Friday, February 10, 2017

Faculty Voices with Sherri Smith: Writing in the Age of “I Wonder What Comes Next”

Were you like me, and so many other writers, mid-draft in something and feeling pretty good about it (or terrible, but willing to continue because it still felt promising), and then… the election.

I wonder if you’ve felt the sea change?  

Now, maybe you were blindsided.  Maybe you thought, “this is a done deal.”  Maybe you thought your side would win.  Or maybe you knew without a doubt that your side would not win, but you felt the freedom to vote your conscience.  Or maybe you won, and you were hopeful, but still a little shocked.

Regardless, the thing lying on your desk now labeled “Relevant Text” is no longer quite so relevant.  It’s as if you’ve written a manifesto in Standard English and woken up in a world that only speaks Pig Latin.  Now what?  Can I rewrite this?  Should I?  Will Pig Latin last?  What if Pig Latin lasts?  H-oay o-nay!  (Is that even correct?)

You have become irrelevant over night.  

Or, if you are very lucky and prescient and timeless, you’re “this is going no where” work is suddenly the Great American Make America Great Again Novel!  Maybe it’s a clarion call for justice no one knew we needed.  Maybe it’s a treatise on how to reunite a nation half the citizens didn’t realize was divided.  Maybe you will be the next Nobel winner for nailing it, and getting it to market on time!

But, for the rest of us, what now?

Do we scramble to write more sparkly vampires because, hey I hear that was hot a few years ago, or do we stay committed to our newly not-so-relevant works and mine them for new relevance?  As chidren’s writers, how do we deal with our own sudden coming-of-age while still offering honest guidance to the next generation?

Because, as much as the world has changed and continues to change, so are we.  We are no longer looking back in order share what we’ve learned with young people.  We are learning anew, and we need time to absorb this new age of “I Wonder What Comes Next.”  The only thing that has stayed the same are your manuscript (and if you had one, your deadline).  And now your story is wondering, “What’s the attire in this brave new world?”  Brown shoes in a tuxedo country?  

It doesn’t matter because, in this case, the writer makes the clothes.  Listen to your self changing, growing over the next few months.  Tap into the truth of this new coming of age.  Who will we be as a nation?  It’s that new citizen who will be the one picking up the pen, flipping open the keyboard.  That’s the writer you will have become.  And our manuscripts will never be the same.

As Octavia Butler said in her seminal novel, Parable of the Talents:  God is Change.

Welcome to the new religion.



Friday, February 3, 2017

Alumni Voices with Orrin Hanratty: A How To Guide to Getting People to Write Stories For You

A few weeks ago, I woke up with an idea to write a collection of short stories about Winter Holiday figures. I asked around to see if anyone else had some holiday stories they’d been meaning to write down, but never had the time or the motivation. I made a post on Facebook and a little over a dozen writers responded. I made a group chat. We had some fun conversations. We wrote and encouraged each other and then the weirdest thing happened.

I found myself in the possession of not just my weird story, but also the work of eight other writers. And I had promised to do something with it. It was almost like I asked for it.

Oh no!
I did ask for it!
Obligation!
Responsibility!
This was a disaster!

So I made a website, and I posted them on it. It… was basically just that much work. When I was done with it, everyone thanked me for all the work I did, but honestly I barely did anything at all. My part in this was to ensure the formatting looked right, make up fun titles, and write an introduction on each one before posting. There isn’t much to getting people to write for you provided you ask nicely and following through on your promise to post them. I really wish I could say I did something special, but the writers did the real work and I can’t thank them enough. So instead of trying to take credit for what other people did, I want to show you the Renegade Shorts Winter Holiday Showcase.

Day one: I posted my story first because it was my idea so I might as well be the first one out of the gate. It’s called No, Virginia. For Real: I’m Santa Claus, and it is the story of a stoner mall Santa, who falls through a time vortex and inspires Santa Claus.

Day two’s post was Fredthe Swedish Tomte by Tasslyn Magnussen. It’s a story about mystical Santa stand ins and an Ikea revolution.

