On Sunday, July 17, 2016 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 month of June we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Mars Hauser.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I spend a lot of my time with my husband Jens, my teenage daughter Kathryn, and our cat Emmy at home in Galesville, Wisconsin. We’re a gaming household, so it’s not uncommon for my husband to be raiding while Kat works on her cosplay and I plan out a roleplaying game. I work at the Holmen High School Library, near where I live with my family. My position at my school district involves both reader’s advisory and purchasing duties, so even without annotated bibliographies to be completed, I read more literature for children and young adults than almost anybody I know. My work nickname is “the Human Google,” and it’s often said that I have read every book in my library media center. This is not actually true, but it’s difficult to convince anyone otherwise. My job also stretches my artistic comfort zones – I do a lot of display painting and paper art for our space. Pretty fantastic for the girl who once called herself artistically challenged.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
Fate, Anne Ursu, and Emily Jenkins. Just prior to applying to the Hamline MFAC program, I had a major life plan of mine fall right out from under me. I’d been working for some months toward a very different creative path — one that was a lot less ambitious than going to grad school — and that opportunity I’d been chasing just evaporated on me. I hit an end-of-February slump and found myself asking: Well, what now?
First I ran across a long blog by Anne Ursu on social media that made me stand up and cheer, and think, “Wow, that was so smart. Hey, she teaches at Hamline.” Then Emily Jenkins’ reminder tweets about the program kept popping up on my work twitter. I had been looking for the next thing, and Hamline was what kept answering the call.
So I said to my husband, “I’m going to submit an application. I know I won’t get in this time, but this will be good practice and maybe someday…”
And my husband stared at me. He sighed. He said, “Of course you’re getting in. Nothing else will shake up our lives more than that.”
I laughed. But he was right.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
The only thing that once stood in the way of my writing: my terrible penmanship. My grandparents bought me a typewriter in elementary school and put up with me writing stories all the time. I was fortunate in third grade to get the kind of teacher who really understood the creative urge, who pushed me to write story after story after story, and who found opportunities to work on this with me. I was unstoppable for many years – I joined summer programs, I pushed to make newspapers and write poetry. I really wanted to create.
I put aside a lot of writing dreams for many years once I went to college, thinking I should instead be practical, which just goes to show that you will often look back at your younger self and realize your decisions were thoroughly bogus. I embraced “those who can’t do, teach” for far, far too long. Which is very silly. Marsha Wilson Chall gave me a better model for this: Those who want to do, should also teach – because you learn so much when you do.
What do you remember most about your first residency?
Our first residency, Jill Davis was here as a speaker. And this was super exciting, but it also meant that Alumni Weekend had a lot more alumni than usual. A LOT. I’m not sure I can possibly emphasize how many people it felt like I was meeting, to the point that I had real difficulty judging just how big the active program was until the very end of the residency. This was a blessing, however. I feel more connected to many alumni in the program because I got to meet so many of them from the very start of my Hamline experience.
I was basically terrified to workshop because I had never done such a thing before. And to me, as someone who works with young adult readers, the entire faculty is like parade of rock stars, so I spent most of the first residency too scared to talk to professors at first. But I’ll never forget how Marsha Qualey, Gene Yang, and Jackie Briggs Martin in particular all made time early on to introduce themselves and try to help set us at ease.
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 tried every form I was able to, and I am so glad I did. While I spent a lot of time on young adult realism, I got to experiment with a middle grade fantasy, with picture books, with a nonfiction piece, and more. I found myself sharing poetry at readings, and making notes for the kind of work I would never have considered when I started this program. I started the program thinking that I liked YA for its flexibility of genre. I leave it believing that every level of kidlit offers me the opportunity to try anything my heart desires.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
Chuck and Del are two teenagers who live in Holiday, the kind of small town that people pass by on their way to something better, and they both want to get out.
Chuck is the kid whose classmates nicknamed him “Voldemort” in his shaved-head junior high days, and that image stuck even after he grew his hair back out. Everybody knows Chuck’s family is messed up, but he has no way to talk to anyone about just how bad his home situation has gotten. He’s sleeping in his band’s van to avoid family fights.
Del is an obsessed AV geek whose poverty is an obstacle to her filmmaking dreams at every turn. Her best friend has just betrayed her and sent her summer plans into a tailspin, and this deception throws Del into Chuck’s orbit by chance.
There’s only one summer job in town that pays well enough for two teenagers who are desperate: the box factory where Del’s mother and Chuck’s sister both work. Sometimes, you can survive being trapped if you have the right person to be trapped with.
I hadn’t been sure of what creative thesis I would pick until I found that Matt de la Pena would be my advisor for my last semester. It was absolutely obvious once I landed with Matt that I would have to dig deep into my story about social class and bad summer jobs. Perfect match.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I’m more willing to write the terrible first draft. I’m also less apt to write off something that has problems and decide it can’t be fixed. I owe a lot of that to Swati Avasthi’s revision workshop, which opened my eyes to some invaluable methods to polish and refine a manuscript, and to Claire Rudolf Murphy, who pushed me through a challenging third semester to figure out the rewards of finishing something. I also put a lot more play in my writing thanks to Marsha Chall, who took me from picture book newbie to major picture book fan.
The biggest change, however, is that I actually admit that I am a writer now.
Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
A short list:
1. You get out of the program what you put into it. Jump in and commit hard. It’s easy to get nervous about putting yourself out there, but the community will work to support you.
2. You may be skeptical during your first semester when you are told “your critical work may ruin you as a reader, because you will change how you read things to see the craft underneath.” Don’t scoff. You, too, may realize a year later that you have become so picky in your pleasure reading now that you can see what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.
3. Get off the Hamline campus and see the Twin Cities a little while you’re here. Yes, even in January.
4. Save your lecture notes. You will hear things in lecture that you’ll want to quote in your critical papers, and if you have your notes, you will look like some kind of genius.
5. When someone inevitably reads you Linda Sue Park’s BEE-BIM-BOP! and you walk away hungry, hungry, hungry, I recommend the Mirror of Korea across the street from Anderson.
6. Be a Buddy in the Buddy Program at least once. Read from your work-in-progress at student readings at least once.
7. You will notice this list assumes you’re going to jump off the high dive and join this program. There’s a reason for that. What ARE you waiting for? Hamline can change your life.