Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Faculty Voices with Marsha Qualey: The Big One - Conflict and Antagonists

We focused on plot this past residency. I welcomed this topic immersion because for the last several months I have been writing short stories after years of novel writing, and I have been hugely challenged by the need to pare down the scope of my storytelling. How much plot can a 5000 word story handle? How do I know what is essential? What should I spend time on?
The residency session I concocted and led (with gracious participation from very game students; thank you, all) was, frankly, quite self-serving as it was an exploration that’s relevant to my own writing questions.

In the session we first discussed the types of conflict in fiction as outlined by Victoria Lynn Schmidt in her book Story Structure Architect:

Relational Conflict 
This is the main character in conflict with another human

Social Conflict
The Main Character faces the group and the cultural/social/legal limits of that group--a religious organization and its laws, a secular institution and its laws, or maybe a book club and its expectations.

Situational Conflict
The main character is challenged by something that occurs or arises in the natural or human-made world, maybe tornadoes or fire or being lost in the woods or swimming among sharks.

Inner Conflict
The main character is challenged by the self—by habits or uncertainty or memories or any of the many physical or emotional elements of that person.

Paranormal Conflict 
The main character is challenged by technology, science, or the limits of what is possible: unleashing a new strain of bacteria, dealing with superpowers, ghosts.  

Cosmic Conflict 
The main character deals with fate, destiny, or God

Then we did a close reading of a few scenes from The Goose Girl, one of the residency’s common books and discussed what types of conflict were present in the scenes. Were the scenes loaded with too many types? How much is too much? What types of conflict might be best for what types of scene?

Types of conflict are nearly interchangeable with types of antagonists. I concluded the session by encouraging the writers to make their own conflict/antagonist list for each of their own stories. What are the specific conflicts or antagonists a protagonist might encounter? This is crucial world building. 

In her lecture “Bad Luck and Trouble: Antagonists in Fiction”, Laura Ruby told us that the most important antagonist “is the self.” Similar, one could say, to Schmidt’s “Inner Conflict.” I agree with Laura (who wouldn’t!) but my final caution to the residency students in my session was about this very important antagonist: Use this conflict sparingly in scenes. This is especially and most obviously true of action scenes, of course, but all scenes can bog down when they focus on inner turmoil. Once established, the inner conflict is part of the reader’s base knowledge and the writer need only—at most—quickly signal that inner struggle. Unless there is a change about to occur that will alter the plot trajectory, it might be a good idea to bury the self.

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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alumni Voices with Bill Kennedy: The Library's Leadership Role

How is the library's role measured?

Is it a number? The James River Valley Library System ranks very well in the categories tracked by the North Dakota State Library. Jamestown is #10 in population in North Dakota and is ranked #8 library in the state in number of visits in 2015. This is a good number.

Or is it learning opportunities that change lives? A story that makes a connection?

Over the past few months, I have collected stories from a cross section of past and present community members and friends that illustrate the role the library plays in the community. Here are a few of those stories based on interviews and my own reading.

English Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Stout

Libraries have always been important to me. They were especially important for the year and a half after college. I took a year off before grad school to work as a caddy in Chicago and on the Oregon coast, and travel through Australia. Because I never stayed in one place very long, I depended on public libraries for internet so I could stay in touch with friends and family, keep up with current events, research graduate programs, and communicate with the graduate programs I was considering. As an aspiring writer, I depended on libraries as my source for books and films and was able to continue educating myself during that time between college and graduate school.

Elementary Faith Formation Coordinator, St. James Basilica
L-R Annie, age 8, Isaac, age 10, Seth, age 6, Katie and Jacob, age 12

As a parent of four kids, I know that children's literacy is of utmost importance.  I also know that it is not easy in our modern world of screens everywhere.

I know genetically my kids are not all made up exactly the same and therefore reading comes easy to some and not as easy to others.  That is where the community library comes to the forefront in our family.

My children don't always love to read, and sometimes they do not want to go to the library, but when I get them there they almost always find something of interest.

I have made it our weekly habit, since they were babies, to go to the library in the name of literacy for my kids. The library is a place children of any age or economic level can come and experience books beyond their imagination.


Louis L’Amour was born in Jamestown, ND in 1908. By the time of his death in 1988, he had written 89 novels, a book of poetry, 14 short-story collections and two full length works of non-fiction. There are more than 200 million copies of his books in print. 45 of his novels have been adapted for Hollywood and TV.

