Thursday, June 30, 2016

Meet the Grad: Mars Hauser

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 Mars Hauser.

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

I spend a lot of my time with my husband Jens, my teenage daughter Kathryn, and our cat Emmy at home in Galesville, Wisconsin. We're a gaming household, so it's not uncommon for my husband to be raiding while Kat works on her cosplay and I plan out a roleplaying game. I work at the Holmen High School Library, near where I live with my family. My position at my school district involves both reader's advisory and purchasing duties, so even without annotated bibliographies to be completed, I read more literature for children and young adults than almost anybody I know. My work nickname is "the Human Google," and it's often said that I have read every book in my library media center. This is not actually true, but it's difficult to convince anyone otherwise. My job also stretches my artistic comfort zones - I do a lot of display painting and paper art for our space. Pretty fantastic for the girl who once called herself artistically challenged. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

Fate, Anne Ursu, and Emily Jenkins. Just prior to applying to the Hamline MFAC program, I had a major life plan of mine fall right out from under me. I'd been working for some months toward a very different creative path -- one that was a lot less ambitious than going to grad school -- and that opportunity I'd been chasing just evaporated on me. I hit an end-of-February slump and found myself asking: Well, what now? 

First I ran across a long blog by Anne Ursu on social media that made me stand up and cheer, and think, "Wow, that was so smart. Hey, she teaches at Hamline." Then Emily Jenkins' reminder tweets about the program kept popping up on my work twitter. I had been looking for the next thing, and Hamline was what kept answering the call. 

So I said to my husband, "I'm going to submit an application. I know I won't get in this time, but this will be good practice and maybe someday..."

And my husband stared at me. He sighed. He said, "Of course you're getting in. Nothing else will shake up our lives more than that."

I laughed. But he was right. 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

The only thing that once stood in the way of my writing: my terrible penmanship. My grandparents bought me a typewriter in elementary school and put up with me writing stories all the time. I was fortunate in third grade to get the kind of teacher who really understood the creative urge, who pushed me to write story after story after story, and who found opportunities to work on this with me. I was unstoppable for many years - I joined summer programs, I pushed to make newspapers and write poetry. I really wanted to create.

I put aside a lot of writing dreams for many years once I went to college, thinking I should instead be practical, which just goes to show that you will often look back at your younger self and realize your decisions were thoroughly bogus. I embraced "those who can't do, teach" for far, far too long. Which is very silly. Marsha Chall gave me a better model for this: Those who want to do, should also teach - because you learn so much when you do.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

Our first residency, Jill Davis was here as a speaker. And this was super exciting, but it also meant that Alumni Weekend had a lot more alumni than usual. A LOT. I'm not sure I can possibly emphasize how many people it felt like I was meeting, to the point that I had real difficulty judging just how big the active program was until the very end of the residency. This was a blessing, however. I feel more connected to many alumni in the program because I got to meet so many of them from the very start of my Hamline experience. 

I was basically terrified to workshop because I had never done such a thing before. And to me, as someone who works with young adult readers, the entire faculty is like parade of rock stars, so I spent most of the first residency too scared to talk to professors at first. But I'll never forget how Marsha Qualey, Gene Yang, and Jackie Briggs Martin in particular all made time early on to introduce themselves and try to help set us at ease. 

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 tried every form I was able to, and I am so glad I did. While I spent a lot of time on young adult realism, I got to experiment with a middle grade fantasy, with picture books, with a nonfiction piece, and more. I found myself sharing poetry at readings, and making notes for the kind of work I would never have considered when I started this program. I started the program thinking that I liked YA for its flexibility of genre. I leave it believing that every level of kidlit offers me the opportunity to try anything my heart desires.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

Chuck and Del are two teenagers who live in Holiday, the kind of small town that people pass by on their way to something better, and they both want to get out. 

Chuck is the kid whose classmates nicknamed him "Voldemort" in his shaved-head junior high days, and that image stuck even after he grew his hair back out. Everybody knows Chuck's family is messed up, but he has no way to talk to anyone about just how bad his home situation has gotten. He's sleeping in his band's van to avoid family fights.

