On January 18, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony, honoring the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we’ll be posting interviews with many of the grads. Janel Kolby is today’s grad; she lives in Seattle, Washington and can also be found on Twitter: @JanelKolby.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I try my best to be a good mom, a good partner, and a good friend. Sometimes it works. When it doesn’t, I could be reading or pondering an aspect of a story, and wouldn’t notice if you threw pennies at my head. My other profession is in software as a program manager.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I attended a three-day SCBWI workshop in Washington in which Anne Ursu and [editor] Jordan Brown were the speakers. Anne talked about a magical place and her magical friends that turned out not to be in her imagination. Lucky for me.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
Writing poems and stories are some of my earliest memories, and I never stopped writing. I didn’t know anyone as strange as that, and I kept that part of myself hidden from everyone but family. I couldn’t fool my family. As I got older and grew confidence, I began to accept how much happiness I receive from writing, and that it’s as much my future as it has been my past. About four years ago, I took the last novel I had written and tried to get it published. I received some responses to read the entire manuscript, but was ultimately rejected. That’s when I knew I needed help. I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed to learn more about my craft and the industry.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being embraced—by the staff, the alums, and almost everyone in the program. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting to be the odd ball again, and find myself a corner between lectures where I could turn inward. I was already scouting out those corners when I first entered the hall. I didn’t know I would meet some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I didn’t know Hamline was where I would find the support I needed to write.
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 have primarily focused on MG and YA fiction. I tried out some picture books, and managed to create a passable one, but it’s not a strength yet.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
RAIN lives on the outskirts of Seattle in a dangerous, wooded area known as The Jungle. She has lived there since she was six in a tent with her dad, and with KING, her only friend aside from the towering trees and woodland animals who she believes talk to her. She views herself as a type of ghost, since she has been taught to live as if she were invisible.
After reading The Little Mermaid, Rain has an idea to see the outside world on her next birthday, her thirteenth. Her dad reluctantly agrees for her to go, but for only one day.
The world is not as she expected, and proves to be more dangerous than staying in her tent. As King tries to protect her from a gang in his past, Rain and he become separated. There are a million things she doesn’t know, but she is stronger than she thinks, and in the end she must choose: to act upon her future or disappear as a ghost forever.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Confidence and clarity. I have a greater sense about why I write; I now have the skills to pull together a coherent story; and am better equipped to manage the bits that make me unique.
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 plan to actively participate in workshops and conferences in the writing community to drive the incentives for my next deadlines.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Many times in the program I questioned whether I deserved to be at Hamline—to consider myself a writer. I know I’ll question whether I deserve to be an alum, and again, a writer. I can deal with that as long as I keep writing and have my Hamline friends.
At that workshop I wrote up comments on people's first 500 words. One afternoon I see Janel sitting in the bar typing; she's rewriting based on the comments. She showed me when she was done and she'd utterly transformed it, taking the comments and seeing way beyond them. When she said she was considering Hamline I said, "yeah, I think you'll get a lot out of it."