Quotes from Education of a Wandering Man, Bantam Books, 1938

"Education is available to anyone within reach of a library." Page 2.

"All of us had library cards and they were always in use. Reading was as natural to us as breathing." Page 6.

 “The first (non-fiction book) was, I believe, a book called The Genius of Solitude, which I found in our Alfred Dickey library in my hometown.” Pages 13-14.

North Dakota State Representative, District 12
Anthony, Alyse, Jessica, Kenlee, at the ND State Legislature

I have many fond memories of Alfred Dickey library and the bookmobile growing up. Now I take my step daughters there often in the summer and they love it. The library has always been a special place for me. It was summer reading programs, being able to rent a movie after reaching a goal, and spending time with my mom during the summers.

It is a great equalizer. Everyone could come, check out books and explore their interests, a true place of community. I remember when I reached my first achievement at a young age in the summer program, I swear my mother still has my treasure chest toy yo-yo somewhere. I was so proud of that, I worked hard and earned something.

I want that for my girls and luckily they both love going to our local library. They are also part of the summer reading program and we go to Lego club once every two weeks. It's a wonderful experience I feel blessed to share with them, and libraries make it possible.

Homeschool Mom

I began using the children’s library on a weekly basis when my oldest children were three and five years old. All of my children became avid readers, and most of them were reading by age five. My local library made homeschooling my five children much easier because I was able to find a multitude of books to interest all of them. Once a child loves books, all of education opens up to them and they are able to learn rapidly. I am thankful to my library for providing these books for us, and for ordering books that I could not afford to purchase myself.

Several of my children love to write, and as part of our homeschool curriculum they write their own stories. Steven has a strong desire to publish his work. He completed a rough draft of a comic book. My local librarian, Jennifer, offered to help us self-publish it. She took an interest in Stephen’s book Chet Chetterson’s Adventures, and her enthusiasm propelled us toward completing our immense project of rewriting and self-publishing a book. She brought books into the library on how to draw comics, as well as current examples of comic book stories. Once we had created the comic book, Jennifer helped to organize a book-signing event and publicity in the newspaper. I am amazed and thankful for all her help. This experience has helped my son go deeper into the creative process and gain a new appreciation for his education as a means to get where he is going in life.

Retired 2nd grade Teacher, Reading Specialist/Read180 Teacher
Currently Coaching 7th Grade Girls Basketball, Elementary Track & Field
Deb and Students

The James River Valley Library plays a very important role in the elementary classroom.  I have taught children for 30 years, and have depended on and worked closely with the library throughout each school year, at all levels of teaching. I have used the library for thematic teaching units, to find as many resources as possible in order to pique a student's interest on a topic. I have borrowed books on a monthly basis to use for oral reading when studying heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Ruby Bridges.                      

I love calling the librarian and upon communicating the need, she gathers the books of interest for me. When I arrive, the books are ready. Many teachers in our district use the library in the same way. We encourage our students to get involved in the library programs throughout the school year and the summer.  We have a direct connection with the librarians. I can't put enough emphasis on the importance of a great relationship between our elementary schools and JRVLS.

Community Activist:  Little Libraries, Community Gardens, Seed Library
Laura Miller Today, Donald Kershaw Age 7

There comes a time when all the king's horses and all the king's men can never fix Humpty Dumpty again. My brother Donald, at the age of 77, had come to that point after
a number of medical diagnoses had chipped away at his robust health.  The final diagnosis was male breast cancer. He gave up his beloved Volvo, his apartment and his independence and moved into a nursing home in Normal, Illinois. Soon he was too frail for more surgeries. Powerful prescriptions had lost the power to heal him. Donald was face to face with a point of no return. I brought him to Jamestown.

It was now time for me to help him prepare his last life and death decisions. We had not grown up together. We were a family of five children born during and shortly after the depression, growing up separately in foster care and in children’s homes. Nevertheless, we were close.

In these last years he was no longer my mentor. I was his mentor and I was his friend. Most of all, I was his sister. In October, 2015 the Friends of the James River Library System kicked off a series of programs aimed at helping the public understand how to prepare for the final days of life. I attended each of these programs and at the end of each session felt more prepared to help my brother and myself.

