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 Jan LaRoche. Jan lives in East Moline, Illinois.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I am a teen services librarian at the Moline Public Library in Moline, IL. I have an amazing husband and two wonderful children. We love to watch movies and play board games, and spend as much time as possible outdoors—camping, fishing, hiking, boating, etc.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I was looking for information about MFA programs online and came across a list on the Poets & Writers site. When I came to Hamline’s entry I did a double take because I actually knew several of the faculty names. (Swati was listed first, so I give her the most credit.) I had no idea there were MFA programs specifically designed for writing for children and teens. The more I read about the program, the more I knew it would be a perfect fit for me. And it has been!

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I’ve dabbled in writing my whole life, sometimes more seriously than others. I completed my first novel several years back, followed by a couple more over the years. Despite this, I knew I needed more help in crafting these stories into something publishable. Online classes, workshops, and writers conferences only went so far.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?

First and foremost, how kind, welcoming, and supportive everyone was. Faculty, staff, graduate assistants, and fellow students were the most amazing people I’d ever met. I think I still harbored the belief that “real” writers were somehow above the average human. Then Anne Ursu admitted she didn’t know what the theme of Breadcrumbs was until long after she’d written it. I began to realize, and finally believe, that it was actually possible for me to achieve my dream. And it would be a lot of hard work that I would enjoy every minute of.

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?

When I started, my only real interest was young adult fiction. I decided this program was the best place to try other things, so I spent some time on short stories, picture books, and nonfiction. I learned enough to know I’m still most comfortable with YA.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

On her way to take the train to visit her father, Iris and her sister, Violet, are in a car crash. After that, everything changes. Iris starts having nightmares about the train station she never made it to. Violet is withdrawn and evasive. And their mother starts dating Hollis, whose strangeness seems impossible to even think about. When Iris finds out Hollis and Violet are keeping a secret from her, she is determined to discover the truth.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

I feel this program has helped me add depth to my writing. Before I was mostly concerned with the plot—what happens next. Now I’m constantly asking questions. Why does my character do that? How does she feel about it? How does that affect the other characters? And REVISION! Lots and lots of revision.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

This program has helped me grow so much. As a writer, yes, but in so many other ways as well. Be open to new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and new opportunities—even when they disguise themselves as challenges.