Monday, October 9, 2017

How to Write Sci-Fi When You Already Live in a Dystopia with Ailynn Knox-Collins

“It’s difficult to focus on writing, particularly fiction, when the world feels like it’s on fire.” 

Hugo award winning author, John Scalzi wrote that recently, in an article for the Los Angeles Times. He talks about how hard it is for science fiction writers to write their stories these days, because it feels like we’re living in a dystopian novel already.

And maybe that’s what I’ve been feeling lately. And that’s why it’s been so hard to sit down and write. I have stories waiting to be told. They mill around in the back of my mind, waiting for my fingers to get going. The characters talk to me while I’m reading a book, or binge-watching a show on TV. Or I suddenly decide to do yard work when I haven’t done that in years. The characters shout, “Hey! When are you going to finish our story?”

Ailynn and Rose
But when you wake up each day to the rubbish that’s happening in our country, (can I say ‘crap’?), it’s hard to peel oneself off the floor, to sit in a chair and type up a story about a horrible but hopeful fictional future – when the real future looks even worse.

I could ignore the news. I could cut myself off entirely from social media, radio, TV, talking to people. But I’m not that disciplined.

But I had a deadline for this article. So what did I do? I procrastinated. Which led me to re-reading my Hamline lecture notes. And guess what I found? Wisdom. Inspiration. Treasure! And I’d only read the notes from July 2015, residency #2. I’d forgotten how much good stuff came out of that time. I only have room for 3 highlights in this post. Thank you, teachers, advisors, guest speakers, and alums!

1) Guest speaker/alum, Kelly Barnhill, said,

“To be human is to tell stories. It is what makes us human most. Everything else, is shared with other animals. Storytelling appears to be ours alone.”

Storytelling is inevitable, especially for a writer. Someone once asked me if I would stop writing if nobody ever liked my work. I said no, because the voices in my head won’t let me. No matter how hard it gets, those stories demand to be told, whether or not anyone else reads them. I am a writer. I am compelled to write.

2) Alicia Williams gave a powerful lecture about writing the other. I so appreciated her passion, and how she didn’t mince her words. Here are some of them:

“SFF (science fiction/fantasy) writing is the most segregated world in all of literature. What message does it send if there's only one PoC on a new planet? We are all people, so we have to humanize [our characters] - they should be all colors. No more lily-white futures. You kill off entire races. This is called literary GENOCIDE.”

Doesn’t that just make you want to stand up and applaud? Well, it makes me want to get on and write that story! Especially SFF.

From her ferocity and passion, I am reminded that the future I write about should be what I believe it’s going to be – not the one pictured by today’s lazy supremacists. Their vision of the future is really that of the past, and that’s what scares them. Because the future will not belong to them. There are too many of us who will not allow it. And storytellers play a big part in that picture. Quoting Alicia again,

“It takes all of us to break down borders. We have to work together across racial borders in order to change things, and make things better.” 

Yes!

3) Finally, Gene Luen Yang, quoting Robert McKee’s Story, talked about the types of research we should do for our stories –facts, memory and imagination. Gene said,

“It’s important to… see memory and imagination as an important part of research because we don't give ourselves permission to spend time thinking.” 

What relief I felt when he said that! Because I do a lot of thinking. I do a lot of talking to my characters (disguised as talking to my dogs). And how good it is to give myself permission to do so, knowing that this is writing too. Thinking is a part of the process. 

So, maybe my writing journey hasn’t ground to a screeching halt. The anger, fear, and occasional hopelessness are simply simmering on a slow fire, seeking a way out of my brain, onto a page. The Poet Laureate of the USA, Tracy K Smith, in her book Life on Mars, includes a poem called “SciFi”. I only have room for the last few lines. But for me, it reminds me of why writing SFF is healing. Read the whole poem, if you can.

“... weightless, unhinged,
Eons from even our moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.”

Scrutable and safe. Isn’t that something we all need right now?

___________________________________________________

Aileen Knox-Collins graduated from Hamline MFAC in January 2017. When she's not writing, she's working with her 4 dogs on agility, obedience and rally competitions, or working part time in an independent bookstore in Redmond, WA. Her first MG Sci-Fi series with Capstone was released in August 2017 and a nonfiction series will be out in February 2018. She's working on marketing her first graphic novel, among others.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Faculty Voices: Emily Jenkins (e. lockhart) from Scotland

Hello from Scotland. My (infrequent) faculty Inkpot posts have all been a little bit about professional author stuff and some thoughts on going about it. This one will be more of the same.

