to position your work to complete in the marketplace and stand out. This past weekend, Ann Whitford Paul joined Jill Corcoran to talk about picture book craft. Ann talked about the ABCs of writing picture books, which was fabulous and gave detailed list of what to do, and literary agent extraordinaire, Jill Corcoran joined her to talk about what agents look for.

Find these kind of opportunities to get your work critiqued and reviewed by editor and agents. From our first webinar alone three manuscripts out of 20-ish where requested by the critiquing editor, so it’s a great move.

I often say that while we don’t write to the market, per se, we do need our work to fit into a market category. It’s a different ballgame to craft a story than to craft a story that will sell. I know a book is one I can take on when I can instantly think of three editors I can share it with.

Agents work on revisions, but an editorial agent definitely does, and this is all a process. I now use Google hangouts to work with clients because it saves a lot of back and forth emailing. We read and mark up and then chat about the piece and what needs to happen to make it ready to send out.

What catches an agent's eye and makes them want to read more?

Voice. Original idea. Different. Captivating. And Firsts. The first line, paragraph, pages and chapters of your novel need to be the best you’re capable of. We need character, setting, plot hints and voice all at once. How important is this? Huge. In the first week of my MG/YA pacing course, I talk about the importance of firsts. I also recently did a Writer’s Digest Webinar with Leslie Shumate, assistant editor at Little Brown Books for Young readers, and she will also be talking about first pages and we have Leslie joining us at KidLit College in October: “Making First Impressions”—and she definitely knows what she is talking about.

I believe in one simple truth: A writer who hones his/her craft will earn the book deal. There are no short cuts. A manuscript has to be top quality. This was the whole reason I started KIDLIT COLLEGE, and asked presenters to talk about craft. Ariel Richardson, assistant editor at Chronicle, will be talking about “What Makes Nonfiction Great” in September, and Yolanda Scott, executive director at Charlesbridge, will talk about “The Whole Book Approach to writing picture books in November. We also have an author-agent team talking about The author-agent relationship in a few short weeks, titled, “I’ve Got Your Back,” which pretty much sums up a great team approach to agenting.


If you could give one tip to new authors, what would it be?

Write the best manuscript, that manuscript only you can write, and write it strong in your voice and style and trust in the journey—it’s a good one.



Thanks Jodell for all the great advice!

We'll try to make this a regular monthly post, so if you have a question we can ask just write a comment below and we'll get it answered next time.


*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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Publication Interview with Ron Koertge and Christine Heppermann

It's not everyday that two Hamline authors team up, but when they do you know it's going to be a great book!  Read on as co-authors Ron Koertge* (MFAC professor) and Christine Heppermann** (MFAC 2010 alum) talk with us about their newest book, Backyard Witch.


Tell us about your new book.

Christine:
It’s the first installment in a series about three nine-year-old friends—Sadie, Jess, and Maya—and their comical adventures with a witch named Ms. M, who turns up one day out of the blue in Sadie’s old backyard playhouse. 


Ron: The title tells it all – an amiable witch with questionable magic powers turns up in Sadie’s back yard  just as she needs a friend.

Christine: So far we have three books under contract, each told from the perspective of one of the girls. The next two books are scheduled for publication in 2016 and 2017, and all will include illustrations by the amazing Deborah Marcero.


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

Christine: My favorite part is the overall tone of the series. My daughter Audrey describes it as “smart-stupid”—and she means that as a compliment! The stories aren’t frivolous; they have a lot to say about friendship and parent-kid relationships and different ways of looking at the world. But the humor is goofy. Anytime a scene seems to be veering dangerously toward “heartwarming,” Ms. M will say or do something silly and, crisis averted. 


Ron: I like the beginnings of things:  the first few minutes of a movie, the post parade at the races, and the opening scenes with Sadie abandoned by her friends.



What was it like writing a book with a former student/faculty mentor?  


Christine: Honestly, those labels, for me, went away a long time ago. For years now, we’ve simply been friends. 


Ron: Chris was always such a good writer that I never thought of her as anything but a peer.



Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?

Christine: I workshopped the first few chapters or so at an alumni weekend. People said encouraging things and gave us good advice, as usually happens during workshop.

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


Ron: Ummm, a couple of years ago now and we worked on Book #1 for 6-9 months.

Christine: We started work on the first book in the summer of 2012. I remember because that was a rough time for me: my husband had just been laid off from his job, and I was in limbo with the manuscript that would become Poisoned Apples, waiting to hear from an editor who seemed enthusiastic, but couldn’t quite commit. (Eventually I got an agent, Tina Wexler, who found the perfect home, at Greenwillow, for it.)

I wanted to work on something fun and distracting. Ron and I had talked semi-seriously about doing a picture book or an early reader together. At some point I floated the idea of a girl with something living in her playhouse—a rhino or a dragon or a witch. Ron said, “I like witch.” And we were off, as they say, to the races.