After that we had ClericalError by Judi Marcin. It’s about faithful Christmas Elves responding to an existential threat to the concept of Christmas.

Jennifer Coats gave us CarelessDrumbeat, a dark story about the little drummer boy.

Susan Lynn gave us a story of forbidden romance and disappointing job placement with WinterFairy.

Jacqueline Hesse, terrifies us with the dark tale of Zanta in Green Hands.

Polly Alice McCann took on the task of showing us how Santa’s significant other deals with the holidays in The Mrs.
Linda K. Strahl takes on the spirit of Jack Frost, and the harsh nature of winter in Hell Is Frozen.

And on the final day we were given Fear and Loathing in the Left Lateral Incisor by Aimee Lucido, a strange and dark story about the how the Tooth Fairy came to be.

With that being said, I never could have gotten into the rhythm of getting these done and placed without Melinda Cordell helping with editing mine, and the first few days. She was a great help.

Now that it’s done I feel a great relief. And yet, I really enjoyed the last few weeks, and so did the people who participated. It was fun talking the stories over, it was fun writing them, and it was fun sharing them… so let’s do it again!

I’m announcing another short story showcase, for anyone who wants to join the fun. The deadline for submissions will be March 1st, and the stories will be posted starting on March 22nd. And it will be a Spring theme. No… It will be a Bruce Spring Theme. I don’t know what that means yet, so I’ll leave it to you. If you want to play this game with us and write a story email me at renegadeshorts@gmail.com or message me on Facebook or twitter or if you have my number text me.

Since this is a brand new website it’s not polished yet. I’m going to do my best to make it look as good as the stories that my friends above wrote for me. Thanks for reading, and please try check out the stories and try to write one for yourself. Or write it for me and I will definitely post it.


Orrin is a writer from Providence, RI, and graduate of the MFAC program. His life goals are to write children's books and make pancakes on Saturdays.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Meet the Grad: Meghan Wolff

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs hosted a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Meghan Wolff.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I co-host and manage the business side of a podcast called Magic the Amateuring, which is essentially my full-time job, and am a columnist and event coverage writer for the Magic the Gathering branch of Wizards of the Coast. I'm on the road a lot, writing or playing in tournaments, or with Juliet & Juliet, an improv duo that performs and teaches workshops on improvised Shakespeare.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I was briefly enrolled in the MAT program at Hamline, and would still get emails from the university. Lots of them were about the MFAC.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

WHO REMEMBERS?

What do remember most about your first residency?

I really loved the student readings. It was so great to hear a little bit more about everyone through their work.

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 wrote a little bit of everything except graphic novels. I ended up writing a lot more middle-grade fiction than I thought I would, which is probably my favorite form these days.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

It's a historical middle grade novel set in the Midwest and Chicago in 1927. Rita is a 13-year-old trapeze artist who develops a fear of heights after her mother nearly drops her during a show. 

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

It's become much more sensory-detail and moment-to-moment oriented. 

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

Do it. 

It's tough, but even when I've been up until 3am trying to make a packet deadline I'll still tell people it's the best decision I made.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Meet the Grad: Laura Hanson

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Laura Hanson.




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

These days I teach small children to read, parent our active tweens, and enjoy long cups of coffee in the quiet of the early morning with my husband. As a family, we love to travel. Our goal is to visit all the National Parks in the continental United States before the kids leave home. We also love camping, fishing, golf, and tailgating for Gopher Football games. I’m also passionate about photography. Our family adventures and moments captured on film inspire most of my writing.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I had done other post-graduate work at Hamline and when they suggested that I add a MFAC degree to my life experience, I agreed. Best. Decision. Ever.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I kept journals of our children’s lives and I wrote them stories such as Adventures of a Well-Loved Dog when our 3-year-old son’s favorite stuffed animal went missing and Drum Belly! when our toddler daughter tottered around the house in love with her little round belly. I also watched the students in my classes; elementary school is full of fodder for stories from humorous to heart-wrenching. I jotted down lines and moments in notebooks that are in a stack by my computer. I page through them from time to time when I’m searching for just the right emotion or phrase in a new story.

