Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meet the Grad: Ellen Kazimer

On January 19, 2014, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony, honoring the 11 men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we'll be posting interviews with many of the grads. Ellen Kazimer is today's grad; she lives in Fairfax Center, Virginia.

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

Travel, volunteer at the USO, tutor occasionally, swim laps, play with my dog, and pester my kids.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

A good friend of mine received her MFA in writing for children and encouraged me to pursue an MFAC, too.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I wrote and illustrated books when I was in second grade. These I expertly bound with safety pins. My writing career slowed considerably after that. After high school, I convinced myself that I needed adventures before I could write seriously. So I joined the Navy after college. While serving, one of my Navy buddies gave me an antique book from 1905 book entitled, How to Tell Stories to Children. Guess she was trying to give me a hint about my career choice. Several years later, when my children were little, I started writing local interest pieces and taking a few writing classes. A piece I began in one of those classes received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Annual Contest. I attended a few Highlight Workshops and wrote a non-fiction article for Blaze Magazine for Horse Crazy Kids.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember meeting my classmate Gina the first morning of orientation. I did not know a soul in St Paul. Having flown in the night before, I didn’t even know where I was in relation to the university. At breakfast, I saw a woman reading The Hobbit. Since the book was on our required reading list, I introduced myself and that was the start of meeting my incredibly talented classmates. The camaraderie established from day one has remained a constant source of inspiration. It is amazing the close friends you make at the residencies.

Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
During the program I’ve tried a YA novel, middle grade novel, short story, and a non-fiction picture book. I wanted to explore new ideas so every project was brand new. I hadn’t planned on writing non-fiction, but while researching my middle grade novel, I came across a topic that really intrigued me.
Ellen's Inspiration

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

I worked on a middle grade, historical fiction novel set during the First World War. The initial inspiration came from a poster I saw at a Bed-and-Breakfast. In the living room of the B &B was a WWI era handmade poster of a rocking horse with the words, “Toys Made By Our Wounded Soldiers.” A few months later, I came across this antique toy soldier doll from 1918. I fell in love with his baby-face. One idea led to another and soon I had an idea for a story. The owner of that doll in my story is an eleven-year-old girl, named Florence. She fights her battles on the home front while her two older brothers fight their battles “over there.” Florence struggles to find her place in the world and in her family torn both apart by war.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I was a cautious writer--too cautious. I was timid about conflict and didn’t want to offend the very characters I created. Now I insult my characters, argue and throw rocks at them. I reach deeper for the emotional core of my stories. All my advisors have helped propel my writing to a new level.

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

I researched MFAC programs for a long time waiting to find the right fit and the right time. I even did a cost analysis on a spreadsheet of three programs. I ended up tossing the spreadsheet and chose Hamline on instinct. It just felt right and I’ve never regretted my decision. Don’t wait too long. Trust your intuition. Take a risk and just do it. You won’t be sorry.
 The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, January 19, 3:30pm, (Anne Simley Theatre, Drew Fine Arts Building). Jane Yolen is the speaker.

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