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


Christine: Can’t remember what the specific changes were, but I know they involved fleshing out the story and the characters. Ron and I are both minimalists. 

Ron: Chris and I would be away from the ms. for awhile, then come back and sense these holes that needed to be filled in.  And our keen-eyed editor, Martha at Greenwillow, had suggestions.


Christine: Under [Martha's] direction, we kept going back to the story, adding layers. Sometimes it was just a line or an additional paragraph; sometimes it was whole new chapters.



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

Ron: Chris did bird-watching stuff.  I interviewed witches.  

Christine: Ms. M is a birder, and she turns Sadie into one—not magically, but by showing her how amazing it can be to sit and observe the natural world. I already knew a little about birding, but I still checked out a lot of birding books from the library. Also, I lived in Chicago at the time and spent some wonderful sunny afternoons hanging out behind the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, watching birds at feeders.


Where did you do most of your writing for this book? 
Christine: I like to write in coffee shops. Ron writes in his study. 

Ron: We live on opposite sides of the country, so we talked on the phone and sent each other works-in-progress.  Once a year we got together face to face.





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

Christine: It makes me very happy for lots of reasons. One is that it’s about friendship, and I was lucky enough to be able to write it with my friend.


Ron: Who knew I’d write for very young readers?   I wrote Stoner & Spaz and the dark fairy tales in Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses.  Most writing is enjoyable, but this book was flat out fun. 



Thanks to both Christine and Ron for taking the time to answer our questions and discuss a little bit about their creative process.  Congratulations again on Backyard Witch!  We can't wait to read the next two.

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program, and author of over a dozen books, mostly for young adults (Backyard Witch being a notable exception).  You can learn more about his work by visiting his website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.


**Christine Heppermann is a January 2010 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. Her book, Poisoned Apples, received five starred reviews and was chosen as a Best Book for Young Adults 2014 by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Public Library.. Christine lives in New York's Hudson Valley region. To learn more about her and her writing, please visit her website. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thoughts on Writing: Love and Letting Go

In the final part of author Molly Burnham's* top six Thoughts on Writing and Mindfulness we end on a positive note. 

In this post Molly shares why loving what you do and letting go of it when you're done is an essential part of the writing process.  Like the rest of her wonderful points, these last two
 are something every writer should take the time to reflect upon next time you're worried about an agent rejecting a manuscript or even what a young reader will think when they crack open the front cover of your next book.

5. Love
I like to spend time loving what I do and reminding myself that I do love it. I'm in awe that I live during a time of peace, that I learned a craft, and that I have the time to write. It's easy to get down-hearted and sad. I get that. I feel that way, and then I remember that I just love writing. And I'd do it no matter what.

Why should anyone else decide for me my experience with art? I'm the only one who gets to decide that. It might be one of the only things I have control of.

Speaking of which...


6. Letting Go
Seriously hard, but I practice letting go every day-even with a book sold.  I let go of thinking that I have control over anything. My books might do well, or they might not, I might have a difficult day writing, or I might have a smooth day, there's so little I can control.

So let go of control and see where the adventure takes you.


Thanks again to Molly for sharing these helpful tips to help us sustain the writing life. If you missed either of Molly's previous posts you can read part one Connecting and Routine and part two Demons and Distractions here.

*Molly B. Burnham graduated from Hamline in 2010. Her first book, Teddy Mars Almost a World Record Breaker came out March 2015. It will be followed by two more Teddy Mars books. She lives in Northampton, MA with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She tries to be mindful, but is remarkably unsuccessful most of the time. Luckily she learns a lot from her failures.

To learn more about Molly and her writing please visit her website.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thoughts on Writing: Demons and Distractions

I hope you enjoyed Tuesday's post by Molly Burnham*If you missed it, be sure to read it here for some great advice on seeking connection and developing a writing routine.

Today we're continuing to look at Molly's top six thoughts on Writing and Mindfulness by journeying to the dark side of the writer's life. Keep reading to find out how to fend off your inner demons and manage those ever-present distractions.


3. Demons

Keeping the demons at bay is always important. The demons I’m talking about are: Fear, judgment, criticism, will I make the deadline? Will I ever have something to write about? etc. That's where mindfulness really comes in handy-just quieting those stories and getting back to the work of writing. 

Another demon that pops up is that only earning a living from my writing makes me a real writer. I am lucky to be married to an artist so we have a lot of conversation about earning a living from art, and how difficult that is in a capitalist society. I think having these conversations are really good because through them I realized that no matter what I would keep writing because I just like writing. Once I took off the "earning a living” from my plate, I became more open and free with my writing. 
I also practice affirmations around writing. I focused on writing easily and 
writing with joy-as opposed to something like "I earn a lot of money from my writing" because that seems ridiculous. Notice this affirmation is not funny, so I have to work on that.