Del is an obsessed AV geek whose poverty is an obstacle to her filmmaking dreams at every turn. Her best friend has just betrayed her and sent her summer plans into a tailspin, and this deception throws Del into Chuck's orbit by chance.

There's only one summer job in town that pays well enough for two teenagers who are desperate: the box factory where Del's mother and Chuck's sister both work. Sometimes, you can survive being trapped if you have the right person to be trapped with.

I hadn't been sure of what creative thesis I would pick until I found that Matt de la Pena would be my advisor for my last semester. It was absolutely obvious once I landed with Matt that I would have to dig deep into my story about social class and bad summer jobs. Perfect match. 

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

I'm more willing to write the terrible first draft. I'm also less apt to write off something that has problems and decide it can't be fixed. I owe a lot of that to Swati Avasthi's revision workshop, which opened my eyes to some invaluable methods to polish and refine a manuscript, and to Claire Rudolf Murphy, who pushed me through a challenging third semester to figure out the rewards of finishing something. I also put a lot more play in my writing thanks to Marsha Chall, who took me from picture book newbie to major picture book fan.

The biggest change, however, is that I actually admit that I am a writer now. 

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

A short list: 

1. You get out of the program what you put into it. Jump in and commit hard. It's easy to get nervous about putting yourself out there, but the community will work to support you.

2. You may be skeptical during your first semester when you are told "your critical work may ruin you as a reader, because you will change how you read things to see the craft underneath." Don't scoff. You, too, may realize a year later that you have become so picky in your pleasure reading now that you can see what works, and more importantly, what doesn't. 

3. Get off the Hamline campus and see the Twin Cities a little while you're here. Yes, even in January.

4. Save your lecture notes. You will hear things in lecture that you'll want to quote in your critical papers, and if you have your notes, you will look like some kind of genius.

5. When someone inevitably reads you Linda Sue Park's BEE-BIM-BOP! and you walk away hungry, hungry, hungry, I recommend the Mirror of Korea across the street from Anderson. 

6. Be a Buddy in the Buddy Program at least once. Read from your work-in-progress at student readings at least once. 

7. You will notice this list assumes you're going to jump off the high dive and join this program. There's a reason for that. What ARE you waiting for? Hamline can change your life. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Meet the Grad: V. Arrow

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 V. Arrow.

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

I'm usually writing something else! I'm an avid blogger and fanfiction writer, and ever since I won the Walden Pond Press Middle Grade award for my nonfiction project first semester, I spend a lot of time tracking down new materials for my research and working on the proposal for that manuscript. If I'm not writing or doing research, I'm probably doing cross-stitch, making jewelry, or talking to my friends about Star Wars, pop girl groups, or feminist media theory. I wish I could say that I spent my non-writing time doing something super unusual and exciting, but I can't.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I actually heard about it from one of the women I had asked to write my recommendation for another (adult) MFA program - she said, "I have to be honest, I think you'll hate this program you're looking at, because you wouldn't be allowed to write young adult fiction. Isn't e.lockhart one of your favorite writers? Have you looked at the Hamline MFA in Writing for Children program?"

I'm very glad that she was honest with me... the MFAC is easily the best choice that I have made in my adult life. I am so thankful that she had the foresight to recommend a program that not only allows YA and MG lit, but focuses on them with deep respect for both the craft of writing and the readership of young audiences. The amount of passion and care that everyone involved in the MFAC puts towards doing the best that we can for young readers makes an incredible difference in the quality of education I feel I've gotten here.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I studied Creative Writing in my undergraduate (double-majored with History), but I was kind of raised to be a writer – my mom was in the writing program at the University of Iowa.

I started speaking when I was six months old, and my parents started teaching me how to read and write pretty soon after that, but I don’t remember it. I know they have some papers with things I’d written from when I was two, but I don’t know whether I was just copying shapes (which seems more likely to me) or if I actually knew how to form/write words.

I think the earliest memory I have of actually writing a story is from when I was probably… three or four, and my cousin was a year older, and we were playing with my mom’s typewriter. I don’t remember whether we’d just been to the zoo or whether we were going to the zoo the next day, but I remember that we were writing stories about seeing “eliwonks” and “mawonkinks,” which I think were elephants and… flamingoes? I remember typing the words and feeling the springs under the keys of the typewriter more than I remember the stories.

