Monday, May 23, 2016

The Secret of Goldenrod: Cover Sneak Peak

This week we have an early look at MFAC alum Jane O'Reilly's upcoming book, The Secret of Goldenrod.

Story Summary:
When Trina and her father move into Goldenrod, an abandoned Victorian mansion, Trina hopes she will finally have a place to call home--and a chance to make friends at her new school. But school doesn’t go as planned and, and Goldenrod might be haunted.

Then Trina discovers Augustine, a tiny—and very unusual—porcelain doll that belonged to the little girl who lived at Goldenrod a century ago. With help from Augustine, Trina realizes Goldenrod is trying to tell her an important secret, one that may just change her life.

"I am thrilled to be able to share the process and the cover reveal among the Hamline community," says Jane.

The Secret of Goldenrod will be released on October 1, 2016 through CarolRhonda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Repairing the Internal Writing Machine

Today's post comes from MFAC alum Ann Quiring*.  She writes to us on the very real problem of losing the urge to write and how she was able to overcome it.

A few years ago, my internal writing machine, the spark we all need to get our butt in that chair, shut down. System failure. I just couldn’t put words together anymore. I quit my writing group. I stopped attending local kid lit and Hamline MFAC alumni events. I hid from questions about my writing, because I felt ashamed of my answer.
Hamline taught me to find the heart in a story, and fortunately, my writing journey has a hopeful ending.

The reason for my writing breakdown was rooted in a critique for a novel I had worked on for a long time. I know what you’re thinking: Ann, we have to be able to hear tough critiques as writers. We need thick skin. I know. But this critique cut into my writing soul like no other response I had heard before. I can’t explain why; it just stopped me from even thinking about a revision, or a new project.

So instead of writing, I read. I devoured literary fiction, mysteries, memoir, and short stories. Reading is a natural way to fight writer’s block, and my reading led me to finding a new genre. I had enjoyed every mystery I read, so last fall I took a Crime Fiction Writing class at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. This class helped me dissect the mystery novel and inspire my writing in a new way.

I also started tutoring writing at The Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a local non-profit dedicated to supporting young students with writing and homework. Tutoring brings me joy every week; the kids inspire me to work harder on my own writing. Recently a young student of mine wrote two pages about a chair in the room. If she can crank out two pages about a chair, I can surely write two pages a day.  

This month, I’m taking a Gothic Horror Writing class taught by MFAC alum Jackie Hesse (she is a great teacher). Now I really don’t like gothic horror—I faint at the sight of blood—but I thought the class would complement my mystery writing and teach me a few things about suspense, and it has.

During this time of rediscovery, I started writing a young adult mystery novel, and I just shared the first chapter with some fellow writers. I am writing again. Sharing my writing is still as terrifying to me as a gothic novel, but it’s also home. I’ve found comfort in writing again.

If you find yourself stuck, try something new and different. Take a sewing class. Jump on a trampoline. Discover new people in your community. As simple and clich├ęd as it sounds, it worked for me.

*Ann Quiring likes to brag about being in the very first (and in her unbiased opinion, the very best) Hamline MFAC class of 2009. She lives and drinks a lot of strong coffee in Minneapolis, MN. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Publication Interview - There was an Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink

Author and MFAC alum Tamera Wissinger* talks about her new book, There was an Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. Learn about her writing process for this fun and original take on a classic rhyme.
Tell us about your new book?
It’s my take on the folktale There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. In this new version the old lady is a fisherwoman down by the dock who gobbles a skink, a worm, a bobber…all kinds of fishing tackle and supplies.

Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite character?
Hmm. I like how all the parts works together to create suspense and fun for young readers. Those elements lead to a surprise at the end, which I hope keeps with the tradition of the original.

Did you workshop this story at Hamline or work with a faculty member?
I worked with Marsha Chall and Phyllis Root on this story. Both of them gave me great insights and helped me fine-tune the story. As a result, it became part of my creative thesis and one of the picture books I read for my graduate reading.

When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
I began this story nearly a decade ago - in the spring of 2006. I was toying with a few different story and poetry ideas when a cluster of interesting water and dockside rhyming words and phrases emerged. Once I recognized that a might be able to write an homage to the old lady original, the story really took off. That summer I went to the University of Iowa summer writing festival and worked on it with children’s author and teacher Jill Esbaum.

In 2007 I put it aside for my first two semesters at Hamline and pulled it back out in 2008 when I was paired with Marsha and then Phyllis. I finished a draft that was ready for submission in the fall of 2008. That was my final semester at Hamline. It took me a few years to find the right publisher. Once it was accepted at Sky Pony, the editor and I tweaked it slightly, so the text was officially completed in 2015.

As the work progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?
The biggest change came early in the life of this story. Initially I wrote the old lady eating the largest items first. Jill suggested that I consider going from small to large. I thought that was a good idea so I tried it. That wasn’t as simple as just reversing the order, though – it meant basically rewriting the entire story. In the end it’s a stronger story that way, so worth the effort.

