On January 19, 2014, on 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 residency, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we’ll be posting interviews with many of the grads. JJ Austrian is today’s grad; he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I mostly drive my family crazy by pretending to be the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise and screaming “Kahn!” at dinner.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
My wife’s good friend, Anne Schwab,
was in the program and raved to us about it over dinner one night. I had been writing screenplays but wanted to get back to fiction, especially Young Adult, and the program seemed too good to be true.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
My focus had been on screenplays and stage plays. There were also some Power Point presentations that I’d like to forget.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
On my first day, just before the orientation started, I thought I might have made the biggest mistake of my life. On the last day of my first residency I realized I had made the second best decision in my entire life. (Asking my wife to marry me is still number one.)
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’ve mainly focused on Young Adult, since I’m basically a perpetual fifteen-year-old, but one of my wonderful advisors, Claire Rudolf Murphy,
MADE me write picture books while I was working on my critical thesis… and I’m so glad she did. Doing so pushed me creatively. The books were incredibly fun to write, and opened up my eyes to sexuality of worms and the bathroom habits of woodland creatures.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
The Silver Coffin is a YA scientific-fantasy that asks the question, “How do you kill Death itself?”
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
You mean aside from the fact that my writing is a million times better? I’ve come to realize that “feelings” and “first person” aren’t dirty words.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
If you love YA and children’s literature, then you owe it to yourself to apply. Honestly, the MFAC program is the closest you’ll ever get to actually attending Hogwarts. No, really, Hamline even has its own sorting hat.