I also practiced mindfulness by reminding myself that writing is not a separate experience from my life, but is part of my life. I will grow as a person because I write and engage. I remind myself that this is my life and I am not someone else. All I can do is live this life, mindfully writing and sending work out, taking part in classes, without an attachment to outcome. I can forget the outcome and stay in the present. By doing that I was able to focus more fully on my writing and the story I wanted to tell. 

Lastly, I decided that I was not allowed to compare myself to others. They get to live their lives and I get to live mine. When that comparing demon arises, my mindfulness practice notices it, and I let it go. I remind myself that this is my life as Molly Burnham and I am here to learn as much as I can about Molly Burnham and no one else. Let other people travel their life. We will all feel happiness, and struggles, but they will come at different times to us all, so stop comparing yourself to anyone else.


4. Choose Your Distractions
I'm married to an artist who also works a full-time job. We know we have limited time with our art, so we keep our lives simple.

We don't go away on vacations a lot (
because we need to be home making art). We don't go out a lot or watch a lot of TV (because we need to make art). We don't have a garden that needs a lot of our attention (because we need to make art). These are things that would need our attention, or to put it another way, would take attention away from our art. 

These are different for everyone, but try to find a way to simplify your life so writing can become your focus. If my art was a vegetable garden then that is what I should pay attention to. This is also true for Facebook, twitter, etc. There are so many ways to make our brains move from our art, so many distractions, so only choose the ones you really want. This doesn't feel sad or anything, it feels really right. It feels like I'm in control.


We'll have Molly's final thoughts on mindfulness and writing up on August 18th. You won't want to miss her take on Love and Letting Go as an author.


*Molly B. Burnham graduated from Hamline in 2010. Her first book, Teddy Mars Almost a World Record Breaker came out March 2015. It will be followed by two more Teddy Mars books. She lives in Northampton, MA with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She tries to be mindful, but is remarkably unsuccessful most of the time. Luckily she learns a lot from her failures.

To learn more about Molly and her writing please 
visit her website.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Thoughts on Writing: Connecting and Routine

Welcome back after our Summer MFAC Residency!

We've got a lot of news to share about The Storyteller's Inkpot, starting with new types of posts!

We'll still have our regular publication announcements, Meet the Grad features, and general blog posts, but we'll also have a featured topic each month that our community of Hamline bloggers can engage with. August's topic will be revision, one of the most critical (and challenging) skills for any writer to master.

To start things off, author Molly Burnham* has offered to share her top six thoughts on Writing and Mindfulness with The Storyteller's Inkpot. Her post was simply too good to giveaway all at once, so we'll be breaking it into three parts.

This time Molly talks to us about how connecting with others and establishing a solid routine can help you break free from a writing (or revising) rut.

1. Connecting
The first year out of grad school sucked. It was really hard. Really.

I was revising what I had worked on at Hamline, but it felt like I was spinning my wheels. This led me to apply for a weekend away with Stephen Roxburgh that focused on Editing for Writers. It was a very interesting retreat about looking at our work with distance so we can edit it as writers.


I felt this was important because in the two years I spent at Hamline I hadn't grappled with this issue-my writing was still very fresh. I was creating, but I needed to learn more about what to do after I had a book. How do I work with a whole draft?

I found that for me it was important to connect with kids. Not only because I write for them, but because I have fun with them. I needed some fun that first year out of grad school!

When in doubt, focus on one element of craft that you need help with and find people to help you. Really good people-like Hamline people if you happen to live close to them.
2. Routine
The other thing I did was to establish a routine for my writing. I woke up at 5:00 am so I could write before my kids woke up. I was working and needed to have that time. This was not easy, but I really liked it (and got the idea from a Hamline faculty member who recommended the book From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler).

As I said, getting up that early was not always easy, so I had this little phrase I'd say that went like this:

"I'm the kind of woman who gets up at 5:00 in the morning to write. That's the kind of woman I am." 
It would make me laugh but was also a positive affirmation. I find positive affirmations are so important. (A lot like mindfulness). 

Choose affirmations that have a bit of humor to them; it really helps.


That's it for today, but check back on August 13th for Molly's thoughts on Demons and Distractions!

*Molly B. Burnham graduated from Hamline in 2010. Her first book, Teddy Mars Almost a World Record Breaker came out March 2015. It will be followed by two more Teddy Mars books. She lives in Northampton, MA with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She tries to be mindful, but is remarkably unsuccessful most of the time. Luckily she learns a lot from her failures.

To learn more about Molly and her writing please visit her website.

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, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). 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
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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.

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The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). 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, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). 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.
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 The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). 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.

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The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). Tim Federle is the speaker.