When I was in Kindergarten and first grade, my elementary school had a “publishing center” where you could drop off a story you’d written and/or illustrated in the morning and then at the end of the day, you could bring home a spiral-bound book. I think I “wrote a book” every single day those years, but I have no idea where they are now. Probably a box in my parents’ basement.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t think that kids were allowed to create their own characters, so everything I wrote until third grade was, technically, fanfiction. It just seemed like you had to be a Real Author to create your own characters and that was WAY too magical and full of responsibility for a kid.

(I still feel that way. Don’t tell my MFAC profs. I am still not a Real Author enough to feel qualified in creating my own characters, although I obviously do. And am. I guess. Shh!)

But I would write stories about Mary Cecily Barker’s Flower Fairies, or the Hobans’ Frances and Gloria, or the characters on Under the Umbrella Tree. I wrote about Minh from Barney, with whom I was deeply in love because I was the world’s most lesbian five year old, and about the Boxcar Children and Karen Brewer and the American Girls. I wrote piningly about Dorothy Jane Torkelson and got grounded from television for three weeks when I was eight because I wrote about tongue-kissing.

And then, for the Young Author’s Conference in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Peters, told me that writing about other people’s characters was plagiarism, and I had to create my own. But I didn’t think of it has a “had to,” it was a COULD. I COULD create my own. It was a life-changing thought, because it was just so alien. I could create characters? I could make up my own people and write them doing whatever I wanted? I could? Me? Who was I to create characters? Whole people? I was just a kid! What did I know about making people! Me?!

So I decided to write a nonfiction book that year instead. (And subsequently learned even more about what plagiarism meant, because I had never heard of citing your sources, because I mean, obviously you learned the facts in your book somewhere, and so did the author of that book, and that book, and so on. Did Mrs. Peters think that I was claiming to have first-hand knowledge of the sinking of the Titanic?

(To be fair: I was 100% convinced that I had been reincarnated from Jessie Goldsmith and was, in fact, a casualty of the sinking. But she did not know that.)

Finally, when I was in sixth grade, I felt ready to create my own characters, and I wrote a novel. I submitted it for publication, because you could send directly to slush piles at publishers still in 1998, and I am so, so very, very glad that it was rejected, oh my god.

But yeah… I’ve just never really had any serious chance of doing anything else. Not in a “well, this is the one thing I’ve been trained for” Star Wars stormtrooper way or anything, just in a “this is what I was entirely meant to do from the beginning.” I’ve wanted to be other things – I wanted to be a Muppet for a while when I was a kid, and I wanted to be an actress and a ballerina and wasn’t half-bad at either, and I guess I’m sort of a historian as much as a writer these days since the project I have a fellowship for is nonfiction history (and not plagiarized, thank you, it is entirely Original Groundbreaking Research) but… really, writing has always been an integral part of my conception of self. Even when I wanted to be a Muppet, I figured I'd help Kermit write the skits for The Muppet Show.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

I had Claire Rudolph-Murphy and Swati Avasthi as my first workshop leaders, and after the horrible experience of workshopping in my undergrad program, I was extremely wary about the way the other students would approach my work. But Claire and Swati were so dynamic and brilliant and kind that by the end of the first day, my perspective on the value of formal workshops had totally changed. I also really surprised myself during that first residency in feeling comfortable enough to participate in the Student Readings! I generally avoid anything that might make people notice I'm in the room, frankly, so the fact that I felt safe enough and "belonging" enough to get up in front of everyone and read aloud from an unedited draft was a huge turning point for me as a person.

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 mainly written YA fiction since arriving, which was my plan, but Claire insisted from the first workshop together that I absolutely had to write the MG nonfiction manuscript that had been percolating in my brain for a while. I agreed when I got her as my advisor, and it's turned out to be totally life-changing, insofar as receiving the Walden Pond Press Award for that piece, and also insofar as pushing me outside of my comfort zone to Just Start Writing, rather than let an idea sit for years and years and years... and years... while I do the research and psych myself out about it. I'm very grateful for Claire's exuberance, patience, and requirement for Butt In Seat Words On Page writing that first semester.