What do remember most about your first residency?

I almost didn’t come. Life was…well, it was life with a few more twists and bumps in the road than I would have liked. And then I saw Marsha Wilson Chall’s name on the faculty list and I knew I had to come. I’d met Marsha years earlier when she did an author visit in my classroom. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from her!

When I got to GLC 100E and was surrounded by real writers…I felt like Dorothy landing in Oz. But my Hamline Backrow Ninja’s quickly became close friends and champions of my writer persona. The faculty was amazing; each workshop and conversation with them made me feel more and more at home. I also remember being both exhausted and full of creative energy all at the same time.

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?

The majority of my writing has been picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. I did try to write a middle grade novel…it was a good learning experience. I’m cut out to write picture books!

Tell us about your creative Thesis.

My Creative Thesis is titled, Bellies, Berries, Bicycles and a Man Named George Bonga: A Collection of Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books. It is a collection of the picture books that I’ve written and revised over the past two years with some work from each of the semesters.

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

At Hamline I learned how to take my stories and make them into picture books. My writing has become more succinct and my word choice more careful. I have learned to love powerful verbs and abhor adverbs, which are generally useless in picture books.

Any advice for entering students or those considering the program?

Be brave! Make new friends, try new writing styles, and make the most of your time at Hamline. Two years seems like a long time on the first day of your first residency, but it’s over before you can believe it. Know yourself and have a plan. Give yourself some flexibility in that plan for when life happens, but don’t lose sight of the end goal and the work it will take along the way to reach that goal. Celebrate the successes along the way. These successes will give you faith and courage to write the new and revise the old.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Meet the Grad: Melody Reed

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Melody Reed.


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

I enjoy spending time with my family visiting apple orchards (as shown in my picture), strolling through local framer’s markets and walking on sandy beaches. Notice these are all warm weather activities. I’m not fond of winter. Sorry Minnesotans. Did I mention I’m from Chicago?

Of course, I like to read, a lot. I am fortunate to be surrounded by books at my job at a public library. I work in the adult/young adult department where I help select books for the YA collection, create book displays and help with reader advisory. Everyday I find new and exciting books. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I researched and applied to low-residency schools, which specialized in writing for young people.

I was drawn to Hamline because of the faculty and the sense of community that came across in each correspondence. 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I have my Bachelor’s Degree in science, and though I spent several years writing software, I always desired to write children stories. I became acquainted with SCBWI 18 years ago, and have attended workshops and conferences, meeting many accomplished and encouraging children writers. One of my favorite programs involved a weekend with Richard Peck.

What do remember most about your first residency?

I remember being so nervous—wondering what had I gotten myself into. I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle the pace and rigorous schedule. However, as soon as I met my classmates we bonded, and I felt like we were in this together. Then as I met the faculty and the larger community where everyone was so supportive, I knew I could do it. Our class saying has become,
                       
“They thought they could—so they did.”
                                   
And now we have!

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 am most comfortable writing YA. However, my first advisor, the amazing Jackie Briggs-Martin, encouraged me to explore picture books and middle grade fiction.

I can’t say middle grade fiction writing hooked me, but I produced a few picture book ideas that I will continue to revise.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis is speculative YA fiction with a realistic feel. It examines the idea of nature verses nurture and what makes us who we are.

Seventeen-year-old Kitri Bernaki wants is to be accepted by her family, or at least understand why her mother Vicky and her older brother Mitch Gibson, seem to resent her. She has no knowledge of her father. She deals with her reality by etching her feelings wherever her collection of colorful pens land.

When Mitch’s basement floods and he is forced once again to deal with the family’s secret, he decides he has had enough. He slowly starts dropping breadcrumbs for Kitri to follow to lead her to the truth—the one he has been blackmailed to keep—the one that will change not only Kitri’s life, but possibly the entire scientific world.

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

The critical essays and annotated bibliographies taught me to read as a writer. I learned to examine the structure of the story, the style of the sentence and the sound of the word.  