During the second session led by Michael Williams, owner and funeral director at Williams-Lisko Funeral Home, I learned that the University of North Dakota Medical School had a deeded body program where my brother could donate his body after death to the study of medical students. This had been Donald’s long time wish even in his young and healthy days.

My brother passed on June 11, 2016. Thanks to the James River Valley Library System I had in short order learned to navigate the paths to making final preparations. I can now take comfort in knowing he was able to complete a final wish and I have gained knowledge in making my own preparations.

*Bill Kennedy grew up in a library, his house. He spent many years in the apparel industry traveling the world looking for trends. Bill received his MFA in Creative Writing for Kids & YA at Hamline U in 2009, the second graduating class.  He and his wife teach creative writing to students from elementary school to long term care facilities. He is the author of three books.

Bill’s day job is raising awareness and money for a renovated and expanded library as the Development Director for the James River Valley Library System (JRVLS) in Jamestown, ND.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Alumni Voices with Melinda Cordell: The Buddy System - Promotion at its Best

My nonfiction book, Courageous Women of the Civil War: Soldiers, Spies, Medics, and More, came out on August 1. It’s only been a few days since the book’s official release date, but it seems like much longer. 

Long before the book came out, I did something smart: on my Facebook account, I started friending folks from way back in my life. People I went to school with. My parents’ friends. Folks from around town. Writer friends. Hamline buddies (of course). I friended my fourth-grade teacher, my speech therapist from clear back in kindergarten, folks from Nodaway, shirttail relatives, college buddies, professors, the list goes on. Of course it’s nice to have all my old friends and relatives in one place, but I also knew that home folks would be interested in seeing what I did, since they knew me back when I was small and walking around with my nose in a book.

The nice thing was how good it felt to reestablish contact after lo these many years. And when I talked about my book on there, folks actually got excited. This didn’t usually happen in my life, so it felt pretty good.

A few months before my book’s release date, I hit a rough patch due to outside factors. I stopped caring about writing and was profoundly unmotivated to change this. My little family kept me going, and I love those guys for it, but I was low. I’d been a writer all my life, and now this other stuff was going on, and I was worried that I was going to be stuck without writing for the rest of my life. I needed help, but it seemed like wherever I turned for help a door would quietly shut in my face.  
But then, after I got my box of books, some of my buddies (from FB, naturally) wanted to buy a book from me. So I sold one. Then I sold another. Friends – and I just said that in my preacher’s voice – friends, that’s when the light shone upon me. I handed somebody my book. They handed me a $20 bill. After all these years of hard work, I was getting a tangible reward. Instant gratification. And that’s when I got hungry. When I got hungry, I pulled out of my funk. I got so motivated so fast it made my head spin.

So anytime anyone on FB said they wanted to buy my book, I told them that if they buy it from me, I’ll take it to them and sign it right there. Old friends are taking me up on that. The neat thing is, not only do I sell a book, but I get to talk to an old friend I haven’t seen for a while. That’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Other friends are helping out in other ways. Some give me leads about places to sell my book, or they’ll share posts about my book with folks they know. Some friends have invited me to come out and give presentations. You never know who will have a lead for you – so invite ‘em all!
And I’m getting more ideas just from hanging out with these guys. I used to say that I had no interest in self-publishing. Then, after an author’s showcase at the library where I hung out with a bunch of self-published writers with tons of books on their tables, I got hungry again. “Dude!” I thought. “I have so many old manuscripts that agents have passed on – I’m going to self-publish them too!” So now I’ll have more books to sell with my Civil War book. I’m still sending stuff out to agents – but Mama’s tired of waiting over here. She’s going to make her own damn books!

You know, this whole experience has been a kick in the pants – a very welcome one, because I had no idea that promotion could be such a nice thing. My friends’ support has been invaluable, and actually has been one of my favorite parts of this whole journey. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

*Melinda Cordell earned her Master’s in Writing for Children from Hamline University. Her first book, Courageous Women of the Civil War, has been published by Chicago Review Press and is (at this particular millisecond) a #1 New Release in Teen & Young Adult Military History.  Melinda's fiction and articles have appeared in Cricket, Highlights, and The Horn Book, as well as Organic Gardening, Birds and Blooms, and Grit. Visit her author's website at to learn more or just say hi!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alumni Voices with Rebecca Grabill: 7 Reasons You Might Want an MFA