I’m writing this in early August, currently traveling for my publisher in the UK and Ireland. Very often books come out in a different order or at different times in foreign markets—because translation takes time. Even in English-speaking markets, there can be a delay, or the books might not come out at all. For example, I had my first adult book come out in the UK and Ireland — and my first three YA books, but after that, I had no publisher there for many years. There wasn’t much I could do about it. However, when We Were Liars came out, I got a new publisher, and that publisher bought my older YA up and brought it out as new. 

I’m here for two reasons, then. The first is is to tour bookshops and do a festival (YALC—the Young Adult Literature Conference) for books that I wrote a long time ago. That’s an interesting thing to do, as the books haven’t been particularly popular, and I’m not sure which ones to talk about, particularly. I had to re-read them before getting on the plane! 

As I write this I have done two events where I didn’t sell many books except We Were Liars— so I will adjust my presentation tonight. The first event I tried talking through my older titles super fast — a sentence about each. Then the conversation was about YA literature generally, writing processes, etc. At the second event, I didn’t mention the older books at all, but my interviewer gushed a lot about one book — though she actually never explained what it was about. So for tonight, I think I’ll choose one or maybe two to talk from and even read from. These events are supposed to be literary conversations, and nobody wants to hear a sales pitch—but they are supposed to sell books. So I am thinking on the road about how to learn from the events I have had so far. 

The second reason I’m here is to generate pre-publication excitement for my September 2017 book, Genuine Fraud. For my first four YA books I had no idea that publishers set things in motion before publication for certain titles. But they do. They might mail out ARCs in special packages, bring the author to conferences full of booksellers, teachers or librarians, and they might have parties. In this case, we had a bookseller party one night (chain buyers, indie stores etc.) and a blogger party another night (video bloggers). There were goodie bags and speeches and the blogger party had cupcakes (see photo). It is part of my job to put these images on Instagram and Twitter — to find amusing ways of extending the reach that events might have. There was also a tea with Irish children’s librarians and booksellers, and I filmed a lot of video (not my favorite thing to do!) that will be rolled out when the book is released. For example, I made a video for a chain bookstore recommending five titles; and I made many videos describing the book that will go onto online book sites. 

My job is to have prepared something of a schtick about my book, to have figured out a number of ways of talking about it that are appealing—and to try to connect with people. I try to get my hair to behave itself, but it doesn’t really matter if I fail. I try to adapt to each situation, and to learn from the publishing team what they think is working—it’s a good chance to refine what I’m doing in front of crowds, to understand it and to try and get better at it. 

I am super tired and a bit homesick, but I’m also thrilled to see Edinburgh, Dublin and London, and to meet all these readers. I’ve gotten to know the YA book community a bit, and everyone has been welcoming and wonderful.

***

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THE IMPORTANCE OF A WRITING GROUP: Or how I lost all hope but was able to find it again through a small circle of friends, by Tiffany Grimes

Tiffany Grimes blog post

I moved to Portland, Oregon last year. 

Finally. 

Florida is hot and humid and seemed to sap every creative thought from my head. So it was time for a change. A change that required moving to the opposite coast. 3,070 miles away.

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and promptly sold nearly everything, including my car. I packed everything else up in suitcases and flew with my cats across the country. Flying with cats was quite the experience, one that I hope I never have to repeat. 

Once arriving in Portland, I spent the most of my time searching for employment, literally anything that would help me afford my outrageous rent. I started with two camping chairs as furniture and slowly accumulated the basics over time. Marie Kondo had not prepared me for this. 

Thanks to Tinder I made three friends quickly, all of them writers. (Did you know Tinder could be used to make friends? Well now you do!) 

These ladies and I spent the last year lamenting about how we’d like to write more. We’d talk about it on hikes, while drinking our sorrows, while sewing our costumes for comic cons, while planning our trips. We seemed to have no problem talking about how we’d like to write. But we weren’t writing.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m not writing, I sort of slump into a depression that can only be fixed by consuming large amounts of peanut butter ice cream and Netflix. Aka not writing. It’s a long, agonizing circle of not being able to call myself a writer (after all, how can you be a writer when you’re not writing!) and then a few bursts every 3 months where I manage to write something, anything. Oh, I really am a writer!

Finally, a couple months ago, my writing friends and I formed a tiny writing group. We meet 1-2 times a week and write for hours. We brainstorm. We workshop. We prepare for writing contests. We set small deadlines. We share books to read. (Currently we’re reading 1Q84 together). We go to book launches. I’ve never been part of a group like this before. We trust each other even though we write completely different genres. Sometimes we sit in silence for hours as we work on our own things. Sometimes we set a timer and write following a prompt. Sometimes we just talk about our ideas.

