Oh Hamline, how do we love thee? A lot. (that’s not really a “how” answer, more of a “how much” but just go with me here.) I think most of you would agree that one of the best things about Hamline is, of course, our banging community.
When people ask me why I got my MFA, I answer truthfully: I was looking for community. And for me, while I did want to earn an MFA and be proud of that, and I LOVE the craft of writing and wanted to improve there, what I really, desperately wanted, enough to spend money I didn’t really have, was to find people like me who cared about kidlit and creative writing in the same way I did.
And hooo boy Hamline delivered. Right?
But then something happened. And no, I’m not talking about Covid-19 (more on that below.)
No, what happened was, 2016 came around and I effing graduated.
No more residencies for me. No more getting advisor assignments and packet letters and workshop pages.
No more Hamline.
Which, of course, isn’t really true. There’s Alumni Weekend which can definitely ease the loss (more on that below, too.) And you can always get a lecture pass. But still. STILL. It’s not quite the same, right?
And, of course, the people in your class go their separate ways. And new students come in and you don’t even know who they are. And you’re back to being alone with your writing, the community that you belong to larger, yes, but also dispersed.
But it doesn’t have to be.
My class was called The Front Row (because we always sat in the front row. Clever, right?) And we were a class that was small, yes, but mighty in how much we bonded immediately and instantly with each other. We love each other. Straight up. We tell each other this all the time.
And we can tell each other this all the time because we work really hard to get together and recapture those lost feelings of community. And I’m here to share with you some of the things we do to stay connected so maybe you can do it too, with your Hamline class or Hamline friends. So, you can keep that community alive, even as we all sit without pants on, ordering take out food, and trying not to feel bad about how much writing we’re not getting done. (Listen. It’s a PANDEMIC, okay? Cut yourself some slack.)
Super Cool List of Things the Front Row Does to Stay Together and You Can Do Too!
Now, caveat. Not all of these things will work for you and your people. More than half of my class lives in the Twin Cities together so we can do things like go the MN Renaissance Festival in costumes or swim in my pool. But the rest of us are spread out across the US. And also, what may work for us may not work for you, so mix and match or try new things until you find something that fits you.
Presumably, you all have phones, right? Text your writing people! I text mine every day. Front Row peeps, non-Front Row Peeps (Hi Meg!) We talk about writing stuff. We talk about our dogs and cats. We talk about the weather and this damn Pandemic and how sometimes the world is so horrible but also how it can be wonderful, too. Staying in touch doesn’t have to be a big TO DO, you know? Even a message here or there can refill your community well.
Don’t want to text? Send an email! Or if you’re not a millennial, give someone a call! (Please don’t call me.)
This is a voice/walkie talkie app. I know. You’re gonna be like, “I’m not twelve. I don’t want to talk to my friends on walkie talkie, Sarah.”
I get it. I was very dubious about Voxer at first, too. (Sorry, Anna. You were right. I was wrong.) But Voxer is great for many reasons.
You can use it as a chat function and have conversations that continuously run. But you can also use it as a voice recording option, so if you have a lot to say, and it’s just too much to type out on your phone, well, you CAN say it. And your friends can listen to it any time they want. This is great for if you’re on a road trip and just want to talk away about something in your manuscript.
It’s ESPECIALLY great if something really momentous and exciting has happened in your group, like talking to an agent on the phone, or talking to an editor who wants to buy your book, and you just need to scream your excitement to your friends and hear them scream back. Literal screaming is much better than a written “AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!” on a chat. It just is, peeps.
Hearing someone’s voice brings you closer to them than just reading their words in a chat conversation. And Voxer is great for that.
We’ve mostly moved from Voxer, though, over to Discord. Unless we want to record a voice message that can then be replayed later, we now use a Discord server to function as our chat option.
We have a front row room. And we chat every day in there. Now, not all of us are always there at the same time because of jobs and effed up sleep schedules… But everyone checks in regularly to catch up. And discord is great for sharing files, like, ohhhh I dunno, book cover art and other exciting things. It’s also great for if you want to do something fun with your group like play some online Jackbox games together. Staying in touch doesn’t always have to be writing focused. Heck, I stay in touch with some Hamline peeps via our Animal Crossing villages (Hi Nikki, Daniel, and Andrew!)
