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. Nikki Ericksen is today’s grad; she lives in Youngstown, Ohio. You can follow her on Twitter (@pmsmrsmoose); she also reviews book on Bookalicious.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
When I’m not working on packets, I tend to do lots of things. I like to spend time with my son, read, play video games, watch Netflix, and message my husband—since he is still gone.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was looking for a grad school that I could still attend while not located in one spot, because of my husband being in the military and we were supposed to be moving to Washington. I asked one of my undergrad professors, Christopher Barzak, and he suggested looking into Low-Residency programs. I found Hamline and Vermont, but ultimately chose Hamline because of the faculty and it’s a Midwestern school . . . and I’m not going to lie—the mascot sealed the deal a bit, too.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I was in the Professional Writing and Editing program at YSU and worked at the Writing Center, so most of my writing was either technical or editing. The three fiction writing workshops I took were great for a start, but the criticism and mindset of some of the students was horrible. People would say mean things because they were threatened, or they would say things that were nice, but not helpful.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
The first residency was a whirlwind for me, I stayed in a different hotel, was away from my son for longer than a day or two for the first time, and I felt awkward. Then, I met my buddy Nina and started talking to other people in the program and remember feeling like I had finally found my people.
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 started the program working on a YA Fantasy novel. I absolutely hated reading contemporary fiction because I like to escape the everyday drama. Then some things happened in my life and I thought I would give a MG [middle grade] contemporary novel a shot. Never in a million years did I think I would be writing a MG contemporary novel.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My creative thesis is called Reveille & Retreat. It is a MG contemporary novel about what happens during deployments for military kids, and especially what happens when there is a casualty. I wanted to show how a community can ban together and be there for each other when our blood family isn’t. There aren’t a lot of books for military kids, and one that deals with casualties isn’t out there, which I think is because it is the biggest fear we have in the military community. It has been one of the hardest things for me to write, and yet one of the most therapeutic. I have been an Army wife for almost 15 years, and being able to poke fun at the Army has been great.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I have seen my writing grow leaps and bounds. I came into the program without any filter, only understanding how to write in first person, and being closed minded about other forms of writing. I go back and look at my piece I started the program with, and I want to change the point of view, amp up the snarkiness, and make the characters more complex. I have also seen more of my own voice developing. I also learned I don’t have to use big words to get my point across. Sometimes, simple is better, and the big words get in the way of the emotions.
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 think the deadlines helped a lot, but I plan on giving myself deadlines and rewards. I am hoping to teach either creative writing or YA lit but am looking for any job in the realm of writing or publishing. I plan to finish my current novel and go back to my other novel and rewrite it in third person.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Do it. Be selfish about your creative wants and needs and use every tool that is at your disposal in this program. Don’t be afraid of the work, or afraid of sharing your work with others. This is really a community you can feel safe to be a part of, and a family full of love and respect. I feel like I have found my niche in the world and that I will always have people on my side who understand what I am going through. Have fun, and allow yourself to grow.