On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we’ll be posting interviews with the grads.
Today’s grad is Josh Hammond, a 6th grade Math teacher and lives in a suburb of Chicago. He is constantly surrounded by children, be it his students or his three daughters at home. His Twitter handle is @TheJosh_H.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I do my best to manage mercurial middle school personalities and instruct them in the ways of 6th grade math. People often shake their head in wonder at the fact that I teach in a middle school, but I enjoy the kids immensely. You never know what you’ll get from day to day, but it’s always interesting and a lot of fun. I have three daughters at home who keep me busy up until bedtime. I marvel at the people who “go places” and “watch television shows.”
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
My wife, Bromleigh found an advertisement for the program in The Horn Book. She kept pestering me to apply. I figured I would just apply to get her off my back. I was pretty surprised when I got accepted.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
My writing happened in fits and starts. I hadn’t done any serious creative writing in years, and then one summer Bromleigh bought me a book called No Plot, No Problem, which inspired me to start a middle grade novel. Though I was very motivated at first, eventually life got in the way and I dropped writing altogether. That changed when I started at Hamline. I felt very much behind everybody else, given that I didn’t go to college for creative writing. I didn’t know any of the jargon. My first advisor, Kelly Easton, helped me in myriad ways. After working with her, I felt like maybe I hadn’t been kidding myself after all.
What do remember most about your first residency?
When we arrived for our very first orientation, we were all sitting in the back row. We were told we should move up, and we all went to the front row, and then never left. I remember being in awe of the brilliance on display in the lectures. I remember being very frightened about my first workshop experience (as in, first ever – in life.) And mostly, I remember how quickly and easily the members of my cohort bonded, and how much time we spent laughing. The kind of laughing where you can’t stop until you’re crying.
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?
When I came in, I was convinced that I’d write a middle grade novel. I always felt funny when people would ask, “What do you write?” because at the time, the honest answer probably would have been, “Well, nothing, technically.” I worked on a middle grade novel during my first semester, and Kelly made me branch out and write a picture book. During my second semester with Jackie I worked on more picture books, some transitional chapter books, and even a nonfiction picture book. I spent a great deal of time revising my transitional chapter books with Marsha Chall during my third semester, though much of that time was spent working on my critical paper. I didn’t actually get back to writing a middle grade novel until my final semester, with Phyllis, though it was a different project than the first attempt I made. I am very grateful for my advisors’ pushing me into other forms. I enjoy the unique challenges of each, and I get the sense that you can never stop learning about any one form.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
I have included my transitional chapter books about Febreze and Caliente, two sisters who write their own rules, open a bookstore, and have run-ins with thieving geese. I’ve also included The Kudzu Wars, which is a middle grade novel about Simon Harris. Simon is dealing with the recent divorce of his parents and the loss of his best friend, who has decided to hang out with that jerkface Braxton Bentley and the cool kids. Not only that, but his teacher is making him write poetry, of all things, and she discourages him from writing about the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. It seems like things can’t get any worse when a mutant strain of kudzu starts taking over the school. Simon and his new friends, from the Children of Divorced Parents Club, join forces to stop the spread. It turns out that Braxton is behind the kudzu invasion, and Simon must take on the cool kids and save the school.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I have learned to be much more concise, and to trust the reader. I’ve also learned the importance of revision, and to approach it like a puzzle to be solved.
My advice to new students is this: Go into the program with an open mind. Take on every challenge that your advisor gives you. Try something new. Even if you don’t end up writing for a certain age group or a certain genre, no writing is wasted. And don’t forget that this is fun!