I hid brochures for MFA programs in my bottom desk drawer. Every few months I’d take them out, page through, dream a little… Until finally in 2009 I enrolled in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. The program took two years of concentrated study at home, and for 60 days, spread over five residencies, I lived in the Twin Cities, away from children and family. It was a significant investment in time, energy, never-over-abundant funds, but now, five years after graduation, I can say without question, the MFA was worth every dollar, every hour in the MSP airport, every frantic trip to the library to pay my fines so I could pick up yet more holds. Hamline’s MFA gave me far more than I spent (or bled) to earn it. Like…

1. An MFA filled my toolbox with New Writing Tools and showed me how to better use the tools I already had.

Was I pounding in nails with a screwdriver? What could I do with a jigsaw? I learned about psychic distance and filters, I re-learned plot and characterization and so much more. Could I have broken through my plateau on my own? I’m not sure. Maybe, with enough time and enough reading. And if an MFA only provided tools, then I might question the value. But the MFA gave me more than a single workshop or another book on writing. It gave me more than tools.

Pre MFA my reading was all over the place. I’d go to the library, check out books based on recommendations or labels on the spine: Oh, Mystery! I want to write a mystery, too! As if I were looking through the lens of my DSLR set to manual with the focus ring turned the wrong way, all the world’s books looked the same. I never knew what new books were worth reading, or what old books were true classics I couldn’t live without.

2. An MFA provided Focus.

Before my first residency I began on Hamline’s Required Reading List—120 curated books spanning all genres and age groups which provided us a grounding in the literature we were learning to write and a common vocabulary. Plus each residency added several must-read books for different topics we'd study that semester. Even now I can post to my alumni group, What’s a good middle grade novel on bullying?” and get a dozen relevant titles, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Which leads to another perk…

I came into my program set on writing young adult (YA). It’s what I’d always written, what I always read, but,

3. My MFA program helped me Become a More Versatile Writer.

I spent an entire semester working the the amazing Phyllis Root on picture books. Another semester ignited a love for poetry that grew and influenced my graduating thesis—a novel in verse for middle grade readers, and my first two published books will be—not YA—but picture books. Speaking of publication…

I once dreaded writing query letters. I agonized over the hook, wrote and rewrote a bio that sparkled while still being…true. Because while it looks great in a bio, I’m not a celebrity, don’t have a doctorate, and don’t have one single superpower. Unless Able to Scale Mountains of Laundry counts.

4. The MFA gave me a Credential, and with it Credibility.

A degree from a good institution is noticed. It is respected. An MFA qualifies me not just to lead workshops (and get paid for them), but to teach. At the college level. The credential proves I put in time, tears, and money, that I’m committed to being an author. It proves to me, on those days when I’m cleaning up one toddler-tornado disaster after another that I am a writer. A real writer. Because sometimes it's easy to forget...

I’d worked at this writing thing so long and so hard and had so many Close Calls (I brought this to committee, but unfortunately…” “I love your work, but this book just isn’t quite…”), I truly believed I’d be stuck in the slush pile forever.

5 An MFA Can Open Doors to the Publishing World.

When I began the MFA I had no idea one of my classmates would go on to become an editor with a big house. I had no idea other classmates would find an agent who would happen to be a good friend of my agent. The industry is an interconnected web, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my network of alumni stretches, somehow, to every publishing house on the planet. Alumni, faculty, we all work together, sharing knowledge, names, connections and yes, even stolen carrots.

Speaking of carrots, I once felt isolated on this writing journey. Sure I had a critique group and I had a few writer friends, though out of necessity most overlapped with Mommy Friends or school-pick-up friends. My segmented life had only a small hole carved out for Me as Writer.

6 The MFA Gifted Me with Community.

Friendships I’ll treasure forever. Each residency became a celebration: These are my people. They understand me, care about the same things, share my passions and dreams. I still remember many late-night conversations with my first-residency roommate—our instant connection that continues to this day. And remember the carrots? Late-night pick-up games of Dixit, glasses of wine at the hotel bar. I forged memories, shared life with people who, five years later, continue to share life and inspire me, goad me to keep at this exhausting art. Because…

When I began the MFA I thought I knew everything. I’d read all the books (hadn't I?), I knew all the rules (didn’t I?). I was a great, or, um pretty good writer (wasn't I?). Beneath the bravado a crippling terror whispered that I was a pretender, a hack.

7 Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Gave me Confidence. And Humility.