Meet at Someone’s Place
This may or may not work for you, but I have a cabin up north (if you’re from MN you know what that means, but if you’re not from MN, “up north” just means north of the cities somewhere.) (Also just read Marsha’s book Up North at the Cabin if you haven’t already.) The cabin is actually more of a lake house, which means it has plumbing and electricity and even a hotspot for the internets. It sleeps 10, if people want to share beds, and also because my family owns it, we can use it whenever we want, any time of year, and it’s free. So once or twice a year we pack up our stuff and drive and fly up to my cabin and have a personal Front Row retreat.
Sometimes we workshop each other’s manuscripts. Sometimes we practice classes we’d like to teach (like Jessica walking us through making maps of our stories, or Anna helping us collage our novels.) But sometimes we just hang out and play games and talk and catch up and really don’t get much writing done at all. Often there’s some drinking, especially the time we went up a few days after the 2016 election. Sometimes there are drunken lectures (these are funny but surprisingly apt). Always, ALWAYS, we come away feeling rejuvenated and pumped up and loved and supported and ready to get back to work on our stuff.
Granted, we have to do all the cooking and stuff, but heck, last year we made an honest to god turkey and celebrated friends-giving together and holy crap that was great!
What if you don’t have a cabin, though? Understandable. Luckily, there are other options!
Rent a Location.
We don’t always go to my cabin. We’ve rented Air B&Bs to gather if we don’t want to drive all the way up north. We were actually going to do that earlier this year until we got worried about this new virus making its way to the US from Europe and decided to cancel. Turns out it was the right move.
If you’re looking for a place where you can gather and write and workshop but you don’t want to be responsible for, like, getting food, or dealing with Air B&B reservations that keep getting changed, then I have two other great suggestions for you:
This is owned by Anna Palmquist’s family and is in the woods of Wisconsin. My group has gone there before and it’s great. The cabins are lovely and spacious. And all the meals are taken care of by the staff (and by staff, I mean, Anna’s mom cooks meals for all the guests and they’re goooood.)
It’s affordable, there are a variety of different packages at different prices levels, and you’ll be supporting a Hamline alum’s family.
Yes, we all know how you can go to Highlights for workshops and stuff. But did you know you can ALSO go to Highlights for however many days you want just to write? It’s called an Unworkshop. Yes, you have to pay for it, and yes, you’ll likely have to book a flight to get there, but if you’ve never been to Highlights, it’s AMAZING and you should definitely try to go at least once. And when I say the food is amazing, too, I mean THE FOOD IS AMAZING. And they can also handle any dietary needs or restrictions!
Legit, I was there and a literal tornado came through and it was still one of the best weeks of my life. I made new friends that I’m still in contact with. Communities can always grow bigger, right?
Listen, if you haven’t been to an Alumni Weekend in a while (or even ever!) well, they’re great and you should definitely go. But, honestly, half the reason my group and I attend regularly is to see each other and the rest of the Hamline community. Taking the master class is excellent and learning from fellow students is great (and don’t forget the agent or editor visitor!) but Alumni Weekend lets you get in touch with your Hamline people and functions as, like, a mini-Hamline residency.
And did you know there’s an Alumni Weekend scholarship for those who can’t afford it? Did you know you can pitch a lecture to Alumni Weekend and maybe get the chance to teach other Hamline peeps (and also get paid?) You can! It’s a great way to continue your education and career growth. And to also just talk to people you miss.
Okay! So, these are some of the ways that The Front Row stays together as a group. I recommend trying some of them out. It can be hard to keep in touch with our Hamline community, especially in these times of quarantine and social distancing. But that means it’s even more important than ever.
Check in with your old classmates and friends. It’s okay if you haven’t been writing. We’ve all been there. Maybe reconnecting will get you back in the saddle once more. You’ll never know until you try.
Sarah Ahiers has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. Her thesis was a study of monsters and monstrous characters in middle grade and young adult fantasy fiction. She writes young adult and middle grade novels and occasionally dabbles in picture books. Fantasy is her favorite genre, though she sometimes can be found playing around with Horror and other things that go bump in the night.
Sarah is the author of the ASSASSIN’S HEART duology (HarperTeen, 2016, 2017) comprising of ASSASSIN’S HEART and the companion sequel THIEF’S CUNNING. Both books were finalists for the Minnesota Book Awards, and have received starred and glowing reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus. The duology is a world of dark fantasy, assassins, literal gods, vengeance, and finding one’s place in the world.
Sarah lives in Minnesota with her dogs and a house full of critters. She has a collection of steampunk hats and when she’s not writing she fills her time with good games, good food, good friends, and good family.
She is represented by Michael Bourret at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC.