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 herself 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.