Learning always builds confidence. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a whole universe of expertise—faculty, visiting writers and publishing professionals—to make me acutely aware of how much I didn’t know. Yet. Because I now have the tools, community, and support to continue learning as long as there are new things to learn.

Which would be, in case you're wondering, forever.

Rebecca Grabill graduated in summer 2011 and has two forthcoming picture books, Halloween Goodnight (S&S 2017) and Violet and the Woof (HC 2018). She lives and writes in Michigan. Find out more about Rebecca and her writing at

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge: You Never Know

My friend Gerry Locklin turned me onto poetry in grad school at the University of Arizona. We were 22 and 23 respectively when he showed me a copy of an indie magazine named The Wormwood Review. I didn’t need drugs to open those doors of perception. The Wormwood Review did it for me. I was studying poetry (and how I hate to see the words study and poetry side by side. Can’t you just see students gritting their teeth and wondering what that freaking albatross stands for?) but none of the poems in Wormwood or Poetry Now or Aldebran Review needed lucubration; they were right there on the page waiting to be enjoyed.

And they were enjoyable: goofy and uncultivated and against-everything-one-should-be-against, they were little celebrations of another kind of life – not serious, not dogged, not sober, highbrow or grave. They looked liked they’d been fun to write and they were fun to read. Did any of these poets imagine their verse was immortal or enduring? No way. Although Wormwood lasted a long time, lots of the indie mags were as ephemeral as the poetry they published. Here today, gone – sometimes – today.

Still, a lot of us who started fifty or so years ago are still around, still writing, and often still not taking things seriously. But here’s the thing – writing fast as I do and in a sense tossing poems often leads to a lot of balmy but imprudent work. Poems that don’t jell and never will. Poems that more witless than witty. Poems that collapse under the strain of so much whimsy. But every now and then something very cool happens and a poem steps forward wearing its jester’s cap and bells and just kills. A little gift from the poetry gods.

Of course, after that I want another gift, so every morning I give my Ego ten bucks and send it off to watch a movie about itself, put my butt in the chair and do my best. Because – as the title up there says, you never know.

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program. He writes poetry for everyone, fiction for young adults, and recently co-authored a young reader series. You can discover Ron's literary work by visiting his author's website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Meet the Grad: Patti Filutze

On Sunday, July 17, 2016 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Patti Filutze.

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

I’m married and I have two boys, seventeen and eleven years old, so there are always things like band practices and soccer and orthodontist appointments. When they’re not home, I have a five cats that would play fetch all day long if I’d only throw the mouse One More Time.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

My decision to attend Hamline was the result of a string of cosmic happenstances or fate, whichever belief you subscribe to.

In February of 2014, I became a finalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award. Part of the process once you became a finalist was to select your top three graduate institutions and submit acceptance letters from those schools. When I found out I was a finalist, I googled low residency programs that offered a Writing for Children and Young Adults option. That’s when I found Hamline. I’d never heard of the school and none of my professors had either, but the faculty for the MFAC program really impressed me, so I applied to Hamline along with four other programs because I needed three acceptances, and then I got in to them all.

Enter: Conflict!

This was an exciting time, but it was also extremely stressful. I have trouble picking what to eat for dinner, okay? And now I had to pick a graduate institution?! And to make it more complicated, three of the five schools were offering substantial scholarships.

When I didn’t get the JKC scholarship, I thought okay, that’s it. I can’t go to school. I can’t afford it.  Really, I didn’t feel I deserved it. I started declining offers. But I’d been talking to my “Buddy” in the MFAC program, Sarah Ahiers, and I just hadn’t been able to contact Hamline and decline. And then about a week after I got the notice that I didn’t get the JKC scholarship, I got an email from SCBWI that I’d been selected for the Student Writer Scholarship for the 2014 LA Summer Conference. I cried. A lot. It gave me the validation I needed to be able to invest in myself.

If everything hadn’t happened exactly the way it did, I would be somewhere else right now. In the end, this is where I was meant to be. It was important to me to have a strong alumni association and activities after I finished the program. I was looking for a family, and I found that at Hamline.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

As an undergraduate I majored in English with a creative writing concentration, so I had experience workshopping and a pretty solid understanding of craft. In addition to my major, I also went through the honors program and completed a thesis, which gave me experience working on a larger creative project. But I’d never worked directly with kidlit authors, and I wanted that experience.

What do remember most about your first residency?