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

Most of this story grew out of my own experiences of fishing with my family when I was young and my imagination. Once I had decided to write this in the spirit of the original, I read that version and many other versions to see how those authors handled the sequencing. I spent time thinking about the order of the items and logic of that order. Also, I went fishing with my husband and family and quietly paid attention to what happened during the day.

Where did you do most of your writing for this book?
At the time I wrote this book I was living in the Chicago area, so I wrote much of this book in my office looking out at a cluster of pretty maple trees.  

Any final thoughts on the book you'd like to share?
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to work with Phyllis and Marsha on this manuscript while I was at Hamline. They both gave me thoughtful feedback and were advocates from early in the life of this book.

Tamera Will Wissinger writes poetry and stories for children. She grew up as a reader in an Iowa fishing family and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She is the author of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK and THIS OLD BAND from Sky Pony Press as well as GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse and the forthcoming GONE CAMPING: A Novel In Verse from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. She has gobbled many things, but never a skink, or worm, or bobber, or any of the fishing gear gobbled by the old lady in her book. You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, Goodreads, or on Facebook.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Diversity Shines in Two Alaskan Novels

Today's Inkpot post is from Claire Rudolf Murphy*, an amazing author and MFAC professor at Hamline University.  Diversity is a big topic, and one Claire explores through the examination of two Alaskan novels, My Name is Not Easy and The Smell of Other People's Houses.

Hello, Inkpot Readers. My awareness of the need for more diversity in children’s books has been deepened by our work in the Hamline MFAC program. As we read more widely and I reflect on my own work and respond to student work, my understanding has grown, but also a realization about how complex it is to get it right. Diversity comes in many forms - along with race and culture, it includes religion, social and economic levels and setting. Regardless, we must do our best to avoid stereotypes. A nonfiction writer can only write what actually happened, so the diversity comes by doing far-reaching research on one’s subject in all its complexities.

A novelist has many choices when developing a cast of characters. I learned a great deal about culture during my 24 years in Alaska, but in my first novel I failed the stereotype test. To the Summit features white climbers on an expedition up Denali (Mount McKinley.) I wanted to include a Native Alaskan character, so I developed a Yup’ik guide named Gabe based on my experiences teaching in a Yup’ik Eskimo village for three years. I got help and worked hard to get the cultural details right, but looking back I realize how unlikely and inauthentic it was to write about a Yup’ik person from the coastal part of Alaska who climbed mountains for adventure rather than necessity.

But two current Alaskan writers succeed admirably, their stories featuring characters of many cultures. Debby Dahl Edwardson was raised in a Norwegian Minnesotan family, but for 30 years has lived in Barrow, Alaska with her husband and his extended family. Fro her web site: “My husband is Inupiaq (Eskimo) and most of the stories I write are set within this cultural context. It is not the culture I was born into but it is the one I belong to, the one that has become home to me as a human being and as an artist.” (See
Debby’s novel My Name is not Easy, a National Book Award finalist, is based on her husband’s experiences attending boarding school with Alaskan Natives of many cultures. I taught at a boarding school similar to the setting of Debby’s story and can speak to the authenticity of her teen characters and how the white adults running the school have good intentions, but make many cultural missteps. Not surprisingly Debby has been asked many times about writing about other cultures. People want to know what constitutes authentic writing from a cultural perspective. They want to know how to tell whether the books they are reading or writing are authentic to the cultures they represent. A good part of this comes from recognizing your own cultural bias.” Listen to her interview at:

On a guest blog post about writing across cultures, she wrote: “People sometimes say that I write outside of my own culture or that I write through a borrowed culture. I can't imagine consciously doing any such thing. If you understand the worldview of your characters and write from within that worldview you are not writing outside of anything and you are not borrowing—you are immersing yourself within. Does your own individual perspective on life bleed through? Sure. But you are aware of this and you control it—not as a bad thing, but as a conscious thing.” See:

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, one of our Hamline alums, recently published a novel set in Alaska called The Smell of Other People’s Houses. An earlier version of this story was her creative thesis. Based on her childhood memories, experiences of family members, friends and her own children, and her work as a reporter with Alaska Public Radio, the story features characters from Alaska’s many cultures. Tough things happen to all the characters, no matter their culture. From my years living in Alaska, it felt authentic. Bonnie-Sue uses cultural details and it is clear which cultural group a character is from. But she also spoke to the fluidity of Alaskan culture. In an email to me she wrote, ““One thing I do know is that you can't tell if someone is native or nonnative based on their skin color and what I love about Alaska is that we're all kind of in it together. But as kids, we didn't care about what race you were. We cared whether you were fast enough to be on our swim team relay, or if your mom made better after school snacks.” 

But Bonnie-Sue also spoke to me about the responsibility writing about this setting and these characters. “Did I do this right? Did I do it justice? She laughingly told me she is working on a story right now in which “place isn’t such a huge character.” Alaskans have embraced the novel. And readers unfamiliar with Alaska will come to experience it through these well-rounded and riveting characters. Bonnie-Sue worked hard to make sure the cultural details remained in her story. And she won another fight, too. “Normally audiobooks are read by professional actors. But I knew that the voice of Dora had to reflect her character--a young Inupiaq girl. I sent the New York producer some news stories featuring teenage voices that I had produced in Alaska and she agreed with me that Dora's character absolutely needed authentic representation." An Alaskan actor was hired.

Learn more about Bonnie-Sue at her web site www. Listen to her interview: also posted a more detailed review of Bonnie-Sue’s book this week at:

Thank you, Debby and Bonnie-Sue for showing us the way by writing such powerful stories with diverse characters.

*Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of over a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction and a professor in Hamline University's Master in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.  To learn more about Claire and her writing, please visit her website or faculty page.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tending the Garden

In this week's Storyteller's Inkpot post alum Donna Jones Koppelman* talks about how gardening and writing have a lot more in common than one might think.

One beautiful spring day last week, I got impatient about planting my garden. Impatience turned to impulse, as if often does, and I bought a rototiller!  I love it.  It’s petite as a hummingbird but does the job like a bulldog. I love to plan my garden, plant my garden, tend my garden, and harvest my garden, but many of those aspects of gardening are vulnerable to conditions I can’t control—like weather. Tilling up the soil is something I can control, and with my own rototiller, I am unstoppable.

Gardening is a perfect metaphor for writing. I reflect on the parallels as I wait for the seed of an idea to germinate, as I edit out the weeds that impede the growth of my prize plant, and as I pray the hailstorm of my insecurities don’t ruin that last chapter. So what is the rototiller in this metaphor?

A rototiller prepares the soil for a luscious garden. It stirs up all that’s hidden, so I can spot weeds, roots, and shells I couldn’t see before. It makes my garden inviting. It beckons me to come and plant, and I like to think well-tilled soil is a glorious, comfortable place for tiny growing seeds.

In writing, my rototiller is my routine. My daily routine makes my work space a fertile place for ideas to grow and blossom. I have a friend who says she cannot write until her whole house is clean. That is not true for me (or I wouldn’t have written a word in twenty years). I just need a clean surface on my desk. I need white paper and a really good pen. I need brushes and paints or drawing pencils close at hand. I need my favorite craft book, THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield, from which I read a chapter every day. I need a poetry book, from which I read a poem every day, and lastly, I need a scented candle.

Whew. Sounds really neurotic, right? But the process of gathering all these things and placing them just so gives my brain the time it needs to shift from who is driving sports carpool to what story I will tell today. Clearing my desk clears my mind. Setting up brushes and drawing pencils signals my brain that it’s time to get creative. It’s time for fun. Mr. Pressfield reminds me it’s time to WORK, and poetry shows me that work should be lovely. Lastly, I choose a scented candle with a smell that fits my work for the day. Smells are powerful stimulants for my memory and thought process. I like to think E.B. White chose a cotton candy scented candle to write those marvelous scenes at the fair. Or maybe it was a pig scent? Or perhaps he had a completely different routine.

In graduate school, I studied routine in schoolchildren, particularly homework routines. Students who followed the same routine at homework time every day had significantly higher grades than students without routines. They finished their homework much more quickly than students without routines, so I know routines are effective.

What is your routine? Be intentional as you till up the garden of your mind. Get the pesky weeds out of the way, so you can nurture those good ideas. Harvest day will come.

*Donna Jones Koppelman graduated from Hamlin's Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2015. She is represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media, and she adores her new rototiller. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Scene It

This week author and MFAC faculty member Marsha Qualey* examines the importance that scene can play in her own upcoming projects.  Read on as she reflects on a few poignant excerpts from Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book and how they have have informed her process.

I’ve got two writing projects going right now and for the first time that I can remember neither one is a new (conventional) novel. One of the projects involves revisiting a novel as I adapt it into a screenplay. The other is a possible graphic novel for young readers.

I am thinking a lot about scenes. Not that I didn’t before, but when writing my traditional novels it was always the connective tissue between scenes that consumed most of my attention and energy.

Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book is rich in pithy reminders that help me keep to the task at hand. Here are a few that are bulletin-board worthy:

From “The Focal Point”
“[the focal point] is not the epiphany, that old standby moment when the sky opens and meaning shines down on the protagonist” (54).

(Huh. I once ended a scene exactly that way—with literal sunshine breaking through and the protagonist thinking, “Illumination.” Should I go back and see if there’s an actual focal point prior to the epiphany?)

From “Tension”
“Tension doesn’t have to be negative” (86).

(Scofield is writing about sex scenes here, but still, a good reminder)

From “Scene Openings”
“…the scene may be entirely fresh action, requiring a more fundamental orientation” (142). One way to provide this orientation, she later explains, is to “comment on character, setting, or event” (145).

(An editor once told me she hated scenes that opened with dialogue, and ever since I have been hesitant to do just that. Such is the power of our editors.)

From “Scene Activity and Character Response”
“A good scene lets us know the spatial relationship of people and things” (126).

(Hmm. Maybe that’s why my editor hated the dialogue-opened scenes—she’d seen too many that delayed grounding the reader in the physical setting.)

From my bulletin board to yours.

Marsha Qualey has been a faculty member in Hamline's MFAC program since it began. She is the author of several YA novels, one novel for adults, and several work-for-hire books for younger readers. For more information please visit her website.