On Sunday, January 15, 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 December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University.Today’s new graduate is Melody Reed.
I enjoy spending time with my family visiting apple orchards (as shown in my picture), strolling through local farmer’s markets and walking on sandy beaches. Notice these are all warm weather activities. I’m not fond of winter. Sorry Minnesotans. Did I mention I’m from Chicago?
Of course, I like to read, a lot. I am fortunate to be surrounded by books at my job at a public library. I work in the adult/young adult department where I help select books for the YA collection, create book displays and help with reader advisory. Everyday I find new and exciting books.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I researched and applied to low-residency schools, which specialized in writing for young people. I was drawn to Hamline because of the faculty and the sense of community that came across in each correspondence.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I have my Bachelor’s Degree in science, and though I spent several years writing software, I always desired to write children stories. I became acquainted with SCBWI 18 years ago, and have attended workshops and conferences, meeting many accomplished and encouraging children writers. One of my favorite programs involved a weekend with Richard Peck.
What do remember most about your first residency?
I remember being so nervous—wondering what had I gotten myself into. I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle the pace and rigorous schedule. However, as soon as I met my classmates we bonded, and I felt like we were in this together. Then as I met the faculty and the larger community where everyone was so supportive, I knew I could do it. Our class saying has become, “They thought they could—so they did.” And now we have!
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 am most comfortable writing YA. However, my first advisor, the amazing Jackie Briggs-Martin, encouraged me to explore picture books and middle grade fiction. I can’t say middle grade fiction writing hooked me, but I produced a few picture book ideas that I will continue to revise.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is speculative YA fiction with a realistic feel. It examines the idea of nature verses nurture and what makes us who we are. Seventeen-year-old Kitri Bernaki wants is to be accepted by her family, or at least understand why her mother Vicky and her older brother Mitch Gibson, seem to resent her. She has no knowledge of her father. She deals with her reality by etching her feelings wherever her collection of colorful pens land.
When Mitch’s basement floods and he is forced once again to deal with the family’s secret, he decides he has had enough. He slowly starts dropping breadcrumbs for Kitri to follow to lead her to the truth—the one he has been blackmailed to keep—the one that will change not only Kitri’s life, but possibly the entire scientific world.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
The critical essays and annotated bibliographies taught me to read as a writer. I learned to examine the structure of the story, the style of the sentence and the sound of the word.
The creative packets helped me focus on the elements of craft. I have a better understanding of the structure of the scene and the importance of beats. Gary Schmidt challenged me to push myself and tackle longer pieces of fiction leading me to complete a first draft of my YA novel second semester. Marsh Qualey helped me to turn off my “internal editor” when writing first drafts, something that prevented me from fully accessing my creative mind. Bouncing off something she had shared with me, I made a visual reminder. I received a small plastic brain at a library conference on increasing memory. It sounds silly, but I now put this little brain in a jar marked “Creative Censor—Edie Editor” when I am writing. When I get bogged down in punctuation, I look at the jar. So why, you wonder, am I telling you this story? Because Emily Jenkins taught me the power of answering a question with a story. She showed me how telling a story makes your answer more interesting and easier to remember. So, next time you see a plastic brain—I bet you’ll think of me.
Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
For those considering the program – This is a wonderful program.I have learned more in two years than I could have by studying on my own and attending conferences for ten years. The faculty lectures are packed with detailed advice on the most important elements of craft and having the opportunity to work one-on-one with these outstanding contributors to the world of children and young adult literature is priceless. The faculty is accessible and generous in sharing what their writing life looks like. Where else can you learn this kind of stuff?
Something I wished I had started during my time at Hamline was a database (in Excel) that logged all the books I read while in the program. I would track genre, point of view, types of protagonist, and other data. But I would also include the stories’ strengths such as strong themes, great dialogue, good use of alliteration and so on. This type of database would not only be a great resource for your own writing but if you decide to teach, it will give you examples at your finger tips to share with your students.