On January 17, 2016 the MFAC program hosted a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the Hamline students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 
During the month of January we will be featuring our new alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s grad is Jessica Mattson.

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

Usually I try to squeeze in some time reading books that aren’t on the reading list, because, you know, that stack of books to be read over there isn’t going to take care of itself. When I’m not doing that, I’m an avid video gamer and I volunteer with a local bookstore in town. I have worked as a library assistant for the University of Minnesota Libraries, so I have never been far from amazing books and book-minded people. I live with my wonderfully supportive partner, Brian, and we spend an astonishing amount of time talking to our black lab, Cinder, as if she were a human. She gets the gist.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I love taking classes at The Loft here in the Twin Cities. A couple of the instructors I took classes with there were either involved with Hamline’s MFAC program or had graduated from it. I was working for the library at the time, but was interested in getting back to my first passion, writing, and the program was a fantastic fit.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I’ve written stories since I was a kid. Through high school and college I took a few creative writing classes, eventually majoring in English in undergrad at the U of M, where I got to meet the amazing Swati Avasthi. I got to experience parts of the publishing world when I worked on our undergraduate literary magazine and through an internship with Graywolf Press after graduation. Once I was done I still felt the urge to write, so I took classes at the Loft.  It is a really wonderful resource to have locally! It was then that I really started to focus my writing towards the young adult genre. 

What do remember most about your first residency?

I remember feeling like I hadn’t been that excited about something in a long time. I feel that way every time I get to residency now. As someone who has a difficult time making good friends, being surrounded by people who really understood my passions and interests was amazing. You really can’t ask for a better group of people.

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 largely worked on contemporary young adult, which is what I came into the program with. However, I did take a semester to work on a middle grade fantasy that came to me. I’d never written middle grade or fantasy before, but it was so much fun to try something new. While I was working on this thing that was totally different I could slowly unwind the kinks in my young adult novel indirectly. I would definitely recommend trying out different things if you can. You never know what you’re going to enjoy, and all kinds of writing inform each other.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis is a YA novel that is currently titled “Words That Start With F.” Anna is a girl of many secrets-most of them involving the night she and her best friend, Moore, stopped being friends. The events of that night, including a car crash after Prom, have far reaching consequences in Anna’s home life. She turns to an online video game to get away from the pressures of every day life. In-game Anna can be someone different, someone with an air of confidence and mystery, and she might even have a shot at winning big in an online gaming tournament. But when real life suddenly starts seeping into Anna’s digital world, she has to go back to the night that ruined everything.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

I’m not even sure I could list everything, so much has changed. I’ve definitely had to reconsider everything I knew about revision. I used to feel so much pressure about getting words on the page, feeling like they had to be perfect, but revision is so vast that I know I’ll be going over things many more times and changing quite a bit. I’ve worked a lot on finding voice for my characters, on writing more precisely, and on properly timing different elements of the story. I’ve also worked on planning out some of my plot rather than flying by the seat of my pants (both methods have their good qualities, but it’s good to try new things). I’ve also learned a lot about taking care of myself as a writer and creative person, which is a very important thing to do.

For anyone entering or considering the program, I’m so excited for you. The Hamline community is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever encountered in my life. I’ve never felt so empowered or supported to do a thing that I loved. You’ll make so many friends, meet so many talented people, and your writing abilities will transform immensely. Plus, that community doesn’t stop once you get your diploma, it’s there for you always. Best of all, you get to use your superpowers for good!