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. Randall Bonser is today’s grad; he lives in in the metro Atlanta, GA area. To learn more about his writing, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter: @rbwritenow
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I taxi young teenagers (mine, not others’) to school activities and sports. I wash the uniforms of said young teenagers. I play in a men’s soccer league. I defy house rules and buy more children’s books.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was stalking Ron Koertge, whose books I love, and was trying to find out if he taught anywhere. Lo and behold he taught at this college in St. Paul. The low residency nature sounded good, and I’d get to rub shoulders with Ron, so I investigated. I went to an investigative meeting in Chicago and met Christine Heppermann, who is my new literary hero (sorry, Ron).
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I have made my living as a writer for many years in advertising, marketing, business-to-business, and ghost writing. I also wrote poetry and stories for fun, but now I’m trying to make those fun projects my serious projects.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
Everyone had the flu. And the workshop was awesome, I learned a ton. And I met Claire Rudolf Murphy, who got me excited about the semester’s work. Oh, and I met this group of people who called themselves the Hamsters, my class, and enjoyed getting to know them. Evenings at the hotel were great bonding times, and lots of fun.
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 don’t know if it’s a good idea, but I tried a little of everything – nonfiction, YA, poetry, picture books, graphic novel. I’ve had a blast, and learned a ton. I’m hoping that the broad range will help me, but I’m a little nervous that I didn’t concentrate on one form. I love them all and want to write them all, but I’m not sure that’s realistic.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
I completed a first draft of a graphic novel called “Rocket Captain.” It’s about a boy and girl in 7th grade who struggle to find success in a culture that defines them before they get a chance to define themselves. The girl is Vietnamese American, the boy is African American. The two are called upon to help build a rocket in science class. They start as friends, have a misunderstanding and start working against each other, then try to find a way to reconcile at the end. Working with Gene Yang was great because he is very smart about STORY. When my story was not holding up, or I took a short cut, or was not supporting a plot twist, he let me know. I enjoy the graphic novel medium and hope to keep working in it.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I am much more aware of story elements. I used to think that good stories were organic, that they didn’t follow a formula. But when I looked at the stories I liked, they had elements in common. They weren’t artificial, but they were carefully planned and fine-tuned. I hope that awareness of story is more present in my work than it used to be.
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 been trying to establish a schedule that will work for me once the deadlines are no longer there. Phyllis Root helped me when I worked with her to establish daily routines that start the night before so that you have a sense of accomplishment, even when you only write a little bit. I plan to pursue some of the projects I’ve started here at Hamline and see if I can work toward publication, no matter what I am doing “for a living.”
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
This is a very enjoyable program and you get to dabble in things you wouldn’t normally get to work in. The feedback is fantastic. For serious writers, you’re going to get to the point when you say, “I love my critique group, but how can I get some professional feedback on what I’m writing?” You can hire an editor or coach, or you can enroll in a program like Hamline. I’ve had the time of my life.