July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor 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 the grads.
Katie (Katherine) Kunz is today’s grad; she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a high school English teacher, so that takes up a lot of my time. When I do have free time, I spend it with the people, stories, and dogs I love.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
On the Internet. Like a little squirrel, the ad just kept popping up; kept running around in my head. I gave it a lot of thought, met with Mary [Rockcastle], and sat on it. Then, in the middle of subbing for an unruly eighth grade class, two days before the May application deadline, the ad popped up again. And I thought, “You know what? That little squirrel is pretty awesome.”
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I started a comic about a boy named Stuart the summer before 6th grade. At 17 I made the decision I wanted to be a writer, and I practiced the rest of high school. Then I took undergraduate courses in creative writing at the University of MN. After teaching and trying to write in NYC for three years, I moved home to Minneapolis. Here I took a class at The Loft Literary Center and wrote two picture books. (I just found one this spring. It’s awful! Ha!) Three years ago I wrote a middle grade novel. After that was done, that little squirrel popped up.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember feeling very out of place. Feeling a bit like a fraud, like I got in as a charity case or something. Everyone was brilliant and confident. I was not; I am not. But I did feel like I found a very special place in Hamline by the end of that residency. I also battled at bit of homesickness, which is ridiculous because I live about 10 miles from campus and stay at home. After graduation I expect I’ll suffer from MFAC-sickness.
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 came in with that middle grade novel I had written in 2012 and revised that in my first semester. I also started a graphic novel—which I never thought I would do. In my second semester I wrote the draft of a second middle grade novel, this one for the younger set in that audience. I started a third middle grade novel in my third semester. This, my final semester, I revised and revised and revised and revised one more time (thank you, Jackie) my second middle grade novel. I also drafted four picture books and revised and revised and revised two of those.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
It is a story of a nine-year old New Yorker named Moon who struggles with chronic pain and lonesomeness due to an undiagnosed blood disorder. She forms an unlikely friendship with a rambunctious pony she names Cheese, and when their friendship is threatened, she discovers who she is and what she can do. She gets help along the way from a pair of Adidas shoes, a wise, Chinese boy named Sying, a dragon kite, an iPad, and a chicken named Banana Cake. I also wrote a picture book about little girl named Ruby who believes in her super-ness, and another picture book with an embedded nursery rhyme about a little girl, Greta, who builds a moat to protect the animals in her kingdom from an evil witch.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
There are so many! For example, now I can see craft elements in my stories more clearly and analyze them for intention. Before I just ran with the feelings I had. Now I am more objective. Although my feelings are valid, I know if I can’t justify why something is necessary—despite my undying love for it—I let it go. I also understand my own process much better. I get the importance of a finishing a shitty rough draft, however embarrassing it may be. Until my third semester I didn’t know if I could revise, either. But I guess I can. So that’s new. Finally, en medias res, running your character up a tree then bringing on the storm, and plotting (arcs, scenes/summary, acts, chapters, etc.) were also critical lessons that have helped cause change in my writing.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
I have a few. Yes, it may be a chunk of change. Yes, it may be time-consuming. And, yes, you will more likely than not cry, especially at residency. But let me ask you this: How much more does it cost to defer a dream? What better way to spend your time than with an art you love and believe in? And aren’t tears—happy tears, nervous tears, proud tears, grateful tears, the myriad types of tears you shed being part of the Hamline MFAC program—an unabashed reminder of the importance and the joy of writing our hearts out for our children?