It had been so long since I’d finished anything. Sure, I’d been slowly hacking away at the book I started at Hamline. I had even tried to set up a few accountability buddies from Hamline, to try to make sure I keep working on my projects. I tried to set deadlines. Eventually we just lost touch. And I missed every deadline I set for myself. 

Now I’ve finished the first completed draft of my book, a short story, and this blog post. It’s a slow process, but I have a few projects I’m working on. Projects I’m thrilled about. I carve every moment I can out of my day and hack away at my ideas and drafts. I can rely on my writing group to honestly tell me when my ideas are too weird or boring. I can count on them to hound me until I get something onto the page.

My writing group has made me proud to call myself a writer again.  

_________________________________________________________


Tiffany Grimes, Inkpot Blog Manager, is a minimalist (excluding cats: cats bring joy, thus more cats equal happiness). She graduated from Hamline in 2015 and currently writes and breathes in Portland, OR. Follow her on twitter @Qtiffany. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Meet the Grad: Regina McMenamin Lloyd.

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is Regina McMenamin Lloyd. Regina lives in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.

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

I work for my family’s business. I’m a single mom with two kids and a dog. I love artistic endeavors, I especially love crafting, mixed media, collage, and glitter, especially glitter. Did I say glitter? I also spend as much time as I can at the beach!

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

My undergrad mentor Lisa Jahn Clough kept telling me I was going to Hamline! I told her time and again my kids could not survive 10 days without me. She knew I belonged at Hamline, she brought it up at least a half dozen times. One thing she said stuck with me, “You can leave them for 10 days, and be there for the everyday.”

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I had a bunch of short stories and poems published. I once got published on Smithsonian’s Website which felt pretty awesome! 

What do especially remember about your first residency?

I remember over and over again, thinking these people all love what I love! No one is doing that picture book eye roll, or pretending that the talking duck doesn’t matter!

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?

I think I have probably been too sporadic! I have written three first drafts of novels and a handful of good picture books (and a bunch of really crappy ones.) I love picture books! I wish I had tried more non-fiction but an MFA can’t last your whole life or can it? Is there a forever MFA—can I get funding for that?

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My Creative Thesis is called McTruths. It’s set in the early nineties, my protagonist, Fiona is abused and objectified by the men in her life. She takes all of her value from the attention of boys, but is also really uncomfortable with her place in the world. Fiona will have to find a way to separate her sense of self from the persona men have given her if she is going to want more out of life. The novel is very much about the self-actualization of a victim into a well-rounded woman.

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

I have fallen less in love with my words. I know that doesn’t seem like a positive, but it is. I used to fall in love with the phrasing and would sacrifice the story because I liked the way a good line read. I have learned to throw away anything that doesn’t serve the story. I used to get hung up on trying to keep everything I had written, now if it isn’t working—I cut it.

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

Work harder. Write every day. Don’t get hung up. Change your process. When you need inspiration, go to nature, lay on the grass or the beach. Think through the whole story—not the part you are stuck on. Be open to change, play with ideas, Remember you are neither the best, nor the worst. Also, your mentor here will take your talking duck seriously, where else in life will you find that?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Meet the Grad: Andrea Knight Jakeman

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is Andrea Knight Jakeman. Andrea lives in Minnetonka, MN.

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

I'm a freelance book editor, like a book doctor -- I love helping authors get their manuscripts ready to  query. But I'm also super into blues dancing, biking to the farmer's market, buying unfamiliar foods at the Asian market, and making recipes with ingredients like coriander and ginger.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program? 

I was applying to some more traditional-type schools, and then my husband and I realized we'd be moving to Minnesota, so I did a bit of searching and dug this up. Totally the best choice for me, of the schools I was accepted into -- I love how focused and practical this program has been.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program? 

I started creative writing shortly after getting married six years ago, thinking I'd be amazing at it, since I was amazing at other types of writing (journalism, tech writing, etc.). I was decidedly unamazing. But I was quite determined, so I formed a writing-critique group, read a bunch of craft books, went to some conventions, listened to some podcasts, half-drafted a couple of terrible novels...and eventually, when I realized I was just never going to get that good without professional help (or divine intervention), applied to MFA programs.

What do especially remember about your first residency? 

Well, there was a good deal of hubbub around a certain lecture... :) But mostly I remember feeling kind of found. I was suddenly not the biggest YA/fantasy geek in the room, and it was not just acceptable to love what I love, it was downright rad. Not a bad feeling, my friends. Not a bad feeling at all.

