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. Nina Bricko is today’s grad; she lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can learn more about Nina and her writing on her website.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
While I was working on my MFA I was a kids yoga instructor and a naturalist for a preschool. I also taught a variety of writing courses for Madison College. While working on packets I was also trying to get my work published. I had a short story – that was originally written for a picture book – published in a couple literary journals, one online and one in print. The same short story also won the Prairie Gate Literary Contest and was turned into a play. The play was performed at the end of the Prairie Gate Literary Festival, a conference that I was invited to come to for free. So I have had some success that has been very encouraging. I wasn’t able to graduate this past July because I had a little baby boy named Elwood. So I spend most of my time playing with him and laughing at his antics. I dream about living in a strawbale house by a river, growing a tall garden, and hugging chickens. Poka-dot Dresses and muddy boots – that about sums up me.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was walking downtown Madison when my eye caught a poster about a guest speaker from Hamline University coming to discuss their MFA program on Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. I thought in my head – as most people do– I should go to this!
I did not.
I had only begun to think about getting my masters at the time. Fast forward about a year later, I was finally ready to pursue my interest in obtaining a masters in creative writing. But what and where? I wasn’t a literary writer – at least I didn’t think so. I had realized that I mostly wrote middle grade and had a strong interest in writing picture books. The poster I had seen so many months prior came to mind and so I looked Hamline up on the inter-webs. Then I went to the information weekend, met and questioned Mary Rockcastle, and discovered where I wanted to go.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I have always loved writing. When I was in the sixth grade my teacher accused me of cheating on a poem I had written and turned in for an assignment. She didn’t think a sixth grader could have written it. So that was a big boost for my ego. The next year my Dad entered it into a contest and it won. How about that!
I used to do wonderfully nerdy things like write puppet shows and put them on for the kindergarteners during my class’s recess time. One time I created a character named Professor Lightbulb – he was an actual light bulb I had hooked up to a battery so I could switch him on and off. He liked to do SCIENCE!
For my birthday, which was the summer before the seventh grade, I asked for a typewriter. My wonderfully supportive parents got me one. How about that!
In junior high I wrote plays for the talent show. In high school I went through a goth phase, so you can imagine how those poems went.
I didn’t think a person could be a writer as a profession. It seemed like a job someone gets in the movies, and not in real life. So I went with my next great love – Nature. I became a naturalist, and not the nude kind. I traveled the country working at different nature centers, teaching kids about the great out doors. But as I traveled – I wrote. While living in Arizona I started and completed my first novel. I took my first novel writing class and after that I was hooked. I wrote another novel. I wrote more short stories. I wrote ferociously. When my hubby and I moved to Madison because we wanted to live there and not for a job, I was forced to find work that wasn’t in my field. I loved working with small children so I became certified an as early childhood educator. This is when I fell in love with picture books. I had always appreciated picture books, and I had attempted to write for children previously, but when you are constantly reading them you really begin to gain an understanding of the depth and scope that encompass the picture book world. I wanted in. I tried and I tried. My favorite activity with the students was to tell them a story that I made up on the fly and draw pictures while I spoke. Their favorite stories I tried to write down, so I could tell it to them again the next day. I knew that I wanted to know more about the world of picture book writing.
It is exciting to have the knowledge to write for any age group, but it is enchanting and invigorating to have a personal understanding of what kind of writer I am. This happened because of my writing journey, and it will continue to modify throughout my life as a writer.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I was very nervous. When I don’t know people I become very quiet and shy, which is the opposite when I am comfortable with people. My personality type can be confusing. However, I knew that I wanted to succeed in this program; so even though I was nervous, I jumped right into volunteering for the Storytellers Inkpot. One of my first articles I reflected on my experience as a newbie, and I had decided to draw a comic to describe how it felt to meet one of the faculty members:
(Click to enlarge)
We are all nerds and it felt great to find my people. I was inspired and excited. My first residency simply confirmed that I was in the right place.
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 tried middle grade, early middle grade, and picture books. I really wanted to try graphic novels my third semester but wasn’t encouraged to do so because I had to generate a critical thesis. If I had another semester I would work on comics and nonfiction. I teach create writing all levels for Madison College and I have Hayley Scheuring (Hamline MFAC Alumni) guest speak during our nonfiction discussion because I don’t feel as though I was given enough opportunities to really understand that form. I have learned so much from her lectures that I am more confident in it, so really the moral of the story is to learn from each other and do as much as you can – there just isn’t enough time.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
It is a middle grade adventure novel with some magical realism – it’s an Indiana Jones meets 39 clues meets Amelia Earhart meets a seventh grade bi-racial girl on the cusp of puberty who doesn’t know where to belong and just wants to go to golf camp but can’t because her parents have been mysteriously kidnapped. Yup.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Confidence. When you are writing on your own – trying to discover what kind of writer you are you try many different forms and styles. You write stories that are like the ones you like to read; you write stories about topics you like to read; you write stories in the voice of stories that you have read. Now I have the confidence of my own voice, my own style and form, and the confidence in the stories that my heart has to say.
I still have a lot of flaws, but I am aware of them and I strive to be a better writer every day.
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 have a solid writing group outside of Hamline, but the group consists of Hamline alumni. In addition to those wonderful people, I also teach writing. Because I am constantly reading and reminding myself of everything I learned and still need to learn my personal practice improves. One night I was lecturing on taking their scene and intensifying tension. I had been struggling with what was missing in a middle grade novel I had finished. I liked it, people liked it, but I wasn’t excited about it. After my lecture, we were during some writing prompts and I had an incredible AH-HA moment. Teaching has always been my gateway to a higher understanding of what I had just learned.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
One of the bathroom stalls is covered in Doctor Who graffiti – this is the type of people that inhabit this campus. If that brings you joy, then you have found your people. Welcome.