The creative packets helped me focus on the elements of craft. I have a better understanding of the structure of the scene and the importance of beats. Gary Schmidt challenged me to push myself and tackle longer pieces of fiction leading me to complete a first draft of my YA novel second semester. Marsh Qualey helped me to turn off my “internal editor” when writing first drafts, something that prevented me from fully accessing my creative mind. Bouncing off something she had shared with me, I made a visual reminder. I received a small plastic brain at a library conference on increasing memory. It sounds silly, but I now put this little brain in a jar marked “Creative Censor—Edie Editor” when I am writing. When I get bogged down in punctuation, I look at the jar. So why, you wonder, am I telling you this story? Because Emily Jenkins taught me the power of answering a question with a story. She showed me how telling a story makes your answer more interesting and easier to remember. So, next time you see a plastic brain—I bet you’ll think of me.

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

For those considering the program - This is a wonderful program. I have learned more in two years than I could have by studying on my own and attending conferences for ten years. The faculty lectures are packed with detailed advice on the most important elements of craft and having the opportunity to work one-on-one with these outstanding contributors to the world of children and young adult literature is priceless. The faculty is accessible and generous in sharing what their writing life looks like. Where else can you learn this kind of stuff?

For those entering the program - Something I wished I had started during my time at Hamline was a database (in Excel) that logged all the books I read while in the program. I would track genre, point of view, types of protagonist, and other data. But I would also include the stories’ strengths such as strong themes, great dialogue, good use of alliteration and so on. This type of database would not only be a great resource for your own writing but if you decide to teach, it will give you examples at your finger tips to share with your students.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Meet the Grad: Beth Spencewood


On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Beth Spencewood.


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

I had a baby this year, so spend a lot of time with my son and Googling parenting questions. Back when I had time for hobbies, I did things like knit, travel and rock climb.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I took Young Adult Literature at the Loft Literary Center with the brilliant Swati Avasthi, who mentioned she taught at an MFA program that focused on writing for young adults and children. Even though it sounded amazing, at that point applying to an MFA program seemed too far-fetched. I’d never even taken an undergraduate course in creative writing, after all. But I spent the next few years thinking about it. I took a few more classes at the Loft, met with the Director, Mary Rockcastle, twice, and attended a prospective student day. It got to the point where I needed to apply just so I could stop spending so much time wondering if I should apply. Once I was in, I knew I had to do it.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

When I was young, I would write funny stories about my friends, bad poetry, and essays for my parents with titles like “Why We Need the Internet” (we did, in fact, get a family AOL account). Then I went to college and creative writing seemed like something you were either great at or not, and I didn’t want to risk ruining my GPA for something fun.

As an adult, a friend and I started meeting up to do writing exercises. She challenged me to complete National Novel Writing month with her. I did it, and while I technically wrote enough words to “win”, I had no idea what I was doing so I started taking writing classes at the Loft Literary Center.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

I felt this need to explain to everyone I met that I wasn't a "real writer", but everyone kept telling me I was wrong. I remember several people going out of their way to make sure I felt welcome and supported. I'd never experienced being a part of a community like that. 

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 mostly write young adult fiction, but I also tried middle grade and picture books, and was surprised by how much I liked writing them. YA still comes more naturally to me, but I’m definitely more open to trying other forms now.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis, Real Nice, is a Young Adult novel about Gwen, a girl who has been raised on an island as a reality TV show villain. When the network is sold and her contract cancelled, she is forced to compete against her best friend and has to decide how far she’s willing to go to stay on air. 

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

I had a lot to learn as far as craft. Workshops were immensely helpful as well as the detailed feedback I got about my writing from each professor I worked with. I have much more confidence in how to control the reader’s experience and identify what is and isn’t working in a piece. 

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

Read widely, take good notes, and don’t be afraid to start over!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Meet the Grad: Daniel Mauleon

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 


During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Daniel Mauleon.



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

Besides working on packets I  work at Mall of America in Human Resources. When I'm not doing either of those I am likely playing video games or reading comics. That or frantically retweeting.