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? 

I've focused mostly on novel (specifically YA fantasy), but I also drafted twenty or so picture books, which I never anticipated prior to the program. It was good for me, though -- I tend to write intensely plotted, unnecessarily complicated stories, and PBs can be neither of those things, so it helped me focus and pare down.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis. 

No. Ha. Kidding. (I enjoy refusing perfectly rational requests. Stop signs are hard for me.)

It's called The Ferry of the Gods. Ife Kehari, a slave in an ancient-Egypt-like world, dies betraying his master, the prince, to gain his freedom, and is sentenced to the worst possible afterlife. Not believing he deserves it, Ife sells his memories to the trickster god (and becomes his slave) to buy long-term passage aboard the ferry to the underworld; this will allow him to bide his time until he can plead with the death goddess for a new afterlife. However, he accidentally breaks his contract by letting a living soul aboard -- a royal, no less. He has to decide if he will help her rescue her dead brother's soul, erasing some of his guilt for the life he ended -- but also aiding the country that enslaved and killed him.

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

I'm more confident. I feel more comfortable making choices instead of being overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities in front of me. I've also gotten better at making sure each scene has an actual point -- that it's not just witty dialogue or whatever, but that it independently pushes the story forward.

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

Most people aren't naturally awesome at creative writing. (Inventive, yes. Original, absolutely. Logical, quite often. But all this and more? Unlikely.) If you want this to be your life, and especially if you want it to be your job, assume you are the rule, not the exception. Take the time to educate yourself. Your readers deserve good writing, and you deserve the great pleasure of giving it to them.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Meet the Grad: Jan LaRoche

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is Jan LaRoche. Jan lives in East Moline, Illinois.

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

I am a teen services librarian at the Moline Public Library in Moline, IL. I have an amazing husband and two wonderful children. We love to watch movies and play board games, and spend as much time as possible outdoors—camping, fishing, hiking, boating, etc.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I was looking for information about MFA programs online and came across a list on the Poets & Writers site. When I came to Hamline’s entry I did a double take because I actually knew several of the faculty names. (Swati was listed first, so I give her the most credit.) I had no idea there were MFA programs specifically designed for writing for children and teens. The more I read about the program, the more I knew it would be a perfect fit for me. And it has been!

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I’ve dabbled in writing my whole life, sometimes more seriously than others. I completed my first novel several years back, followed by a couple more over the years. Despite this, I knew I needed more help in crafting these stories into something publishable. Online classes, workshops, and writers conferences only went so far.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?

First and foremost, how kind, welcoming, and supportive everyone was. Faculty, staff, graduate assistants, and fellow students were the most amazing people I’d ever met. I think I still harbored the belief that “real” writers were somehow above the average human. Then Anne Ursu admitted she didn’t know what the theme of Breadcrumbs was until long after she’d written it. I began to realize, and finally believe, that it was actually possible for me to achieve my dream. And it would be a lot of hard work that I would enjoy every minute of.

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?

When I started, my only real interest was young adult fiction. I decided this program was the best place to try other things, so I spent some time on short stories, picture books, and nonfiction. I learned enough to know I’m still most comfortable with YA.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

On her way to take the train to visit her father, Iris and her sister, Violet, are in a car crash. After that, everything changes. Iris starts having nightmares about the train station she never made it to. Violet is withdrawn and evasive. And their mother starts dating Hollis, whose strangeness seems impossible to even think about. When Iris finds out Hollis and Violet are keeping a secret from her, she is determined to discover the truth.

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

I feel this program has helped me add depth to my writing. Before I was mostly concerned with the plot—what happens next. Now I’m constantly asking questions. Why does my character do that? How does she feel about it? How does that affect the other characters? And REVISION! Lots and lots of revision.

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


This program has helped me grow so much. As a writer, yes, but in so many other ways as well. Be open to new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and new opportunities—even when they disguise themselves as challenges.

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Meet the Grad: Blair Thornburgh

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Blair Thornburgh. Blair lives in the Philadelphia. Find Blair on Twitter @ATallOrder and online at blairthornburgh.com. 

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

I’m an editor at Quirk Books here in Philadelphia, where I work on fiction and non-fiction for adults and kids. I do all the feminist books. Other than that, I work on writing my own books (Who’s That Girl came out July 11, tell your friends!!) and try to make time to meet with my buds for pickletinis at Tattooed Mom’s. I wish I could say I had real hobbies. Does watching HGTV at the gym count?

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program? 