While not a "formal" form that I worked on here, both Swati and Anne really pushed me on my personal writing and in narrative essays. I had entered the program with an extremely formal Master's Thesis already in the research stages and all ready to go, but Anne picked up where Swati left me in terms of feeling comfortable saying, "I'm passionate about this subject because it is personal to me, and that's okay." I never would have written my Critical Thesis Essay in first-person, or in colloquialisms, or with references to personal anecdotes, without both Swati- and Anne's pushing. And since the paper would have suffered from a formal voice, I'm glad they did! (And it won the Critical Thesis Award, so I'm extra glad.)

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My thesis is a YA historical fantasy-noir interracial lesbian retelling of Peter Pan set during the Harlem Renaissance -- yeah. I've been joking that Darling is really a feminist manifesto masquerading as a fairytale, but I'm extremely grateful that Laura is not letting me get away with trying to write it that way.

One of the biggest struggles that I have had with this piece, which I started initially in a completely different POV and time period before the MFAC, was my inclination to be really didactic with it and be like, "PETER PAN STEALING GIRLS IS BAD. DON'T STEAL GIRLS. DON'T SPY ON THEM FROM WINDOWS. STOP BEING CREEPY. ALSO 'GROWING UP FEMALE' SHOULD NOT HAVE TO MEAN 'MARRIAGE AND BABIES AND GIVING UP EVERYTHING ELSE YOU LOVE OR CAN BE.'" But that isn't a story, that's an all-caps statement. It's also a pretty boring, obvious one, stated outright like that!

Fortunately, all of the professors here are brilliant, so each semester that I've worked on this piece - second, with Swati; third, with Anne, alongside the Critical Thesis Essay; and now, with Laura - my own conception of the piece as totally changed from the ground up. I was really anxious when my feedback on the first packet of my final semester was, "Start it over again from a different POV and a totally different structure and a different timeline of events," but I trust Laura absolutely, and she was, predictably, right. It's a much stronger *novel* now than it ever was before, because there's no way that I can lecture in the new format. I have to open myself up on the page and like, feel things. It's kind of gross. Feeling stuff and then writing about it. Ugh.

But it's important to the story, because at its heart, Darling is about a young, creative, queer girl whose place in her world is at a crisis point, as it so often is for teenagers (and especially for queer teens) who makes a choice that has the potential to lead her into either triumph or ruin. Winnie Darling has to figure out what to do when her choices take her from an environment that is bad to a place that is worse, and she has to grow and rely on her own unique skills to save herself and others. It's a story of self-discovery and sexual awakening, as well as of creative impulse and social boundaries, family influence, grief and acceptance, and the ways both fortunate and unfortunate that those closest to you can surprise you.

There are also eyeless mermaids with jellyfish-legs!

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

I kind of feel like I've answered this above, but I'll also say that I feel like I've grown as a person as much as I have a writer during my time in the MFAC. I totally credit Claire, Swati, Anne, Laura, and my cohort for that. There have been some unexpected bumps in the road during my time here that without their guidance and support would have totally derailed me, I think, but the culture of the MFAC has been a really welcome safety net.

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

Don't save all of the books you don't like for last on the Required Reading list. Trust the professors, even if their suggestion would mean fundamentally changing your vision of your manuscript - or yourself as a writer. Figure that you'll cry at least once each residency; it's normal.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Meet the Grad: Paula Kostman

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 Paula Kostman.

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

I teach EL students (English Learners) at an elementary school in Crystal, MN.  It is an amazing and fun job and I love it! I also am mom to my 6-year-old. We're learning the Dakota language as a family. My partner, Kirk, is Dakota, and I have always had a love for learning languages and for Native people.  Dakota is Minnesota's first language, so it makes good sense to know it. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I have a good friend, Mark Ceilley, who told me about the program.  He graduated a few years back and encouraged me to apply. I also saw an ad pop up on my Facebook account and at that moment I knew I had to do this! It was kismet. 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I wrote for fun ever since I could remember. I completed my first novel in junior high. I took every writing class I could in school, but when I became a teacher, I pretty much set that aside. When I moved to the Twin Cities in 2001, I started to want to write again, so I began taking classes at the Loft and the local community colleges. I joined a writing group that grew out of one of those classes, and of which Mark Ceilley was a member. I wrote several picture books over the last fifteen years which I have been also working on at Hamline.  