Strangely, the first thing that comes to mind is the weather. There was a polar vortex during that residency; the weather was unbelievably stunning. But I also remember going to the Kerlan and going down into the storage area and walking through the corridors lined with boxes of manuscripts and feeling like I was in that scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the one with shelf after shelf of magical prophecies. I remember walking to Groundswell with my cohort and rooming with Brita and workshop group with Anne and Gene. I remember sitting in GWC 100 with so many other people that love kidlit as much as I do, and being so happy I’d made the choice to come.

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 mainly focused on YA, but I did try picture books while I was working with Emily.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My thesis is a YA contemporary fantasy set at an elite boarding school in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest.

When sixteen-year-old Monica develops a strange connection to a boy she never met, she moves to Dunmuir Mountain Academy where he lives in the hopes of figuring out who he is and what their connection means. The problem is: the only thing she knows about him is what his bedroom looks like. Despite this obstacle she does find him, and when she does, there’s an intense physical attraction between them that’s she never experienced.

But finding him is only the beginning. A series of strange illness break out at the school, and Monica begins to suspect that things at the school aren’t quite as perfect as they appear. Cryptic messages in her grandmother’s diary lead her to a hidden room in her grandmother’s basement and secrets about the world that her family has kept hidden for centuries.

I’m really interested in the concept of Imaginative Sympathy and stories that allow me to explore a perspective that is different than my own. Monica is completely colorblind, but through the bond, she sees color for the first time. She’s also experiences what it’s like to be inside a boy’s body. These things, along with typographic artifacts such as text messages, Post-it notes, and journal entries, have made the story incredibly fun and interesting to write.

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

I’ve always loved plot. When it comes to character, I spent a lot of time writing elaborate backstories and thinking about how each character was unique, but I realized that most of the character work I’d done was not making it onto the page. I spent most of my time this semester working on embracing my characters and allowing them to be quirky.

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

If your mentor asks you to try something, try it. That might mean throwing out the first fifty pages of your book, or changing a character’s motivation, or moving a major plot event. Do it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Meet the Grad: Elizabeth Walsh

On Sunday, July 17, 2016 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Elizabeth Walsh.

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

It depends a little bit on the time of year. I was born in the dead of night in the dead of winter, so I tend to be more active when it’s cold out than during the hateful, hateful, summer months. Seriously, not a fan of the daystar.

But when it’s cool out, I go for walks, refinish furniture, read like crazy, and manage my family. My parents are still incredibly active, and are spending their retirement trotting the globe, but when they’re home they need a certain amount of managing.

And when it’s hot, I languish. (I’ll get you yet daystar!)

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I heard about MFAC because my aunt and uncle are the type of people who talk to everyone at the MN State Fair. My aunt went to the Hamline booth to grab a free pencil, and came out knowing that this was the program for me. She gets major gloating rights for that.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

My undergrad was in creative writing and I’ve been taking workshops and creative writing classes since high school. But when it all really started for me was in the second grade, when Ms. Desombre let me turn in chapters instead of short stories. That was it for me. Being able to watch the worlds in my head take shape on a piece of paper for anyone to see was a heady kind of power for a seven year old.

What do remember most about your first residency?

The thing I remember most, was our class meeting. We sat in one of the east wing rooms of GLC, and we all shared a page of our workshop pieces so we could get a sense of what everyone was interested in, and what they brought to our cohort. That was the day we became the Hamline Hamsters.

The entire experience was a little surreal for me though because I had to work through half of residency. I went in to the post office at 3 am, got out at 7:30, then went to workshop. I spent most of that residency running on about five hours of sleep a night and more caffeine than I’d consumed in the previous 28 years. But while I was exhausted the entire time, I was also really energized. I managed to generate another 50k words on the project that had gotten me into the program in just five days. It was really fantastic.

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

I’ve focused primarily on YA prose novels, but I have tried other forms. Gene Yang inspired me to take my initial project and turn it into a graphic novel, (the project itself had been so heavily inspired by graphic novels that the move really helped improve the flow of it.). I also found myself trying my hand at picture books, a novel in verse, and even brain storming some ideas for middle grade novels. Hopefully I’ll get a better sense of how those work in Gary Schmidt’s intensive this summer.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

The God Stones is a YA, high fantasy, political novel, riddled with secrets and intrigue. It’s also part of a longer series, centering on some of the same characters.