MFAC alum Peter Pearson bullied me into it. Well, okay, I was extremely willing to be convinced. I think I finished my application about two days after that.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program? I had done a bunch of NaNoWriMo, written all through high school and college, and had an agent but had not (yet!) sold a book. But I never studied writing in school (I majored in medieval studies—yes, it’s a thing) so I was an extreme newbie when it came to the workshop experience.

What do especially remember about your first residency? 

How SUPER FAST I made friends. Like, maybe within the first night? It was amazing just to meet ~my people~ and be able to talk about children’s books for ten hours straight without everyone rolling their eyes or changing the subject or asking me for marketing objectives.

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? I came in writing contemporary YA, but tried my hand at both historical MG, and non-fiction picture books, which I NEVER thought I would’ve done before this. (And not to brag or anything, but I just sold the picture book I workshopped in January! The system works!)

Tell us about your Creative Thesis. 

THE KING OF JERKSVILLE is about 18-year-old Theodore “Ted” Sandborn Dunker V, a hapless slacker and fan of obscure French cinema who finds himself elected mayor of his hometown (Shurksville, PA, population 3,800) after signing up on the ballot for extra credit in his Civics class. Hijinks ensue! (Fun fact: did you know that mayors get police badges?)

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

Every single advisor I’ve had has been like “your work needs more emotion, Blair,” and I’ve always been like “but feelings are dumb!!!!” Still, I’ve been trying more and more not to skate by on charm and to give my stories actual depth so that they don’t skew too farcical. Beyond that, I think I’ve been writing LESS. My first picture book was 800 words long. The most recent one was 249.


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

Well, you should go. It’s just a good idea. You will not get this rigorous or thoughtful an education in writing anywhere else. Hamline will get you where you’re going faster. It is simply the best program of its type; don’t waste time anywhere else. Also, get started on those annotated bibliographies ASAP (they can really stack up!!) and do not be afraid. Everyone is here to learn and we all want you to come join us!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Meet the Grad: Christy L. Reid

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Christy L. Reid. Christy lives in 
Faribault, Minnesota.

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

I'm deaf-blind and depend on braille technology to do all reading and writing. It takes me more time to work on packets, compared to hearing-sighted folks, although I enjoy the work. But when my hands aren't busy reading or writing, I spend time with my two younger sons and my husband.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

A deaf-blind friend who lives in Minnesota told me about it when I still lived in Missouri and was considering moving to MN. And then, after moving to Minnesota, an employment service, Stonearch, who has a contract with mN State Services for the Blind, helped me to get application information to the Hamline MFAC program.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

After my first son was born -- I have three boys -- I signed up for a correspondence course in children's literature. It was a basic course, but I worked one-on-one with an instructor who was also an author of children's books and it paved the way in my interest in writing for children. over the years, I practiced writing stories for kids and in 2012,  published my first book simon The guide dog.

What do especially remember about your first residency?

Everyone -- faculty and students -- said not to worry about asking stupid questions. I never felt inferior, I always felt like an equal and that was a terrific feeling.


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 my first three semesters,I mostly worked on picture books and an early middle-grade novel. But I wanted to take advantage of my fifth residency writing workshop, and try something new -- a YA fantasy story.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

It's a complete novel, a contemporary middle-grade story, 28 chapters long, called The Hunter. It's about the struggles of a deaf-blind eighth-grader, Hunter Henderson, at public school and his wants for friendships and adventures.

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

I've learned to use stronger verbs, avoid adverbs as much as possible, write descriptions that show emotion, rather than using telling words, deciding if a scene is effective and helps to move the story along, and techniques for adding tension, like slowing down in some places and adding more details and using shorter sentences.

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

If you look at the program as a whole, all the work that's required, it''s an overwhelming and crazy idea. But if you take it one step at a time and see how much you've learned about writing for children as you work on each packet and get your advisor's feedback, it's so exciting and awesome. You'll want more and more and soon, you'll be there graduating, too.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Meet the Grad: Barbara Roberts

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Barbara Roberts. Barbara lives in Virginia (though she will ALWAYS consider myself a Californian).



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

During these two years, if I wasn’t working on packets, I was reading, watching basketball games (especially our daughter’s games at Dickinson College), walking, reading, attempting to train our young springer spaniel, Riley (aka Destructo-Dog), gardening, reading, and doing a little traveling.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

After reading many of Gary D. Schmidt’s books, I looked up his bio and discovered that he taught in the MFAC program at Hamline. Then I went to the Hamline website and saw all the rest of the faculty. I knew I had to be part of this program.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I spent fifteen years as a marketing and corporate communications writer and also published a number of freelance articles and essays. Even though this doesn’t sound anything like writing for children, I think it was actually good training, because I had to learn to write for many different, specific audiences, and if I was ghostwriting an article for someone else, I had to write in a different voice. I also spent five years as a book reviewer for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. (I even reviewed one of our faculty member’s books – Margaux With and X, by Ron Koertge – if you haven’t read it, you should.)