What do remember most about your first residency?

I was very nervous, but excited to find "my people," a promise made by one of the buddies assigned to me.  That person whose name I do not know now made me want to come to Hamline so much just from one telephone call.  My workshop group was so fun and amazing, and I really fell in love with that part of the program.  Sharing each others' stories is simply the best in my opinion.  

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 tried so many forms from picture books to nonfiction pieces about Minnesota to a middle grade novel to early chapter books.  My favorite are still the picture books.  They are so fun!

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis is a combination of three picture books and a portion of my middle grade novel. The picture books include Watch Your Tongue, Miranda, and its sequel Miranda Takes Her Licks, which are about a girl who has a super long and sticky tongue, along with a story about two girls named Katie and Sophie who save the day as they go on adventures in Katie's backyard. The novel is called Vision Keeper. It's about a biracial (Dakota and European-American) boy who has out-of-body experiences and uses his ability to try to find his missing father.  They have all been so fun to write!

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

My writing has moved from a lot of filters to very few and I've been able to get much closer to my characters by doing that. Also, I've moved away from telling to a lot more showing which has given my characters more depth.  

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

I recommend that you be involved in every way possible...stay on campus if possible and go to everything you can.  I also recommend that you work with your classmates and ask your advisers for help often.  I tend to go it alone, and because of that, my talk for my critical thesis...well let's just say I was preparing for it up to the last minute and I wasn't sure it was going to go very well. It did, but oh was I nervous about whether I could pull it off! Luckily I had an awesome Lakota elder and storyteller for a guest speaker who came through for me and he saved the day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Meet the Grad: Mary McFetridge

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 Mary McFetridge.

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

I'm pretty dull. Not like And Now Miguel dull, but close. I teach English at a public high school, savor time with my sweet mom, and try to keep my dog happy. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program? 

I took a "Teachers as Writers" class that was co-taught by Claire Rudolph Murphy. She suggested Hamline.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program? 

I liked writing, and we hung out, but we didn't get serious about each other until Hamline.

What do you remember most about your first residency? 

It was overwhelming, in a good way. I remember work shopping with Gary Schmidt and Jackie Briggs Martin was totally intimidating, pretty surreal, and ultimately, awesome. I remember Kristi Romo was super nice and took me to lunch off campus. I remember I thought a Piper was a bird. And Vera B. Williams said when you write you can create the neighborhood you want to live in.

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? 

Nope. I tried whatever was suggested by my faculty advisor. 

Tell us about your Creative Thesis. 

It's first person, real world, on the young end of YA, about a quirky, high school freshman, in Alaska, who is getting new adults in her life.

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

The big ones are that I'm writing with an audience in mind, and I'm much more apt to keep carving at things - rather than consider something "done." My perspective on culture, race, privilege, the intersection of words and power, has grown exponentially. My tools have increased so much that my pre-Hamline writing is pretty humbling, actually.

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

Entering students: Enjoy the packet deadlines, deadlines are a good thing, they just mean someone is waiting for your writing. Let who you will work with be the least of your concerns. There is no wrong answer there. If you're considering the program, come check it out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Meet the Grad: Sean Tulien

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. Our first new graduate is Sean Tulien.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
Work, decompress (read, video games, play with pets), and stress over packets. Sometimes I eat, sleep, or go outside.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
​I signed up for two reasons: my coworker recommended it and Gene Yang is a faculty member (I’m a big comics fan). So I applied, got accepted, and signed up for one semester a year (due to work/cost reasons). Turns out that my coworker attended a different program at Hamline—and Gene only teaches the semesters I couldn’t attend. Kind of a comedy of errors on my part but if I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.  

