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 months of June and July we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Patti Filutze.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m married and I have two boys, seventeen and eleven years old, so there are always things like band practices and soccer and orthodontist appointments. When they’re not home, I have a five cats that would play fetch all day long if I’d only throw the mouse One More Time.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
My decision to attend Hamline was the result of a string of cosmic happenstances or fate, whichever belief you subscribe to.
In February of 2014, I became a finalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Arts Award. Part of the process once you became a finalist was to select your top three graduate institutions and submit acceptance letters from those schools. When I found out I was a finalist, I googled low residency programs that offered a Writing for Children and Young Adults option. That’s when I found Hamline. I’d never heard of the school and none of my professors had either, but the faculty for the MFAC program really impressed me, so I applied to Hamline along with four other programs because I needed three acceptances, and then I got in to them all.
This was an exciting time, but it was also extremely stressful. I have trouble picking what to eat for dinner, okay? And now I had to pick a graduate institution?! And to make it more complicated, three of the five schools were offering substantial scholarships.
When I didn’t get the JKC scholarship, I thought okay, that’s it. I can’t go to school. I can’t afford it. Really, I didn’t feel I deserved it. I started declining offers. But I’d been talking to my “Buddy” in the MFAC program, Sarah Ahiers
, and I just hadn’t been able to contact Hamline and decline. And then about a week after I got the notice that I didn’t get the JKC scholarship, I got an email from SCBWI that I’d been selected for the Student Writer Scholarship for the 2014 LA Summer Conference. I cried. A lot. It gave me the validation I needed to be able to invest in myself.
If everything hadn’t happened exactly the way it did, I would be somewhere else right now. In the end, this is where I was meant to be. It was important to me to have a strong alumni association and activities after I finished the program. I was looking for a family, and I found that at Hamline.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
As an undergraduate I majored in English with a creative writing concentration, so I had experience workshopping and a pretty solid understanding of craft. In addition to my major, I also went through the honors program and completed a thesis, which gave me experience working on a larger creative project. But I’d never worked directly with kidlit authors, and I wanted that experience.
What do remember most about your first residency?
Strangely, the first thing that comes to mind is the weather. There was a polar vortex during that residency; the weather was unbelievably stunning. But I also remember going to the Kerlan and going down into the storage area and walking through the corridors lined with boxes of manuscripts and feeling like I was in that scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the one with shelf after shelf of magical prophecies. I remember walking to Groundswell with my cohort and rooming with Brita and workshop group with Anne and Gene. I remember sitting in GWC 100 with so many other people that love kidlit as much as I do, and being so happy I’d made the choice to come.
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 mainly focused on YA, but I did try picture books while I was working with Emily.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My thesis is a YA contemporary fantasy set at an elite boarding school in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest.
When sixteen-year-old Monica develops a strange connection to a boy she never met, she moves to Dunmuir Mountain Academy where he lives in the hopes of figuring out who he is and what their connection means. The problem is: the only thing she knows about him is what his bedroom looks like. Despite this obstacle she does find him, and when she does, there’s an intense physical attraction between them that’s she never experienced.
But finding him is only the beginning. A series of strange illness break out at the school, and Monica begins to suspect that things at the school aren’t quite as perfect as they appear. Cryptic messages in her grandmother’s diary lead her to a hidden room in her grandmother’s basement and secrets about the world that her family has kept hidden for centuries.
I’m really interested in the concept of Imaginative Sympathy and stories that allow me to explore a perspective that is different than my own. Monica is completely colorblind, but through the bond, she sees color for the first time. She’s also experiences what it’s like to be inside a boy’s body. These things, along with typographic artifacts such as text messages, Post-it notes, and journal entries, have made the story incredibly fun and interesting to write.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I’ve always loved plot. When it comes to character, I spent a lot of time writing elaborate backstories and thinking about how each character was unique, but I realized that most of the character work I’d done was not making it onto the page. I spent most of my time this semester working on embracing my characters and allowing them to be quirky.
Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?
If your mentor asks you to try something, try it. That might mean throwing out the first fifty pages of your book, or changing a character’s motivation, or moving a major plot event. Do it.