What do especially remember about your first residency?

I remember feeling like I’d come home. I hadn’t been part of an engaged writing community for many years, and though I felt overwhelmed at times during my first residency, I also knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.

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?

I spent most of my time at Hamline working on middle grade fiction, though I also spent a semester with Marsha Chall, working on picture books, and also worked with Claire and Mary Logue on two nonfiction picture books. I hadn’t tried writing picture books before I came to Hamline and I’m so glad I took the opportunity to try them, because I had a lot of fun.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My Creative Thesis is a middle grade novel called OUTSIDE SHOTS. It’s about a 13-year-old girl named Nikki Doyle who loves playing basketball. She’s always been the best point guard in county league, but when she’s selected to play on an elite-level team, all the girls are bigger and faster than her, and Nikki is no longer the best. She struggles to find a new way to compete at this higher level of play, as well as a new way to fit in. There’s also a story thread that has to do with genetics and inherited ability vs. individual effort.

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

I’ve become much less frightened by a blank computer screen. That is, I’ve gained confidence that if I keep noodling around with ideas, something will start to work itself out. And I’ve learned so much about the process of revision. Now I think of it as a kind of layering process, rather than as a grueling chore. Also I found that I love working on picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. The tight word count is so challenging, forcing you to pare away everything that isn’t absolutely crucial. It’s great training for any kind of writing.

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

Talk to everyone, including the faculty. And be ready to try new things and different ways of doing things. Even if one of your advisers suggests you make a change that you don’t initially agree with, try it anyway. You’ll learn something valuable. And get to work on the reading list! Getting ahead on the reading list before your first packet is due will relieve a lot of time pressure. But mostly, try to relax and enjoy yourself a bit – this program flies by so quickly. Soak it all in.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Meet the Grad: Lily LaMotte

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Lily LaMotte. Lily lives in the Seattle area. Find Lily on Twitter @lilylamotte and online at Notewordies.com.

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

I have two children--one in college and one graduating from high school. Being a student again, we had a mutual world of assignments and due dates.

Just as I started the Hamline MFAC, my husband and I started a music and writing center. He teaches guitar, electric bass, piano, drums, and pedal steel guitar. I offer the space to the community for write-ins, critique groups, writing workshops. And, I hope to bring in faculty to teach advanced writing workshops next year.

I also volunteer. I am on the King County Library Foundation Gala committee. I'm very proud of the work we do. We raised $366,000 to support the library system including providing free meals to children during the summer reading programs and lending wifi hotspots to people who can't afford internet and can't get to the library to use the wifi there. These people are now able to apply for jobs online because of the lending program.

I also volunteer as a Seattle Opera artist aide. This year, I was assistant bartender at the cast parties. I thought that I might have to memorize cocktail recipes, fancying myself as a Tom Cruise wannabe. Alas there were no cocktails to be mixed. Next year, I am head bartender which only means that I have to get to the party early to set up the bar and keep track of inventory. My husband has graciously agreed to be my assistant bartender. I shall take advantage of his muscles--cases of wine are rather heavy. He might be in it for the drinks. Little does he know that we can't drink on the job.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

My critique partner Ailynn Collins who graduated in January 2017 raved about the program after her first residency. Then our other critique partner Tina Hoggatt (also graduating this semester) applied and got in. When I heard that, I knew I had to join them in this wild, grand adventure.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

Tina, Ailynn, and I met at a children's writing class at our local community college many years ago. We've been writing and supporting each other ever since.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?

The weather was beautiful and the Hamline MFAC community was strong.

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?

I came into the program to finally learn how to finish a draft of a middle grade novel. My first semester advisor was Phyllis Root so of course I had to try writing picture books. I surprised myself by writing an all picture book creative thesis.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

I wrote an all picture book creative thesis with a broad range--from funny to serious and from land to sea. I mostly wrote animal characters but do have a couple of picture books with human characters. I experimented with rhythm although I didn't touch rhyming.

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

For one thing, my characters do far less sitting and thinking.

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

I gained three major things in the Hamline MFAC program. The first was expected--learning advanced craft from master craft and literary artists. The second and third were wholly unexpected--gaining the habits of a professional writer and gaining a cohort who supported each other as we journeyed through the program and will continue to do so after graduation. I am grateful to each and every one of them.