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
​Had a few comics and chapter books for kids published through my previous job, but I patently avoided writing for the most part. I’ve always said: “I hate writing, but I love having written.” So I figured the MFAC would be the universal motivation I needed to write more. It worked—but not because I love writing now. Rather, for the first time in my life, I love having written more than I hate writing.

What do remember most about your first residency? 
​Feeling awkward and out of place and anxious. (“Why are all the writers here extroverts? Abominations!”) In other words, it was a major step outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully I had great classmates who, despite graduating two years earlier than me, have always treated me like I belonged and helped me feel included in every way. HAMMIES FOR LIFE!

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 tried everything because why not? As a result, I’ve moved away from what I thought I’d be writing for the rest of my life (comics) and toward things I never thought I’d never be interested (picture books, YA, fantasy and sci-fi).

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
​It’s a YA novel about brothers, death, masculinity, and a bunny rabbit. It’s been the most challenging writing task I’ve ever undertaken, but it’s also been an incredibly multifaceted learning experience thanks largely to the inimitable E. Lockhart, my advisor. I could go on and on about how great the process has been for myself AND my writing. Instead, I’ll just say that this final semester has been the zenith of a stellar writing program.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? 
​Like...everything? It's not enough now to just write some words into Word and hope for the best. Sometimes I did well with that approach, but it was always a happy coincidence when everything fit together (and a maddeningly frustrating experience when it didn’twhich was most of the time). I do sometimes worry I'll swing too far in the other direction—i.e., George R.R. Martin-esque twenty-page character biographies don't seem too far off—but it’s been writing/life changing.

Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
​Three ultra-hyper-important tips: 

1. Before enrolling, have a writing routine in place—especially if you're working full-time and/or have kids. I don't have kids, but my job(s) during this four-year stretch have been demanding ones; finding time, without a writing routine set in stone, was nearly impossible for me. So set a schedule and DO NOT DEVIATE. If you're not ready to make writing a priority, well... make your writing a priority before enrolling in the MFAC. 

2. Make your writing a priority and enroll in the MFAC. 

3. Revisit #1.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge: Poetry as Prompt

There are times when I can’t/won’t write what I’m supposed to/what I’ve planned, but I want to put a few hundred words on paper. My promise to myself is this: write every day. And though I’ve broken promises to everyone (my first wife puts up her hand), I rarely break ones I’ve made to myself. 

“Oh, Ron, what do you do when you can’t write what you’d prefer to write?”

Funny you should ask. Can’t you guess? I turn to poetry.

But not as poetry. I don’t want to write poetry. I want to use (put your other hand up now, my bitter darling) poetry to get something off the ground, to energize me.

Here’s what I do: I Google Poetry Foundation and on the right side of the page troll through Browse Poems. Like window shopping. (Any anthology or book of poems would do. I just like the Poetry Foundation.) 

When I find a first line I like, I jot it down and make a short list. Here’s what I just came up with in five minutes –

                  1. A striped blouse in a clearing by Bazille.

                  2.  Watch the fire undress him.

                  3.  When love was a question mark, a message arrived.

                  4.  I’m still thinking about your porch light.

                  5.  The bear stopped dancing and unscrewed his head.

#4 is a likely keeper, and #2 interests me a lot. And I want to put blouse/striped blouse somewhere.

That’s plenty to get me started. Will this turn out well? Who knows. Will it be fun? Probably. I don’t need to think for myself when I have poets thinking for me, using language in a nostalgic and pedestrian way (#4) and/or making it punch me in the gut (#2).

Let’s say I’m drawn to #2. I know I’ll stick to short, staccato sentences probably in the form of commands. If I want to get anywhere with #1 I’ll look up Bazille and discover that he’s a painter (not so interesting) but is also a restaurant! So is the blouse on a waitress in a restaurant named Bazille? And is she serving something hot to the guest who complained about his dinner being cold, something so hot he’s on fire from head-to-toe?

What’s interesting is this - I rarely finish these exercises. Wound up by them, I’ll go right to the thing I’m working on. But lots of time the language in the poems’ first lines will either appear in the work-in-progress or at least, like iodine in water, color a whole page in a way I could never 
have predicted. 

*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.

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.