The major theme of the God Stones is a search for identity. The first main character doesn’t even have a name. At least not one she can really call her own. Others are dealing with situations of abuse, and power imbalances between them and the adults who should be taking care of them. While the one male character in my main cast is struggling with issues of loyalty and trust.

This is partly a product of the fact that –everyone– gets my name wrong. And not the way they think they do. (I have a fake last name on facebook for reasons of privacy.) For those who are curious, it’s Elizabeth, or Beth. I don’t know who this Liz is you’re talking to, but I assure you, it isn’t me.

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

The biggest change in my writing has been my ability to edit. I had a really hard time seeing my own work unless I put it away for ten years. Now I only need to give it a couple of weeks, if that. Sometimes I’ll rewrite a scene, and ten steps later I’ll have to pull out my notebook with notes on why that was wrong, here’s how to fix it.

Second biggest is asking for help when I need it. I used the writing center at Hamline like crazy. AND SO CAN YOU! Even if you don’t live in the twin cities, they have online appointments available. USE THEM!

I’ve also embraced the fact that my writing is an ever evolving process. Some days one thing will work, and other days I’ll need to try something else. So I try not to get discouraged on those days when things just aren’t working, because I know that something else will emerge to get me through that next step.

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

Be patient with yourself. Writing isn’t something you ever get ‘right,’ it’s a process of learning that will last your whole life. And be proud of yourself, too. It might seem like this is an easy program to get into, but the truth is, if your writing didn’t already intrigue the admissions panel, you wouldn’t be here. 

And for those of your considering the program, come to prospective students day. Talk to some of the students and faculty. If these are your people apply. Because these are the best people. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Meet the Grad: Lina Torres

On Sunday, July 17, 2016 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 month of June we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Lina Torres.

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

Lots of things! Knitting, crocheting, smashbooking, doodling away, YouTube/movie/TV-watching, music-listening/dancing to, shopping, and, of course, tons of reading!

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I was a college senior, sitting at a carrel desk in the library, googling MFA programs to apply to. And then, lo and behold, Hamline appeared. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a program specifically designed for writing for children and young adults, which is exactly what I wanted to do! That same afternoon, I told my mom all about it, barely being able to sit still. I applied and here I am now!

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I’ve written since I was a little girl, be it for me or for school assignments. I always enjoyed writing little stories for homework. But, I guess I sort of experienced an epiphany when I was in 7th grade. That’s when my eyes opened up to the fact that I really liked writing stories and that people liked hearing them. So, I got my BA in Creative Writing. And, now, soon, my MFA.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

I was a little nervous but so excited. I was going to learn about what I wanted to do. All about writing, all the time. Faculty and grad assistants and students were all so welcoming and caring. They kept asking if I was doing all right and how I was feeling. By the end of the July residency, people were warning me about the January residency (being from Texas). Anne Ursu really helped out and gave me lots of tips. So, I survived and didn’t freeze to death! Though going to class every morning with snow everywhere was enchanting!

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?

My first semester I tried picture books and learned tons! Then, the rest of the semesters I really focused on middle grade. I worked on two different middle grade novels, one on my second semester and the other on my third. For my fourth, I picked up the second semester novel to work at it again. Laura Ruby helped me tons and loads to give the novel the revision it needed. She helped me turn the story into a much better version of itself.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

Aoife Robles is a ten-year-old girl who’s working on improving her social skills and finding answers she can use for her family project in school. She deals with McGee, a school bully, at the same time that she applies the friendship advice she’s read in books and seen on TV in order to be friends with Mauve and Linus. All while staying on the good side of her teacher, coming up with witty remarks for the class pet Roger, and figuring out what happened to her father without upsetting her mom and her sculpting. It’s a middle grade novel that deals with mystery, time traveling, friendships, not judging people by what they seem to be, and lots of discoveries.

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

I’m much more focused on scenes. I notice that my writing is tighter and my choice of words stronger. I now have a better grasp of how to revise my novels and make them the best they can be. And, after this fourth semester, I am much more confident as a writer.

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

Entering students: Enjoy the program and be ready to learn, learn, learn!

People considering the program: If you’re passionate about your writing and want to improve it, I think Hamline is the right choice for you. You won’t regret it. You’ll see your writing get better, meet awesome faculty, and wish to have an eidetic memory to record the tiniest morsel of valuable knowledge you’ll get! But don’t worry, a pen and notebook or a laptop will do. J