On Sunday, July 21, 2019, 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.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a professor and scientist at the University of Washington, where I teach data visualization, a combination of computer science and art. I’m also a pilot who likes to fly upside down, as you can see in this 5-minute YouTube video.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was happily taking classes at another MFA program in Washington. Then, in the middle of the semester, I got an email saying the program had gone bankrupt and would shut down in a few weeks.
I convinced half my classmates it had to be spam.
When I finally accepted reality and looked into other MFA programs, I was drawn to Hamline by the quality of the faculty — and by its financial stability.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I arrived at Hamline in 2017 an amateur who liked to write (I’d written my first story when I was four years old, and I had a few short story publications and awards for poetry and essays).
Today I have an agent and a couple of book deals, so I’m labeling myself a professional author. Maybe one day I’ll finally believe it.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
For some reason, everybody was unreasonably nice to me. It felt like coming home.
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 arrived at the program writing YA fantasy, but by the end I’d switched to middle grade contemporary and fantasy. I’ve also written a nonfiction book, Writers in the Secret Garden (MIT Press, August 2019), and a memoir, Flying Free (Blackstone Publishing, 2020).
And the form I never thought I’d try: I drafted a picture book version of my memoir, but I think I’ll need another 20 years to learn to do PBs right.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
MG contemporary fantasy — TALA AND THE RING OF FIRE
Tala Perez has to move halfway across the country for her mother’s job. She thinks it’s the worst thing that can happen to a 12-year-old, but then her father gets sick, her brother is kidnapped, and she’s thrust into a hidden, dangerous world powered by twelve mysterious Sources of energy—power that exists in the earth beneath her feet. Faced with conflicting desires to rescue her brother or save the world, Tala will need to learn whom to trust, confront the nature of good and evil, and discover the shocking reality of the world around—and within—her.
Written by an award-winning scientist, this MG contemporary fantasy combines the latest discoveries in complexity theory with the myths and culture of the author’s Filipina and South American background to create an enthralling world that readers will not soon forget.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I’ve come to understand the power of craft, how to more effectively create plot, voice, character, setting, and theme. I started the program as a die-hard pantser. And now—I always use an outline, thank you Nina LaCour and Laura Ruby.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I definitely prefer a two-year course of study over many of the shorter writing classes out there. Learning to write is a little like preparing eggs. You get the tastiest results by cooking “low and slow.” Take the time to allow ideas to infuse the depths of your subconscious. The end result will be much more delicious.