A friend of my who did their undergrad at Hamline off handedly mentioned the program since he knew I was a fan of Gene Yang. At the time I was a first year teacher so going to grad school was very much out of the question. However, the thought of the program lingered in my head.

How did you hear about the MFAC Program?

Heh. If I can share anything to people thinking about this program it's this: If you feel like your don't read enough. Or write enough. And therefore you don't belong in a writing program. Dig deep.

If you have the passion and drive there is still room for you. Before coming here I had only ever written for high school and college assignments. I had two or three short stories on my computer. And I hadn't written a comic script longer than a few pages.

But I knew I had important ideas. And I knew I could write comics. The only thing holding me back was myself.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

In line with the previous comment, I felt a little out of place. I was constantly surrounded by really smart writers saying really smart things and taking down notes every second. Especially in regards to children's literature I learned so much that first residency.

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?

Most of my work has been in comics. I spent some time writing picture books with Marsha Chall, but there is a lot of overlap in the two forms. I also wrote maybe two-three chapters of prose with Swati. We made the wise choice to turn my hybrid novel into just a graphic novel.

I'm still very interested in prose, but I decided to really focus my efforts into learning one form.

Tell us about your creative thesis?

My creative thesis started as superhero satire but I feel has become more grounded overtime. Or-- well-- as grounded as a superhero stories can be.

It follows two superhuman: Geraldo, who wants nothing more than to serve as hero for the Legion of Justice and Valor, however he is stuck cleaning up after the big heroic brawls. The other protagonist is David, who believes the only way his girlfriend will stay with him is if he keeps saving her. So he begins to set her up to be a damsel and ignores the lasting effects of her trauma.

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

I've learned a mix really concrete skills (don't break the 180 degree rule) and conceptual lessons (your protagonists must always take action). But on top of the mountains of things I've learned is my newfound confidence. In my final semester I finished my first ever draft of a story. Through guidance and support from the faculty and my classmates, I can finally consider myself a writer. It's truly invaluable.

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

Try new forms. I suppose, I personally didn't do a lot of that BUT I really think there is a lot to learn when analyzing other styles of writing. Even though most of the lectures didn't focus on graphic novels, there is endless overlap and I learned tons from each.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Meet the Grad: Ailynn Knox-Collins

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Ailynn Knox-Collins.



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

During most of my time at Hamline, I also worked as a teacher. I've been a Montessori teacher for 25 years, teaching kids from age 3 up to 9. During this last semester, I decided to take a year off of work. Almost immediately after resigning, I got a Write For Hire job and that's what's been keeping me occupied in between packet writing. It's been an interesting experience, writing to deadline -- it's kind of like doing packets with the added stress that it'll be read by actual readers some day. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I was online one day, and found a Highlights Foundation Camp for SFF writers. I was so excited. I never knew there were camps for writers like me. I signed up without a second thought. I didn't even care that it would be held right in the middle of a school term. (I didn't think I'd get in -- they only accepted 8 writers at a time). Well, I got in. And I met the amazing Anne Ursu, Laura Ruby and Christine Hepperman. During the week, we also got to meet Debbie Kovacs, who was so generous with her comments and time. Best camp experience ever! So when Anne and Laura mentioned Hamline, I thought, if I could learn so much in one week from these teachers, what could I discover in two whole years? And everyone kept talking about this person, Mary the Rock, and how wonderful she was. So, intrigued (and sure I'd never get in), I applied. I'd never thought about getting an MFA before, and I didn't really do much research into other programs. I was just so enamored by Anne and Laura, and everyone else I met at Highlights, that I couldn't resist. I wanted to bask in the learning experience provided by the incredible faculty. 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I've been writing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I wrote journals and made up stories (which I subsequently burned), and as a young adult I moved on to screenplays. I love the theater. Then, life happened and I didn't think about writing for years. About twelve years ago, I signed up for a Writing for Children class at a community college and met a whole community of people who thought like me. I repeated many of the classes just to stay in that community and from there, I found friends for life and critique partners. I went on to take as many classes online and in person as I could. I sent out a couple of manuscripts and began my collection of rejections. Many of these rejections were very nice -- but they were still rejections. Sigh. I joined SCBWI and learned a lot more about 'the biz' from there.

What do remember most about your first residency?

I remember being terrified. I kept asking myself, "What am I doing? I'm too old to start something new!" I remember the snow -- it was January -- and trying to get into the Bandana with my luggage slipping all over the icy roads. I remember the smell of chlorine at the front desk (because the pool was in the middle of the lobby), and how the door to my room wouldn't open because the lock had been mounted upside down. That first night was the hardest. The next morning, while waiting for the shuttle, I sat down with two other ladies. We said nothing for a long while. Then Melody (Bless her!) asked if we were Hamline students and everything flowed from there. We connected immediately, and suddenly, everything wasn't so scary anymore. Orientation united us as classmates, and friends for life. Meeting my buddy, Linda, and the other students, put me at ease so quickly. Everyone was so warm and open. It was incredible. 

The rest of residency left me starstruck. Meeting Mary and the faculty, I felt as if I was being taught by celebrities. I had to pretend not to be too impressed outwardly, while on the inside, I was freaking out! By the end of residency, I knew I'd made the best decision of my life. Doing this program was not about advancing a career (I have enough of those pieces of paper). I was here for me, and all I wanted to do was to learn.

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 in writing mostly young adult science fiction. I have since worked on middle grade fantasy, young adult scifi, an attempt at a hybrid graphic-prose story, and am ending with a graphic novel -- something I never thought I'd try. I wish the program would go on longer, so I can try picture books and nonfiction too, but sadly, I never got to work on those. Maybe because everything I start writing ends up with a spaceship, a ghost, or an alien in it. 

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

I have the incredible privilege of working with Gene Yang on a graphic novel script for my Creative Thesis. I am not an artist by any stretch of imagination, so this was one form I never even considered writing. But along the way, my classmate, Daniel Mauleon, introduced me to reading graphic novels (I had him in a workshop and was so impressed by his work that I wanted to know more about the genre). I was hooked. I read and read so many graphic novels over the last two years. And Swati's hybrid novel opened my eyes to new possibilities I'd never thought about before. When it came to choosing what to do for my Creative Thesis, I had a lot of long discussions with classmates and teachers. In the end, I decided to go with what scared me the most. I had to try. This would be my only chance. I asked Gene if he would take on a brand new project for the Thesis, and he said yes!  I wrote the first draft as my Creative Thesis.

My story, Hunger, is about an orphaned biracial teen who has the ability to talk to ghosts. She works at a funeral supplies store for her aunt, who raised her. During the Hungry Ghost Month (7th month of the Chinese calendar), Cassiopea is in high demand -- contacting the dead for their living relatives. She doesn't understand why she can see everyone else's dead relatives, but her parents' ghosts are nowhere to be found. As she connects friends and neighbors with their dead relatives, she discovers the terrible reason why her parents have never appeared to her. 

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

I have become very aware of my bad habits. I am so grateful for the teachers who have made me read lots and lots of craft books. You would think that 'rules' would make it harder to write freely, but for me, being aware of what I've done badly, has made me a better writer (I hope). I have learned so much about structure and character arcs, in a way that I never really understood before. I feel as if all the things I've learned are becoming a part of my thought process.  I may not always be conscious that I'm applying these concepts to my writing, but hopefully, I am. I'm also a much more critical reader now. Most of all though, I have become so much more aware of how writing influences the reader, of how I can affect change by telling my stories (not by preaching a message). Working on my critical thesis has made me think more about why I write the things I write about. And I feel a greater responsibility to be careful with how I write, and to be respectful and sensitive about representing the world as it truly is. (Does that make sense?) 

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

Just do it. 

You can't know how wonderful this program is until you take that first scary step. I've never known of a program where the graduates don't want to leave. And now, that's me too.
Also, try everything. Every member of the faculty is a fantastic teacher. You will learn so much from each one. 


Take lots of notes. Get a hold of recordings of lectures. You will need all their advice for ages to come.


Be open to making friends with other students, and graduates. They are all amazing and will become your community and support structure forever.