Friday, June 30, 2017

Meet the Grad: Dori F. Graham

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Dori F. Graham. (The F is for Fancy.) Dori lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Find Dori on social media at @Doremedusa.

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


Dori Graham, Hamline MFACFor my grown-upping, I landed my dream job as a Children’s Librarian for the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN where my days include things like storytimes, crafts, book hunts, and bubbles. And, it’s heavenly. I’ve been with ACPL for four years this July, and I still can’t believe I get paid to be there!


When I’m not at work, I love to listen to audiobooks. I listen while I bake, or do the dishes, or play Soda Crush (I’m currently on level 941). Also, I really like to do nothing. And by do nothing, I mean stare at my fish tank, a lava lamp, a candle... I regularly stare at boring things—a bit like an infant who can’t stop looking at the ceiling. (Some people would call this mindfulness, but I know their tricks—it’s really just fancy boredom. But, whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty much The Best.)


How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?


A few years ago, the AWP conference took place in Minneapolis. I tagged along with my fiancée who is a poet and a professor. One night, I was looking through a huge booklet full of MFA programs that I’d gotten at the bookfair, and when I saw that Hamline’s MFA specialized in writing for children, I said to my fiancée, “Someday, I want to look into going there.” She said, “Why not today?” I Bha-ha-ha-ha’ed in her face…then realized she was serious…then further realized she was serious because she had faith in me—far more faith than I had in myself. After a bit of mental pep-talk, I giggle-cried a little bit, and said “Hokay!”

The next morning, we went to the booth and I chatted with Mary Rockcastle. Within minutes, it became clear that this was the program that could help me move towards my wilder dreams.


What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?


Prior to the program, I would have said I was a writer with a lowercase “w.” I thought about writing FAR more than I actually wrote. Now, I write far more than I ever thought I would, and while the “w” isn’t quite uppercase, it’s getting there.


What do especially remember about your first residency?


At my first residency, I remember feeling TOTALLY out of my element, but SO pleased to be there. I kept thinking, “They got it wrong! I never should have made it into this program with all of these brilliant, talented people,” but I also thought, “They speak my language and I never want to leave!”


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?


I tried to gain as much experience as possible while I had the chance to be mentored, so I worked on picture books with ever-genuine, tenderhearted Phyllis Root, I worked on a young adult novel with the sharp-as-a-mother-freaking-tack Swati Avasti, I did some middle grade chapter book writing with Emily “Up Your Game” Jenkins, and I finished my Hamline career by reworking my YA novel with the one and only, ever-giving Marsha Chall. My one regret? Never trying a graphic novel script. Someday…


Tell us about your Creative Thesis.


My creative thesis is a young adult novel called Just Jada (Not Jugs) about a fifteen-year-old girl named Jada. Jada is a quirky, bosomy sophomore at Bridgemont High School where she’s continually teased for having large boozies and being a little “weird.’ While her best friend, Gwen, is out of the country for more than a year, Jada makes friends with the new guy, a gorgeous basketball player named Shawn. Their connection improves Jada’s social standing, but when things with Shawn become “more than friends,” Jada is torn between leaning into the new relationship or following her heart…which just might be trying to lead her back to Gwen. The story is a gentle, quirky tale about friendship, first (and second) love, social bravery, sexual fluidity, and tea—they drink a lot of tea.


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


The biggest change that I’ve seen is in my ability to pace exposition and action. During my second semester, Swati Avasti asked me to write an essay on scene versus exposition using the short story Blood Child by Octavia Butler as my primary source material. If there was ever an argument against writing critical essays, this moment in my studies definitely defends the need for them. Through breaking down Butler’s short story, I really began to understand when to be “in scene” and when to give exposition/commentary/background. Swati is responsible for what I call “The Great Shift” in my writing ability.


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


My favorite quote (by Kate Forsyth) says, “May my heart by kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” You will need all of these qualities to write for children, and you can grow all of these qualities and more at Hamline. Whatever the naysayer in your head might try to say to distract you, tell it “Nevertheless” and get thee to Hamline!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Meet the Grad: Stephanie Wilson

On Sunday, July 16, 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 June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's featured grad is: Stephanie Wilson. Stephanie lives off the gloriously super-hot shores of Florida. Find Stephanie @maraudingstevie on basically all of the things (Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

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


Mostly I spend my time working. I work at my Local Comic Shop, Emerald City Comics, and it’s the bee’s knees. Otherwise, I’m usually trying to spend my time with my husband, Zack, pestering him to finish his novel while simultaneously pestering him to play videogames I can watch; playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends and co-workers, as you do; trying my best not to go outside unless it’s winter; and I’m just starting to get back into drawing and painting every so often.


