On January 19, 2014, the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony, honoring the 11 men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and that ceremony the Inkpot will be shining the spotlight on those grads. Today’s interview is with Gina DeCiani, who lives in Chicago, Illinois.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I am an attorney that’s been working as a government administrator for the last 10 years or so. I currently work for Cook County, Illinois, which is the second largest county in the country. I am legal counsel to the Bureau of Human Resources as of July of this year. Before that, I was the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
A friend of mine, someone I met through writing workshops and SCBWI, told me she was attending an Open House at Chicago Story Studio, where Mary Rockcastle, Marsha Chall, and Marsha Qualey were going to be presenting mini classes and answering questions about the program. She was going to attend, and on a whim I decided to go as well. Mary, Marsha and Marsha presented such a great program – this was exactly the kind of instruction and support for my writing that I’d been looking for but hadn’t been able to find.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Like most of us, I was always a writer. I wrote lots of short stories, plays and picture books in grammar school and junior high school. Once I got to law school, my focus turned to technical writing, and I started teaching basic writing and public speaking classes to undergrads at U of I as a teaching assistant. After graduating, I began teaching writing, research and advocacy to paralegals and then law students. A co-worker then asked me to co-write a textbook on legal ethics for nonlawyers with her, which was published by West (which became International Thompson Publishing). That led to being asked to co-write some more texts on professional ethics that were re-published by Child Welfare League of America. After that, I realized that I had strayed pretty far from what my first writing interests were and I decided to start fiction writing again, eventually focusing on writing for children.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I was terrified. Taking this educational program on was a huge commitment and I wasn’t sure I could handle it, so I only committed to one semester (I was mini-immersion!). And I was afraid I wouldn’t “fit in.” But I loved, loved, loved everyone I met.
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 wanted to absorb as much as possible while I was in the program. I focused primarily on writing a young adult book, but I also began drafting a proposal for a nonfiction book and I began a middle grade novel. I still haven’t summoned the courage to work on picture books, which scare me because you have to do so much in so few pages. However, I’d love to take a stab at something, hoping it would turn out like Click, Clack, Moo– so I could link my legal background with my passion for children’s fiction. Or I’d like to write picture book biographies.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is a young adult novel that I started working on it my first semester here. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the world of politics.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Most of the big, “wow” changes occurred in the first two semesters – probably because I had so much to learn when I started. I learned all kinds of basics about writing that I had never been aware of before starting the program – like not naming a character’s emotions (thank you, Claire Rudolph Murphy!). The biggest change, though, has come in the dialogue I write. Ron Koertge was my advisor second semester and he had me write a critical essay called “dialogue that sizzles; dialogue that fizzles.” Before I wrote that essay, I had no idea how flat my dialogue was.
With packet deadlines removed as an incentive, do you anticipate it will be harder to keep writing? Any plans for your post-Hamline writing life?
I am exchanging a list of writing goals for the year with a friend of mine who finished her MFA at Vermont. The plan is that we will hold each other accountable.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Listen to and work with your faculty advisors. They’re fabulous, they know what they’re doing, and they’re so generous about sharing their wisdom and experiences.