On Sunday, July 17, 2016 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 new graduate is Elizabeth Walsh.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
It depends a little bit on the time of year. I was born in the dead of night in the dead of winter, so I tend to be more active when it’s cold out than during the hateful, hateful, summer months. Seriously, not a fan of the daystar.
But when it’s cool out, I go for walks, refinish furniture, read like crazy, and manage my family. My parents are still incredibly active, and are spending their retirement trotting the globe, but when they’re home they need a certain amount of managing.
And when it’s hot, I languish. (I’ll get you yet daystar!)
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I heard about MFAC because my aunt and uncle are the type of people who talk to everyone at the MN State Fair. My aunt went to the Hamline booth to grab a free pencil, and came out knowing that this was the program for me. She gets major gloating rights for that.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
My undergrad was in creative writing and I’ve been taking workshops and creative writing classes since high school. But when it all really started for me was in the second grade, when Ms. Desombre let me turn in chapters instead of short stories. That was it for me. Being able to watch the worlds in my head take shape on a piece of paper for anyone to see was a heady kind of power for a seven year old.
What do remember most about your first residency?
The thing I remember most, was our class meeting. We sat in one of the east wing rooms of GLC, and we all shared a page of our workshop pieces so we could get a sense of what everyone was interested in, and what they brought to our cohort. That was the day we became the Hamline Hamsters.
The entire experience was a little surreal for me though because I had to work through half of residency. I went in to the post office at 3 am, got out at 7:30, then went to workshop. I spent most of that residency running on about five hours of sleep a night and more caffeine than I’d consumed in the previous 28 years. But while I was exhausted the entire time, I was also really energized. I managed to generate another 50k words on the project that had gotten me into the program in just five days. It was really fantastic.
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’ve focused primarily on YA prose novels, but I have tried other forms. Gene Yang inspired me to take my initial project and turn it into a graphic novel, (the project itself had been so heavily inspired by graphic novels that the move really helped improve the flow of it.). I also found myself trying my hand at picture books, a novel in verse, and even brain storming some ideas for middle grade novels. Hopefully I’ll get a better sense of how those work in Gary Schmidt’s intensive this summer.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
The God Stones is a YA, high fantasy, political novel, riddled with secrets and intrigue. It’s also part of a longer series, centering on some of the same characters.
The major theme of the God Stones is a search for identity. The first main character doesn’t even have a name. At least not one she can really call her own. Others are dealing with situations of abuse, and power imbalances between them and the adults who should be taking care of them. While the one male character in my main cast is struggling with issues of loyalty and trust.
This is partly a product of the fact that –everyone– gets my name wrong. And not the way they think they do. (I have a fake last name on facebook for reasons of privacy.) For those who are curious, it’s Elizabeth, or Beth. I don’t know who this Liz is you’re talking to, but I assure you, it isn’t me.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
The biggest change in my writing has been my ability to edit. I had a really hard time seeing my own work unless I put it away for ten years. Now I only need to give it a couple of weeks, if that. Sometimes I’ll rewrite a scene, and ten steps later I’ll have to pull out my notebook with notes on why that was wrong, here’s how to fix it.
Second biggest is asking for help when I need it. I used the writing center at Hamline like crazy. AND SO CAN YOU! Even if you don’t live in the twin cities, they have online appointments available. USE THEM!
I’ve also embraced the fact that my writing is an ever evolving process. Some days one thing will work, and other days I’ll need to try something else. So I try not to get discouraged on those days when things just aren’t working, because I know that something else will emerge to get me through that next step.
Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
Be patient with yourself. Writing isn’t something you ever get ‘right,’ it’s a process of learning that will last your whole life. And be proud of yourself, too. It might seem like this is an easy program to get into, but the truth is, if your writing didn’t already intrigue the admissions panel, you wouldn’t be here.
And for those of your considering the program, come to prospective students day. Talk to some of the students and faculty. If these are your people apply. Because these are the best people.
Congratulations, Elizabeth. Very proud of you. You worked hard and grew so much as a writer.
Congratulations on meant dreams come true!