How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?


My husband, Zack, decided that he was going to go into the program a couple of years ago, because he heard about E. Lockhart working here via her Twitter. He got accepted, and then I joined him up here in the cold, brutal North a couple of times before finally pulling the trigger and applying myself. Legitimately: Best Decision Ever.


What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?


I studied writing as a part of my undergraduate degree (I began as an English Literature major and ended up a Creative Writing major). I’ve been writing poetry since 2nd grade, so writing has been a part of my life from an early age, and I’ve just expanded to include playwriting (in high school), followed by young adult and middle grade novels (particularly fantasy, because I *love* fantasy) and graphic novel scripts. I wrote an entire novel for NaNoWriMo (it was horrendous and super short but I reached 50,000 words!) and took a bit of a break before getting accepted into the program.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?


It was super awesome, because I got to share it with Zack. It was a *little* odd, because I kind of floated between the fourth semester group (the Front Row) and my first semester group (Hamlettes!), but everyone was so incredibly warm and welcoming, and it really felt like joining a community that has its arms wide open at all times. It started with workshops, which were *far* more accepting and constructive than any other workshop I’ve been a part of, and I adored every minute of it (and found some new books that I hope get published so I can read them in full!). I also remember getting to hang out with Gene Yang and talking shop (one of my favorite things to do; comics have really become a passion of mine), which was super, super cool. And, with the downtime that comes with Summer Residencies, getting to go check out all the amazing bookstores Minnesota has to offer! Wild Rumpus in particular. They have CHICKENS and FERRETS. And a TINY DOOR! It’s might be my favorite place. Ever.

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?


I’ve tried at leat a little bit of most forms: young adult and middle grade, novel and graphic novel and poetry, contemporary realistic and fantasy. I’ve reworked a poem into a picture book, which wasn’t quite successful, but it was definitely a cool experience. I do, someday, want to work on some nonfiction, probably either as a book of poetry or a graphic novel, but that might be a while. Nonfic is some hard, hard work!


Tell us about your Creative Thesis.


Marks is a middle-grade fantasy about Trio, an eleven-year-old girl, and her sister, Eri, in their home city of Oll-Pheist, a city built on the back of a centuries-deceased dragon. Surrounding the city is a forest, which Trio loves with all her heart, but is filled with dangerous creatures that come out at night. During the day, Trio and her sister go in to harvest herbs for their apothecary father, and, on accident, Trio learns that she can use magic, but the stories say that people go mad and lose parts of themselves when they perform magic, leaving a mark on the caster. Trio doesn’t find any marks, though she doesn’t quite understand why. Her mother, however, bears a mark that Trio believes means she does magic, and is confirmed when her mother steals away Eri’s voice in a moment of anger.

Trio must find a way to get her sister’s voice back, crossing paths with sassy tree sprites, a monstrous minotaur, careful centaurs, and a conversational cat, to find the witch in the center of the forest, the one that controls the magic. Along the way, Trio grapples with her magical abilities, the guilt of being the reason her sister lost her voice, and the threat of her family being irreparably broken if she isn’t successful. It’s a story about familial love, and the scars and marks that come with it; about finding your voice, and becoming comfortable in who you are; and about finding a home where you are, even when you may want to be somewhere else.


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


I’ve noticed a good bit of change, not just in my writing, but in my process. My semester with Gene taught me how to write a graphic novel script and my deep, deep love for fantasy. My semesters with Laura and Swati and Nina taught me about my hatred (which has honestly become love) for revision, my extreme use of filler words (sorry, still haven’t fixed that yet ;D), and so, so much about my process. I’m still learning, and I still have so far to go, but I’m so appreciative of how far I’ve gotten in just these few years. I feel like I’m starting to finally develop my voice, and I’ve finally finished something! It’s not *done*, but it’s a completed draft, and that’s more than I could have possibly asked for, and far more than I possibly could have done before.


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


If you’re considering the program, DO IT! I considered it for almost two years before finally taking the plunge, and it was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made. If you’re entering the program, WELCOME! You’re going to have so much fun. Be open, but be honest. Take care of yourself (it can get intense!) but please, immerse yourself. Read at every reading you can, write all of the exercises that are requested in lectures, and keep your mind and heart open, and you’ll be inspired and filled. We need you. And we’re here for you.